I experience a Fall-induced form of “nesting” every year as the weather gets cooler and the days get shorter. Unlike the hormone-driven one in pregnancy, this is one is less about alphabetizing the contents of the freezer and more about filling the house with everything soft and warm and cozy (and preferably also smelling like pumpkin!).
It turns out I’m not alone. The Danes have been promoting this for a long time with their concept of hygge. There are whole books, magazines, and websites devoted to the idea. But let’s get real… I don’t see too many pictures of homes filled with kids, diapers, and Legos!
Still, I think there should be, and these are some of my favorite real-life and natural ways to “hygge” this time of year.
What Is Hygge?
According to the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, Danes are the happiest group of people in the world. Considering Scandinavian countries are some of the colder countries (with low light in the winters) this is a bit surprising. Experts believe that one cause of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is lower light in the winter. But for the Danes, the low light in the winter doesn’t seem to cause these problems. This may be because of their lifestyle of enjoying simple things, or hygge.
Hygge (pronounced “hue-guh”) simply means creating a feeling of coziness, togetherness, and wellbeing. While this may sound idealistic, little touches can go a long way.
Natural Ways to Hygge (in Real Life)
Creating a feeling of hygge doesn’t have to take a lot of time, effort, or money. These are some of my favorite ways to add a touch of natural comfort (and light) at home.
Creating a cozier place to relax can have a huge impact on your mood, your family’s mood, and the overall feeling of your home. This doesn’t mean you have to buy a new couch either!
Pillows – Pillows aren’t just for the bedroom or couch! Create a cozy corner with some natural floor pillows, bean bags, or yoga bolsters. They encourage movement and play for the kids and also make the perfect seat for playing family board games around the coffee table.
Throw blankets – Layer them over the couch or place them in a basket in each room. My kids love the softness of this blanket, but of course the options and styles are endless.
Choose deep-pile rugs – Choose a warm cozy throw rug to mash your toes into! Even throw one over the back of a chair or on the couch.
Create Small Spaces
Add to that feeling of hibernation by creating small, cozy spaces in the house.
Put a canopy on it! – Canopies create a snug space anywhere and in my opinion, shouldn’t only be for the playroom. A burlap tent is another way to create a temporary cozy space with no hanging required.
Hang hammocks or a sensory swing – This may sound unconventional, but we add hammocks and swings to the kids’ bedrooms for the sake of their vestibular systems (more about that here), but they’re also a relaxing spot to hang out.
Rearrange furniture – Put the couch by the window for a cozy spot with more light, or move furniture closer together to create a space for conversation.
Add Light and Scent
Light plays an incredibly important role in our sleep/wake cycles and overall hormonal health. Appeal to all of the senses with these hygge touches:
Light a candle – Nothing beats real candlelight from beeswax candles.
Himalayan salt lamps – Use salt lamps as soft lighting around the house at night instead of an overhead light. You can even put it on a timer so it’s ready for you when you head to your bedroom at night or wakes you up first thing in the morning.
Sun lamps – Create a cozy spot next to a portable light box or two to support the natural wake-up process on those dark winter mornings.
Run a diffuser – I run essential oil diffusers around the house especially this type of year. (But consider safety around pets and kids.)
Make your own natural air freshener – This DIY pumpkin room spray is my favorite to make this time of year.
Bring in Nature
Spending time in nature has real health benefits. Create the feeling of being outside indoors by bringing in natural materials like wood, wicker, and even stone.
Live plants – My live plant wall is my absolute favorite way to hygge all year. House plants add some cheerfulness and color and also purify indoor air. If you just want a plant or two, these are my favorite kid-safe indoor plants.
Woven baskets – Baskets in different sizes and shapes around the room are perfect for hiding visual clutter like toys or winter gear.
Free decor – Get creative with interesting twigs, branches, and even rocks from the outdoors and display them in a bowl or vase. Just make sure your toddler can’t pick up and throw the rocks! 🙂 If you’re the crafty type, many of these materials can even be made into artwork!
One of the most important aspects of hygge is the idea of togetherness, which some would argue we don’t get much of in our modern lives. One way to close that divide and reengage with our kids is to take hygge time together. Here are some ideas:
Light a candle at the same time of day – The act of lighting the candle at the same time each day can be comforting. (If at night, just please don’t fall asleep before you put it out!)
Turn off technology – Set aside time regularly to turn off devices and spend time together technology-free.
Experts believe that modern technology is causing a divide between kids and parents today. We even have used a lock box or kitchen safe for our devices to protect family time. (Or, if you have the self-control, this is a much more attractive way to accomplish the same thing.)
Prioritize family meal time – Food is not just nourishing to the body but can nourish the soul too. Choose healthy recipes (I’ll list some below) and enjoy a cozy meal together. Bonus if you can get the kids to help prepare it.
Throw it back – Think about how families entertained themselves 150 years ago. They might tell stories, share a snack, read aloud to each other, sing songs, put on a puppet show, etc.
Invite friends over – Having friends over is always a good way to get me to put down my to-do list, since I’m focused on being a good host. I’m not talking about a fancy dinner party either, but a simple game night or sharing some dessert.
Add journaling to the bedtime routine – Write down the top 3 things you are grateful for as a family. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but even a few minutes builds a habit of gratitude and a sense of connection and wellbeing.
Enhance rituals you already have – Instead of just watching a movie, build a pillow fort and snuggle (or use the canopy idea from earlier). So maybe not the skulls, but you get the idea!
Setting aside some special together time doesn’t have to be a huge chore. Even one small family ritual can make a huge difference in everyone’s mood and feeling of connection. Find a complete list of our favorite family traditions here.
Add Comfort Foods to the Menu
Meals have always been a time of connection, socialization, and togetherness for all of human history. These recipes are our favorite healthy versions of traditional comfort foods:
Mandarin Chicken – This healthy recipe tastes as good or better than other recipes but is much healthier.
Boef Bourguignon – This Julia Child inspired recipe is perfect for a cozy evening.
Cauliflower Beef Stroganoff – This traditional comfort food is made healthier with cauliflower instead of egg noodles.
Bean-Free Chili – This delicious recipe only takes a few ingredients, making it a perfect last-minute meal.
Shepherd’s Pie – As an Irish American, shepherd’s pie is a staple in my family. This one uses healthy cauliflower in place of potatoes.
Meatloaf Cupcakes – Healthy and appealing to kids, this recipe is delicious and hygge inspiring.
Beef Stroganoff – A healthier take on one of my favorite comfort foods from my childhood.
Slow-Cooker Ribs – Made with honey or molasses instead of sugar, this recipe is whole foods only.
Garlic Herb Pot Roast – Pot roast is one comfort food many people can’t live without.
Gingerbread Cookies Recipe – A real-food way to fill the air with the smell of baking and spices.
You can also just share hot drinks like a cup of tea or hot chocolate.
Add Inspiration & Order to High-Traffic Areas
Hygge isn’t just about creating cozy corners in out-of-the-way places. Tackling the entryway was the biggest gamechanger for us since this is the first place we see as we enter the house and the place where the most clutter enters. (So many shoes!) Consider:
Use a closed cabinet instead of open storage to hide visual clutter
Hang art or an inspirational quote that has meaning to you
Add a small entryway table with an essential oil diffuser or a vase of dried flowers
Cultivate Peace of Mind
Hygge first and foremost is a mindset. It’s about slowing down and savoring each moment exactly as it is. While that is never easy to do, the more we practice it the easier it will become. Since I can’t always reduce what I have to do (unless I give away a kid or two!), I’m trying to focus on the small moments of peace as they come.
If that feels hard to do, I recommend curling up (in your cozy hygge spot) with The Daily Stoic, a book I’ve been loving.
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