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Lagom: Swedish Minimalism for Enough

Words have the power to shape what we understand in the world. Just knowing the definition of a word can open up new opportunities and outlooks on life. In an episode of the Invisibilia podcast from last season, they explored this topic and how they discovered a new emotion in talking with an isolated tribe which was another take on this topic.

stockholm sweden

The same could be said about minimalism or financial independence. Unless you are introduced to the topics, they may not be ones you would organically discover. Today, people are discovering these terms more and more as their popularity in culture grows. It also helps to see documentaries on Minimalism out already and one on FIRE in the works. These should provide even more people with an on-ramp to these ideas.

Lagom is another such term that I was recently introduced to from a tweet.

A Swedish word I’m teaching my church today: Lagom – “The understanding that I have enough.” There isn’t an equal in American English.

@RevJesKast on Twitter, October 29, 2017

After reading more, I quickly learned that lagom has as many meanings as minimalism. “Enough” is a vague concept. It doesn’t imply a lacking, nor does it imply excess. It also doesn’t mean a “sweet spot” or a “perfect amount”. Enough is different from person to person.

Lagom has its origins in an old Viking tale. While drinking (I imagine around a fire) if the group only had one cup to drink beer from, they would pass it around, drinking a small amount so that every person would get some.

This story may sound oddly familiar to Christians. It parallels the idea of Jesus feeding the multitude on seven loaves of bread and fish. If your “enough” is smaller, more people will be satiated. (as an atheist, I wasn’t expecting to write on this topic, but it seemed too perfect a connection).

Lagom Definition Today

The definition today isn’t different, but our interpretation of enough might be. It’s hard to convey in a story what it means to be satisfied. In modern English there are a few equivalents for lagom in English:

  • Enough
  • Suitable
  • In balance
  • The median
  • Not too much or too little

None of these definitions convey perfection, only appropriateness. There might be a perfect sweet spot, but that is a different meaning than lagom.

Lagom Reading & Art

lagom

To my surprise, I found an entire culture of Etsy shops* dedicated to this simple term. When you think about it though, there’s no sexy slogan in “find your enough”. Because of that, even the art around this term builds on it with mentions of “the perfect amount” or the “the sweet spot”.

There’s something hard to explain yet satisfying about the term lagom that doesn’t easily fit in a slogan. Minimalism (to me at least) has a point where you’re happy with the way things are. Achieving lagom though there is no celebration. It feels like a quiet contentment.

Outside of that, there are multiple books about lagom on Amazon, and even Audible. Most came out in the past few months, including Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living*. The audiobook of it is under $5 and is now on my phone to listen to. At 4 hours it’s a short one.

Not Lacking, Not Greedy

Lagom is an adjective used to define what you feel you have enough of. Having a lagom amount of something is enough to not feel lacking, but also not enough to feel greedy.

  • How much would you say in a discussion to feel lagom?
  • How much would you eat in a given day feel lagom?
  • How much online media would you consume to feel lagom?
  • How much should you buy to feel lagom?
  • How much money would you save up feel lagom?
  • How much should you pursue the next thing in your life to feel lagom?

My answers to the consumption question share meaning with my flavor of minimalism. What interests me in the concept of lagom is that it isn’t about doing less or more for any of these, but about being mindful when choosing an amount. Rather than attempting to limit yourself, ask what the right amount is, and let that be your guide.

Some of my favorite minimalist quotes seem to touch on the same idea as lagom – they guide focus not towards reduction but towards a fulfilling, enriched life.

This seems similar to minimalist living, but with a specific place in mind, that feels right. It feels like a combination of a low impact life while hitting correct consumption. Lagom hits a sweet spot for me, right between minimalism and mindfulness.

What are your thoughts on lagom?

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I'm , a full-stack product developer in Salt Lake City, UT. I love enlivening experiences, visualizing data, and making playful websites.

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