Hygge style living is a Danish tradition but truthfully, it's about seasonal living and something many homesteaders naturally turn to during the fall and winter months. With just a little bit of intentionality, you can embrace and practice it on a deeper level for a restorative and balanced life rich with relationships and meaning during the upcoming seasons.
I'm really intrigued by today's topic and excited to learn more about it. Kathie from Homespun Seasonal Living explains the concept of hygge (pronounced hyoo guh) and how to incorporate it into our every day lives, not just during the winter months, but throughout the year.
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #212 6 Tips for Cozy Living of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen and life you want for your family and homestead.
What does Hygge Mean?
Melissa: Kathie, lay it out for us, what exactly does hygge mean?
Kathie: It's a Danish word that doesn't translate into a single English word, but it's essentially the art of cozy living. It's what the Danes do in the winter because of course they live in the far north where it's dark a lot and obviously cold and snowy for months on end. It's this idea of cozying up at home, not necessarily becoming a hermit but it's really about getting cozy and embracing the winter season in and of itself.
These days a lot of us are taking the idea of cozy living into all seasons. Of course, I think that's an American thing, but that's just fine. It's comfortable and we're at home and embracing the simple life. Anyone who practices voluntary simplicity, not necessarily minimalism, but certainly simple living will recognize the concepts of hygge.
M: I totally agree. I find myself, naturally as we move into fall and winter, craving this. With the weather here in the Pacific Northwest where we don't necessarily get snow, although we do get some, but where we do have gloomy, rainy, and cold days I find myself staying more in the house. So I really am intrigued by their culture and how they've embraced it.
How Do We Achieve Hygge?
Are there specific things that they do or follow?
1. Well Placed Soft Light
K: It varies from family to family, there aren't set guidelines, but certain things are universal.
One of them is light in the house. Whether it's candles or lamplight. When talking about lamps you want expensive good lamps. You can buy a cheap lamp but the light isn't always the best. The idea is that we have light well placed in our homes so that it's not this fluorescent glaring light. You don't want to feel like you just walked into a giant grocery store. You want soft light throughout the house because obviously it's dark in the winter. It can be candlelight but it needs to be well placed throughout our home for reading or doing crafts or talking with family and friends. We want a nice light that's welcoming without scaring because it's so bright.
Learn how to make homemade candles here How to Make Soy Candles at Home with Essential Oils
2. Connect With Family & Friends
There is also a focus on connecting with friends and family; having people over to your house and sharing in good food.
It is also about good homemade food and to some extent about comfort food, which of course we all love, right? That doesn't mean that it can't be healthy comfort food. You know, eat the chowder but eat the homemade bread. Make it cozy for whatever that means for you. Cozy food obviously varies based on a lot of things, right? I'm half Italian so it almost always means pasta. Another is soups. It also means do indulge in croissants or the muffins or the coffee cakes or whatever else.
3. Don't be a Hermit, Step Outside
But they balance it out by making sure they get outside. Even in the depths of winter, they get outside, whether it's for snow shoeing, or cross country skiing. If you live somewhere where it's not snowy, put on the rain coat and just get outside and enjoy nature as nature presents itself.
It's easy to not want to go outside just because it's cold, but that isn't necessarily an excuse to stay in all the time. I'm not talking about going out when it's 20 below. Dress appropriately, wear the appropriate layers to go outside. I think sometimes we get this idea that we should stay in the house when really there's a lot to be seen in nature. There's a lot to hygge about getting outside in nature and enjoying it for what it is, which is why you can enjoy comfort food because you're still getting some movement in your body, not just becoming a couch potato.
M: I knew it was the art of cozying but I wasn't aware of some of the universal things. My understanding was pretty limited. I find it really interesting, especially with the light specification because living in the Pacific Northwest about an hour and a half from the Canadian border (for reference on how far north we are) it can get dark early. Come the middle part of winter, it can start getting dark by 4:30/5:00 PM and doesn't start getting light until around 8:00 AM. So it's a very short window of light. Two weeks ago I bought one of those SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lights. Click here for the light therapy lamp I purchased
I don't suffer from it, but a lot of times we lack that light in the winter time. I'm using it in the morning to help keep my circadian rhythm consistent. I didn't realize light is part of this custom but that makes so much sense because it can get really gloomy.
And of course candlelight. As a homesteader we make a lot of beeswax candles. I don't burn them in the summertime because it's so bright already, but I love getting to light them in the winter. There's something about that soft light.
I have to say, I don't always like to don my raincoat. If it's snowy out I go out all time but if it's rainy I need to make a point of going out. I think it's really interesting that it's bot the outdoor and the inner home and that there is a focus of intertwining them together.
K: It is true. I live in Montana and I'm not that far from the Canadian border either. I don't mind the snow at all but I'm not a huge fan of the rain either. I like to run but I hate to run in the rain. I make myself do it because I know it's natural and just part of life.
It's progress, not perfection. Even when it comes to hygge, do what feels good for you. Don't make it a chore.
If you really hate going out in the rain, don't do it. But try to find a window of opportunity to get out.
M: Earlier we had the sun peaking through the clouds and I scrambled to get outside to enjoy it while I could and right after that it started pouring down rain again. So I love that you're saying to try to find those pockets.
When you do go running in the rain, do you use a raincoat or do you wear something else? What kind of gear do you use?
K: I run in good running gear that will repel the rain, but it's still not as good as a raincoat. But it works well enough. I don't do super long runs in the rain, and I certainly don't run when it's rainy and cold. But if it's warm and raining, I'll go. And I'll run as long as the roads aren't icy. Once the roads are ice, I treadmill it because I don't want to fall.
M: I totally understand that. I just need to get over the rain and embrace it a little more.
I don't know about you, but I've noticed that when it's rainy or cold out, I build up in my head that I don't want to go out and feed the chickens or do the other farm chores with the livestock. Usually once I'm actually out there, it's not that bad. Then I'm excited to come back in because the house is warm.
K: That's true for anything. The hardest part, no matter how experienced you are in anything, is always getting started. Once you get started, you're usually glad you did. I think that's true for anything whether it's homesteading, simple living, running, exercise, anything. Once you get started it's fine. Even when you're well-practiced at something, sometimes just putting on the running shoes or just putting on the rain jacket to feed the chickens, just getting started is the motivation that we need to keep going.
The nice thing about hygge is that if you do go out in the rain or whatever, it's totally appropriate to come back in and drink a cup of hot cocoa. It's actually part of it: go outside and come back in and eat well and drink well.
4. Eat Good, Healthy Food
M: I love that. We've covered light, and then the good comfort food, which we can circle back around to since my life revolves around food now. Not like in a weird way, but we all have to eat every day and I want to make sure I'm eating stuff that is good for my body and also tastes amazing because I'm like a kid. Even if I know it's good for me, if I don't think it tastes very good, I'm not going to eat it very often.
K: I'm the same way. I'm very healthy and I like to eat good, healthy food. But there are days where you just don't want the salad or you'd rather have a cookie. I think it's all about balance and it's ok to absolutely bake cookies when it's cold outside, but we might not want to do that everyday.
M: I completely agree. During the summer, especially late summer into the early part of fall, if you're any type of gardener, that is your busiest time in the garden. Even more so than planting time because it's the harvest and it's putting things to rest. It's also hot so I don't really want to do a lot of baking. But once that cooler weather hits and the madness of the harvest rush is over, I find that's when I really focus more on baking. The sourdough starter comes out of the fridge and gets revived on the counter and I pull out those recipes that I don't normally make during the other months.
Are there any special dishes, I know we already mentioned soups and breads, or universal foods that are served more traditionally during this season?
K: The Danish obviously eat a lot of butter, but it's really going to depend on your family and family traditions. If you have a tradition in your family that your grandma did, maybe try to revive that tradition, even if you've gotten away from it for some reason. For me it's the bread baking a lot because my grandmother always baked bread and made egg noodles in the winter. She didn't really do it other times of the year, but she always did it in the winter so those are things I tend to do as well. Plus, again, when it's hot, I don't want to turn the oven on. When it's cool, the oven is great thing because you're going to warm up the house.
It's a great time to slow down and really cook all those foods that take a long time. The things that take a long time but aren't necessarily difficult. I mean, making egg noodles is something that is time consuming but not difficult. Or cooking a roast takes many hours but it's not really difficult and doesn't even take a lot of hands on time, it's just a matter of letting it cook.
Learn how to make a sourdough starter from scratch in this free series.north and have a real fire.
K: Every time someone from the south tell us how much they love snow my husband invites that to come shovel.
M: I completely agree.
I love talking about some of the hands on crafting. When I was eight years old my grandma lived up the road from us and she had hooks in her living room ceiling in her cabin. She'd put the quilting frame up and quilt in the winter months. So of course, at eight I wanted to do my own quilt. My grandma and mom very patiently started teaching me how to sew by hand to make my quilt top. As you can imagine, as an eight year old, my fascination and patience with it ran out way before the quilt top was ever done. Every year I would pick it up and work on it a little bit and then put it back.
Here I am, at 38, and that quilt top is done, but I still have not quilted that thing from hat many years ago. So I bought the fabric so I no longer have an excuse of not having the material to back it and put on the edging and all of that. That's my goal for this winter…to get that quilt finally finished all of these decades later. Then I'm going to gift it to my daughter for her to use on her bed.
I naturally have been following this with putting those things out to work on during the winter months. Do the Danish have any other home craft skills like knitting, quilting, crocheting? I know a lot of it is pretty universal, but I'm curious if they have any others that are really popular for them.
K: I think knitting in and of itself is huge as well as probably spinning, but again, do whatever craft works for you. If you like to throw pots then do it. If you like to do rug hooking, I think it really has to be what makes your heart sing as cliche as that is. Whatever makes you happy. That's the idea behind it. Instead of cursing the season, just really embrace it and be happy and cozy. Stay in your pajamas all day and knit all day or quilt all day. Obviously we have to work and have chores and other things we have to do, but occasionally it's okay to stay in your pajamas all day.
6. Be Intentional
M: I feel like this is so appropriate for us to be talking about. We have our jobs, which is usually non-negotiable, and all this other stuff that the weekends and evenings fill up really fast. Part of that for me is my season. I have both kids in school, one in sports, and then there's all the homestead stuff. So I feel like very rarely do we actually have that cozy time. My goal is to be very intentional this winter and actually schedule some days on the weekends where we don't have anywhere to go or anything do to and just be home and have relaxing, cozy days like you're talking about.
K: I think for Americans especially, we have a tendency to run, run, run all the time. I think it's a really good habit actually to schedule those things, especially when you're getting started. I tell people in my community all the time that the basis of intentional living is a really good schedule. That doesn't mean a rigid schedule but planning out what you want to do and plan for self care and for days at home with good food so that everything else doesn't invade. Obviously when you have children doing sports and that kind of thing, that has to come first, but you schedule around it so that you do have a day where you can just stay at home or have friends over, have hot chocolate and play games all night.
M: I love that the focus is on family but also on friends because I feel like when we are in that crazy space of life it's the friendships that suffer. I love that idea of having them over even if it's for coffee or just something small. I think that's a really good practice to not forget and to reconnect with them.
K: Exactly. It doesn't have to be a full-blown dinner party. Just have people over for soup or just some hot cocoa or a cup of tea and a game.
Here in Montana sometimes it starts to snow right around Halloween usually and doesn't let up until sometimes May, depending on the year. Sometimes I feel like I don't even see my neighbors because we all just hole up. So you have to make a conscious effort to reach out. Maybe it's just baking cookies and taking them to the neighbor.
M: I feel like all of these are definitely homesteading things and simple life living things. But oftentimes we just get so busy that this is a great time to just intentionally bring these tasks back in and schedule them in to make sure we're actually living the part of the life and experiencing them.
Now back to the food. Sorry, I'm hungry so I keep coming back to it. Are there any awesome Danish baking that we need to know about or do you have any favorites that you do?
K: I tend to eat the food that my grandmother's ate. I'm Serbian on one side and Italian on the other, and because I do homestead, we eat a lot things like cabbage and noodles, a dish called Haluski, or dumplings and butter. I'm sure if your Danish then you would probably eat their specific foods and I don't really know exactly what those food would be because they do vary based on region. Eat whatever is most comfortable for you.
Haluski is the best comfort food in the world to me, and it's just something you cook on the stove. There's nothing wrong with a good casserole either. I personally tend towards whole food casseroles. I don't use a lot of the canned cream of mushroom soup kind of things but there are a lot of casseroles that we can make from scratch at home that will provide a lot of really good, comforting food.
Like Tex Mex kind of things so that you have the spices and get a little warm. That's probably not very Danish and definitely very American but the idea of adding some spices to get some extra heat in the body is a great way to just cozy up and eat good healthy food. That's also comforting.
M: I don't actually use condensed canned soup or anything going on over 10 years. You're right, you can make whole food casseroles really easily. The great thing about cooking from scratch is that you can use a different liquid like bone broth if you need to be dairy free. There are lots of variations. You can make it gluten-free and adapt those. You can whip up a Canned Cream of Soup Replacement in less than four minutes…faster than you go to the store. It bakes up great and also works amazing in my Instapot and slow cooker.
This is going to sound silly, but the cabbage and buttered noodles, I assume you cook the noodles first. Boil them and then add them in as you're frying the cabbage?
K: That's exactly right. And I add a healthy amount of butter.
Winter is also a great time to make lentil soup. It's one of the most comforting things and it's so easy to make, not to mention frugal.
M: It's very frugal. Another one my mom used to make and both my kids enjoy, is split pea soup with ham or bacon. This is pretty frugal too because it only takes a little bit of meat.
Are there any last tip that you have on practicing hygge or anything you'd like to share?
K: Mostly just get started in some small way and just really see how beneficial it'll be to your mental health and that of your family's. If you just try and again remember it's not about perfection, it's not about having all the lamps in the right places and all the right candles and whatever, just get started practicing in whatever way works for you. And allow it to work itself out. Because it will as long as you practice.
Want more information on how to live a more hygge life? Or want some delicious comfort food? Check out the links below:
How to Get Outside in Winter
Using Candles to Create Coziness
Lentil Bacon Soup
Canned Cream of Soup Replacement
Healthy Chicken Broccoli Casserole
Cream of Broccoli and Ham Soup
Bean and Ham Soup
Slow Cooker or Instant Pot Cabbage Rolls
Turkey and Dumplings
Learn to embrace the dark days and find their unique blessings with Kathie this November. Join her for a free e-course to embrace the dark days and find the incredible joys and blessing of intentional, seasonal living. Find out more at Embracing Dark Days.
You can find Kathie at any of these locations: