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There’s a light in every window, and other decorating challenges for non-Swedes

Victoria Martínez writes about some of the things you did not realize you would have to invest in when you first moved to Sweden.

There's a light in every window, and other decorating challenges for non-Swedes
I've now started the process of stockpiling Advent lights for next Christmas, writes Victoria Martínez. Photo: Private

In the days before we moved in to our new home in Sweden, my husband and I couldn’t help but notice that nearly every window we saw here was not only beautifully decorated, but also featured at least one charming and hospitable lamp. There was naturally much appreciative gushing over this, and I was personally quite filled with brilliant decorating ideas. Admittedly, our reaction on realizing that privacy blinds were either non-existent or rarely used in most windows, even at night, was one of respectful bemusement.

It’s all good, we said to ourselves from our hotel room. All part of the adventure!

And it really was. It was an adventure, up to and including the part where we walked into our new home and started counting windows, all with neither blinds nor lamps. Actually, there were few lights at all because, in Sweden, fixtures like lights don’t come with the property. My decorating dreams dissolved in an instant, replaced by the reality that the decision not to pack and ship too many breakables like lamps was a mistake.

I remember thinking how fortunate it was that it was still summer, with darkness lasting only from around 10 at night to 4 in the morning. Except that extended daylight was a double-edged sword. Sure, we weren’t living in the dark, but without blinds, my two preschool-age children naturally assumed they should be awake during ALL daylight hours.

As much as I love the principle of literal and figurative transparency behind the lack of blinds, parenthood has taught me that nothing shatters idealism faster than children, especially when both they and their parents are severely sleep-deprived.


One of the windows when we had just moved in, without blinds or curtains. Photo: Victoria Martínez

So, there we were, the whole family sleeping on air mattresses and eating picnic-style on the floor while my husband and I frantically assembled our new Ikea furniture and unpacked boxes, and all I could think about was whether to take my mother’s advice and line the windows with aluminium foil. Our windows went from being a culturally-inspired decorating opportunity to the first challenge on a very long list of things to do to get us settled in our new home. Risking looking like deviants, we nonetheless installed privacy blinds in all the bedrooms as soon as we could.

Normal sleep patterns restored, my attentions were turned toward the rest of our windows and, with fall approaching, buying and installing ceiling and wall lights. Particularly important was covering our front windows, through which we were blinded nightly by the lights of a bookstore across the street that resembled those on the spaceship in the film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Unfortunately, in my rushed attempt to apply a decorative solution to the more public windows and thus appear somewhat less aberrant, I made a truly amateur mistake. I learned the hard way that even basic custom privacy curtains for a tricky window don’t come cheap in a country where home decorating is a national pastime. Coupled with the desperately-made purchase of quite a few ceiling and wall lights, I managed to spend a shocking amount of money while still raising eyebrows over my request for “closable” curtains.

After that, there wasn’t much money remaining for a charming and hospitable window lamp for every window, never mind beautiful decorations to accompany those lamps on the window sills. All my brilliant decorating ideas down the drain, I did what any self-respecting non-Swede would do, I closed the blinds and curtains. We had paid dearly for them, after all.


We’ve bought lamps for the windows. AND privacy blinds. Photo: Victoria Martínez

The arrival of the Christmas season brought with it the rude awakening that everyone in Sweden not only redecorates their windows for the holidays, they also replace their usual window lamps with Advent lights and stars. After I recovered from my shock, I decided that one Advent light placed in a bare window would suffice. In addition, placing the World’s tiniest Christmas tree in another window and moving our only existing window lamp to another bare window meant that we had lights of some kind in three whole windows!

After Christmas, returning to just one sad window lamp in the middle of darkest winter inspired me to take my slightly recovered decorating budget and go in search of illumination. As it turns out, it had been in the second-hand stores all along.

The result is that after eight months of living in Sweden, we have finally met the minimum acceptable standards for proper Swedish windows. Not only do we have a lamp for every window, we even have some decorations. Ever the planner, I have also started the process of stockpiling Advent lights and stars for Christmas.

Of course, now that spring is here and the days are getting longer, we won’t need the window lights as much. And since the bookstore across the street stopped turning on their spaceship lights, we technically don’t need the expensive front curtains anymore either.

It’s all good, I remind myself daily. All part of the adventure!

Victoria Martínez is an American historical researcher, writer and author of three historical non-fiction books. She lives in Småland county, Sweden, with her Spanish husband and their two children.

Read more from her family column on The Local here.

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FAMILY

How does the cost of childcare in Sweden compare to other countries?

Parents in Sweden benefit from a cap on childcare costs, with parents paying different fees based on their household's income. But how does the generous scheme compare to other countries?

How does the cost of childcare in Sweden compare to other countries?

Preschool childcare is not free in Sweden, but fees are income-based, with a maximum fee across the country 1,572 kronor (€145) per child per month (fees for 2022).

There are also deductions for each child if you have multiple children attending preschool at the same time – in this case the maximum fee would be 1,048 kronor for the second child and 503 kronor for the third, with parents paying no fee for any further children.

Children over three are entitled to 15 hours of free preschool education per week, so these are deducted from your fee once your child reaches this age.

To get an idea of how much you would have to pay based on your income, you can use this calculator (in Swedish – similar calculators exist for other municipalities). These fees are adjusted yearly by the Swedish school authorities and are applicable to all municipalities. If your child has a preschool place, you have to pay even if you do not use it – over summer or during holidays, for example.

School meals and preschool meals are free in Sweden, meaning you don’t need to pay extra for your child’s lunch, breakfast, or any snacks served during the day.

Denmark

The exact amount parents pay for childcare in Denmark depends on the municipality. In Copenhagen Municipality, the cost of nursery (vuggestue up to 2 years and 10 months) is 4,264 kroner a month including lunch (roughly €573). For kindergarten (børnehave from 2 years and 10 months to 6 years) it is 2,738 kroner a month including lunch (roughly €368).

The government pays 75 percent of the cost of a place or even more if your household income is below a certain threshold. 

If you have more than one child using childcare, you pay full price for the most expensive daycare and half-price for the others.

Norway

The cost of nursery and kindergarten is capped at 3,050 Norwegian kroner, regardless of the hours attended or whether that facility is state-run or private. This means you’ll never pay more than roughly €295 a month per child in childcare costs.

Germany

The costs for daycare centres (Kindertagesstätte, or Kita for short) can differ greatly depending on where you live in Germany, as the fees are set by the local government.

In Schleswig-Holstein in the far north, parents pay on average nine percent of their after-tax income on childcare costs. In Hamburg, 4.4 percent of parent’s income goes on childcare as every child in entitled to five hours of free care a day. In Berlin, daycare is completely free. 

Spain

Costs can vary depending on whether it is a  private or public guardería or centro infantil (as nurseries are called in Spanish).

Public ones are heavily subsidised by the government and cost around €100-260 per month, depending on where you live in Spain and your situation. Private nurseries cost between €150 and €580 per month. There is also a fixed yearly fee called a matrícula or enrolment fee, which is around €100.

There is a 50 percent discount for large families and single parents don’t have to pay anything for childcare.

There’s also a deduction of up to €1,000 (cheque guardería) that is applied to the income tax return and works out at around €100 to €160 per month which is aimed at working mothers and is available up until the child is three years old.

France

In France, crèches tend to be the most affordable option and the cost is based on the family’s income. High earners might pay up to a maximum of €4.20 an hour (€33.60 for an 8-hour day), whereas low-income families might pay €0.26 an hour (€2.08 for an 8-hour day) at a crèche collective, which is for three months to three year olds. At the age of three, compulsory education begins in France.

The cost of a childminder is around €10.88 an hour and up to 50 percent of the costs of a nanny or professional childminder can be reimbursed by the government.

The OECD calculations on the percentage of income spent on childcare – based on two parents both working full time – is 13 percent in France. This is roughly similar to Spain and Italy.

Austria

Public nurseries and kindergartens are heavily subsidised and in some cases free, depending on where you live. For example in Vienna, parents only need to pay €72.33 a month to cover meal costs, with low income families being exempt from that fee.
 
Vienna also subsidises private kindergartens, paying up to €635.44 a month directly to the institution. 
 
In other provinces, kindergarten is free for part-time hours. It is mandatory for all children in Austria to attend part-time kindergarten from the age of five. They start school aged six.

Switzerland

The average Swiss family spends a massive 41 percent of their net income on childcare, three times the OECD average of 13 percent.

The average cost of childcare in Switzerland is CHF130 a day (€136). Due to tax breaks and subsidies paid out in the cantons, many parents will pay between 30 and 80 percent of this cost, depending on income. This equates to paying between €41 and €108 a day, roughly €902 to €2,376 a month. 

It’s even more expensive to hire a nannie, which will cost between CHF3,500 (€3,678) and CHF5,000 (€5,255) a month, including mandatory pension contributions.

United Kingdom

According to charity Coram in their Childcare Survey 2022, the average cost of full-time nursery is £1,166 (around €1,304 a month), which is even higher in some parts of London. There are some government subsidies available for low-income families and those receiving benefits and every parent is entitled to 15 or 30 free hours of childcare the term after their child turns three years old.

Childcare conclusion

The cost of childcare varies within each country, depending on family circumstances. However, for guaranteed low childcare costs for every parent, Sweden comes out best, with a maximum of €145 a month.

Average monthly cost of state-run childcare:

Sweden: €145 maximum

Norway: €295 maximum

Austria: €72.33 – roughly €500

Spain: €100 – €260 

Germany: €0 –  €368

Denmark: €368 – €573

France: €45,76 – €739.20 

Switzerland: €902 – €2,376 

U.K. €1,304 which reduces the term after the child turns three.

By Emma Firth and Becky Waterton

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