A fresh install of Ubuntu comes with LibreOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird, Transmission, Sudoku, Chess, and a slew of other applications preinstalled. Linux Mint includes most of Ubuntu's picks plus GIMP, Pigeon, VLC, and others. The self-purported "elementary" OS comes with midori, pantheon, maya, geary, totem, and noise.
I'm looking for a distribution that comes with only the barest essentials included out of the box (desktop environment, file manager, terminal) but is still relatively easy to use. I'm a fairly technically-savvy computer user who is generally adept at figuring out new software, but I recently tried to install Debian and found myself completely lost.
Note that this has nothing to do with conserving system resources such as hard drive space, and everything to do with personal preference. I like minimalism. I like to begin with a blank slate.
In line with this, I don't care how many system packages come preinstalled behind the scenes, provided that I won't ever have to see or interact with them in the desktop environment. If anything, having more invisible system packages is preferable if it makes the process of installing those applications I do want faster and easier.
Lastly, I'd prefer something based on Debian, since it seems to have a larger community to help solve any problems that arise.
What are my options?