Feng shui is one of those terms that probably sounds familiar, like something Phoebe might have gotten into on an episode of Friends, but many of us would struggle to define. Feng Shui with Me founder and consultant Marianne Gordon likes to describe it as follows: “Feng shui is to the house what acupuncture is to the body.”
Like acupuncture, feng shui is an ancient Chinese practice that can be traced back millennia. Both are regarded as methods of chi, or energy, healing. Both are included in the eight branches of traditional Chinese medicine. Yet only feng shui addresses the relationship between how we are and where we are.
The feng-shui philosophy centers around creating harmony at home to promote one’s overall well-being. With most of us spending much, if not all, of our time at home these days, it’s more important than ever to maintain a positive, productive, and organized living space, as well as develop healthy habits. Here’s how feng shui can help you feel better at home, according to the experts.
Decluttering before Marie Kondo made it cool
The first step to creating a harmonious home is creating a house that invites harmony. Now is the time to clean, organize, and declutter, as Marie Kondo would say, whose own methods are heavily influenced by feng shui, according to Gordon. “You’re at home. You’re confined. And chances are, you’ve kept stuff on the backburner,” she says.
For Gordon, recent decluttering meant cleaning out her makeup drawer, which she realized after was 70 percent junk that could be tossed. Then it was her children’s toy stash. Decluttering may also mean clearing out your attic or tackling that stack of paperwork piling up on your desk.
Much as organizing fosters good feng shui, deep cleaning is part of the practice. Stoves and bathrooms should be immaculate, Gordon says, also noting that sweeping around the entrance to one’s home should be part of everyone’s daily routine. Chi regenerates every day, so the act translates to sweeping out the old and letting in new opportunities.
Keeping your stove spotless
The stove is a symbol of prosperity and abundance. It should be cleaned daily and, according to Karen Rauch Carter, a feng-shui consultant and author of the national bestseller Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life, should be kept in “tip-top condition.” Both Carter and Gordon also recommend placing a small mirror behind, or by, your stove, especially if you have a small kitchen. It’ll make a two-burner look like a four-burner and everything you’re cooking appears twice as plentiful. In lieu of a mirror, Carter points out that a shiny teapot could suffice.
Placing more mirrors wisely
“Mirrors are chi activators,” says Gordon. Accordingly, they should be placed in the rooms where we seek activation, be it professional, romantic, creative, healthful, or otherwise. Contemporary practitioners do not differentiate between things in themselves and reflections, adds Carter, explaining why mirrors are used so frequently in feng shui.
Beyond magnifying physical dimensions, and good fortune, mirrors are valued for their reflective properties. Placing a small round mirror on the side of your bathroom door facing outward, for example, can help repel chi away from the unlucky room. Alternately, you would not place a mirror across from your front door as the chi would be repelled back out of the house.
Creating separate spaces for separate activities
Central to feng shui is the idea that different areas of the home should be dedicated to different activities. The bedroom is not a place to eat. The office is not the place to pursue hobbies. Working with the space you have, whether that means reappointing the rooms in your house or the corners of your studio apartment, create productive areas for all aspects of your life. Setting these spatial boundaries is more important now than ever to maintain a healthy routine.
If your home is built such that any part of it protrudes out past where your front is situated, make that area your office, Carter suggests. According to feng shui, these rooms are technically located in the front yard, so they’re more appropriate for an office or guest room than a bedroom. Gordon notes that designating clear work and play areas can be particularly helpful for parents, as different members of the family may require different surroundings to achieve different goals.
As for the bedroom, it’s crucial to create a sanctuary separate from work, hobbies, kids, etc. “The only things I say are supportive in the bedroom are things that support rest, relaxation, rejuvenation, and revitalization,” says Carter. “And passion,” she adds, as the bedroom is also a relationship-building space. As for those photos of your grandparents displayed on your nightstand, they’re probably better suited to the living room.
Minding your headboard
Where we orient ourselves in relation to doors and windows can impact our feelings of safety and security. Sitting with our backs to a door, for example, can make us feel vulnerable. “Think of the king, the pope, the priest, the judge. They always have a throne,” says Carter. “Why is that chair back so much taller than everybody else’s chair back? They’re claiming respect… So, if you want to be respected in the world, you’ve got to have your back covered.”
The same is true regarding where we sleep. The head of the bed is like the chair back in your office. Accordingly, our headboards should be backed by something solid, not sharing a wall with a window or a door. Carter also notes that because we spend roughly eight hours a day in our offices and eight hours a night in bed, it’s particularly important these spaces feel secure.
Making your home your own
It sounds obvious, but many of us decorate our homes by default, not design. Where we live should reflect not only who we are but also who we want to be, says Carter, who’s witnessed significant personal progress among those who remade their homes to reflect their goals. Imagine someone who “inherited junk from great-grandma, who never visited the house but became the interior designer by default,” she says. That person would be better off outfitting their house to support their “dream future of a healthy, vibrant, happy person.”
Trade in your hand-me-down furniture for decor that reflects your taste. Repurpose the furniture you have to be more your style, and exercise those decluttering skills for the pieces that don’t. If you want to get in shape, create a dedicated space for athletic equipment. If you seek professional success, create a commanding office space. If you’re looking to hone your creativity, surround yourself with inspirational artwork.
Bringing the outside in
If you are going to hang artwork, Carter recommends nature photography. If possible, avoid works with single subjects, like a lone flower, as they can bolster feelings of isolation. It can be something as simple as ordering a $1.99 calendar, she says, which “gives you 12 beautiful photographs that you can put in your sphere of influence…where you’re spending a lot of time.” Also worth surrounding yourself with is the Flower of Life, a circular, geometric symbol that “spans all religions, across time,” according to Carter. Print one out and slip it under your bed.
Gordon suggests stimulating a different sense by playing nature sounds. She also recommends hanging nature imagery, or opting to binge Planet Earth over some Netflix drama. For a more hands-on approach, Gordon cites gardening as an easy way to increase your connection to nature while you’re stuck indoors. Even if your access to the outdoors is limited, you can still germinate seeds. “You can have a lentil that you turn into a plant, an avocado seed,” she says. Or, she notes, you may be able to order some seeds online.
Mirrors can play a role here, too. Those in urban areas can place mirrors across from their windows. This will double your exposure to the outdoors from inside and make your room feel lighter and airier, promoting the sense of peace only nature can.
Setting up an altar in the center of your home
Altars are common in feng shui. And they’re easy to set up with materials you may have on hand. To make an altar, choose a space that’s low to the ground and decorate with fine fabric, crystals, incense, or anything else that will help you “journey, reflect, meditate, and pray,” as Gordon says. Put it in the center of your house, an area associated with health and also one that disperses energy to other areas. “If you have peace in the center and you’re grounded,” Gordon says, “all the areas of your life are going to be peaceful and grounded as well.”
Ridding your house of negative energy
One way to remove negative energy is to make a saltwater cure. The method is simple: Fill a glass jar about two-thirds of the way full with salt, preferably coarse; place six coins in the jar but nothing valuable as the cure will be thrown out at the end of the year, or self-isolation period; then fill up the top with water. The cure should then be stored in the south or east of the home in accordance with the ancient feng-shui principle of flying stars, says Gordon.
She also suggests burning sage, or smudging, to ward off negativity. You can order bundles on Amazon or create your own from loose leaves you may have in the kitchen. Note that loose leaves burn much faster and should be used with a fireproof pot, plate, baking dish, etc.
Writing and reciting affirmations
When smudging, you can also say affirmations, or positive declarations, inspired by the areas of your life you’d like to improve. Each individual may create their own affirmations, ideally at the beginning of the year, and should write them in the present tense in order to better manifest them. As an example, Gordon recites, “Remove all stress and negative energies from my relationship” and “Invite positive energy in my life.”
Taking time to meditate
While not strictly a feng-shui practice, both Carter and Gordon recommend incorporating meditation into your routine. “Close your eyes as if you’re looking at your forehead…put the tip of your tongue to your mouth, and just breathe,” says Carter, who also recommends practicing holding your breath as it’s difficult to think about anything else while doing so. “There’s a time to be outward, and now we’re in our homes, it’s a time for a moment of inwardness,” she adds.
Gordon also notes that meditation can help in challenging living situations, whether you live alone and are experiencing the effects of self-isolation twice as hard or you’re holed up in a tense roommate situation. It’s an answer to both predicaments, she says. “You’re either having to create your own bubble to distance yourself, and meditation is a look within…or if you’re alone and you’re scared… you have to make peace with the fact that you’re alone in confinement, and meditation is a wonderful tool.”
Unplugging before bed
One of the simplest, most effective ways to create a positive atmosphere is to turn off your tech while you sleep. For Gordon, this means “all screens after 9:00 PM are a big no-no,” Wi-Fi gets disconnected completely after 10:00 PM, and “we don’t turn it on again until 8:00 AM.”
Carter takes it a step further. All electronic devices and even chords should be two to three feet away from your bed at minimum, she says. She also notes that you may not be in the clear if there’s something disruptive on the other side of the wall. “What if there’s a route…or the circuit panel of your house, or the whole fuse box. You literally have to do a walkabout and see what you’re being exposed to…what’s in your bedroom that would be disturbing you.”