By Joan Eileen
Hygge Your Way to a Healthy Home
It’s no secret that we love creating stylish, functional homes. From the rise of HGTV, to Marie Kondo’s decluttering empire, to the popularity of shows like the Home Edit, people everywhere love a good home makeover.
But as much as we enjoy ogling incredible before/after accounts on Instagram, we often underestimate the potential health benefits of a well-designed home environment.
This is why, out of all the different home fads and approaches to that have become popular over the years, my personal favorite is hygge.
Hygge is a Danish concept that exploded into American consciousness several years ago. Since then, dozens of books and articles have been published celebrating the hygge approach not only to home, but to life.
At its most basic, hygge is loosely translated as “cozy,” but in reality it’s much more complex. Hygge is about nurturing a sense of contentment in your home by slowing down, tuning into the natural environment, and intentionally reveling in the little things that bring you joy. Choosing a hygge lifestyle will help you strengthen your connection to yourself, your environment, and to others.
In her book “American Cozy,” author Stephanie Pederson sums up the power of hygge, saying that it is the Danish ability to “spin the functional into an almost spiritual experience.” Hygge is testament to the truth that even the most mundane things - when done with intention and love - fill a space with a special, palpable energy. From lighting a candle, to brewing tea, to reading a book - hygge is about savoring the beauty of the present moment and cultivating a sense of quiet joy and gratitude.
With summer winding to a close and the days growing shorter, many of us will be spending less time socializing outdoors. Luckily for us, hygge is most commonly enjoyed inside. As we spend more time at home, we can use the concept of hygge to cultivate greater wellbeing in the months ahead.
The principles of hygge can be applied to any home, no matter the square footage, the style, or the budget. The goal is to enhance the comfort and quality of life of the people who live there, rather than a visual wow-factor.
So, how do we actually implement hygge?
There are several simple ways to set up your home as a container for hygge and wellbeing. You don’t have to apply all at once. Think of these next 5 items as a guideline that you can slowly integrate over time, noticing how each one subtly shifts your experience of home.
Ask any interior designer, and they will tell you how important good lighting is. Hygge is no exception. If you want to create a warm, relaxing environment, the first place to start is with the lighting.
In general, we want our indoor lighting to mimic the cycle of the sun, supporting our natural circadian rhythms. When you wake up, open the curtains and let the light pour in. Sunlight has the added benefits of killing airborne bacteria, lifting your mood, and aiding in the production of vitamin D. So clean those windows and let in the light!
In the evening, use lightbulbs that emit a soft, warm light; avoid harsh, overly-bright, cool light. (Learn more about light temperature here.) As the day winds down, the warm light will mimic the sunset and help ease you into sleep. Try your best to avoid the “blue light” of computer and phone screens in the two hours before bed, which have been shown to disrupt sleep patterns.
And we can’t forget the hallmark of hygge lighting: candles! Typically associated with winter months as a source of warmth and light, the enchanting glow of a candle can be soothing no matter the time of year. Steer clear of most scented candles as the chemicals used to add fragrance can be toxic. And opt for 100% soy, coconut, or beeswax-based candles, as the typical paraffin wax is derived from petroleum and is neither clean-burning nor biodegradable. (Learn more about choosing healthy candles here.)
The more we study the relationship between humans and nature, the more evidence we have of the positive effects of contact with the natural world. But with more and more people living in highly urban spaces, that’s often easier said than done. The solution? Bring nature to you. While it’s no replacement for a walk in the woods, we can intentionally welcome natural elements into our home. Some easy ways to do this include:
- House plants are an easy way to invite a little bit of the plant kingdom into your home; they have even been shown to improve cognitive function and mood.
- Incorporate natural fibers and materials that remind us of our connection to the Earth: textiles like cotton, jute, sisal, linen, faux or vintage fur; and materials such as brick, stone, wood, rattan, and clay.
- If you have any views of greenery or nature, be sure to showcase them. Keep your curtains open during the day, clean your windows, and situate your most-used furniture to look out the windows.
- If you don’t have a view of nature, you can frame and hang beautiful nature images and photographs.
- Decorate with crystals, stones, feathers, shells, or other treasures that you find on hikes and nature walks.
- Honor any local seasonal changes through natural decor. Bring in flowers during the spring, pumpkins and gourds in the fall, and evergreens in the winter. Let these ground you in the present and help you appreciate the beauty of each season.
3) A Human Touch
By now, your home has been enhanced by the light and textures of nature. The next step is to infuse your home with meaning, context and history, that reminds you how interconnected we are with others, from family to strangers.
- Incorporate items that carry stories with them –– vintage items that indicate the passage of time, sentimental pieces, or treasures from your travels.
- Opt for hand-made items over mass-produced ones: original art, ceramics, needlepoint, hand-made furniture, etc. These objects were crafted by another living, breathing human being, through a skill that likely took years to develop. Appreciating these items can remind us how connected we are to others, even people we’ve never met. This can be a great way to incorporate pieces made by local artisans, which have the added benefit of strengthening your sense of place and belonging.
- Display photos of family, ancestors, loved ones, and other people that connect you to a sense of community.
4) Absence of annoyance
This may be my favorite element to creating a home that feels hygge-tastic. And it starts with knowing your irritants. An irritant is any small-medium scale nuisance in your home that makes it difficult for you to fully relax into the most nourishing, present moment possible. Irritants can usually be fixed quickly, but we resist tackling them for various reasons. It’s important to note that everyone has different irritants! What bothers you may not bother someone else, so own your irritants and don’t hold it against others if theirs don’t align with yours.
Examples of common irritants include:
- cluttered surfaces, corners, etc
- an uncomfortable sofa that you can’t properly relax on
- broken items
- dead plants
- things you forgot to put away or don’t have a home
- unfinished projects
- giveaway items that somehow haven't left the house yet
- other peoples' stuff
The presence of irritants in your home puts you in a constant, low-level of stress that can make it difficult to fully engage in restorative activities such as reading, crafting, meditating, sitting down to dinner with friends, and more.
Do a scan of your home to see how many irritants are lying around, preventing it from being the most nourishing sanctuary possible. Then see how many you can eliminate in 30 minutes, an hour, or even an afternoon!
5) Indulge the senses
Perhaps the most fun way to create a hyggelig atmosphere at home is to indulge the senses. In this practice, your senses become a gateway to joy and presence. The goal is to make your space a richly pleasurable experience by enhancing and deeply engaging with sounds, scents, and even flavors. When we let go of our chronic multitasking and really focus on the simple pleasures of the senses, we experience not only joy but also a quality of presence and gratitude for the moment. Some simple ways to treat your senses are:
- Make your own natural scent diffusers using fruit, herbs, spices and essential oils.
- Massage your hands and feet with essential oils or sustainably-sourced lotions - keep an eye out for products that don’t use palm oil, or use palm oil that is RSPO certified sustainably-sourced.
- Burn incense or naturally-scented candles.
- Bring fresh flowers into the home to delight your eyes and your nose.
- Cook up a favorite dish that will fill your home with yummy scents––or experiment with something new!
- Enjoy a meal free of distractions like TV or phones so that you can truly appreciate the flavors and textures of your food.
- Allow yourself a little treat –– some cake, hot chocolate, etc.–– and notice how much more pleasure you get when you fully pay attention to the tastes of your small indulgence.
- Create playlists that evoke a mood of calm, cozy serenity - whatever that means to you. Play it in the background when you spend time at home.
Connecting with your sanctuary
Now that your home is all set up for maximum hygge, remember that no matter how amazing your space looks, it’s how you inhabit it that matters most. The creative act of cultivating your space over time, with sustained attention and care, is a powerful way to connect with your own personal sanctuary. Make time for reflection, stillness, and intentional hyggelig activities, like sipping tea in your garden, reading a book while cuddled on the sofa, or baking a cake from scratch. Without moments like this, you could have a beautiful home yet still feel disconnected and ungrounded. But by engaging with your home through regular maintenance, loving care, and intentional presence, you’ll soon find yourself experiencing a greater sense of belonging, contentment, and joy.
Joan Eileen is a holistic interior designer and owner of spirit•house sacred interiors. Fascinated by the intersection of consciousness and space, Joan’s mission is to create interiors tailored to her clients’ unique functional, emotional, psychological, and even spiritual needs, ultimately helping people feel more “at home” at home. Drawing on her experience in design, home organization, environmental psychology, Feng Shui, and personal growth, Joan guides clients to cultivate their own “sacred” sanctuaries by overcoming mental blocks, clutter, overwhelm, and lack of inspiration, with a special focus in helping women through times of transition (new home, new career, new child, empty-nest, loss, divorce).