lagomI’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.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

80 comments to Lagom

  • Maria

    Francine,this is a very inspiring post!
    I,too,love scandinavian design and sensibility and “lagom” expresses it beautifully.
    Ancient Greeks had two similar sayings¨-
    “μηδεν αγαν” which means “nothing in excess” and was carved on the walls of the Delphi Oracle
    “παν μετρον αριστον” which means “everything in moderation”.
    Thank you.

  • MakG

    Lagom; wow! What a fantastic concept. I find it so interesting that people simply cannot fathom that enough is actually just fine. It’s so liberating for me to know that there are people who do understand this. I think most people think I’m strange because I genuinely am content with enough. Onward and upward with Lagom!

  • […] Jay, F. (2014). Ways of incorporating Lagom into your life! Retrieved on April, 14, 2014 from […]

  • […] not looking to live out of a backpack or only owning 100 things – for me, lagom has more items than that right now. But what we have now is too much clutter, too much to wash, too […]

  • Tina

    I think more people are getting away from feeling they have to keep up with fashion. When I was a child, on the Jewish HIgh holy days, everyone had new outfits. Now, most people wear clothes they have worn before with maybe a new scarf or new earrings at most. A few men had new ties. A lot of people don’t get as dressed up as they used to get. Some men didn’t wear sport coats or suits. Many women wore slacks. I was an usher so I saw a lot of people coming and going.

  • I noticed the ads for new Easter outfits and all the toy ads. I wondered what Darth Vader had to do with Easter. My kids were getting rid of old blankets so I took what I could use and the rest will go to the vet. I have been getting rid of big bags of clothing and linens every week. We did a paper making project for earth day.

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