Lagom and Hygge: Two Little Words That Temper Our Minimalism

We’ve been called extremists by those outside minimalist circles. Friends, family members, and colleagues have struggled to understand why we only have four coffee mugs, why we would extend our minimal tendencies to our calendars and diets, or why I would want to take up bike commuting. With every new discovery on our minimalist journey, they respond with an “Oh, Jenna…” If only they knew how moderate our family’s minimalism can be!

If we think of minimalism as a spectrum, my family would probably fall somewhere in the middle. We only have one child, but we drive two cars. We’re fairly close to Francine Jay’s 100 Essentials model (I could not recommend this book more highly!), but one of those “things” is our several hundred books. We have a pet, we have more than two arm chairs, and we have a lot of candles. And, as minimalists, we’re more than okay with that. Here’s why:

  1. Lagom: Francine Jay wrote a great post on lagom, or the Swedish concept of “just the right amount.” She describes lagom as “a desirable state of appropriateness, or enoughness—[which] has nothing to do with scarcity or deprivation.” A personal state of appropriateness, which is different for everyone and, sometimes, is different within one family. What is just right for me is not the same as what is just right for my son or my husband. I like a sparse space, with few furnishings and room to play. My husband likes a cozy space filled with hefty, rustic luxuries. Our son can’t tell us what he prefers yet, but I’d bet it’s somewhere in the middle. To avoid conflict, each of us gets our own lagom.
  2. Hygge: We’re recently obsessed with the Danish concept of hygge, which Meik Wiking describes in The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living as “a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being.” We’ve spent the last month or so cultivating this intentional coziness in our home: lighting candles, turning off phones, putting on extra pairs of wool socks. It does require us to keep a few small comforts around (candles, books, blankets, etc.), but the payoff is well worth the price. We justify the extras by saying our minimalism makes room for our hygge. Our brand of minimalism is about intentionally practicing a genuine, comfortable, surrounded-by-loved-ones-with-hot-chocolate kind of life anyway.

No matter what we prioritize or define as enough, there’s room for all of us on the minimalism train, and we get to chart our own courses. It’s a journey, after all, toward a meaningful, authentic, and individual life—whatever that means to each of us (and no matter what we pack in our suitcase).

Minimalism, Now More than Ever

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Somewhere between the fall and spring I lost my center. Between the national election (and the divides it created in my organizations and families), the anniversary of our unexpected birth experience, and the allure of more (always more!) to be busy with, I lost sight of my goals and priorities. I lost myself. Fortunately, I won’t be that hard to find.

Why? Minimalism.

Minimalism is the answer when we feel this way. When we’re unsure of ourselves or our futures. When we find ourselves asking,

  • “Who am I?”
  • “What am I doing?”
  • Where am I going?”
  • “What do I want?”
  • “Why?”

Minimalism helps us answer these questions and silence the wondering. Here’s how:

  1. Minimalism helps us remember what’s important. Rather than an absence or an abstinence, minimalism is simply the thoughtful cultivation of a life worth living. It helps us identify our core values, priorities, and beliefs. When we do that, we see more clearly what gives our lives real meaning.
  2. Minimalism removes the unnecessary. When we commit to minimalism, we make room for the things that matter most, and we clear out the rest. By doing so, we start to realize how many of the things that tie us down or cause us anxiety have little to no bearing on our priorities. And if we don’t really need them, we can look at removing.
  3. Minimalism creates headspace and heartspace. We create space by eliminating the unnecessary. Once we eliminate noise and distractions and give ourselves room to think, we’re able to hear our own voices more clearly.
  4. Minimalism allows us to honor our values. If we remove the things that don’t honor our values, all that’s left are the things that do. If we’re diligent in this (in keeping our spaces free and clear), we can’t help but live authentically.
  5. Minimalism teaches us to let go of things. If we practice minimalism, we’re likely to purge things: physical items, calendar appointments, commitments, thoughts, and worries. Over time, we learn to let go. And each time we do it, the act of losing becomes a little less painful. We learn to hold tightly to what matters, but to loosen our grip on everything else. We see that all things serve a purpose in our lives and that it’s okay to say goodbye once that purpose is achieved. We learn to let go: either to enjoy it, or to let it hurt just a little bit less.

I don’t mean to make light of serious questions; finding and honoring ourselves takes work, and a lot of it. But we can make that work a little easier if we practice minimalism and choose the pursuit of a meaningful life.