What Is Feng Shui

A blue chair, a large vase, and a shelf displaying decorative items are placed neatly to encourage the flow of qi.

What Is Feng Shui? Feng Shui Basics for Your House

Feng shui, or Chinese geomancy, is a pseudoscience from Ancient China which was popularized in the United States during the 1970s. Modern, westernized interpretations of feng shui have altered many aspects of the practice, most notably in the focus on interior decorating. Traditional feng shui largely was applied to full structures and how they were oriented in reference to other landmarks. However, the basic premise of feng shui in all cases is to channel the flow of energy (qi) using the strategic placement of objects. Feng shui arose from the same basic spiritual principles as Taoism, and is still being practiced to various degrees throughout modern China.

The Basics of Feng Shui

Feng shui isn’t always practiced for spiritual reasons. As it applies to interior decorating, following feng shui strategies of placement do also result in an organized, aesthetically pleasing area. Some may even leverage feng shui principles to make a space more desirable to prospective home buyers when selling a house.

Declutter Your Home

The first and most important step in arranging a home, according to the principles of feng shui, is one that is actually widely encouraged inter-culturally: declutter. While the metaphysical explanation for clearing and organizing a space is to open up paths for the energy to move more freely, it also just helps people move more freely. 

In a practical sense, feng shui creates a neater space that is easier to navigate. Decluttering a space sounds simple in theory, but isn’t always so in practice. There are many ways to make the process easier:

  • Throw out surplus stuff. Throw away or give away anything that you don’t use or that doesn’t have particular value to you.
  • Rent a storage unit. It will allow you to clear your living or office space without throwing out things you don’t use but would like to keep.
  • Get help from a friend. It will make the process easier and more fun, and they can be a voice of reason in terms of pointing out what you don’t need. 
  • Buy receptacles. Things like drawers and totes can help you organize items and get them out of the way, although you run the risk of cluttering the space with too many receptacles. Don’t overdo it, and try to find pieces that aren’t too bulky. 

Organize things creatively. Find other ways to neatly get things out of the way, such as hanging jewelry from hooks.

Prioritize Good Air and Light

According to the principles of feng shui, light and air — especially from outdoor sources — are vital for the healthy flow of qi. Light is often considered to be a particularly strong source of qi, while moving, clean air is thought to improve the flow of qi. Outside of feng shui, light is in fact known to improve mood, and light treatment is often recommended to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). There are a few fairly consistent rules concerning this aspect of feng shui:

  • Use light sources liberally. It is encouraged that you use natural light wherever possible, but any light is thought to be helpful. 
  • Open windows and doors. Regularly opening windows or doors (even in the winter) is believed to have positive effects on the air quality of your home. 
  • Keep plants. Plants are also meant to purify the air, and it is recommended that several are placed throughout the space.

Place a Fountain Near the Door

As demonstrated with the emphasis on air and light (representative of fire) in the home, feng shui emphasizes the energy found in the elements. Feng shui strategy also often includes placing a fountain near the door because the energy of the flowing water symbolizes positive commerce, pecuniary and social.

Map Your Home’s Energy

There are many aspects of feng shui that are not static, but rather depend on the space, the person who occupies the space, and which areas of their life they would like to bring energy to. To determine what layout best coincides with a space, practitioners of feng shui often use the Bagua. 

The Bagua refers to symbols from Taoist cosmology which represent the essential aspects of reality. These symbols are often represented in diagrams — as in the case of feng shui — and these diagrams are also commonly referred to as “Bagua.” In the context of Western feng shui, the Bagua refers to an energy map that corresponds with nine important aspects of one’s personal life. 

In order to map the energy of a home, the energy map is overlaid on a floorplan to see which areas correspond with different types of energy. Particularly ambitious feng shui practitioners may even choose a house based on desirable correlations with the Bagua.


Place Objects Based on Your Home’s Energy

Based on how the indicators on the Bagua align with the floorplan, items in the area are moved to encourage various outcomes in one’s life. For example, if a section on the Bagua indicates “health,” the decorator may determine that a plant should go there, due to its life energy. Meanwhile, for the area consistent with “career” on the map, some potentially beneficial objects to place in the area would be heavy items to encourage stability in one’s career, or a depiction of a dragon, which symbolizes success. 

There are many options when it comes to organizing a home according to feng shui principles, all dependent on one’s values and goals. However, there are some objects that are very commonly found in feng shui-based decor, such as vases, mirrors, and fountains.


Understand the Five Feng Shui Elements

There are thought to be five elements which all play a role in the qi of one’s home: wood, fire, water, earth, and metal. There are many things that are symbolic of the elements which can be integrated into feng shui decor, such as corresponding cardinal directions and colors:

  • Wood: East/Southeast, green;
  • Fire: South, fire;
  • Water: North, black/blue;
  • Earth: Northeast/Southwest, yellow;
  • Metal: West/Northwest, white.

This school of thought also posits that every person has a particular tie to a certain element based on their year of birth. Knowing what your birth element is will also impact how a particular space is set up in accordance with feng shui principles. For example, someone whose birth element is water may place more black or blue objects in their home. 

In practice, feng shui can be a helpful tool to make a space more pleasing or comfortable, but there are also more important elements to consider when shopping for a home or assessing a property you might be living in.

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