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It's pretty safe to say that the pandemic impacted our relationships — with family, friends, coworkers, and significant others, in profound ways. One of the most surprising, and unexpected, to be affected? Our relationship with our homes.
When the pandemic hit, home transformed into a multitasking space almost overnight. Some rushed to purchase a desk set-up for a workable home office, while others ordered workout equipment to turn their living rooms into home gyms. And as the months of sheltering-in-place and working from home orders ticked on, even those who hardly thought about their apartment's aesthetic before found suddenly themselves interested in sprucing up their home's decor.
Our new, intense home-centric lives led many of us to become more interested in a functional way of living, theorizes feng shui expert Anjie Cho, so it's unsurprising that the ancient Chinese philosophy of feng shui — which focuses on balance and positive energy — became the design ethos du jour. "[We] began to look and ask, 'how can we really create homes that support us?' I think a lot of people spent a lot of time outside of their home and never realized how much they were disconnected from or unhappy with their homes."
"Feng shui is all about flow," says feng shui expert and design consultant Carol Assa, who adds that the direct translation means 'wind water.' "It's all about flow so that you're not blocking energy, you're just letting everything flow easily, because where you live is like your second skin, and just like your circulatory system, you want the house to circulate its energies."
If you've been feeling a little off recently and nothing really seems to help, it could be that your living space needs a refresh and reboot to restore its former sense of tranquility. Here are the basics tenets of the ancient philosophy — and steps you can take to establish a sense of serenity in your home, in your head, and in your spirit.
So, what actually is feng shui?
Feng shui, sometimes called 'the art of placement', is an ancient practice of arranging objects within a space to create harmony with nature and the environment around you, says Cho. (And we mean ancient: some researchers say that the practice is four thousand years old!) "You ideally want to optimize your home for the best flow of Xi, which is the life force energy in a space."
Derived from the Taoist principles that reflect different elements in nature, feng shui's basic principles mirror nature, with particular emphasis on five natural elements: earth, wood, water, metal, and fire. Each element has different attributes and comes to life as a color, according to Cho. In a balanced home, all five elements would be equally represented throughout.
• Earth's colors are brown, orange and yellow, representing health and wellness.
• Wood energy is green or blue tones to inspire growth, healing, and harmony.
• Water works with your wisdom, making connections and supporting your career, and lives in the environment as the color black.
• Metal symbolizes efficiency, precision and beauty through grey, white and metallic shades.
• Fire energy rules passion, visibility, and fame, brought to life exclusively with red tones.
Easy tweaks to feng shui any space:
1. Take a step back.
Start the process by simply walking around your home. Is it easy to walk through, or are there barriers in the natural walking paths, like hallways? Can you open all the doors fully, or is there a piece of furniture, or even a hook, that limits its wingspan? Take note of all the obstacles around your home that interrupt Xi, or the overall flow. Zooming out first will allow you to be aware of and intentional with the changes you make.
2. You knew this was coming: declutter.
During the pandemic, many people began organizational projects to pass the time and get rid of unwanted clutter. Unknowingly, Assa says, they were practicing feng shui's cardinal rule, which emphasizes clear paths without obstacles. "In a home, you want the energy to be protective and at your level," says Assa. "And that starts with removing congestion so both you and the home's energy can move freely." This doesn't mean you have to get rid of anything that doesn't spark joy (this isn't the Marie Kondo method!) but it does mean your crap needs to be in its own spot and out of the way.
This might also include getting rid of furniture that doesn't suit your current space and needs. "A lot of people try to put things in their home that are not appropriately sized," explains Cho. "It's important to look and see if you've created areas where that Xi, or life force energy, can get stuck," since that blocked, negative energy can lead to fatigue and other health challenges.
3. Embrace your inner plant lady.
Bringing nature into your space is a highly recommended feng shui practice, says Cho. "Plants are wood energy, and that means growth, it means harmony, and also flexibility and kindness," she says. Cho considers rounded leaves to be the best feng shui fit, but most important is that you're choosing a plant you can actually take care of. Dead or struggling plants are definitely not feng shui.
"Luckily, there are a lot of plants where you don't have to have a green thumb to keep alive," says architect and interior designer Jeffrey White, principal at Ecology Architecture Urbanism, who suggests a small, hardy succulent for a tight space, like a bathroom. "It's a quick, and efficient bang for your buck way to add a little bit of character from a natural element in a simple way."
Bonus: By taking care of something, another living thing, outside of you, you'll also boost your own energy and feel-good vibes, Cho explains.
4. Make your home a living vision board.
Going back to the colors of the five elements and their attributes, a strategically placed accent, in the color of a trait, feeling, or experience you'd like a little more of in your life, can work as a decor-affirmation, of sorts. Want more inspiration or passion at work? Add a red accent, like a pillow, throw, or a piece of art into your space. Need a helping hand at work? Integrate water's black hue for to make more connections and give your career a kickstart.
For the bedroom, lean into "wood energy's green or blue to inspire growth, harmony, and healing," recommends Cho. Or if you're coming out of SAD season and you need more joy or help seeing more beauty in the world, "add white, grey, or light grey and let metals wonders work for you," Cho says.
Just ask yourself what you need and let your home be your safe sanctuary and living vision board.
5. Watch out for blocked-energy traps.
Blocked energy happens to the best of us, but since feng shui is about flow and fluidity, it's also a pretty simple fix. There are several common feng shui missteps that Assa often sees when she does an initial walk-through during a home consultation. One common energy-blocker is having too many colors in space, because each has their own energy, and they end up clashing.
"In Chinese philosophy, it's better to have the space be white, or another neutral color, and have your colors in accents around the room," she says. Another bonus: Accents can be swapped in and out easily, so that as your priorities change, you can use the accents to strengthen different areas of focus. For example, Assa says, if you had black accents in a living room because you wanted to attract career growth, but then your life priorities changed and now you want to focus on say, fertility, you could easily replace the black accent for the metallic colors and shapes, which represents children, to shift the energy's focus.
Assa also tells her clients to limit the number of mirrors in a small space because mirrors are reflective surfaces that can "create chaos" by causing bad energy to get trapped bouncing back and forth between them like a pinball, when "you really just want your home to be tranquil, quiet and peaceful."
Most of a home's blocked energy can usually be found in the bedroom, Assa says. To inspire a sense of peace and calm, "your head should always be against the solid wall," meaning no windows behind your headboard and no electrical sockets either — those outlets are a whirlwind of energy, says Assa, and can disrupt sleep patterns. Once the big energy-blockers are cleared, splurge for a set of crisp, white sheets to inspire "a kind of cleansing purity and a nice, calm feeling."
6. Create small moments of serenity.
Bottom line: Your home should make you happy, and if you can create little nooks or areas that make you smile when you see them, that's dynamite feng shui. For example, White offers, placing that small plant in a little nook where you can see it periodically throughout the day — like next to your kitchen sink — can provide "a nice, calming experience that you have a couple of times a day."
Or take one of your favorite vacation photos, throw a black-and-white filter on it, and poof—you've created a black accent to symbolize water, a feng shui-approved addition for your bathroom wall.
7. Support yourself (literally).
Good news: It's absolutely fine to work from the couch (at least as far as feng shui is concerned!), assures Assa. There is a but, however: you want to make sure your back is always supported against a solid surface, like a plush couch cushion.
"There's a popular saying in Chinese culture that is part of feng shui," Assa says, adding that feng shui is best understood when viewing through the lens of storytelling and using animals as symbolic metaphors, two key tenets of Chinese culture. "You've got a dragon on your left and a tiger on your right. You have a red bird in front and a turtle behind you. The turtle's shell represents protection, so you always want a strong turtle behind you."
And if your couch faces a window to let you look out at the world around you, even better, because "you always want the red bird in front of you to be able to fly."