Yesterday I walked around a lake with a friend of mine who lived in the same intentional community in Denver two years after I did. The program we did is called the Urban Servant Corps. For a year, I volunteered at The Gathering Place, a day shelter for women, and lived with ten other volunteers. We lived simply, with service and justice at the core of our mission. Living simply meant picking up bagels and produce once a week that were going to be thrown out and eating them for meals. It meant finding free things to do together on the weekends. Swapping clothes instead of buying new ones. Our bills aside, we lived on $75 a month. It was more than enough. In many ways, that year was one of the best and most influential years of my life.
I have tried to live simply ever since. It’s hard to do in America, but I’m committed to it. Walking around lakes with people who are equally committed is part of my success plan. I have women in my life I meet up with intentionally because of their commitment to simplicity. We hold each other accountable and share ideas. Together, we believe that there is, indeed, more than enough. I am aware that one reason I can do this is because I was raised with more than enough. I was never in want of anything. Without fear of not enough, I was free to think about how much was too much.
Seeing the world through lenses of abundance as opposed to scarcity is an act of faith. We stop clinging. We marvel. We trust.
One of my simplicity friends put me on to this blog post I hope you take the time to read. It introduces a Swedish word lagom, which loosely means exactly the right amount. The blogger challenges us to think about what is the right amount of stuff.
“Lagom” acknowledges that people have varying needs and desires at different times. They want nice things, and comfort, and security. They want more than the bare minimum, and they might even need it. If their desire for more than enough is accepted, even supported, perhaps they would be more willing to consider how much is too much.
The word allows for more than enough, but also has limits. For example, the blogger’s friend owns two towels. When they wear out, she buys two more. She has thought about how many towels is the right amount of towels, and for her, it is two. Maybe it’s the fear of having not enough that drives us to want too much. Lagom is an important word, then, for our culture to embrace and embody. We want everybody to have not just enough, but more than enough. We need to work so that everyone has more than the bare minimum so we don’t strive for too much in our instinct to survive. But lagom admits that there is such a thing as too much. Self-limiting, then, can bring about more happiness.
Lagom also allows for the right amount to change. When I lived in New York, for example, my spouse and I didn’t own a car. Zero was enough. When we moved to Minnesota, we decided to buy one car for the two of us. Minnesota doesn’t have the public transportation that New York does. We could get by with no car, but we chose not to. We could have bought two cars, but we decided to self-limit. I walk to work. Dan takes the bus or bikes. One car for us right now is lagom.
Language is powerful. I think it would help our society to have a word for more than enough but not too much. I find it interesting that we don’t have such a word yet in our vocabulary. Until we do, we can borrow the word lagom, embrace the idea behind it, work until everyone has it, and strive to find it in our daily lives.