The Difference Between Essentialism and Minimalism

If you don’t know, there are communities of people called essentialists and minimalists.

Minimalists are the larger of the two.

You can kind of tell what they are like just by their name.

I wouldn’t consider myself either of these as I think they go a bit too extreme on it.

Their basic idea is that they have created a more fulfilled, happy, awesome, less-stressful life by eliminating the clutter of unnecessary things like material objects.

Of course, yes, some of them go a bit extreme and are hippy-like: raw food, 3 pairs of clothes, and an RV.

However, I have taken a LOT of insights from them because I think a lot of the main points are true and very useful.

Also, I’ve found a lot of successful people also practice these habits.

Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest people in the history of mankind, and an incredible businessman, practices an essentialist method of time management: he only does what he is best at, what he enjoys doing, and delegates the rest to people who can do it better than him.

It makes incredible sense and it is admirable because he is probably much more busy than the average person and yet still manages to keep out a lot of clutter. In fact, he rarely has business meetings.

He has a million things that he could do that is somewhat productive, but has made way for the essential. Bill Gates has remarked on this incredible ability and has adopted it himself.

What’s the difference between Essentialism and Minimalism?

As the name suggests minimalism is more about cutting out a lot of the things in your life. It’s more focused on cutting things out than on doing the most optimal things. It’s often adopted by people who quit the 9 to 5 office job they hate for a more free lifestyle living on less.

Essentialists are more based on focusing on just the highest impact stuff. They could still have a more materialistic life but are not bombarded by a million things on their plates. This is primarily based on the book Essentialism, one of my favorite productivity books.

I’m more of an essentialist as I think having a certain amount of money is important. See details in next paragraph.

What I’ve Learned from Essentialists and Minimalists

I’ve learned from minimalists about the freedom of possessions.

People have misguided assumptions about:

  • how many material possessions you need to thrive
  • how much money you need
  • what you must have before you can travel or do certain things

Many American girls can’t go anywhere with 5 suitcases of clothes. This is not just a stereotype. I’ve seen it.

They are often constrained by their items and can never go places or travel or do many things because of that. If they ┬ádo, it’s a very restrained situation: sleep in a hotel and only see the mainstream highlights of a destination.

With a million possessions you are burdened and cannot move as freely.

Warren Buffett has lived in the same $31,500 house he bought in 1958 for over 60 years. He says he has met people who live in houses worth 100 or 1000 times more than his but he found that their possessions owned them rather than the other way around.

Tim Ferriss has also talked about a similar strategy: live for a month like you were homeless to rid yourself of the biggest entrepreneurial fear: bankrupcy and homelessness. After living like that for a month, Tim says that you will realize it’s not so bad and you’ll ask yourself, “Is this really what I feared so much?” It’s a method to show that even your worst fears aren’t so bad.

A lot of material possessions can constrain you more than fulfill you or make you happy.

For essentialists, I have learned more about time management and productivity. It could also be applied to other areas somewhat: like fashion, negotiation, sports, or any skill.

For example, when people play golf or tennis or baseball, there’s dozens of items they can buy: hats, special gloves, increased fit t-shirts, and accessories. Yet the most elite athletes can beat you with a low quality version of the most essential gear: a racket, one golf club, or a ball and bat.

And quite frankly, that’s all you need to play. For little kids, they can play the game with the bare essentials.


Minimalism has helped a lot of people out.

Many of them have escaped their corporate lives, big salaries, empty purpose, and a lack of passion to live a more free life off less of an income completely or mostly naturally. A lot of these people ended up being more passionate and fulfilled.

Essentialists have helped people become much more productive and look at life through a clearer glass.

There are reasons why they work so well.

Beyond it being just a hippy niche movement, they work because they address key elements of fulfillment and happiness of human biology that modern society forgets to teach us about: money and possessions can only take you so far: happiness comes from a variety of other activities: gratitude, striving for a goal, taking in the good, fulfillment, strong relationships, and many other elements.

Suggested readings:

If you want to learn more about being productive, I highly encourage the book Essentialism, which you can look at by clicking here.

If you want to learn about happiness, I suggest the book The How of Happiness. I went through many books on happiness before I found one that really showed the true science behind what makes us happy in detail. This is the one.

What do you think about essentialism and minimalism?

Will you try them out? Do you think you can thrive while adopting these principles?

Let me know.


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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.

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