I had never been to the Netherlands (or Holland as you may know it – the country known for its windmills, tulips and waffles) until I moved there in 2018.
The things you do for love! My soon-to-be husband is from the land of giants (fun fact: the Dutch are the tallest people in the world) so for now we call this place home.
At first, the narrow row houses felt so unnatural compared to a spacious US home. Riding a bike everywhere was another adjustment, compared to my previous daily routine of taking trains and buses in Chicago.
With time, I’ve come to really appreciate aspects of Dutch life. I think there’s a lot to be borrowed from the naturally minimalist tendencies of the lifestyle in the Netherlands.
1. Dutch homes, by design, attract less clutter because storage space is visible. Many Dutch homes don’t have an attic. Closets aren’t necessarily built in, so wardrobes are more common. Garages are either nonexistent or small.
You know that place, maybe under the bed, in the attic, or the garage, or the spare bedroom closet where things get put? “Out of sight out of mind” feeds clutter.
Seeing all the things you have prevents clutter and junk accumulation, as well as meaningless shopping.
2. Getting around by bike instead of car means more meaningful purchases. Having to carry or bike home every single food, clothing and home purchase makes you think twice before purchasing something. It keeps impulse and stress shopping at bay.
When I lived in the US, I was prone to browsing at stores like TJ Maxx and bringing home a new nightstand or lamp on a whim. Now, I only bring something home if I really want it.
Cycling has never stopped me from buying something I wanted, but it has saved me from making purchases that I didn’t really want or need.
3. Driving less keeps your neighborhood more alive. If you’re getting around on bike or foot, you know which grocery store becomes your favorite? The one closest to home.
The same goes for coffee shops, bars, dry cleaners. With a car, I’ve driven twice as far to go to a different grocery store (of the same chain, mind you) because “I hated the parking lot” of the one by my house.
It felt normal then, but feels so frivolous now. Not every purchase has to be made around the corner, but it is convenient, saves time, and supports your immediate community, which in turn strengthens the fabric of your neighborhood.
4. Biking year-round is totally doable – if you commit. Before I moved to the Netherlands, I thought that biking in all weather was only for the die-hard cyclists. I thought that it required special gear, a special bike, special tires. Special determination.
Assuming you can cycle to work at all, commitment is what makes it a lifestyle, not the quantity of fancy gear.
Most bikes rolling around the Netherlands are average. A lot of them were purchased used, have a little rust, and aren’t anything special.
Seeing 5-year-old children cycling to kindergarten in the winter rain really puts it into perspective. I survived my first Dutch winter by the grace of $15 one-size-fits-most unisex rain pants.
5. Smaller homes inspire better purchases. When you’re living in a small space, every foot or meter of space counts. My partner and I live in a very small apartment, and before we make a purchase bigger than a book or piece of clothing, we have to discuss: where will it go?
Asking more questions around a purchase gets to the root of what you’re trying to solve by buying it. This is an exact conversation that took place around buying a new plant for our home:
- I want to buy this plant.
- Where will it go?
- Upstairs next to the bed.
- Why do we need plants next to the bed?
- Because it doesn’t feel homey.
- Why doesn’t it feel homey?
- All of the cardboard boxes stacked against the wall make it look like we’re sleeping in a storage area instead of a bedroom.
And there it is! The real thing we needed to purchase: shelves, not a plant. I did get my plant next to the bed eventually, but after we got rid of almost all of the cardboard boxes and found some second hand shelves to organize the space.
Instead of burying the real issue beneath emotionally-driven purchases, being critical of making new purchases gets to the root of what’s really needed.
6. The home should be gezellig. The Dutch word for gezellig doesn’t have a direct translation into English, but means a sense of coziness, homeliness, peace.
As Wikipedia eloquently says, “it can indicate belonging, time spent with loved ones, catching up with an old friend or just the general togetherness that gives people a warm feeling.”
That feeling cannot be bought. The billion-dollar marketing industry has told us that it can be affordably financed on credit, but it’s a lie.
A home becoming gezellig is not about shopping for the perfect couch, or the perfectly styled end tables. It’s about finding comfort and a sense of belonging, and that comes from the inhabitants.