Hygge part 5 - the true meaning of comfort



As I write this, people in the U.S. will, hopefully, now have recovered from Thanksgiving and cyber Monday and will probably now be gearing themselves up for Christmas.  Those of us in the UK and elsewhere will probably be at various stages of preparation for Christmas.  In fact, speaking for myself and the people I know, now is the time we all start really thinking about the Christmas festivities or, at the very least, the winter season and everything it brings with it.  It also seems to be the time when the internet fills up with content on how to make guests feel comfortable and for the record, I find some of them at least very useful, but many of them seem to focus on the details rather than larger concepts which lie behind them.  So, to counterbalance this, here’s my take on creating comfort for yourself and your loved ones now and all year round - without it becoming a source of stress.


Accept the fact that nobody’s perfect and assume that other people accept it too


When you go to visit someone you love, you go to see how they are and to let them see how you are, not to see if their house looks like it’s worthy of being featured on Instagram or Pinterest.  When you receive people at home, then you should do so in the knowledge that they are coming to celebrate with you rather than to judge you and frankly, if you sincerely believe that anyone visiting you is more interested in how you keep your home than how you are doing in general, then it’s probably a good sign that it’s time to move on from that person.


Prepare for visits but only up to the point where it makes your life easier


The basic idea behind preparation is that you do enough work in advance that when the time comes, you can just be in the moment, which is one of the basic principles of hygge.  If your preparation is causing you stress in any way, then it’s not productive, it’s not hyggelig and it’s not helping you or anyone who loves you so it’s time to reassess.  I repeat, forget about being a Pinterest perfect host/ess.  Relax and enjoy the company of your guest(s).


Think about people, including yourself


Memories are made up of feelings.  Happy memories are made up of happy feelings.  In spite of what advertisers may like to try to convince us, what it really takes to make most people happy is the feeling that they are loved and appreciated and respected.  No quantity of material gifts can compensate for feeling that you are unloved and the lack of material gifts won’t hurt someone who feels that they are loved.  So think about the people who matter in your life and think about yourself.  Enjoy their company and allow them the pleasure of yours.  That’s far more important than numerous gifts, tables overloaded with food and piles of Christmas decorations.  If your budget can stretch to these without you getting stressed, great, if not it really is fine.


When you are with someone, give them your attention


The idea of being present in body but not in mind has been around since long before mobile devices and, if we’re honest, for many of us it’s a handy survival tactic in certain situations.  I can think of a fair number of occasions at school and in the workplace where my mind was on anything other than what it was supposed to be and not only did it not do me any harm, it probably did me a lot more good than whatever I was supposed to be paying attention to.  On the other hand, when you are with someone you care about, it really is sad to miss out on that precious time by wasting it thinking of things which are less important and can and should wait.  Frankly if something is really so important that you need to deal with it straight away, then deal with it so that you free your mind for being with the people you love.


Give meaning to everything you do


I’ll bet you’ve heard the saying “if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”.  I’d like to put a new spin on it - “if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with love”.  I think a lot of us find ourselves just doing things every day without even thinking about it, in fact I suppose it would be fair to say that even if we’re great at decluttering our physical stuff, we’re often less great a decluttering what we do and therefore we end up filling up our time with unnecessary activities.  We’ve been encouraged to get into the habit of thinking faster is better, which it can be sometimes, but frankly a lot of the time it’s a marketing tactic.  For example, being a tea drinker, I’ve got into the habit of just chucking tea bags into a mug rather than using loose-leaf tea, even though a part of me knows that in so doing I am increasing my environmental footprint, albeit only to a small extent.  Plastic coffee pods and such like send me seething.  So, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to slow down and start making tea properly again.  Making changes like this is often a gradual process and that’s fine, just be aware of it and be prepared to question what you do and how you do it, so you come to focus your time and energy on what really matters instead of finding your life cluttered up with meaningless tasks.


Declutter and curate


Decluttering and curating are two sides of the same coin and I’ve already written about sustainable decluttering, but let me give you a real-world tip.  In every house where life is allowed to happen, clutter accumulates over the course of the day and gets dealt with at an appropriate point.  That’s absolutely fine, it’s life not Instagram.  Sometimes, however, you’re going to want or need to “clear the decks” quickly and that’s particularly true at this time of year.  So instead of trying to keep everything Pinterest perfect all the time or run around frantically clearing up when you expect visitors or stressing at the thought of visitors turning up without you being ready, do yourself a favour, buy at least one item of what I can “drop-in storage”.  


Let me explain, your cupboards and drawers, where you keep your essentials, need to be organized, but putting everything away in an organized manner takes at least a moderate degree of time and effort.  Dumping stuff into drop-in storage takes none, so it’s the perfect way to clear up quickly when visitors come around and you want the floor clear so they can move around easily (as can you).  Make it solid storage (or put a bag in anything which is clear) and whatever was on your floor can stay out of sight and out of mind until your guests have gone and you can put it away properly.


Get outdoors and bring nature inside


Hygge is often associated with the home and that’s perfectly understandable, but it’s important to get out and connect with the world and it can be very beneficial and sustaining to bring that connection inside in some way, hence the fact that house plants are so popular I suppose.  Even in winter, it’s important to get outside and get fresh air and stimulation.


Be realistic about light and warmth


Now this may seem a strange tip.  Light and warmth certainly matter.  In fact, I’ve already written about the importance of light in winter.  I just get the feeling that increasing numbers of people are not only being pushed into having their homes warmer than is necessarily healthy (even for younger and older people) and are also creating heat in the wrong way.  You should certainly look to winter-proof your home if you live in a cold climate (I live in Scotland, believe me I get this) and keep in as much heat as possible, but you don’t usually need to have indoor heating on full blast all winter long and doing so may actually wind up making you more susceptible to illness rather than less as germs usually love warm conditions, especially moist ones.  Most winter illnesses aren’t caused by the cold itself, although it does take a toll on our bodies, they are caused by a combination of changing between outdoor environments and overheated indoor ones, plus being in close proximity to other people who transmit their germs.  Instead of pushing up energy bills running your heating throughout your house all the time, encourage people to wear warmer clothes and/or keep active.  Then use local heating where you need it most, like (electric) blankets in bed.  Try to keep central heating for short bursts when it really matters, such as in the early morning, when people are getting up and getting dressed.  

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