I’m Transforming Our Backyard to Live Like My Nordic Relatives, and Here’s How I’m Doing It

published Nov 29, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Girls in purple dresses running outside in a green field against tall evergreen trees and a cloudy sky
Credit: Kristina Vänni

Finland has ranked #1 in the World Happiness Report for the past five years running. While the stoic Finns might not wear their happy heart on their sleeve, as a Finnish-American with strong roots in the country, I can agree that Finland is a very special place indeed. For me, one of the most unique and beautiful aspects of the country is Finland’s strong ties to nature. The crisp air, clean water, and lush forests are all part of the happy environment of this Nordic country.

When my husband and I bought our first home this past summer, what drew me most to the property was that it somehow felt like I was transported back to Finland the moment I walked into the backyard. It is a blank slate, and I looked at the space and wondered what I could do to try and make my daughter as happy as her Finnish cousins. Here are a few things we are doing in the backyard right now to help build a beautiful and happy space for years to come.

Credit: Kristina Vänni

1. Set up structured play time with a Finnish throwing game.

It is such a delight to watch my nieces run free in the yard making up games and exploring the ground for pinecones and other treasures. For a more structured playtime, I have what you might think of as the Finnish answer to cornhole. Mölkkyis a Finnish throwing game that is easy to play and easy to store. Best of all, mölkky does not require much physical strength or agility, so is suitable for a wide age range. The numbered pieces are made of wood and the rules are easy to follow. This will be fun to have on hand for good, old-fashioned device-free playtime as a family.

Credit: Kristina Vänni

2. Grow fruit trees and bushes that can be turned into breakfast jams.

This spring we will start planting trees and bushes that can take root and yield fruit and berries down the line. The weather here in the Chicago area is similar to Finland so many of the same species will grow and thrive. We will definitely plant apple trees as well as raspberry and currant bushes. I’d also like to find a spot for some rhubarb plants. Anything that can be turned into breakfast, used to whip up a dessert, or preserve as a jam is a Finnish custom. It will be such a treat to be able to use some of our traditional family recipes. Plus, my daughter can watch the trees grow as she grows, knowing they were planted around when she was born.

Credit: Kristina Vänni

3. Gather around a smokeless fire pit.

Gathering around bonfires is another Finnish outdoor tradition. They are often lit on Midsummer eve out at a country cottage, and neighborhood bonfires are also a tradition the night before Easter Sunday. While these large bonfires might not be practical for most backyards in the US, I have found a smokeless fire pit to be a fantastic solution to keeping this tradition alive. I really like the Tiki Smokeless Patio Fire Pit, but Solo Stove is another great option. It is just the right size, but can produce a really sizable and beautiful flame. It’s also easy to keep clean and store when not in use.  

Credit: Kristina Vänni

4. Invest in a sauna.

Finally, the most iconic Finnish tradition is one that I can’t wait to begin in our home. That is, of course, the Finnish sauna. While almost every home in Finland has a sauna, it is far rarer here in the US. However, once you start learning about all the incredible health and lifestyle benefits from frequent sauna baths, you might consider adding one to your backyard as well. Saunas are traditionally done at least two days a week, commonly on Wednesday and Saturday nights. My family also has the tradition of a Christmas Eve sauna as well as Midsummer sauna. We are saving up to install a barrel sauna from Almost Heaven in our backyard that we will enjoy as a family for years to come.

While a sauna bath in the evening could help facilitate a deeper, more relaxing sleep, saunas offer a significant social benefit as well. A sauna can be a private meditative space of relaxation and reflection, or it can be a relaxing environment for socializing with friends and family.

My backyard might not be there quite yet, but it’s well on its way to being the Nordic-inspired haven I want it to be for my family.

Want more great ideas for families with kids? Sign up below for Cubby’s Thursday newsletter or get one weekly text featuring our best meal ideas, editor-approved product recommendations, and all the kid’s room decor ideas you needWe’re also on Instagram!

Cubby: A Weekly Newsletter for Families at Home

Whether you need smart solutions or fresh ideas, our editors at Kitchn and Apartment Therapy are here with our best meal plans, organizing and design tips, toy recommendations, and more.