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Simple Living and Minimalism ~ Is there a difference?

Simple living and minimalism are often used interchangeably because most of us incorporate both into our lives when we start trying to live simply. 

On Pie Lady Bakes, I talk about living simply, living small, slowing down, owning less stuff, and the Danish concept of Hygge – but is all this just minimalism in disguise? What is the actual difference? Well, the best way to start learning about their differences is by understanding how they are similar. 

Are they really just the same?

In many ways, yes! Everyone defines both simple living and minimalism in so many different ways that there are bound to be some overlaps – and this is where you’d think they’re the same. 

For starters, both of them are intentional in their implementation. Whether you’re trying to create a happy life from scratch that is full of joy and meaning or trying to make space for freedom by cutting out all those excess material possessions, what you need most is the conviction to do so! And that’s the same for both. 

tea and lemon in a white mug with white pillar candle on a blue gingham napkin
A refreshing cup of tea in the garden. What could be simpler?

Some say that simple living is a lifestyle, while minimalism is more of a trend but I would argue that it isn’t that simple. For those looking to invite simplicity into their lives, minimalism can surely be one aspect of those efforts. In this way, minimalism could be described as being a part of simple living and nothing more. 

However, to others it’s the whole deal! Who’s to say that doing enough of something, even if it’s simply that one thing all on its own, isn’t enough to make it a whole lifestyle, right? Minimalist living after all, in its purest form, includes eliminating physical possessions. I would argue that doing enough of that creates space for love, joy, peace and genuine connections – making it a stand-alone lifestyle in its own right. 

Besides, the final goal of both simple living and minimalist living are sort of the same if you look closely aren’t they? A happier, more meaningful life with much more time for things that really matter. 

Some feel that the way you get there makes all the difference, while others feel that if the destination is the same, well then, that means they’re basically the same! If we were to go by this line of reasoning, minimalism could be described as being a “form” of simple living. 

white daisies in clear glass jar text says simple living and minimalism are they the same?
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An aspect, a form? Exactly the same or two separate philosophies altogether? If you’re wondering what the final verdict is – it’s all and neither, depending on who you are! The best part about subscribing to a lifestyle is that the whole process is subjective. You get to pick and choose the parts that make sense to you, my friend. How? By learning about both and deciding what works for you and what doesn’t. 

Keep reading to learn 

  1. About minimalism 
  2. About simple living 
  3. What the differences are
  4. If one is better than the other and which is best for you

What is Simple Living?

Simple living is the pursuit of the things that make life wholesome and “cozy” by letting go of things that make it complicated. Maintaining a simple lifestyle requires you to put efforts into becoming more mindful, in order to make wiser and simpler choices. You do this by engaging in things that enrich you physically, mentally and emotionally. 

It’s key to note that simple living doesn’t necessarily always involve owning as few things as possible. It can sometimes, if the principles of minimalism resonate with you, but it isn’t a requisite. However, applying a version of minimalism where “decluttering” is the center focus does often become typical for people trying to live simpler lives. For someone pursuing a simple life, this doesn’t mean paring it all down to the bare minimum, but rather removing all that which does not invoke joy. 

Here on my blog, you’ll find that I talk about Hygge a lot. If you’re wondering what that’s about, read all about what Hygge means here. To me, Hygge or coziness is a big part of living simply. What makes your most-used spaces feel warm, comfortable and cozy? Incorporating those things into your life and environment brings a sort of authentic, nostalgic simplicity that is different from what pure minimalism brings. 

Going back to the basics is also a pretty prevalent feature in simple living. In attempting to shed your life of the complications that modern times bring, it’s natural to reach back into the past for inspiration on living simpler. More on the hows and explanations below!

sunset at the beach
Taking a walk along the beach at sunset will fill your heart and soul. Is it minimalist or simple living?

Here are some phrases that are often associated with simple living:

  • Loving nature
  • Living sustainability
  • Balanced living
  • Authentic living
  • Slow living
  • Nostalgia and going back to the basics 
  • Intentional living
  • Meaningful life
  • Cozy
  • Warm 
  • Human connections 
  • Living off the grid
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Freedom to be yourself

What is Minimalism?

Minimalism, as the name suggests, is all about doing your best to keep the “things” to a minimum! The guiding principle behind minimalist living is: less stuff or quantity means more space and more quality. So wait a minute, does this mean everything to do with minimalism revolves around material possessions? Not necessarily.  

Minimalism places importance on stepping away from consumerism through rules and discipline, more than anything. To be minimalist is to ask yourself “Do I REALLY need this?” many times a day. Don’t confuse this for frugal living though, because minimalism is a conscious choice, not a way of life that is born out of necessity. 

Besides, just because you’re surrounding yourself with fewer things doesn’t mean those things are going to be affordable, sustainable or of emotional value! It’s all up to the individual and how they choose to invite minimalism into their life. Whether you’re a penny pinching minimalist or one that’s after the finer things in life, it’s completely your call. 

The media loves to depict minimalism using stark white, bare rooms covered in contemporary art. For some, this version of minimalism does hold an appeal and is certainly capable of bringing with it free space and time to fill with joy. 

For most, however, minimalism is practiced in more approachable ways: staying up to date with your wardrobe, and making sure the flat surfaces in your house all remain uncluttered. There’s even other types of minimalism like digital minimalism where people “clean up” their internet usage, only using it for educational or work reasons, thus steering clear of social media rabbit holes. 

Ultimately, minimalism banks on tidying up and certain self-imposed rules to create a life with more room for value – valuable things, relationships and experiences. In minimalism, the creation or uncovering of “free space” is the most important part. 

Here are some phrases that are often associated with minimalist living:

  • Minimal homes
  • Tidy
  • Basic
  • Clean
  • Anti-stuff
  • Functional
  • Bare
  • Decluttering
  • Flat surfaces
  • Open spaces
  • Capsule wardrobe
  • Reducing
  • Rules
  • Elimination
  • quantifying what qualifies
  • Freedom from consumerism

What Does Minimalist Living Look Like?

Here is a short list of some day-to-day things that most minimalists would at least aim to adhere to:

  1. Clean your closet
  2. Stay up to date with your books and other collections to remove items you don’t find useful anymore
  3. Donate unnecessary items 
  4. Free up space on your tables and countertops
  5. Declutter your bathroom cabinets and drawers
  6. Construct free space in your calendar for quality time with family and friends
  7. Clean up something digital like your email inbox or phone messages
  8. Rent items to avoid adding to the items in your home
  9. Make commitments carefully and get comfortable saying no. 
  10. Regularly pare down the “sentimental items” in your home to ensure you’re only keeping things that REALLY mean something to you
cozy afternoon with coffee blanket
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What Does Simple Living Look Like?

Here is a short list of some day-to-day things that most people living the simple life aim to adhere to:

  1. Daily journaling to gain peace of mind
  2. Being grateful and satisfied with what you have before wanting more
  3. Keeping a tidy living space filled with items that make you feel warm and cozy – Hygge
  4. Going back to the basics with food, clothing and other essentials. This can look like trying to incorporate more unprocessed, good-for-you foods, and choosing to repair or borrow clothes before shopping.
  5. Keeping your finances simple – cut down on the number of accounts, obligations, credit cards and everything else! Some for living and then some for retirement is all that is necessary. 
  6. Bringing elements from the past to invoke a sense of nostalgic charm. 
  7. Collecting and displaying items with sentimental value. Just not so many that they become clutter!
  8. Honoring nature with your actions
  9. Spending quality time with loved ones
  10. Cooking with love and passion 

How do they differ?

By this point you are probably already connecting the dots in your mind and seeing how simple living and minimalism differ yourself. But if you need more help, here are some direct comparisons for you: 

Travel: Traveling as a minimalist can include packing extremely light; finding ways to minimize costs as much as possible, like cooking in the hotel room, and avoiding picking up too many mementos and souvenirs from destinations. Those following a simple lifestyle may opt for “slow travel,” an approach that puts emphasis on local people, culture, food, music and genuine connections of the heart. Minimalism then becomes an aspect of these journeys as well. 

Quality vs. quantity: Simple living is mainly centered around maximizing the quality of the lived experience by many different methods that call for “authenticity.” Minimalism puts emphasis on creating space for a better quality of life mostly by reducing the quantity of material possessions you own. This lifestyle banks on the central philosophy that lesser quantity equals greater quality. 

Back to the basics vs. just the bare necessities: While both simple living and minimalism aim to rid your life of unnecessary complications, their end results do differ slightly. To explain this with a simplistic example, imagine two people who need new watches. It’s likely that both individuals will want a watch that is simple and offers just the essentials, but the models that they both will choose will differ based on their personal philosophies. The one living a simple life will probably want something that invokes a sense of nostalgia, joy or warmth when worn. This will be given value along with factors like cost, sustainability, and longevity of use. The minimalist on the other hand will most likely opt for a more modern make, still with only basic features, but not necessarily always factoring in things like emotional value and connection.  

Aesthetics: Because minimalism focuses so much on eliminating excess, even down to the bare minimum, it often ends up creating living spaces containing stark, white, open spaces that are lit by natural light. While simple living also advocates for removing items that do not bring value to your life, it also encourages you to add things, collections and decor that bring in warmth and coziness unique to you and your personality. This tends to create a more rustic effect. 

Is One Better Than The Other?

Not at all. They are different, sure, but neither is better than the other. It’s all about making choices that align with your understanding of a meaningful life, and this can most certainly mean subscribing to parts of both philosophies at the same time. 

After all, simplicity and minimalism are only used so interchangeably because they are found coexisting with each other so often. Why not use some principles of each and tailor them to best suit your life? For most people, the sweet spot really is at the intersection of the two.

So let me know! What do you think would fit your life best? Simple Living, Minimalism or a combination of both? The only way to truly know which parts of simplicity and minimalism work for you is by trying them out and gradually eliminating the parts that don’t fit into your life. Yup you got it – the way to arrive at your versions of simple living and minimalism is by actually practicing simple living and minimalism! Check out my post on simple living to get some ideas on where to start. 

Hi there, I'm Judy, it's awesome to meet you! I'm a writer, master pie baker and I've been helping people reach their personal and career goals for over 30 years.   I believe everyone should experience the joy of creating old fashioned recipes, just like Mom or Grandma used to make. And I also help you to create those memories for you and your family with Simple, Delicious, Wholesome recipes that you can learn to make. We also help you discover that Simple Living isn't just a concept.  It's a state of mind. Comforting food and Simple Living. It's all here. You can read more on my About page!