Written by Megan Pettingill

The secret to lagom: the Swedish art of living a balanced, healthy life

In Sweden, it’s normal to set work tasks aside and take a fika (a break involving a coffee and treat of some kind). 

A one-way ticket to Sweden costs about $500. Adjö!

Hygge or lagom?

For a long time, I was mildly curious in hygge, the Danish concept of recognizing a moment as special or charming. I kept meaning to look it up and find out more, but never did. Instead, while browsing the shelves at a local Target, I saw a book called Lagom (pronounced like laa gum).

I flipped to the back of the book and a couple of phrases stood out to me: enjoying balance in every aspect of life; moderation and equality; slowing down and enjoying a life with less pressure, less stress, and more time for the things you love.

As someone who has been feeling more and more pressure in my personal life and work life lately, I thought I could find some benefits in lagom. I popped the book in my cart, next to a wildly absurd number of things I probably didn’t need, and went to the register.

What is lagom?

Apparently, no direct English translation exists for the word, but at its core, lagom means not too little and not too much. It’s about finding a balance that works for you.

The idea of lagom is thought to derive from the Viking Age (~800 – 1066 AD), rooted in the term laget om (around the team). The Vikings passed mead around in a horn or bowl and everyone would sip their fair share, making sure there was enough for everyone.

You can apply the idea of lagom to anything: work, leisure, family, relationships, holidays and celebrations, interior design…literally anything! The book broke it down into three different areas: your personal life, family and relationships, and in the wider world. Since everything starts with yourself, I’ll focus on the secrets of being more lagom in your personal life.

Exercise restraint when it comes to your home

We start and end our days at home, which is why we’d want our homes to be very lagom, don’t you think? To each their own, but Swedish homes are not too sparse or too fussy. They generally have white or light gray walls, carefully thought-out furniture, and they set apart single items to create breathing space. But most importantly, they are clutter-free.

De-cluttering, according to the book, is an exercise in will power and self-control. I know that’s true for me. The other day, to incite one of my friends, I sent a video of what my closet and the bed in my spare room look like…absolutely cluttered with clothes. She was rightly horrified.

De-cluttering and living more simply is something I need to do. Luckily the book has a few tips and tricks about de-cluttering. My goal is over the next few weeks to take them to heart and to make sure the things in my home either have a purpose or are beautiful. (Lucky for them, my cats are pretty good looking.)

Other ideas about a creating a lagom home include: use natural elements to warm up your house (think wool blankets and wood accents); work to have natural light; use candles and ambient lighting; forgo wall-to-wall carpeting for smaller throw rugs; and don’t let people wear shoes in the house!

Soothe your soul

Switching off and slowing down throughout the day are the keys to feeling mentally and physically refreshed.

Before you go to sleep, prepare yourself mentally and physically. Your bedroom should be a calm, safe space. (I should probably move the two computers and TV out of mine.) Before you go to sleep consider doing something that doesn’t involve your phone: read, listen to music, or cuddle. And if thoughts and worries are keeping you up, keep a journal next to your bed. You can write them all down and get rid of them for the night.

After dinner, take a walk. On weekends, find joy in outdoor adventures like hiking, sailing, camping, and riding a bike. During vacations, go back to the basics and enjoy the simple things in life.

Finding your own lagom

Ultimately, there are some things I could take or leave with lagom. The freezing cold dips in the lake every morning and the preference for herring might be a no for me, but the focus on creating a warm, balanced life is a yes. I feel connected to quiet holidays laced with traditions, warm candlelit nights, fuss-free dinner parties, and spending lazy days in the sun.

For me, my lagom life depends on building a life around less material items and finding the freedom to focus on more important things, like me, my friends, and my family. What about you?

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