How to make your indoors brighter and your outdoors cozier: lessons from afar for the pandemic winter

Bird of Paradise plant


I can’t tell you (because I’ve lost track) how many friends and acquaintances have done major or minor remodels this year, or moved to a larger or smaller place, or just a different place, or just impulsively rearranged their furniture and changed their decor every couple of months or so. I myself did a big downsizing in August, got a desperately needed new fridge in October, and got a minor bathroom upgrade in November.
It’s a combination of introspection, stir-craziness, seeking control over something, and self-soothing. And in many ways, it’s an opportune time. Contractors want work, if you have the money. Or if you have the skills yourself, and you’re idled from your job, why not?
We’re not going to focus here on major remodels though. I don’t have the expertise in that area that some of my readers do, so that would be silly. Instead, we’re going to focus on simple changes to make to your domicile to achieve peace and contentment in your home, while storms of both snow and political craziness rage around. And also, we’re going to include ways to both bring the outdoor elements of winter inside, and make the outdoors, particularly your own yard, porch, or what-have-you, more warm, inviting, and useable.

This is what koselig looks like

I got inspired to delve into the lifestyles and outlooks of people who live even farther north than we do, with longer, darker winters. You have no doubt heard of the decorating, food and lifestyle trend of hygge, borrowed from the Danes. Some writers like to joke about the cuddling aspect of this phenomenon by saying “get hygge with it,” but that doesn’t really work, for two reasons. First the pronunciation of the word is more like HOO-guh. So closer to “hug” than “jiggy.” Secondly you can do hygge all alone, indoors or outdoors, or in a small crowd.
Just for fun, though, before we get into specifics, I thought you might like to learn about other northern cultures’ versions of hygge. Here is a little list of those I found, with the word, the folk practicing it, and the rough English translation:
• Hygge – Danish – Well-being (Norwegian)
• Lagom – Swedish – Moderation, just enough
• Koselig – Norwegian – Cozy
• Hugge – Iceland – (Same word as hygge)
• Kalsarikänni / Sisu – Finnish – (see below)
• Cosagach – Scottish – Cozy (Gaelic)
• Cwtch – Welsh – 1. Hiding place 2. To snuggle
• Gezellig – Dutch – Convivial
• Gemütlich – German – Convivial, homey, pleasant
• Coorie – Nova Scotian – 1. Cozy 2. To cuddle OR to cower (Scots dialect)
• Uyut – Russian – Comfortable (with implication of cozy)
• Potlatch – Alaskan Indigenous – My suggestion, as the word literally means “inviting people” in the Tlingit language.

The Finns have two contending words and concepts that each equate to part of hygge. Kalsarikänni literally means “drinking in your underpants,” while Sisu is usually translated “fortitude” but it means a kind of cheerful, aggressive fortitude. So, in Finland, you may have a sisu day followed by a kalsarikänni day, while the exact same two days in Denmark would both be hygge.
Also of note, cozy, kose (the root of koselig) and cosagach may all stem from the same root word, as may cwtch, coorie and the French verb “coucher.” (The “bed box” of Brittany, used for both hiding and canoodling, is also common in Wales and the Netherlands.)

—So here are some crafty thoughts to get your creative juices flowing. We’ll start with the indoor stuff.

Ice luminaria made from balloons

Lights. All the lifestyle pieces I read (a lot of them) agree that the koselig way with indoor lighting is soft but ubiquitous. Especially favored are candles, reading lamps, and string lights, with or without a tree under them. You might surround your bed, your couch or the bay window with strings of small white lights. If you’re suffering from SAD, you can get a prescription for a light-box and spend an hour each day in self-treatment with it. But also, the hygge, sisu and koselig way with windows is to leave curtains, if any, wide open. Let in the sun, no matter how meager, and light up your yard in the long midwinter night (see below).
Fires. Closely related to lights. I note that the inimitable Hammacher Schlemmer now sells a tiny tabletop fireplace, so you can have an approximation of a real fire even if you live in a basement or a studio apartment. If you have a space for a fire but don’t have a working one at the moment, consider getting a wood stove from Woodland Stoves on Franklin Avenue. (They also sell wood-fired pizza ovens for either indoor or outdoor use. Very hygge.)
Colors. There are two schools of thought on this one. One is to counter the bleakness of outdoors and darkness with bright, bold colors. The other is to echo it with cool, light tones of blue and gray and lots of white. But one thing is sure, don’t let your paint job get dull and marred when winter is coming. Clean whites and crisp colors everywhere are important. A blog on koselig by a southern Euro-type living in Norway says you have to redecorate every other year, at least. See

A potted jasmine

Flowers and plants. Plants that flower in winter are a great thing to up the coziness factor. “Christmas” cactus and poinsettia are traditional favorites, as are forced bulbs such as amaryllis, hyacinth or paperwhite. There are also nice smelling plants such as jasmine, or striking large plants such as “peace lily” or bird-of-paradise.
Cut flowers. This is an easy option, if you can afford it. Most groceries and co-ops have them (Seward Co-op’s include fair-trade selections) or you can patronize our many excellent local florists if you’re really fancy. For a treat!
Music. Another thing all the hygge and koselig articles agree is important. You could think of creating a playlist as part of your winter remodel, but if you can make your own live music, so much the better. Musical instruments can be part of your home environment too. Both of my kids remembered fondly the piano we had when they were little, and now as grown-ups, they both insisted on having one the instant they became homeowners. But it doesn’t have to be something that big—a ukulele or a woodwind of some kind works too. Check out local music stores such as Blackbird on Cedar Avenue.

DIY cabinet to conceal trash or recycling

Organization and storage. This is highly personal. Some people feel more comfortable with a minimalist look, with any possessions hidden away in orderly cabinets and cupboards save for a few artisanal pieces and maybe a “coffee table book.” Others are comforted by the homey clutter of books, teapot, throws, scatter rugs, coasters, tchotchkes, yarn baskets and half-finished crafting products. I’m trying to get a little more minimal now, after a lifetime of clutter. I may try this clever hidden-away recycling center idea (see picture).
Crafts. While cozying up to your cottage, have a cottage industry if you like. Knitting, crocheting, weaving and tie-dye can contribute to your indoor esthetic, whether you made the stuff yourself or bought it from a local artisan. Pottery is very koselig. Stained glass can increase your feeling of lagom.
Games. I am a big fan of having your favorite recreation integrated into your decorating scheme, and I like board games. Have a few statement pieces, such as a chess table, or one of those 50th anniversary deluxe versions of a classic game. I have two of my

A customized chess table

favorites from a brief stint working at a game store at the mall that I would recommend. One is a strategy game called Quarto, and the other is Colorku, Sudoku played with wooden marbles in nine colors. (Google for a picture if you’re curious.)
Food. There is definitely hygge food. It’s always hot cocoa or tea in the magazine articles, although all the real-life Scandinavians I know are coffee guzzlers. Hot soup is something almost every culture that has winter associates with winter. Pies and cookies with scents of cinnamon, or almond, or chocolate add a lot to the coziness factor. If you’re going the cosagach route, a wee dram of single malt may be in order.
Culinary plants. I am in favor of dual-purpose things. Growing stuff indoors that you can also eat makes sense to me. Here is your chance to try out weird herbs or salad greens. Microgreens, daikon sprouts, chervil, French tarragon. Apparently (I’ve never tried it) you can grow a beautiful fern-y vine from the cut end of a sweet potato. Fancy that.

—Here are some random outdoor ideas.

The portable sauna crew from

Heat. For warmth outside, try a patio heater if you have the space. Or a fire pit if it’s legal where you live. A greenhouse with one wall being an outer wall of your house can be heated with a special greenhouse heater.
Circuit training. Another approach is to do circuit training in your backyard. Warmly dressed. Google this and you’ll find some very impressive, expensive bits you can buy to make an obstacle course for your own use, but I reckon you or your favorite handyperson can make these things much cheaper.
Lights. For lights (that will shine in through those uncurtained windows), outdoor string lights are nice. I love to see the evergreens in the front yard lit up with lights, white or colored, and it’s too lovely to be put away in January.
Luminarium. Another great outdoor decor feature is the ice luminarium. Here is a piece showing how to make your own:
Sauna. There is a local company that will rent you an outdoor sauna! They will even come set it up, then take it down and store it till next year. Check out

Portable theater system starter set

Movies. There is another local company that will sell you a portable outdoor theater system so you can have movie nights in your backyard (or indoors in a big socially distanced way). Check out
Ice skating. There is yet another local company that will actually install a friggin’ ice rink in your backyard! How sisu is that? Check out


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