Ever have one of those moments when you’re in the middle of a thought and suddenly you struggle for the right word or phrase to describe whatever vision it is you are trying to get across? You roll a few words around in your mouth, but none of them are quite right. You know there is a word that exists, that it is somehow eluding the fumbling connection of constants and vowels rushing into your head, vying to be “it”. You slow down, relax, recall whatever threads you can grasp that you associate with that word, and then…
That’s my current “it” word. A Swedish word that has no direct translation, but “is neither too much nor too little; but neither is it just “enough”.”* It is within the realm of comfortable, but not to the point of excess. Lagom can describe everything from possessions to decoration to lifestyle. Within it are notes of embracing what you have, of taking no more than your fair share and ensuring that those behind you have what they need, of allowing room in your life/house/beliefs for things to shift and take new form without being crowded out, of giving things room to breathe.
I like the idea of lagom. It reminds me that I don’t need a dozen towels when two will do (when one is dirty, wash it and put the other up!). It encourages me to invest in the best quality of something that I want to last so that I’m not using as many resources buying one plus replacements of something of lesser quality. It is the timer in my shower letting me know that my body has gotten clean, but there are others in the world who still need water.
Life should be about the balance, of achieving lagom – enough time put in at work to be comfortable, but not so much that you don’t get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Enough food to sate your hunger and thirst, but not so much that your body has to do some “remodeling” to find a place to put it. Enough furnishings in your house that you have what you need and enjoy, but not so much that you can’t even find those pieces you enjoy. Do we really need two refrigerators, five basketballs, 15 sets of sheets and six bedrooms for a family of four?
I can see what you’re thinking. “What if I have a party for ten teams of 2-on-2 basketball over the course of three days? Oh no! I don’t have enough bedrooms!” We have neighbors with fridges and coolers, hotels and community centers these days. If you must have the tournament, creating and working with a community is not only easier, but much more rewarding. And since your free-time opened up once you allowed others to help, how about taking a look at your linen closet?
*My thanks to Alan AtKisson for his essay, “The Lagom Solution” in the book, “Less Is More: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, A Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness” for finally providing a name to the definition and thought I’ve long embraced and not been able to name, until now.