What Is Feng Shui?

Feng shui, pronounced “fung shway,” is the study of energy and how it affects people positively or negatively. Feng shui is an ancient Chinese practice that was developed by agrarian people who recognized their dependence on the natural forces of the world. Feng shui, by integrating the Taoist search for balance and the Buddhist quest for harmony, seeks to incorporate these principles into the home.

Energy Flow

One of the primary principles of feng shui is that you want the energy in your home to connect with the natural life-forces outdoors. You must allow the energy to flow freely through your home, and not hamper it by having excess clutter or by leaving things broken, including damaged or cracked windows. According to this belief system, energy flows best along curving spaces — ovals and circles are preferable to jutting corners and straight lines.

In English, feng shui means “the way of wind and water” or “the natural forces of the universe.” The ancient Chinese lived by these forces. Europeans call these forces “geomancy,” and Hawaiians and Native Americans practice their own methods of energy balancing. The fundamental concepts behind feng shui have been studied and explored throughout history by people around the world.

According to the principles of feng shui, you can transform your living and work environments by making them more attuned to the life forces around you. Feng shui is disrupted by chaos. An orderly home is more conducive to positive energy flow than a chaotic one.

Many people are initially quite skeptical about feng shui. Although some of the principles might not resonate with you, many of the ideas will likely mesh with your own intuition, as if they explain something that has never before been clearly articulated.

Victoria Moran was also initially unsure of what to make of feng shui. She writes, “When I first heard about feng shui, it sounded like a Far Eastern rendition of avoiding black cats … Nevertheless, many of the principles are clearly in keeping with contemporary psychology. Cheerful people are healthier and more productive than glum ones, and a pleasing atmosphere in the home or office does contribute to happiness.”

While some of the ideas associated with feng shui may seem a little odd and unrealistic for your own space, others follow the lines of common sense. Many of the ideas associated with feng shui seemed to be fundamental and universal concepts that can make sense to people in any life circumstance and of any religious persuasion.

While feng shui used to be thought of as a wacky invention of the New Age movement, people are increasingly becoming aware of the spiritual dimensions of space and the value of living intentionally in one's own home. Certain arrangements of furniture and home orientations evoke emotions — clutter can cause a feeling of helplessness, broken things can make you feel depressed, and dark, dingy spaces can oppress your spirit. The feng shui principle that curving lines are more conducive to a healthy and aesthetically pleasing space, for example, make sense to anyone who has lived in a shoebox apartment.

First Principles

According to the principles of feng shui, the first steps in healing the space in which you dwell are quite concrete: get rid of the clutter, fix the broken things, and bring a little more light to your space through the use of mirrors. Clutter is trapped energy that has far-reaching effects, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It is believed that all forms of household clutter can keep you trapped in the past, congest your body, and make you feel lethargic and fatigued.

According to the principles of feng shui, when you clear out clutter you release negative emotions, generate positive energy, and carve-out space to do the things you most hope to do in your home or work environment. The idea that clutter holds people back from realizing their potential seems to be a universal belief, held not just by practitioners of feng shui, but by professional organizers as well.

One of feng shui's primary concerns about clutter is that it is not forward looking. Clutter is often a way of clinging to the past and can be crippling to a person who wants to take steps to move toward the future. According to this philosophy, by getting rid of clutter, you create space for new possibilities.

Healing the Home

After you've begun the work of decluttering your environment, take a mental inventory of broken things in your home and garden and begin to make a focused effort to fix these things. It is also wise to clean dirty spaces. You might be especially mindful of windows, because according to these principles, windows are the eyes of the chi (the life-force energy) and they affect your mental clarity. This is one of those intuitive feng shui ideas. Anyone who spent a winter staring out of a streaked and dirty window knows how irritating the smudges become over time. Dirty windows strain your eyes and you have to focus to see out. They also can feel like a reproach every time the sunlight exposes all that dirt.

On a more basic level, smudged or cracked windows can interfere with your experience of light and beauty — instead of seeing your lovely garden, you might just see those flecks of dirt. The dirt might make you feel burdened and worried with thoughts like, “How am I going to tackle that?” These small things can detract from your experience of home, and can have a significant negative impact on your mood.

Feng shui teaches that the systems of your home correspond to your bodily systems. You might have been able to guess that plumbing corresponds to your body's digestive system, so those who believe in this model would say that it is wise to repair leaky faucets and clogged drains promptly if you wish to keep your digestive system in good working order. Likewise, the electrical system in your home corresponds to your neurological system.

Feng shui also offers many principles related to organizing and decorating. One is that the main door represents the home's mouth of the chi. Symbolically, this is how the entire chi enters your home, so you want to keep this entrance clear, open, and clutter-free. The front door should also be large and easily accessible. Your home is best placed level to or just above the sidewalk, and the front hedges should be kept neatly trimmed. Practitioners of feng shui also teach that a fountain in front of the home is an excellent way to increase “flowing money energy” and draw it into your home. Ever notice all the mansions with fountains out front? The water element is a universal symbol for wealth and prosperity.

Feng shui practitioners believe that it is not ideal to enter a bathroom and immediately see the toilet. This idea seems to mesh with common sense — a toilet set into an alcove is far more pleasing on the eye and peaceful to use than one placed in the center of the room.

When Feng Shui Falls Short

There are some ideas associated with feng shui that might run counter to your own intuitive sense about how you wish to organize your home. For example, it is considered good feng shui to have your desk facing a door. But for many people, a view out the window is preferable to a glimpse of the door. In these kinds of situations, follow your own intuition, even when they run counter to a philosophy such as feng shui that offers valuable insights.

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