The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Feng Shui

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My freshman year dorm room was hot, damp, and emitted a mysterious stench. But there was a bigger problem at hand, which my architect mother, well versed in the ancient practices of her native China, was quick to point out. With rough cinderblock walls, drafty windows, and harsh, fluorescent lights overhead, my “chi” was about to embark on a very tumultuous year. And at $33,538 per year, that was not to be had.

I watched and waited as all 5-foot-one of her dragged my desk across the room to face the door (a more commanding position), and moved my bed to the darker, more “yin” side of the room (better for quiet and rest). Woo-sah, indeed. But what is feng shui exactly, and how can anyone achieve a sense of harmony without my mom’s help? While feng shui may not be recognized as a traditional scientific practice in the Western sense of the word, its guiding principles can (and have) been applied around the world through architecture and interior design. Follow along for some basic tips that can be applied to any space called “home.”

Dorm Daze — The Need-to-Know

Feng shui (pronounced fung shway) is an ancient Chinese system of balancing our physical environment to promote harmony and a sense of well-being. From a home’s natural surroundings down to its furnishings and decor, feng shui practitioners believe that everything (and everyone) has a certain energy, or “chi,” and how we arrange those objects can affect all aspects of our lives [1]. Warm, fuzzy feelings aside, practitioners also use feng shui to address specific areas of concern, from health and wealth to careers and relationships [2] [3]. Not the worst priorities for a new coed or young professional settling into their first home.

While feng shui may seem mysterious, or even mystical, its guiding principles are quite simple. One key aspect is seeking balance (between yin and yang) despite constant change. On a practical level, that means there’s an optimal place for every object (bed, books, laptop, even garbage bins). With the help of feng shui architects R.D. Chin and Toshi Kasai, Greatist has your how-to guide on creating a happier, more harmonious room — double and single floor plans included!

Home-Work — Your Action Plan

Crazy roommates, noisy traffic, and that growing pile of dirty laundry can all contribute to a less-than-zen living space. The good news? While not all forces are within our control, small changes can help get our chi — and our lives — in order. To kick off Greatist’s ultimate feng shui guide, we’re starting with the bedroom (where we spend roughly a quarter to a third of our lives).

IDEAL BED LOCATIONS. Illustration by Bob Al-Greene; Design by R.D. Chin     

 

Bed: This is where the magic happens, from a feng shui perspective, too. A properly placed bed is believed to offer security, better sleep (and the health benefits that come along with it). Feng shui consultant and architect Toshi Kasai says the ideal bed location is diagonally opposite the door — never with your feet pointing directly at it (in Chinese tradition, the deceased are always carried feet first out of the bedroom, and who wants to mimic that?) [4]. When in bed, you should have a clear view of the room and door, and have your head against something solid, preferably a wall. “That’s the most grounding, and you need grounding to sleep,” Kasai says. Still stirring? Opt for a sturdy headboard to add a greater sense of security, he says.

IDEAL DESK LOCATIONS. Illustration by Bob Al-Greene; Design by R.D. Chin     

 

Desk: Space restrictions may force a desk into the bedroom, but not all study spots are optimal according to feng shui [5]. R.D. Chin, feng shui master and architect, advises positioning the desk in the “power position” of the room — diagonally opposite from the door. This gives a commanding view of the room, allowing you to see and think clearly. Also avoid having your back to the door (considered too distracting), or against a large window (believed to drain strength). And while it may be a space saver, most feng shui consultants advise against positioning a desk so you’re facing a solid wall, which can negatively affect concentration and creativity. Desk too close to the bed? Consider investing in a folding screen to block direct views and reminders of day-to-day stress while in bed. And at all costs, avoid working from bed!

Lighting: Ready to call dibs on the biggest bedroom? Early birds may want to choose east-facing rooms, and night owls, west-facing spaces, Chin says, to boost energy during their preferred times of day. “What we’re trying do is maximize the energy [that comes] direct from nature” [6]. For rooms lacking natural light, nix the fluorescent lights and consider investing in an incandescent or warm-colored desk lamp and a floor lamp to increase ambient light. “Light represents yang energy, which promotes feelings of happiness and inspiration,” Chin says.

Window Treatments: A room with a view is a major plus, but be careful how you dress them up. Rickety window treatments aren’t just an eyesore. According to feng shui, they can be a source of unrest. Kasai’s feng shui consulting firm suggests choosing soft curtains or fabric shades instead of wood, metal or plastic blinds to create a more comforting or intimate environment — privacy guaranteed.   

IDEAL SINGLE ROOM LAYOUTS. Illustration by Bob Al-Greene; Design by R.D. Chin     

 

Clutter: The first step to a happier home is clearing the clutter — stat! Living in disarray can manifest in stagnant or dead energy, Chin says. In a clear and organized space, energy can flow freely and feelings of guilt and unrest might vanish too, Kasai says. And when it comes to love: “If you want to nurture new relationships, now is the time to get rid of those old photographs of ex-boyfriends or girlfriends under the bed,” Kasai says.

Artwork: No Picassos? No problem. The key to successfully decorating a space is to display only what’s truly meaningful and inspirational to you. “By using feng shui,” Chin says, “we’re using tools that help people become more conscious about how the space relates to them.” (On the flip side, be sure to take down reminders of unsuccessful projects or failed relationships, which can deplete energy and stir up feelings of inadequacy.)

Electronics: Not everything is fit for the bedroom (treadmills, TVs, and PCs, we’re looking at you!). Electronics, big and small, can emit currents capable of disrupting sleep (though every individual will respond differently). When in doubt, move as many gadgets away from the bedroom as possible, and whatever must remain, keep at a minimum two feet from the bed, preferably in the “off” position.

IDEAL DOUBLE ROOM LAYOUTS. Illustration by Bob Al-Greene; Design by R.D. Chin     

 

Plants: Even city folks can benefit from a hint of nature in their space. According to Chinese tradition, plants represent growth, prosperity, and good luck. Looking to grow a business or ace an exam? Try a small bamboo plant on the desk (or any plant or flower with upward pointing energy) for a boost in the right direction. If serenity’s the goal, opt for rounded over spiky leaves for a more calming effect, Chin says.

Mirrors: Vanity has a time and a place — and ideally that’s not in the bedroom. Mirrors are believed to double activity, stirring up more energy than optimal for an area of rest, Kasai says. The solution: Move floor length mirrors behind the closet door, or at the very least, not facing the bed. This can be disruptive — even startling — and according to Chinese superstition, seeing your reflection alone in bed might make it so for the long haul. (Eek!)

Color: Love racecar red? Before dousing a room in it, feng shui experts suggest using your birth date to determine which of the five elements you fall under: wood, fire, earth, metal, or water. “If you’re a fire energy person, green might help balance you,” Chin says. “If you’re a wood energy person, blue might create a more harmonious space.” In general, yellow and orange can optimize liveliness and cheerfulness, whereas blues and lavender can help soothe stress. And when it comes to overall peace and stability, earth tones may be best.

All chilled out and ready to go? Before applying feng shui from floor to ceiling, remember it’s not a cure-all for each and every one of life’s challenges. “Feng shui is not just about placing mirrors and plants,” Chin told me. “It’s much more about using the space as a way to teach us to be more conscious of creating balance in our lives.” Harmony can come from anywhere, and having an open mind — and a space to call your own — may be the best place to start.

Which feng shui tips have you tried? Tell us what brings harmony to your living space in the comments below! 

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About the Author
Jordan Shakeshaft
Whether it’s soccer, basketball, or figure skating, I’ve always turned to sports to satisfy my need for fun, fitness, and a healthy dose of...

Works Cited

  1. Balancing Chi and Integrating Feng Shui. Livingston, C. Midwifery Today With International Midwife, 2003 Summer; (66):16.
  2. Feng Shui Revealed. Chin, R.D and Warfield, G. New York, NY. Clarkson Potter, Random House, June 1998.
  3. Practical Feng Shui: The Chinese Art of Living in Harmony With Your Surroundings. Craze, R. New York, NY. Lorenz Books, October 1997.
  4. Practical Feng Shui: The Chinese Art of Living in Harmony With Your Surroundings. Craze, R. New York, NY. Lorenz Books, October 1997.
  5. Workplace Cures: Feng Shui Approach. Pelletier-Rutkowski, J. Feng Shui Services, New England. Beginnings (American Holistic Nurses’ Association), 2011 Summer;31(3):10-1.
  6. Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health. Mead, M.N. Environmental Health Perspective, 2008 April; 116(4): A160–A167.

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