Lagom: Swedish Minimalism for Enough

Lagom is a Swedish term that roughly translates into “the understanding that I have enough”. Words have the power to shape what we understand in the world and understanding this one could shape your perceptions.
Adam

Written by Adam on December 15, 2017. Updated April 24, 2019.
5 min read. Mindfulness, Minimalism. 16 comments.

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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.

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 language 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 a 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 a 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, asking what the right amount is, and letting 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 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?

Adam

About Adam

Hi, I'm Adam! I help millennials invest to reach financial independence sooner than they ever thought possible. Want to see what you could do to reach FI sooner? You're in the right place!

16 Comments

Why not add to the conversation below? Your voice is welcome!

This reminds me a bit of “commercial stoicism” or however MMM describes stoicism. I love it, personally.

Ohh interesting – i hadn’t heard the term “commercial stoicism”. I’ll have to check into that one.

I have always loved the concept of lagom! Swedes are very practical in that manner. I think it’s one of the best traits of Swedish society, to practice lagom.

It makes me more curious to visit Sweden for sure. I’d be interested to see how that impacts time there as a visitor.

FIRE! take care to address both fear and greed, you are left with lagom.
Thank you for the watts added to a shining light bulb ideal

Lagom parallels the phrase “elegant sufficiency” which accompanied me as I grew up in Sydney. My gentle father was heavily influenced by a childhood of scarcity and rationing that was WWII London. It left him with a deep appreciation of family and friends and an almost oblivious regard for anything material beyond its usefulness. Searching for the source of that phrase today, I find some happy irony in the poem stanza it originates from:

An elegant sufficiency, content,
Retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books,
Ease and alternate labour, useful life,
Progressive virtue, and approving Heaven!

Excerpt from ‘The Season; Spring’ (1724)
By James Thomson. Scottish poet and playwright.
(September 11, 1700 – August 27, 1748)

Wow, that’s an amazing quote, thanks for sharing it, and your story about your father.

I added The Seasons to my reading list to check it out. “elegant sufficiency” is spot on as a definition that doesn’t hint at excess or perfection.

Physician on FIRE

Physician on FIRE

January 14, 2018 at 4:09 PM | Reply

Lagom, Hygge, and Swedish Death Cleaning. Those Scandinavians are on to some wonderful trends.

Cheers!
PoF

I hadn’t heard of “Swedish Death Cleaning”, but after looking it up, that’s an interesting idea!

Enough in the United States seems to mean “less than other people have” rather than “enough for myself and family”. The cultural difference doesn’t surprise me considering the relative consumption (more than your neighbor) problem we have in the US. It’s tough to stop social comparison, but so important to happiness.

By the way, I like your Torii logo.

That cultural difference in “enough” makes sense. I wonder how much of that relates back to the sheer size of our houses and spaces in the US. The feeling of enough in a house is driven by what’s available and what you’re familiar with – which may both be far more space than you need. Then filling that space with “enough” spirals from there.

Thanks for recognizing the torii! I wrote about Why Minafi’s Logo is a Torii a while back too.

Interesting hypothesis about the space. It’s good to know that there is a concept of enough in other cultures so maybe we can learn. I do struggle with it for sure.

The English word is temperance

I enjoyed this post a lot. I’ve been traveling a lot this year satisfying my “fernweh” 🙂 but finding “langom” will be a part of my FI journey going forward.

We all desire novelty to some extent. We want to see new places, meet new people, buy new clothes to change our external appearance – maybe we think that new places, people, and appearance will improve our own identity and sometimes they do to an extent. I’ve seen a lot of places and people, and it is fun and fulfilling in the moment, but I’m coming to think that no amount of newness, exploration can create langom. That’s something we have to find within ourselves regardless of external factors.

It’s great to explore and travel – I recommend that everyone do it if they have the opportunity – but I’m trying to set langom as the final destination.

Trying to balance fernweh (longing for travel) and lagom (enough) is a challenge for me as well. Often I’ll come back from a trip and immediately start planning the next one.

Travel seems like one of those things where you don’t know how much is too much until you experience it.

Travel seems like one of those things where you don’t know how much is too much until you experience it.

Totally! It’s a huge privilege to encounter that limit of “too much” since many people have super limited time to travel, especially in the US. For me it started after about 3 months of continuous travel while packing up and moving every 2-4 weeks. We’ve done long stays, which I’d classify as greater than 1 month in a given place, and short stays of 0-3 weeks. The short stays allow us to see more, but they are also more mentally taxing since it feels like we’re always packing up and moving on. In my future travels I hope to do less nomading and more existing while in a place that isn’t home 🙂 – something like 3-6 months total with 1-2 months in specific places and very limited nomadic travel in between.

I see langom in travel by valuing staying still and seeing “enough” in what is present now. It’s a bit of a meditative concept that I’ve thought a lot about this year. It’s also something that I’m looking forward to applying to my life when I set up a new home.