The ancient Chinese spatial laws of feng shui have gone full-on mainstream, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Marie Kondo among its enthusiasts. To the uninitiated, feng shui can feel a little esoteric, but if you take the time to dig into the philosophy behind it, you'll find that it's not only based on simple common-sense practices that make our homes healthier and more organized, but it also reveals how connected we are to our homes—and in turn, how they can affect our mood and well-being.
What Is Feng Shui?
Feng shui is the Chinese practice of trying to create balance with the natural world in our interior spaces. It uses energy forces to create harmony between an individual and their environment.
To demystify some of the rules of this ancient Chinese tradition, we tapped feng shui expert Laura Benko to give us simple, actionable tips on how to incorporate feng shui in the home. Benko is widely acclaimed for having rebranded feng shui into a more modern, holistic approach, while still honoring age-old traditions. To Benko, feng shui is not about transforming the structure of a home, but about making our homes evolve with us. Though nearly imperceptible, these small tweaks can have a "profound impact on your daily life," she insists.
Meet the Expert
Laura Benko is a New York-based professor, feng shui expert, and author of The Holistic Home.
Slow Down the Energy Flow
"When there is a direct line-of-sight between the front door and the back door, it means the chi (or energy) is shooting through the house too fast," says Benko. Instead of having it fly straight out the back door, "you want it to move in a graceful undulating way that goes around your whole home evenly."
The Solution: Slow the chi down with a patterned rug on the floor, artwork on the walls, or even a round entry table.
Keep Your House Clear of Clutter
While this may seem like an obvious problem to tackle around the house, we are all too guilty of accumulating things that don't play a specific function in the home. According to Benko, clutter is more than just visually displeasing: "It's an energetic anchor that impedes the best things from unfolding in our lives," she says. An excessive amount of clutter stops us from having clarity of thought and can weigh us down emotionally. Feng shui is less about having a perfectly-styled home, and more about creating a happy and healthy environment.
The Solution: Make sure that you have the correct organizational systems in place for everything in your life, from paying bills, to recycling, to having a designated spot for your keys. You'll feel lighter, less frazzled, and more efficient.
Keep the Path to the Front Door Clear
"The front door is very important in feng shui," says Benko. After all, it's the main portal through which energy enters your home, remember? "Think of the chi as a first-time visitor trying to find your home—you want to make sure it's clearly lit, well-marked, and the address visible." On the inside, you want to make sure you're not walking directly into a wall—"it can metaphorically make you feel like you're up against a wall every day," she says.
The Solution: Install a mirror. When you hang the mirror, Benko advises connecting an intention to it, like expanding the opportunities in your life and not allowing yourself to feel limited.
Give Guests a Reason to Pause
Since energy enters through the main portal (read: your front door), you don't want to have it shoot straight up the stairs, says the feng shui expert. When you invite a visitor into your home, it would be weird for them to head straight to the fridge or the bedroom, right? Instead, you want them to linger in the common area.
The Solution: Slow down energy flowing into your home by adding a stair runner or artwork that causes you to pause and reflect. Another feng shui solution is placing a grounding element that symbolizes heaviness at the top of the stairs to anchor the chi and force it to slow down.
Balance the Five Elements
The five elements—earth, wood, fire, water, and metal—can be present in your home either physically or symbolically. For example, you could bring the fire element with warm tones, like reds and oranges, or you could have actual fire with a fireplace or a burning candle.
The idea, says Benko, is to strike a balance between all elements. "A lot of times, people are drawn to elements that they either need more of or that are a great cause of imbalance in their lives." For instance, people having issues with aggression should be mindful of not having too many fire elements as part of their decor. Conversely, personality types lacking motivation should infuse more of the fire element in their homes to give them a boost.
The Solution: Look closely at the literal and symbolic elements that are showing up in your home, as they can be a cause of imbalance in your emotional life. The idea is to strike a nice balance between all five.
Remove Negative Symbolism
If you look for it, Benko says, "symbolism is constantly bombarding us on an everyday basis. From literature, to traffic signage, to movies, we're always being guided by symbolism. In our homes, it's enhanced even more, because we are creating these intimate environments that most often represent our fears and challenges." Often, we unwittingly reinforce the challenges in our lives by having their symbols in our space.
Benko says there is a slew of emotional issues constantly being displayed in her clients' homes. "Do you have trouble getting clarity? Check if you have stuff all over your surfaces. Do you have self-esteem issues? Check if your mirrors are hung too high, so you can never measure up. Are you chronically single? Assess if you're loading up your home with single imagery—a single vase, a single chair, a single person in a picture."
The Solution: Evaluate what challenges you are facing in life, and try to identify whether they're symbolically showing up in your space. Remove the symbols, and replace them with items you want to attract.
Maximize Natural Light
It should come as no surprise that natural light can make us feel happier and more positive. "Mirrors in feng shui are like aspirin," jokes Benko. "They're prescribed often to treat many ailments. They're a quick adjustment when you want to expand a space and bring in more light." The key here is to be very mindful of what the mirrors reflect. Is it a stack of bills (i.e. more clutter) or a beautiful view?
The Solution: When you hang a mirror, make sure it reflects more light, a serene view, or an expansive part of the room.
Rebalance Workstations in the Kitchen
For efficiency's sake, it's never practical to have two work stations situated back-to-back. This is why many kitchen experts suggest a triangular set up between the fridge, stove, and sink. But Benko says there is also feng shui reasoning behind it: "There can be a conflict in the house when you have fire right across from water—water puts out fire."
The Solution: If you have that configuration in your kitchen, no need to gut renovate just yet. Instead, put a wood element between the sink and stove—water feeds wood, and wood feeds fire. So in this case, wood acts as a mitigating element between the two opposing forces. Wood is also represented by the color green in feng shui, which can be used instead of the actual material.