Elements, Energy, and Arranging Your Space for Balance: A First-Timer Guide to Feng Shui

By Calypso

8/24/2022

If you’ve ever tried to organize a room, to select the right furniture to organize in said room, or ever just happened to fall into a preferred arrangement of items you like to have for any space at all, odds are the term, ‘feng shui,’ has been thrown around. For many, it’s a catchall phrase referring to arranging the contents of a spot so that it adds a little positive something. It looks better, it’s more efficient, it just feels right. And really, this reasoning isn’t too far removed from some core of feng shui as a practice.

But feng shui is much more than just shoving furniture around and interior decorating. It’s about putting the space around you together in a way that improves your life. How is it meant to do that? Where did the idea come from? What can you do to get the most out of trying it yourself? Let’s take a look.

What is Feng Shui?

A complete elaboration on feng shui and its history within Chinese culture would take several essays to examine in full. The condensed version is that feng shui, translated as ‘wind and water,’ is a traditional practice that goes back thousands of years. Its roots lay in the desire to harness and harmonize with the Qi—the universe’s flow of energy, or cosmic current—through the arrangement of an environment. At its broadest extent, feng shui works with architecture, astrology, geography, and topography. All elements that are present naturally, or introduced, are put to use in the design of buildings and the composition of their interiors. At every stage and scale, the five elements are kept in play: wood, fire, earth, water, and metal. Each element corresponds with a different quality to imbue a space with, and organizing them in a specific layout is meant to improve certain factors in life.

The Five Elements

Wood

Represents: Vitality, creativity, growth. Meant to aid in family and financial matters.

Traits: Rectangular shapes, columns, green and blue palettes, plants.

Example:

 

If natural houseplants seem like too much work, the Jumbo Agave Planter can make a fine floral accent.

https://www.lacks.com/jumbo-agave-planter-1102916-en

Fire

Represents: Passion, enthusiasm, inspiration. Meant to aid in leadership and expression.

Traits: Extreme corners, triangular outlines, reds, oranges, golds, lights.

Example:

 

A vivid pepper-bright body and illumination all in one, the Raina Red Table Lamp adds plenty of fire to a room.

https://www.lacks.com/raina-red-table-lamp-1096249-en

Earth

Represents: Stability, care, strength. Meant to aid in well-being and knowledge.

Traits: Squared flat surfaces, brown, yellow, green and clay tones, low-to-the-ground items.

Example:

 

The Parota Coffee Table covers all bases for the earth element, low, sturdy, and handsome in its warm russet finish.

https://www.lacks.com/parota-coffee-table-191139-en

Water

Represents: Shifting, change, prosperity. Meant to aid in career moves and easy transitions through life and emotion.

Traits: Curving silhouettes, rippling and waving texture, black and other dark colors, reflective items.

Example:

 

Dark and swirling, the Tyler Coil Sculpture is an ideal addition for this element.

https://www.lacks.com/tyler-coil-sculpture-1104338-en

Metal

Represents: Precision, beauty, clarity. Meant to aid in helping others and increasing focus.

Traits: Circles, metallic, stone and white surfaces, industrial or chrome accents.

Example:

 

Composed of gleaming glass and brighter chrome, the Lenox Glass-Top End Table adds the metal element without overpowering a space.

https://www.lacks.com/lenox-glass-top-end-table-202439-en

Before you latch onto one element, whether for its aesthetic or the traits you want most, remember that the point of working with the five elements in feng shui is to strive towards a balance of all the positives they can represent, not an overload of some and a deficiency in others. Assuming you’re pursuing the practice in earnest, know that overdoing an element is implied to imbalance its good traits just as underusing it will lead to those positives depleting in your life.

For example, if you decide you want more passion in your life and fill your space with fire-charged furnishings, you may find yourself—forgive the pun—burning out after you throw yourself into too many projects with limited energy. By the same token, having fire underrepresented in your space while giving the lion’s share to other elements may lead to all the zest snuffing out of your day-to-day routine, dragging your feet from task to task without feeling. So make sure you have equal portions of everything; keep the elements even!

Commanding Position

 

Quick, what are the three most important furnishings in your home? According to feng shui, that top three is always the bed, the stove, and the desk—the three items that command the most important facets of your life. The place of rest, the place of cooking, the place of work, all symbolized by a key item. To give said item a ‘commanding position,’ the general rule is that whether you’re in bed, minding a pot, or working away on a paper, you have a direct line of sight to the door. But not in a way that places you in a straight-on alignment with it! Diagonal positioning of these items—like when you place your bed in the furthest corner of the room from the door—gives you that sight line and full view of the room. Subconsciously, this alleviates some stress as you’re aware that you can’t be surprised by someone entering your space.

Room to Room, Wall by Wall

Whether you’re applying feng shui principles to a single room or your entire home, start from the entrance and follow the path from it, spot by spot. The entry, the ‘mouth of Qi,’ should always be kept clear of any debris or cluttering furniture. It should also be the first and most thoroughly cleaned place; both for minding the foot traffic mess and ensuring there’s absolutely nothing blocking the ‘flow.’ Cleanliness and company-friendly organization are a large part of feng shui as a rule.

The most-used spaces—entryways, fridges, tables, sinks, et al—should always be the cleanest places in the home, and clutter should be kept to a minimum. That doesn’t mean toss everything that doesn’t work with the five elements! Just keep things picked up and in their proper place, minimizing obstruction. At the same time, be mindful of how you arrange things for yourself and others to use. Have couches and chairs arranged to slightly face each other, encouraging conversation and comfort.

Now, check your bathrooms. Water has ties to the flow of income, so, on top of courtesy reasons, make sure all your shower curtains are drawn, your toilet lids are down, and the door is shut. Symbolically, you’re helping to cut off any way for wealth to flow away from you.

Of all the spaces in your home, the bedroom is the most vital to address. It may even be the only room on your list! Once your bed is in its commanding position, the next step is to make sure you aren’t sleeping on top of any storage. Think, “Princess and the Pea,” logic. This is your passive space and you shouldn’t rest on it while there’s a bunch of bric-a-brac under the bed. If you really need to make use of the space, opt for soft things. Bedding, winter clothes, and so on.

Once you have the foundation set, compose your five elements!

Conclusion

To be clear, this is only a beginner’s look at the basic framework of feng shui. It’s an art that’s still a relatively recent addition to popular Western culture, and that can lead as much to appropriation as appreciation. Whether you’re sincerely pursuing the practice as a way to bring new positive energy into your life or dabbling out of curiosity, remember that there is a deeper history behind this tradition than a quirky interior decorating method. If you’re truly interested, don’t be afraid to learn all you can. There’s plenty more to learn from in-depth sources and experts—we didn’t even cover the facing direction, the use of magnetic compasses, the colors that can enhance a front door, and half a dozen other traits—and it’s all waiting for you on your feng shui journey. Embrace, appreciate, and enjoy!