What does Lagom mean?
Trends are started and hyped all the time. Some people follow them because they have grown bored and feel stuck or because they generally love changes, so they are craving a new, refreshing thing. Other people follow them because they feel they have just found something really true, good and beautiful to stick to (forever). Lagom is something that seems to be promoted again these days, so we decided to look into it, and here we come with our initial findings.
Lagom is described as a philosophy of life and a lifestyle that originated from Sweden. The word is derived from “lag”, which means “law” – the law of common sense, of custom. It literally means “according to common sense / custom”, and it is commonly used to mean “not too little, not too much, but just enough”. Of course, there is a more impressive and romantic explanation, involving Viking feasts, but it is just a legend, so we are not including it here.
The very essence of this expression is not unique to Swedish culture. It seems to be a common human lore, and we can safely say that it is synonymous with the Arabic / Turkish “tamam”, which we use in a modified version even in our own Bulgarian language, as well as with concepts like “a sweet spot”, “the middle way”, “the Goldilocks principle”, or shortly it is about moderation, balance and avoiding extremes.
Although today, in the material comfort of the modern world, lagom is touted as a trendy recipe to a happy life, we believe that in the first place it is a principle that has always helped humanity survive – even in the harsh environments of the Arabian desert or the Scandinavian north. Besides, for most of human history life used to be quite harsh everywhere, even when the environment was quite mild and generous. Most people had to work hard, make do with what they had, be resourceful and skilled, but also humble and grateful for every day. That’s what sustained life, built and preserved cultures.
But that is not all. Let’s not forget the literal meaning of lagom – law, common sense, custom. That means sticking to the norm, avoiding excesses, waywardness and individualism. Preservation of life and peace might come at the expense of self-expression and idiosyncrasy, which we, modern people, keep in high esteem. Balance and harmony might sometimes feel too confining and even suffocating, especially when they are paid in the currency of self-restraint, moderation and even frugality, austerity and asceticism. Yet, many people would not choose King Midas’ touch of gold if they think of the consequences.
2 Liberating ways to practice Lagom:
1. Choose the middle way.
Choosing the middle way / Lagom / moderation, people do not jump to extremes – they do not spend too much time trying to figure out how to shape a minimalist or an indulgent lifestyle. In the first place, Lagom is not about absolutes or perfection. It is about what is just enough, and that holds true for anything – from the material objects we use to the time and labour we invest in finding, choosing and procuring them. We better take it easy, not go overboard, be as pragmatic as we can, focusing only on the essential. That’s liberating, isn’t it?
2. What is just right for us is not necessarily what is just right for our neighbours.
Lagom in society might be about fitting in and conforming, but after all you know your own situation better than anyone else. You do not have to be a blind follower, a trend slave or a member of a cult. You’d better strike the balance between losing yourself in the crowd and standing out in an overly eccentric and conspicuous way. After all, lagom is about balance, right?
How lagom is embodied in material objects
As craftspeople we are responsible not only for designing and making objects but also for anything else that a tiny business of two needs to take care of, and we juggle many balls all the time, so for us to keep above the water and not burn out, we have to constantly strive to find and hold on to sweet spots. One of these is related to design itself. Here is an older text which explains our design decisions and constitutes a perfect example of a sweet spot, of a lagom approach to design and making. As you can see, lagom does not mean taking the easiest road or making the perfect thing, etc. It means getting sober and realistic and offering a decent honest product that is just right for its purpose.
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