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Lagom

Working with colleagues form all over the world over the last decade or so has given me the opportunity take a peek into the national psyche of some of these colleagues. Over time observable stereo types emerge and patterns of behaviour present themselves. Over the years i’ve marvelled at:

  • The entrepreneurial spirit of the Americans
  • The passion for academia displayed by the Chinese
  • The unwavering nationalism of the Russians
  • The exuberance of the Italians
  • The predictable efficiency of the Germans
  • The often indifference of the French
  • The humble, understated contentment of the Scandinavians

It’s the final one that has intrigued me more than any. Those Scandi’s always seem so contented and relaxed. Happy with their lot in life and happy go lucky. For a while I wondered what their secret was.

I’ve worked with quite a few Swedes over the years and have developed a liking of their national psyche. Several years ago I was introduced to the Swedish word ‘Lagom’. The literal translation of ‘just enough’ doesn’t really do it complete justice. According to Wikipedia the word originates from Viking times:

…a popular folk etymology claims that it is a contraction of “laget om” (“around the team”), a phrase used in Viking times to specify how much mead one should drink from the horn as it was passed around in order for everyone to receive a fair share.

That seems to sum up it pretty well. However others seem to think it might come form the Swedish word for ‘law’ and might be related to the time of food rationing many centuries ago. The right amount to take was what the law permitted. Whichever is correct it’s a word used to convey the sense that an excess isn’t required, less is more, there is a perfect amount.

To acheive Lagom you don’t need to ‘miss out on anything’. Lagom is just the right amount. A modest amount just enough to satisfy. It’s hard to define because even in Sweden there is no hard definition of the term. Lagom is more of a state of mind than an easily definable adjective.

The deeper i’ve delved into the Financial Independence scene the more I’ve unwittingly adopted the concept of Lagom. Whether it’s my efforts to implement the KISS approach to life or our attempts to declutter the home I realise that I’ve slowly been becoming a little Swedish in my way of thinking about various aspects of life.

Investment Returns

When I hunt through the UTMT investment archives most of my previous mistakes have been driven purely by greed. The desire for multi baggers, outsized returns or the fear of missing out and following the sheep have all led me to poor investment performance way back when.

Ploughing money into tech stocks in 1999/2000, punting on mining shares before that both saw me take losses at certain points. While i’m not as arrogant to think I won’t make losses at some point in the future I no longer reach for returns with a high risk/reward profile.

The desire to get/be rich can turn you into a horrible person if you don’t keep yourself in check…

Lagom

It’s easy to say after nigh on 7 years of bull market but i’m much happier avoiding high risk high return positions in favour of slow and steady ‘market’ returns. Index funds work. If i can gain some modest outperformance and/or some fun along the way with some individual share selections then I’m up for that too.

As a result the money tree is a mix of buy to let (without much leverage), low cost index funds and what most would refer to as ‘defensive/boring’ stocks. The returns I get are Lagomreturns and I’m more than happy with them.

Exercise

There was a time many years ago when I frequented a fancy pants gym and lusted after an endless stream of expensive cycling kit. While these years saw my general fitness levels increase it took me a while to figure out that throwing money at the problem [of fitness] was making no difference at all. What really had an impact was my motivation and hard work.

These days I revel in crap kit. There’s nothing more satisfying that blasting past a Lycra clad cyclist riding a carbon framed road bike that is lighter than a gnats jockstrap (and worth more than my car) whilst on my way back from work. My attire will typically be some old football shorts, a crappy t-shirt with moth holes in and i’ll be riding my fixed gear bike made of old scaffold poles. My Lagombike.

I’m enjoying the feeling of less. Realising that it’s not the kit that makes me faster or fitter, but instead my desire to train/ride hard has enabled me to enjoy my cycling even more than I used to. Having less has enabled me to get more from my cycling.

Possessions

Our recent house move highlighted just how easy it is to accumulated belongings, most of which don’t add to your happiness.

When we moved from our little London flat to the old house 7 years ago it took a couple of car loads and a man and a transit van to move us to the sticks. This time it took a large lorry to get us moved a few miles up the road.

While I’m not particularly proud of that I do have the very valid excuse of owning a young child. Anyone that has owned one will know that despite your best intentions they are clutter magnets.

Sure we could sell up and move to a one bed flat again but that’s not a choice we want to make at this point in our lives.

Where we have scaled back hugely from where we were 10 years or so ago is on the amount of clutter that is put in the house. Gone are the days of buying endless gadgets, starting new hobbies as an excuse to fulfil our consumerist desires to buy more stuff. These days we tend to think long and hard before buying things. We value those that give us lots of pleasure or use and get rid of those that don’t.

Conclusion

It doesn’t matter whether to you it means more frugality, less greed, more contentment, modesty, humbleness or simply less chips on your plate, I think we could all use a little more Lagom.

Of course not everything Swedish (or sporty)is Lagom. I’m yet to be convinced that this guy’s ego is particularly Lagom…

Lagom maybe not

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • hosimpson January 28, 2017, 1:13 pm

    You’re right about the principle of it. Swedish culture is not hierarchical, and though not everything is governed by consensus (it’s the 21st century), consensus is considered to be a preferred position. Conflict within a group (however defined) is seen as undesirable. I always thought the notion of lagom was a sort of a pre-emtive mechanism to avert conflict. In determining what your fair share is you have to consider your needs as well as the needs of others so that they are treated fairly too. And if you get what’s fair within the group you belong to (department, company, country), then there’s no reason to be dissatisfied with your lot.

    • Under The Money Tree January 30, 2017, 8:19 pm

      Hosimpson, thanks for the additional context.

  • theFIREstarter March 20, 2017, 8:12 am

    Love this term, it seems to fit very well with the FIRE crowds ethos.

    We have also assimilated a lot of clutter since having the kid. I think there are two main issues :
    1. They grow out of things very fast and you forget or can’t find time to sell or donate them on
    2. Things are so cheap (especially at nearly new baby sales and online Facebook selling groups) that there is rarely a “do we really need this” line of enquiry, it’s more of a “let’s get it in case we might need it”.

    I think once (if) the second one comes around there will be less clutter as you’ll know exactly what you need so there is less chance of buying crap that is basically useless

    Hope all is well with UTMT Jr 🙂

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