Lately, there's been a word trending on social media that has caught my attention as a language teacher and has captured my heart as a minimalist. It is neither English, Spanish, nor Portuguese (the languages in which I am proficient) and doesn't seem to have an equivalent term in any of these languages. You may have noticed the #hygge hashtag popping up on Instagram. "Hygge," pronounced "hoo-guh," is a Danish word that encapsulates a feeling of contentment and well-being that is homely and charming yet luxurious in a uniquely understated way. The danes are some of the happiest people in the world, despite their long, dark winters, and many attribute their satisfaction in life to making a little time for "hygge."
Hygee is low-key luxury. It is not loud or proud. It isn't about treating oneself to retail therapy when stressed or taking expensive get-away vacations when tired. It's about creating a warm and inviting atmosphere at home, alone or with friends, an atmosphere that feeds one's passion for the here, the now, and the everyday. It is about being present, acknowledging the little things and emphasizing them with rituals that make them all the more delightful. Rushing through your first break of the day while chugging down insipid powdered coffee in a styrofoam cup that's been reheated for the third time this morning (any fellow teachers out there feelin' me?) is clearly not hygge. Making time on a quiet evening to sip your favorite hot beverage in a pretty vintage tea cup while wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket and engulfed by the plush cushions of a large chaise as you admire the orange sunset outside a nearby window... now that is hygge.
You may think that your life is too noisy and fast-paced for such quiet, slow pleasures, but truthfully, hygge is the best medicine for an overtired person who is half-heartedly shuffling through the motions. Hygge can be made to fit into anyone's routine no matter what their work schedule or personal life is like. It's all about identifying opportunities to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
So now that you know what hygge is, let's talk about some ways to bring it into your home. Today I'll be discussing 4 ways you can achieve a "hyggelig" atmosphere through vision and sound, visual hygge and auditory hygge respectively. (Be sure to look out for Part 2 of my Two-Part series on hygge where I'll be discussing the social, gustatory, tactile, and olfactory dimensions of hygge and sharing 4 ways to create them at home.)
1. Visual Hygge: Use Warm Accent Lighting
Minimalist blogger, Jenny Mustard, said it best when she stated in her hygge themed video, "Overhead ceiling light is where hygge goes to die." There is nothing more harsh and unforgiving than overhead ceiling light. It does nothing to flatter our features and nothing to enhance our mood. If you want your space to feel inviting and intimate, especially in the evenings, when there is little natural light pouring into your home, strategically placed table lamps and floor lamps are the way to go.
Back when I was a student attending university and living in the dorms, I inherited a vintage emerald green floor lamp from my roommate, a gift that I couldn't have appreciated more given the cold cell-like nature of most dorm rooms; if standard household ceiling light is where hygge goes to be killed then overhead dormitory light is where hygge goes to be massacred. The happy light the vintage lamp cast on our bland, sad walls transformed our dorm from a prison cell to a charming studio apartment. It truly was the perfect complement to our quiet evenings in, when we would engage in all sorts of philosophical discussions, trying to sort out all the mysteries of the universe over a pot of rosemary tea. We never dared touch the light switches. That kind of lighting was far too severe and "un-hygge" for our cozy evening tea.
Although table lamps and floor lamps are very effective ways to warm up a living space, they are not the only pathways to creating visual hygge through accent lighting. String lights, fairy lights, and lanterns are also enchanting ways to bring a tender glow to your home. Feel free to hang a few lanterns and dress the headboard of your bed with string lights or, better still, drape them over the frame of your favorite window. If you're looking for something even more atmospheric than what incandescent accent lighting can provide, keep reading. The most fool-proof source of visual hygge is next.
Note how I've strategically arranged table the lamps in our living room to hug the area where we spend time together as a family or with guests. This intimate area of kinship and togetherness is made all the more intimate while enveloped by the warm glow emitted from the lamps. The choice of lamps also helps establish a sense of hygge. For instance, the rustic aesthetic of the large lamp that sits at the corner of the sofa table appeals to the rural aesthetic of hygge, as it is unsophisticated and casual yet luxurious all the same.
2. Visual Hygge: Light Candles
Lighting a candle is no doubt the fastest and simplest way to achieve visual hygge in the home. On dark and stormy Miami days, I personally love to light a lavender scented candle on my sofa table and cuddle with my children on the couch. If my children are napping at the same time (almost never happens!), I relish that rare silence by candlelight. Lighting a candle brings a sense of mysticism to even the most mundane setting. There's a reason candles are used in so many different rites of passage, from birthdays to Christmas. The soft, flickering glow of candlelight draws the focus away from any detractors that may rob sacred moments of their sanctity and highlights what is most important: the here and now.
There are many ways to incorporate the comforting warmth of candlelight into everyday activities. You can bathe by candlelight in the evenings, make a lit candle the centerpiece of your dining table at mealtimes, or light a candle on your nightstand while you lose yourself in a chapter of your favorite book before bed. Perhaps a realistic flameless candle is the way to go if you fear that your rambunctious toddler will knock your lit candle right off the table, an unfortunate event that, apart from being hazardous to your family, is hazardous to your hygge: instant hygge killer. Whatever you decide, just be sure to keep your home environment free of neurotoxins by choosing naturally scented soy candles or purifying beeswax candles over the mainstream artificial kind which are some of the biggest players in the problem of domestic air pollution.
3. Auditory Hygge: Make Time for Silence
No one appreciates the value of silence as much as a teacher. As a teacher myself, some of the most revitalizing moments in my day are those short breaks where my students are out for specials and the classroom, a place constantly booming with the sounds of book bags rolling in and the echoing thunder of students' voices as they collaborate on learning tasks, is overcome by an unusual silence. After a storm of active learning, surging with the brilliant and satisfying sparks of "ah-ha!" moments, comes a much needed calm.
Our lives are filled with so much noise, whether we are teachers, students, office workers, or stay-at-home parents. Whatever it is that we do for work, whatever our livelihood, noise is bound to infiltrate our work space and living space. Sometimes it's a jarring physical noise, like the honking sound of car horns at a traffic halt as you make your commute. Sometimes it's the mental static that keeps you up at night, robbing you of sleep as you yourself ponder how you are going to rob Peter to pay Paul. Sometimes these noises are wonderful, such as the sound of students engaged in learning. Sometimes it's an intellectual wave of thoughts and ideas that inspire us to take on new creative projects. Whatever the source, it is important to make time for silence in our space.
Turn off the television, power off the phone and all other electronics, turn down the lights, and just be still and "enjoy the silence" (yes, like the Depeche Mode song). You can take this time to meditate for mental clarity or perhaps start on that book you've been meaning to read for a while. If you are a Christian like me, this is an opportune moment to put yourself in the Lord's presence, as it is often in the sanctity of silence that we can hear Him answering our prayers, those same prayers our hearts whisper throughout our noisy days.
4. Auditory Hygge: Play Sentimental Music
Although there's a certain sacred quality to silence that makes it a special way to bring auditory hygge into our lives, there is also a soul-kindling quality to playing soothing, mood-setting music that is just as transformative. I have fond memories as a child of my mother preparing dinner with the lights turned down and Dulce Pontes's "Lagrimas" album playing in the background. The delicious smells filling the kitchen and mingling with the ethereal yet rustic sound of Pontes' rendition of "Povo que lavas no rio" is a nostalgic memory that has been forever imprinted on my heart. Whenever I need to break the monotony of daily tasks, such as setting the table and prepping dinner, I load up my favorite "fado" on Pandora and let myself become inspired.
If you don't know what "fado" is, it is another one of those words that has no true translation in English; perhaps the closest translation would be "fate" given it's similar linguistic layout. The Portuguese word "fado" refers to a genre of music that is unique to the Portuguese culture. Although much of fado is typically mournful and expresses "saudade" or longing, many fados are songs about everyday life in the rural countryside and by the sea that are contemplative but not necessarily tragic. It's this "rustic" quality that makes fado such a hyggelig experience for me, personally. Your choice of background music doesn't have to be fado but if you want to be swept away by the hauntingly beautiful sounds and voices of the mountainous Portuguese countryside, dotted with a charming array of fish markets, cow pastures, and ancient Roman abbeys, all from the comfort of your own home, I recommend running a Pandora search for Dulce Pontes, Amalia Rodrigues, or Maritza.
Ultimately, whatever your choice of soul-soothing music, whether Chopin, Barry White, or Fado itself, let it put the magic back into your cozy evening and transform an ordinary evening at home into a stirring, rustic experience. So pick your favorite sentimental track. And, to be clear, by sentimental I don't mean sad or angry, just something charming that makes you feel warm inside and makes your hairs stand on end because of it's overwhelming loveliness ("algo que te eriza la piel," as we say in Spanish). This is not the time to listen to break-up tracks nor is it the time to rock out to "melt your face metal," as my husband would say. So save that Slayer album for another time.
There you have it: 4 ways to make your home look and sound warmer, cozier, and hyggelig.
Stay tuned next week for Hygge Part 2: 4 More Ways to Have a Hyggelig Home, where I will be discussing ways to enhance the social, gustatory, tactile and olfactory dimensions of this wonderful philosophy.
What is your favorite way to create visual/auditory hygge? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, stay cozy, friends!
About la maestra:
Bienvenidos! Bem-vindos! I'm Ali, a World Language maestra from Miami who went from hard-core maximalist to soft-core minimalist upon becoming a mother. The flexible form of minimalism that I practice, domestic minimalism, allows me to run my household efficiently and foster a home free of clutter and full of joy for my whole family. This is where I record my experiences as a wife, working mother of two, and homemaker. Thanks for stopping by.