Dan Harris of the 10% Happier podcast/book/app/meditation empire, is constantly saying that meditation has a branding problem and, he’s right. People think it’s supposed to look and feel a certain way and it often puts them off even giving meditation a try (despite the proven benefits of doing so). Even though the reality is very different, it almost doesn’t matter.
Thanks to some reading I’ve done recently, I’ve come to think the same thing about lifestyle movements. It doesn’t matter what movement you’re talking about (minimalism, simple/slow living, hygge etc) – they all have an image problem. People think they are one thing when the reality is often very different. Sometimes (aka a lot of the time), the perception of a movement is heavily influenced by those at the forefront of it. This perception can put people off from giving minimalism, simple living or hygge a try even though it may end up being very beneficial for them.
Minimalism and simple living are two movements that I’m familiar with (exhibit a: this blog), but hygge (pronounced hue-guh) was relatively new to me until I did a deep dive last week.
I know I am a couple of years(!) late to the hygge train, but, I just finished reading The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking. If you haven’t read it yet but are a fan of other minimalism and simple living books – I highly recommend it. It’s a quick read and it’s straightforward in its delivery. No messing about for the Danes! If you have the option, try listening to the audiobook version. That’s what I did and getting to hear the author read his work added a lovely layer to the experience (his accent also helped).
For the uninitiated (aka the two people out there who haven’t heard of it before), hygge is a Danish word/lifestyle taking the world by storm. According to Meik, hygge can be translated as creating coziness. In fact, his personal favourite way to describe hygge is ‘cocoa by candlelight’. Meik equated hygge to the English word ‘homey’ which helped clarify it quite a bit for me. Hominess is a calming, soothing presence when everything feels just right.
That description of hygge is something I can get on board with. That version makes it sound much more ephemeral than tangible.
Like hygge is a feeling you create, rather than a thing that you have.
Hygge is about cherishing the ordinary, simple things in life, like a simple meal with friends or a slow walk around your neighbourhood on a lazy Sunday. In that way, hygge seems to be very much in line with minimalism and the slow living movement.
However, when I read the book, it seemed like in order for things to be really hygge you have to have the right ‘stuff’. Hygge isn’t just found in any old space. Hygge isn’t found in cold spaces decorated with metal or modern textures. The design aesthetic of hygge is one that I would describe as comfy, cosy, vintage and maybe even a little bit hippie? (I say hippie from a place of love – I consider myself a hippie, after all).
What I’m trying to say is that based on what Meik wrote, hygge requires the right lighting, the right cosy blanket, the right amount of lit, unscented candles and a book in order for it to be truly hygge. This is where the hygge movement loses me a little bit. I love the idea of savouring the ordinary. I’m on board with that, I think that’s great.
But, I do struggle with the idea that for us to live well (aka live hygge), it has to look a certain way with the right/appropriate ‘stuff’.
That’s where things get a little confusing for me.
Before you come for me in the comments – I want to make clear that this is the exact issue I’m trying to get at here. My perception of hygge (based on what I’ve read) would almost put me off trying to incorporate it into my daily life. When I’m sure it’s just my perception that is warping what hygge is in reality.
Minimalism is just as guilty of this as any trending lifestyle movement. Minimalism has been branded as the clean, white, sparse, interior decorating movement (with the $3000 West Elm sofa to match, of course). In that way, hygge appears to be it’s opposite, with comfy chairs, warm colours and textures being the order of the day.
If I’d let the popular version of minimalism become my perception of what minimalism actually is, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog right now. The mainstream perception of minimalism is enough to make me want to scream from the rooftops – ‘but it doesn’t have to be this way!’
I don’t live my minimalism that way. My minimalism is vintage, hand-me-down armchairs that have been scratched within an inch of their lives by my cat and hand-painted canvases from that time I thought I was an artist (spoiler alert: I’m not). In fact, my minimalism focuses less on what the ‘stuff’ in my life looks like and more on what I can do with my life because I’m not obsessed with owning the perfect, right, ‘stuff’. Does that make me any less of a minimalist? I don’t think so. Does my design aesthetic make my life more hygge? Again, I don’t think it does.
I would consider my life hygge because of what I do with it, rather than what I have in it.
Regardless of whatever movement I identify with, I don’t think owning the perfect cosy chair or the perfect piece of minimalist, modern art makes any difference to my ability to enjoy the simple things in life.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the idea of curling up with a good book on my couch. That is my idea of a perfect (and apparently very hygge) afternoon. But, is that experience diminished if I’m reading under harsh lighting or on an old broken couch (which, for the record, I am)?
I certainly hope not.
My problem with hygge, minimalism and the slow living movement as a whole, is when they are held up as lifestyle ideals as something that has levels that can be ‘achieved’, they often appear exclusionary to those people who cannot afford the trappings of it. Can’t afford that West Elm couch? Well, I guess that means you can’t be a minimalist. Don’t have 6 hours to lovingly watch over a stew on the stove? There go your hopes of being part of the slow living movement.
In a lot of ways, I think lifestyle movements are trying to give us a different vocabulary to use to describe how we want to live our lives, or what our most ideal life looks like. However, in reality, they are just giving us different ways of saying very nearly the same thing. These movements are just being packaged differently and sold (with varying degrees of success and transmutation of intent).
How do we solve this problem?
The most clear-cut way I can think of is just to live your life, true to yourself and not to any one movement. You don’t need to pigeonhole yourself into a particular lifestyle box in order for your life to be enough. Spend all of your money on high-end furniture. Shop at the vintage store. Don’t shop at all. Get takeout. Make dinner from scratch. Eat straight from the cereal box. Whatever works for you, it’s good enough. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
How would you define your version of minimalism, simple living or hygge? Let me know in the comments!
Listen to the season finale of Tiny Bites – Tiny Bites 32: Your Life, in Boxes.
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Image Credit: Tiny Ambitions