It’s no secret that we’re totally obsessed with Scandinavian culture – we fell in love with Sweden on our first trip to Stockholm in 2014, and have been consuming as much information about the Scandi way of living ever since. We’ve now travelled back to Sweden, explored Denmark, and most recently visited Iceland for Chris’ 30th birthday. We’ve started learning Swedish with Duolingo (one of the apps we recommend for learning at home) enjoyed partaking in fika (the act of getting together for a cuppa and a sweet treat) but one Scandinavian concept we absolutely love is hygge.

Hygge has become a bit of a trendy word to throw around in recent years, but it is an old Norweigan word that Danes adopted towards the end of the 18th century. Even though there are now many, many books on the subject of hygge it’s a word that’s hard to describe in English, as it’s more of a concept, a feeling, that can mean something different from person to person. Generally speaking, hygge is a feeling of contentment, safety, satisfaction. If you search for hygge on Google images, you’re likely to be shown snuggly blankets, roaring fires, and cups of Instagram-worthy hot chocolate.

A few years ago, at one of our first housesits, I devoured Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living which includes the hygge manifesto, shown here:

We’re beginning our year locked down at a rural housesit in Norfolk. As it’s our fourth time taking on this housesit, we’re enjoying a feeling that’s rare for us as we’re usually constantly on the road – the feeling of coming home, of being somewhere familiar and cosy. Our days are spent walking the three dogs, crunching through frosty, deserted fields with nobody else in sight, hearing only bird calls and sometimes farm animals. When the sun starts to drop towards the horizon, casting long shadows across the countryside as far as the eye can see, we retreat indoors, light the fire, and cosy up in the lounge all five of us to settle in for an evening of total hygge.

Reading by the fire has become a new favourite pastime, as we’ve both set reading goals for the year. (By the way, you can follow Chris and myself on Goodreads to see what we’re currently reading!) Over the past couple of weeks we’ve both completed Helen Russell’s The Year of Living Danishly, which inspired me to read Marie Tourell Soderberg’s Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness. Reading these books reminded us of the hygge manifesto, and we’ve been trying to incorporate more hyggelig moments into our days as we’re spending more time at home. It can be hard to feel ‘at home’ when you don’t have one, especially in a winter lockdown, so we’ve put together our list of ways to find hygge while housesitting! (Disclaimer: it should go without saying that you should always obtain the homeowner’s permission to use certain items in their home!)

Snuggle up with your new furry friends

This is number one for obvious reasons! We’ve loved snuggling up with pets at our housesits over the years, with all kind of dogs – from teeny Chihuahuas who fit perfectly in our arms, to Great Danes who weren’t going to let their size stop them from curling up on our laps for a snooze! There have been numerous studies showing the positive mental health benefits that come from spending time with animals – according to one study, dog owners’ oxytocin (the love hormone) levels increase after just one to five minutes of interaction with a dog. The same study showed that dog owners’ cortisol (the stress hormone) levels significantly decrease at fifteen minutes of interaction. So it’s scientifically proven – spending time with pets can make you feel more relaxed, and less stressed! Throw on a comfortable outfit that you don’t mind getting pet hair all over and you’ll be able to relax all the more. The perfect way to get that feeling of hyggelig comfort while housesitting.

Lots of snuggles with Pepe and Fuji at our last housesit of 2020
Lots of snuggles with Pepe and Fuji at our last housesit of 2020

Peruse the homeowner’s bookshelf

One of our favourite things to do upon arrival at a new housesit is to have a browse through the bookshelves. Not only do we expand our very own PDF recipe book each time, which you can read more about in this blog post, but it’s also like a small-scale library where we can borrow books to read for the duration of our housesit. I had been meaning to read Meik Wiking’s book about hygge (above) for a couple of years, so when we arrived at our third ever housesit in New Milton in 2018 and the book was on the shelf, I read it over the course of our stay. There’s something incredibly hyggelig about curling up with a good book, especially if the book is so engrossing that you get lost in its pages and are transported somewhere else entirely – away from distractions and worries. To help you get in the mood to relax with a book, set your phone to airplane mode and have some self-enforced screen-free time to shut out bad news and distracting notifications.

Snuggling up with Winnie and a good book

Take advantage of everyday gadgets

To reiterate – when at a housesit, only use things that the homeowner has given explicit consent for you to use!

At one repeat housesit that we love being asked back to, the tech-obsessed homeowner encourages us to use their incredibly fancy coffee machine. It has a screen, various built-in programs for making dozens of varieties of hot drinks, and more buttons for customisation than we know what to do with. Over our time there we find ourselves using the machine almost every day… To froth milk. Yes, we use a coffee machine costing around £2,000 to make wonderfully smooth and frothy cups of hot chocolate! Sometimes Chris will also use their metal stencils to put a cocoa powder design on the top of my drink, like an at-home barista. Taking the time to slow down and add a little bit of luxury to our days, even if just by making our drinks that bit more delicious, is total hygge – especially when we enjoy drinking them snuggled up in the cosy lounge/den with furry friends on our laps.

Enjoying a frothy hot chocolate with Jessie (who loved a mini cup of tea!) while housesitting near Daventry

Have a movie night

Similar to browsing a homeowner’s bookshelf, sometimes at a housesit there will be stacks and stacks of DVDs for us to go through. Even better is when the homeowner gives us access to their Sky movies or NowTV – it’s a great way to watch new releases, and even better if the house has a dedicated movie room! At a housesit near Oxford, the homeowners had turned a small mezzanine attic room into a cinema, complete with a giant projector, and bean bag chairs for a cosy and laid back vibe. Feeling comfortable is an essential part of hygge, and sinking into those big balls of beans while relaxing with a film was the perfect hyggelig way to spend an evening.

Treat yourself to local delicacies

Obviously this is more complicated in lockdown, but in normal times it’s safe to say one of the best things about housesitting is exploring a new area, as well as finding cute independent food shops! Especially if the bakeries and cafes in town have delicious, local, sweet treats on sale. We’ve enjoyed artisan doughnuts in Berlin, homemade peanut butter blondies in the Lake District, and one of my all-time FAVOURITE discoveries was a breakfast spot in Hove who make their own maple syrup in house. At any time, wherever we are in the world, I would WALK back to Hove for a stack of pancakes with that syrup!!

The act of sitting down with a hot drink and a yummy treat crosses over into the Swedish concept of fika – chatting with a friend while enjoying good, comforting food – and we love partaking in this. Our favourite hot chocolate cafe in Gamla Stan, Stockholm, was so crowded with people enjoying fika the last time we visited that we had to get a cup of cocoa to go – walking around the city with a takeaway cup is totally not as hyggelig as taking the weight off your feet, and having a good chinwag in a cute cafe.

Find a hyggekrog in the house

The Danish word ‘hyggekrog’ translates as ‘cosy nook’. This is essentially finding a spot in a house where you can grab a blanket, a book, a cup of tea – whatever – and curl up in the spot to relax. Maybe it’s an old armchair that envelops you when you sit in it, or a large bay window that lets in lots of sunlight. Bonus points if it looks out over a beautiful or serene view! Once you’ve identified your hyggekrog, it can become your go-to place to find a bit more hygge in your day if you just need some time out to yourself. The first hyggekrog I made my own was at a beautifully minimalist housesit in the Ashdown Forest, where we looked after two velvet-soft cats. The large bay windows in the living room drenched you in sunlight, and the wide windowsill already had sheepskins and blankets in place to wrap yourself up in. Looking out over the serene Forest at sunset, cats dozing on my lap, was a gorgeous hyggelig way to unwind as the day drew to a close.

Light a fire

Over the years, Chris has taken it upon himself to become the fire-lighting expert, as he’s navigated dozens of different wood-burning fires over our housesitting journey. We love it when we arrive to housesit in a little cottage or old house and discover it has a proper fire place! Many, many evenings have been spent curled up in various living rooms, enjoying the warm glow from the flames, the sound of crackling kindling, and that homely smell of burning wood. There’s just something about a roaring fire that makes any space instantly hyggelig!

If your housesit doesn’t have a fire place, but you’d like to create that cosy orange glow, you could always buy some candles (or do as I do, and travel with them – I’m obsessed with Yankee Candles that smell like baking!) Then turn off overhead lights, maybe put a soft lamp on if it’s too dark, and get some candles lit for a warm and cosy evening. Danes burn an average of 3.5kg of candles per person each year, so you know it’s a tried and tested way to achieve instant hygge!

Our lovely roaring fire at our current housesit in Norfolk

Spend time with friends

Of course you’re going to get to know your new pets at a housesit, and dogs and cats are especially great companions! However, even when the pets aren’t the most cuddly, Chris and I are lucky enough to be on this journey together so we’re never short of someone to talk to or snuggle up with. Over the years, we’ve acknowledged that this lifestyle can be lonely sometimes, if you’re constantly arriving at new places where you don’t know anyone, and especially in Covid times it can be hard to make friends and spend time with other people. Pre-Covid, we would make a conscious effort to look up local events when arriving at new places, so we’d have the chance to meet other people. At the moment, though, lockdown has made us appreciate the relationships we already have.

Right now we’re grateful for the relationship we’ve built up with a homeowner in Norfolk, as our current sit is the fourth time we’ve stayed at the cottage. Every other day we send her photos of the dogs, and she sends us her photos from her trip. It feels nice to have this exchange as our way of staying in touch. We’ve also had more than a few Zoom dates with friends over the past few months, and even before Covid we would stay in touch virtually with friends we hadn’t seen for a while as we’re constantly travelling around. When we arrive at a housesit, normally we would arrange to meet up with friends physically if they’re close by. For now though, Zooms and Whatsapps are the new normal. It can be isolating to housesit full time, especially if you’re doing so alone, and it might be nice to actually write to friends to let them know you’re thinking of them while on the road. This week we’re sending a card to a friend who’s bought a new house, taking the time to write down how happy we are for them and congratulating them with a card they can put on the mantelpiece in their new home. Hygge is all about slowing down enough to appreciate the good things in life, and what’s better than sharing that with someone else.

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