Life Before Lagom
Life in the US is the opposite of ‘lagom’; it is full of extremes. For starters, look at the weather. We have extreme weather in all parts of the States. Think tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, floods, fires, really hot temperatures, really low temperatures, etc.
Then we have a huge commercial market. There are stores for almost everything you can think of; and not just one store, you might find 2 or 3 of the same stores in the same town. You need not ever want for anything. It’s all just a hop, skip, and a jump away from where you live.
We Americans pride ourselves on doing things big and out of control. Think about all of the shows you can watch: Extreme Water Parks, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Extreme Sports, Extreme Vacation Homes, Extreme Cakes, and the many shows that showcase extremes but simply don’t have it in the title.
Before moving to Sweden I had never heard the term ‘lagom’. I suppose that would make sense though since it really is just a Swedish thing and, a Swedish word. I didn’t understand what lagom meant and how it influenced the Swedish lifestyle. After living here for a year and a half, I totally get it and *mostly* enjoy a more lagom lifestyle and all that it entails.
What is Lagom?
Lagom is defined as having just the right amount of something. Think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears; not too little, and also not too much. This term applies to almost everything in Sweden. Keep reading to see how the extreme, compares with the lagom, and decide for yourself which one suits your lifestyle best.
Extreme Weather and Lagom Weather
Growing up in Chicago we had our fair share of extreme weather. It’s not uncommon, especially in the spring, to hear the tornado sirens going off during a bad thunderstorm. Funnel clouds are often spotted, and sometimes they touchdown and do damage while other times just raising your blood pressure a bit. Lightening is common place during a storm and one should use caution if they are outside.
The winter weather generally begins the end of October or early November where you can expect to see some snow flurries on and off with temperatures dropping as the days go on. January is usually the coldest month of the year with averages of 21 F (-6 C) with wind chills taking it sometimes to -25 F (-31 C). When the wind chill is so low it is not recommended to be outside for long periods of time, even when dressed properly. The winter can also bring blizzards and much lake effect snow to the area. There have been times that the roads are impassable due to the amount of snow and therefore the city much shut down for a day or two.
Then, of course, the summer brings some of the opposite extremes. July and August can see temperatures in the upper 90s F (lower 30s C) with heat indexes reaching 110 F (43 C). During those times the humidity can be quite extreme and almost suffocating. When there are heat index warnings, it is unwise to be outside for extended periods of time or to perform any kind of physical work outdoors. In addition to the heat during summer, thunderstorms are quite common.
Sweden is just the opposite in almost every way when it comes to weather. Due to the lack of instability and moisture in the air, the Swedish weather is pretty boring. Thunderstorms are a rarity here. People generally talk about the thunder for a few days after it happens, because it just isn’t that common. Tornadoes are all but non existent.
Looking at the temperatures in Stockholm, Sweden one will see that they are also fairly boring. Summers bring temperatures averaging 65-70 F (15-20 C). There were a few pretty warm days where one may long for air conditioning, but for the most part it isn’t necessary. Most houses and buildings do not have air conditioning since it rarely gets hot enough, for a long enough time, to really justify it.
The winter temperatures are also pretty temperate in comparison to Chicago. Winter temperatures hover between 25 to 30 F (0 to -5 C). As far as snow is concerned, totals seem to be pretty similar to the Chicago area. Each year will bring about different totals, just as it does in Chicago.
Compare US and Sweden
If you drive through any bigger US city, you will be inundated with stores. There are stores for absolutely everything that you could think of, and not just one store for that type of product; we have sometimes dozens in just one town for the same type of product. If one store is out of a particular item, you can simply drive maybe 10 minutes to the next town and buy it there.
In order to compare the two countries, I checked the total population in Sweden (9.9 million) and that of Illinois (12.8 million). Since Illinois had quite a bit more, I went to one of Illinois’ neighbors and that is Michigan. They have 9.9 million people residing there as well.
Ica Maxi and City Gross are the two stores in Sweden that are probably the closest thing to a place like Target, Wal-Mart, Meijer and now even Amazon.com in the States. All of the stores listed above, are places where you can buy fresh and packaged food, home goods, toys, books, clothes, electronics, have a bakery/meat counter, and frozen goods all in one place. Since all of those stores are similar in nature, I chose to compare those.
In Sweden you can find 78 ICA Maxi Stores, and 39 City Gross Stores. In Michigan you can find 55 Targts, 79 Wal-Mart Super Centers, and 108 Meijers. That gives Sweden a total of 117 stores for it’s 9.9 million people and Michigan 242 stores for their 9.9 million people. Of course, this comparison may not be apples to apples, but it definitely puts it into perspective. The US has about twice as many stores that sell the same products than Sweden does.
As a general rule, when a holiday or birthday comes around American’s do things BIG. Take for instance my Mom’s house at Halloween shown below. Go to her blog if you want to see more pictures of their amazing decorations!
Us Americans want to have the most Christmas lights, the best candy for the Trick-or-Treaters, the biggest and most ‘Pinterest planned’ birthday, and just be all around ‘the best’. I know many, and have even myself, spent well over $300 for a kids birthday party. Between the decorations, the food and drinks, creating or buying games, and party favors, it was easy to reach this amount.
Not only does this play into the extreme consumerism of the US, but it continuously encourages us to want bigger and better. Each year we try to out-do, not only ourselves, but our friends and neighbors. Of course, this is seen by our children who then grow up and continue that cycle.
According to the National Retail Federation, the average American spent about $935 in 2016 at Christmas. This accounted for gifts bought for others, money spent on one’s self, food, flowers, decorations and cards for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. This means that a household with two adults spent roughly $1870!
In Sweden it is quite the opposite. Not many houses are decorated with Christmas lights everywhere. Almost all Swedish houses will have a star hanging in their window as well as lights and candles at Christmas time. Halloween isn’t widely celebrated in Sweden, but it is becoming more popular due to American influence. Birthday parties for children are also on a much smaller scale. It is common to have kids over around fika where they will have snacks and cake. There are generally not planned games and activities, but the kids just run around and play like they would on any kind of organized play date.
According to the website Statista, the average family in Sweden spent 7,029 SEK for Christmas in 2016. The current exchange rate brings that total to $867. This is said to include gifts, food, decorations, clothing, and activities for children during the holiday season. This compares to the US total of $1,870, which is about $1,000 more than the average Swedish household.
Again, those two may not be apples to apples, but it gives us an idea of how the two countries differ when it comes to spending.
Finding a Balance
I have often dreamt about life during a more simple time. When kids could run around outside, when going to the store meant the local market or when we read books for entertainment. With that being said though, being able to go to 15 different stores to find just the perfect item for my living room, shopping for unnecessary holiday decorations, or being able to snuggle with my kids in front of a good movie, are some of my favorite things!
With most parts of life, finding a balance is key. The extreme life in the US is just that; extreme. Taking a step back (or better yet, out) from the extremism, makes it easier to see all of the unnecessary things we do and buy as Americans. Living a more ‘lagom’ life in Sweden has been a good break from the more hustle and bustle that was in the States.
Then again, I suppose you can take the girl out of America, but you can’t take the American out of the girl. I write this post in the days before we celebrate an extreme Halloween with our Swedish friends. We’ve spent way too much on decorations, we will have enough food to feed an army, play some fun party games, and of course everyone will be clad in their best costume. Lagom is wonderful…but sometimes I sure do miss some good ‘ol American extremism!