2016 WAS THE YEAR WE DISCOVERED ‘HYGGE’ – the Danish concept of surrounding yourself with the finer things in life and basically just fully embracing the whole ‘treat yourself’ palaver. But later that day we crossed the Skagerrak strait into Sweden and discovered lagom.
The Swedes have been living la vida lagom since back in the Viking era and the whole shebang is roughly translated from Swedish to mean ‘enough, sufficient, adequate, just right’ (the translation itself only gives us what we need to know and nothing more). When you put that in the context of basically anything else it sounds pretty shite. I mean, who wants to live ‘averagely’? Everyone, it seems, and when it comes to lagom, nothing could be more satisfying. It’s a lifestyle with an ethos rooted in moderation: you have enough, you like what you have, but it’s not about having the most, or the best. You’re basically a saint with belongings. Isn’t that nice? As lagom isn’t the first Scandi trend we’ve grabbed by the coattails, hoping it glides us into lifestyle mecca, I got to thinking: does switching to a new cultural normal lahinder or lahelp us?
‘It’s partly a result of globalization,’ explains social scientist Dr Lauren Rosewarne from University of Melbourne.
‘We’re exposed to so many different cultures and we can buy all the accoutrements we need to have that lifestyle.’
It’s true. We love another country’s way of life and these days they’re so easy to embrace. Years ago we cottoned onto the Japanese way of eating. Until we realized the western diet couldn’t sustain such high consumption of soy. Then we threw out all our belongings because Marie Kondo said it would make us feel better. We all know about living Danishly now and, well, it appears the Swedes have got the answer to enlightenment.
‘We go through trends in lifestyles where we look at people who seem to be happier, healthier or better than us and we ask ourselves what we can learn,’ says Rosewarne. ‘That’s human nature. The problem is there are a lot of limitations in cherry-picking from other cultures and then expecting it to work the same in isolation. Minimalism, like with lagom, has an aesthetic charm to it we like – if we have less stuff we’ll be happier. That has a short life span because people purge and then they don’t feel joyful after that. It’s like the silver bullet, the thought that we can borrow from other societies and be cured of our ills. But psychology is a little more complicated than that.’
Lagom is an interesting one, though, as Gen Y has never really been friends with moderation. There are the hipsters, who think it’s OK to ride a $1500 fixie bike because they’re saving the environment and then there’s the rest of us spending our retirement on cold-drip Columbian (so says that recent study on 18-34-year-olds that found we spent more on coffee than any sort of savings or investment for later life). And don’t even get the patriarchy started on our avocado toast.
So from cashmere trackies to hot chocolate by roaring fires (take note how all coverage linking to hygge seems to only reference the presence of hot chocolates, fires and rugs), we loved the idea of living like the Danish. It’s weird because now this transition to lagom is like going from first class to economy, by choice. And while I like the aesthetic goodness minimalism brings, goddamn I’d rather be cosy than with ‘just enough’, as I hazard to guess espresso martinis don’t fall within the lagom psyche.
It’s fair to say this is just another trend for us to buy into to feel better about ourselves. Lagom is to life what normcore was to clothing. We get to feel smug in our humbleness: saving the environment one sustainably recycled garbage run at a time; feeding the world with windowsill-grown herb gardens; achieving martyrdom with our Brimnes bedframe – nothing fancy, just enough to sleep on. Forget baths; showers have water-saving faucets (so you can forget properly rinsed hair while you’re at it) – and lucky for you that $1500 fixie looks like it was picked up on Gumtree, so you’re safe in the knowledge you look suitably lagom regardless.
Our love of hygge spawned hundreds of books and while Amazon only has a handful of tomes to lagom, you can only assume they’re being penned right.this.second. in time for the Mother’s Day rush. And when you hit up Google for the latter, you’re presented with a set of ‘people who also searched for’ results for hygge. We’re zig-zagging between indulging and restraint. This may well just be mindful living gone berserk and I’m not the only one who thinks so, as not only has the Google search term ‘f*ck lagom’ remained steady overtime, T-shirts also exist emblazoned with the same anti-lagom-establishment catchcry. Resistance is futile as we seem to like carrying a torch for basically any other culture, no thanks to social media. There’s nothing more aesthetically pleasing to the eye than a minimalist flatlay or a shot of a loungeroom with ‘just enough’ furniture to make it look lived in.
Search for #lagom on Insta and you’ll be presented with 20,715+ options of minimalist wonder. #Hygge has a massive 1,769,556+ posts of fires, mugs and rugs. Naturally. The tag #mariekondo sports nearly 36,000 posts. What does this prove? Well, on the surface, it proves we like to brag about our enlightened mind – be it because we’re mindful of our surroundings, we like to treat ourselves, or we like to throw a lot of shit out. There’s a deep-seated problem there, though, as we put the public posting higher on the agenda than the actual living of the lifestyle trend. It’s like that old ‘if a tree falls in the forest’ schtick. If we don’t let everyone know we’re living lagom… are we actually living it?
As globalization of our world takes place on a higher level, our society encourages us to jump on the trends, buy the T-shirt, use the hashtags. Pinterest is a breeding ground of lagom inspo, but while the Swedish do indeed live lagom because it is rooted in the nation’s psyche (I doubt that millions of gorgeous blonde Swedes are proclaiming their lifestyle as ‘lagom’ on Insta), we’re appropriating it to fit a certain, quite literally, je ne sais quoi. Sweden is arguably a much greener country than Australia, as there they have a collective, national feeling of ‘doing your bit’. Australia is merely trying to keep up with those who have come before us, trying valiantly to show we’re just as cultured, just as green, just as good.
‘Australia is a new country so we don’t have the same kind of history we can tap into the way you can with the Japanese or Swedish. We feel ourselves as culturally desperate, even though this is not true with our Indigenous history,’ says Rosewarne. ‘It ends up being a hodgepodge because we’ll borrow little bits but we want to keep what we like in our culture. But you can’t take these ideas in isolate. We like them for three months of the year but the rest we want to be overindulgent pigs’ [read: Hygge/’Merica].
For a lot of us, we think we’re living this holistic life, when really, we’re going to jump the lagom ship as soon as the next big lifestyle trend comes along. Lagom has just come at a time when we want to give a big backhanded slap across the face of consumerism. Even though we’re consuming all that lagom gives…
Take the supreme leader: IKEA. I can’t deny the allure of a sweet, sweet IKEA design. And it knows we’re picking up what it’s putting down, just recently releasing its ‘Live Lagom’ project that, at its core, is all about teaching us the ways of lagom. It’s worthy and aiming to do the right thing, but it’s still making money, innit? Then in Bristol exists a lifestyle magazine, touting balance and all that comes with it, aptly called Lagom. Then there’s a company in Korea, again named Lagom, selling us a skincare line celebrating ‘not too little, not too much’.
‘There is someone always trying to make money off a trend and these products can hit the shelves instantly,’ says Rosewarne. ‘And we’re lazy about it – if we can purchase, we will. Think of all the juice cleanse trends; initially the idea starts that you’ll do it at home, but it’s too much effort, so you buy them. It’s the idea of the easiest route taken while not wanting to invest too much of our time into achieving it.’
It’s interesting that something so rooted in balance, moderation, restraint and sort-of-minimalism creates an air so exclusive you must shut up and take our money. But the masses have spoken. I guess when Goldilocks ransacked that innocent bear family’s house in search of what was ‘just right’, she was onto something. Who knew?