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The Basics

Updated: Aug 26, 2019

Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. You’ve got to get the fundamentals down because otherwise the fancy stuff isn’t going to work.” ~ Randy Pausch

Now I’m going to give you a very simple crash course in Feng Shui basics. This will not be enough, by itself, to enable you to completely Feng Shui your own or anyone else’s home, but it will help you to understand what I’m talking about later on, when I refer to various aspects of Feng Shui. It will also help you take one clear point of view — Western Form — of Feng Shui to help alleviate any confusion you might have picked up by reading about Feng Shui from differing perspectives.

The Feng Shui life, as I see it, encompasses two basic components: living in an uncluttered way and living in a balanced way.

You might start out this Feng Shui life thinking that the uncluttered way is just minimalism. You’re supposed to get rid of everything you’ve accumulated that takes up space in your home even though you really don’t use it, love it, or need it. You’re supposed to give up the things you surround yourself with because it’s just too much. Maybe you think you’re not a hoarder — someone who collects all kinds of things they don’t really want, and experiences severe anxiety when trying to let anything go — and you don’t have any more stuff than anyone else you associate with, so what’s the big deal? Maybe you think decluttering, or paring down how much stuff you have in your home is about deprivation or lack. Or maybe you just think living an uncluttered life is about not being a slob, and hey, you’re not a slob, you just have a lot of stuff and it has to go somewhere, right?

I see uncluttered living in a bit more complicated way. To me, it’s about inflowing and outflowing. Stuff comes into your home because you buy it, or you bring it home from work or school, or accept it as a gift from someone else. Maybe you think you’re just bringing it in temporarily, but somehow it ends up hanging around indefinitely. Maybe you plan to get rid of it someday, but just never get around to it. After all, it’s still perfectly good, it has positive connotations for you, someone gave it to you and you’d feel guilty if you let it go, or you just don’t have time to sort through things and decide what can stay and what can go. And I don’t blame you at all. I once spent a full week taking pictures of several years’ worth of my grandchildren’s artwork and putting the pictures on a flash drive, so that my daughter could let go of boxes and boxes of paper stuff she had no room for in her home. It’s exhausting work. You might feel some sadness or nostalgia for times that are gone by and will never come again. But the bottom line is that you always have to make room for new, fresh, good things to come to you. Things come in and things go out. That’s how the cycle works. Which brings us to outflowing.

To give credit where it’s due, I first changed my whole way of thinking about inflowing — and more particularly, outflowing — a long time ago, when I first read Shakti Gawain’s book, Creative Visualization. Suddenly, I thought of letting go of things as giving them to the Universe, to other people, to the flow of energy in order to help keep it flowing. I loved the word, outflowing, picturing the things and the energy flowing through me, not to me as a dead end. I gave useful household items, books, clothes, and toys to various charity organizations that wanted them. Someone told me I should only give them to people I knew, because charities turn around and charge money for them. Someone else warned me that charities are all scams, with secretly wealthy owners or CEOs. I didn’t listen to them. The way I saw it, I did my positive part by letting them go out into the world, with gratitude and good wishes, and what happened to them after that was not my business. We can always find excuses not to outflow. I just stopped making those excuses and let go. In Feng Shui, years later, I found the whole concept of decluttering to be consistent with my thoughts about inflowing and outflowing to keep the energy moving. It’s a constant in this Feng Shui life, because we are always bringing in more stuff, so we always need to be letting go of stuff at the same time.

The other part of the Feng Shui life involves balance. Feng Shui balances our home in terms of yin and yang, the Five Elements, and the eight energetic areas of our home.

Yin and Yang

Yin and yang represent the two sides of everything. We, in the West, often think of this basic dichotomy as positive and negative, good and bad, but that is not quite what is meant by yin and yang. One is not better than the other; they are different sides of the same coin. Yin is the calmer, quieter of the two, represented in dark or muted colors, rounded shapes, soft fabrics and comfortable furniture, natural materials like brick and adobe, and lower ceilings and furniture. Yang offers more stimulation and excitement, including bright colors, bold patterns, high ceilings, plastics and metals, square or angular shapes, and hard furniture and flooring. Balancing yin and yang in each room is optimal, but in some cases, one is more desirable than the other. For example, you would want more yin in a bedroom, promoting sleep, and more yang in a playroom, stimulating activity.

The Five Elements

The Five Elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. We want to balance these elements in each room. Now, if this is all beginning to sound a little complicated, relax. Chances are you already have each of these somewhere in your home. Once you get used to the representations of each in colors, shapes, and other items, you can just check (and continually recheck) for balance in each room. Again, some rooms may naturally lean in one direction over another. For example, any bathroom likely contains water in sinks, toilets, showers and tubs, as well as mirrors, but adding black or dark blue cabinets and a glass sink could tip the balance of this room too heavily in the water element. We don’t have to have perfect balance in all things in every room, but striving for a gentle equilibrium is optimal in all rooms.

Fire - Reds and oranges, triangular shapes, people (photos, paintings and prints, statues), animals (pets, photos, artwork, statues), light (windows and skylights, lighting fixtures and lamps, candles).

Earth - Yellows and earth tones, brick, terracotta, adobe, stucco, ceramics, landscape pictures, square and rectangular shapes.

Metal - Whites and pastels, rocks and stones, metal objects (copper, wrought iron, silver, brass) and colors (picture frames, artwork, switch plates, fabrics), round and oval shapes.

Water - Black and dark blues or greens, glass, mirrors, pictures of water, aquariums, fountains, wavy shapes.

Wood - Greens and blues, potted plants, flowers, wood (furniture, flooring), floral or leafy prints in wallpaper or fabrics, pictures of forests or flowers, and vertical lines or tall items, like floor lamps or tall plants.

Finally, the most basic tool of the Feng Shui practitioner is the bagua.

This diagram — in its simplest form, looking kind of like a tic-tac-toe board — divides your floor plan into nine equal sections. (The outer eight sections relate to trigrams of the I Ching. You can look more into that if you wish, but it’s not necessary.) Each section of the bagua relates to a color and an area of your life. You lay the bagua over your floor plan to find out where each section resides in your home. In Western Form Feng Shui, we line up the bagua based on the location of your front door. That wall will edge the three sections, Knowledge, Career, and Helpful Friends/Travel, from left to right. Next, going across the middle, are the Family/Health, Center, and Creativity/Children sections. On the top row are the Wealth, Reputation and Love areas. Obviously, homes are not all perfectly square in footprint, so a Feng Shui practitioner can help you decide what to do about missing pieces and other problems in your home’s bagua.

There you have it. That’s pretty much it. Now, as I have said, there are many schools of thought on these tools and how to use them. What matters more than anything else is your own personal intention. If you are ready to allow a free flow of energy in your home, if you invite fresh energy into the space and are willing to clear out old, stuck energy, then you will feel the results of the changes you make, and the effects will be far-reaching, like ripples on water.