I’ve always been a big fan of Swedish design and culture—I love their restrained décor, their use of light and natural materials, their respect for the environment, their healthy lifestyles, their strong sense of equality. So it comes as no surprise that Sweden is also the origin of one of my favorite concepts: lagom. The word has no direct English equivalent, but is perhaps best translated as “just the right amount.”
The lovely thing about lagom is that it’s a desirable state of appropriateness, or enoughness—and has nothing to do with scarcity or deprivation. It’s both the opposite of having too much and too little, and instead a celebration of moderation.
A popular story claims that the word is a contraction of the Viking phrase “laget om,” which specified how much mead one should drink from the horn as it was passed around the table—presumably just enough, so that everyone received their fair share. It’s a wonderful example of the social and economic equality in Swedish society; the country has a remarkably egalitarian income distribution, and one of the world’s lowest levels of poverty.
So how can we incorporate a little lagom into our lives?
* Resist the “too much” of hoarding. As minimalists, we should all be doing this anyway—but even if you’ve found the “perfect” t-shirt or pair of black pants, don’t stock up on half a dozen when one or two will do.
* Resist the “too little” of extremism. Sure, the siren call of 100-item minimalism, or living out of a backpack, can be quite strong; but if it’s not appropriate for your lifestyle or family at this time, it’s not lagom.
* Embrace equality. Our planet’s population is growing, and its resources are limited. When we over-consume, we take more than our fair share—leaving less for other people, and future generations. By limiting our personal consumption (or donating some of our excess wealth or possessions) we can better ensure there’s enough to go around for others.
* Embrace enough. Whether it’s food, wine, hobbies, or material possessions, don’t overindulge. In fact, we tend to savor and appreciate things more when quantities are limited.
I’d love to hear from some of my Swedish readers regarding lagom…as well as other international readers, on whether this wonderful concept has an equivalent in your culture.