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Monday, August 16, 2010

I never intended to practice feng shui. Now I'm a feng shui consultant. What happened?

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Basically, I stole my mom's Xmas present.  I know, sounds awful--but I gave it back eventually and I had my reasons!  Namely, spending Xmas in the house I grew up in--the house my parents and grandparents lived in with four generations of stuff crowded into one family's space.  Some of it was worth keeping (they really don't make hand tools like they used to), but some of it belonged at Good Will (no one needs that many "spare" blankets) or at the county recycling center (back issues of National Geographic, anyone?).  Growing up, I never knew if I'd be able to find my piano music in time for my lesson--let alone in time to practice beforehand.  When I moved into my first apartment in college, I didn't have to buy any dishes or kitchen utensils because there was already three or four of everything I needed in my parents' basement.
Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui So it was not entirely surprising that my brother gave our mom a book called Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui for Xmas.  What surprised me was wanting to read it.  At the time I knew nothing about feng shui and had no interest in finding out.  And after wading through disorganized guides to getting organized and 400-page tomes on how to simplify your life, I'd had it with self-help books.  But this one practiced what it preached: it was compact, concise, spare, and straightforward--in other words, uncluttered! 

When I opened it to a random page on organizing your closet by color (as opposed to by category, with all your shirts together, pants together, etc.) my immediate reaction was: That'll never work!  Followed immediately by: I've gotta try it!  Opening my closet door to a rainbow of color instead of a confusing jumble was irresistible enough for me to ignore the stubborn part of my mind insisting it was impossible because clothes of different lengths wouldn't clear the stuff on my closet floor if they were mixed together.  Turning off that voice of habit masquerading as the voice of reason allowed me to hear the more creative, more experimental--and ultimately, more reasonable--voice hinting I could also move that stuff on the floor around if necessary, or even move it out of my closet altogether. 

Just as my inner skeptic predicted, some of my clothes did not fit into the new color system.  But these turned out to be clothes that didn't fit me either.  They were the wrong size, or shades that made me looked jaundiced, or unflattering styles I no longer wore.  You can see where this is heading, right?  By the time I got all my clothes rearranged by color, I'd cleaned out my whole closet without even realizing it, because I was having so much fun throughout the process. 

Wait--did I just have fun cleaning out my closet?  If that's feng shui, then sign me up!  My mom's (temporarily) stolen Xmas present turned out to be the gift that kept on giving.  Now it's a pleasure--instead of a pain--to open my closet door, and I can find my clothes much faster than before.  How come?  Our minds may think in categories, but we look into closets with our eyes, not our minds--and our eyes see colors, not categories.  By opening my eyes to color, feng shui opened my mind to possibility. 

Stay tuned for more in future posts about re-thinking how you think...

Next post: What feng shui isn't.  What this blog isn't.   


  1. Interesting. I remain skeptical re men's clothes, b/c mine, at least, are all shades of grey, navy, and brown--I have to segregate the shirts (which are arranged by color) due to insufficient hanger space. I also suspect that men's (dress) clothes allow more permutations than women's. My current plan is to avoid this whole problem by wearing suits instead of jackets and trousers.

    As you may remember, I was never crazy about that Kingston book--or any I've yet found. It was a workshop at the Sierra Club annual meeting, of all things, that piqued my interest in feng shui, and more as decoration than organization.

  2. My friends told me on the beach one day that they managed their move and the joining of their possessions with this great book they'd found. I bought it from my local independent bookstore on the way home. I was fascinated.
    I’ve successfully used it to sell my house and downsize my own possessions. I used to arrive at my workplace with boxes of “stuff” often to have workmates pluck treasures out of the box before I could even get it to the staff room.
    I used it to help with an estate situation when a house had to be purged in less than a week. I xeroxed the chapter about the box system for my friends and asked them to read it before joining me in Richmond for the big clean out. One of them didn't quite get the gist of the box thing. My favorite part of the misunderstanding was the size of box she chose. She went to a moving/storage place. When I entered the garage there was a huge box marked DILEMMA. I'll say :O It was big enough for a couple of bodies to fit in - never mind not being able to see to the bottom to dispute anything. This group tried their best to use the boxes to sort stuff but were reluctant to do rooms on their own - so the three of us did each room together (auaauuuggghhhh!). But we finally got to the point where the different charity/consignment groups were coming to the house to pick up well-labeled boxes of treasures for different destinations.
    We kept a smaller dilemma box in each room and began to refer to them as Fight Club boxes. Near the end of the week we sat on the living room floor and had a fight club ceremony with drinks - using a large silver champagne tub to pull names out of to see who won which goodies.
    I talk to people about this book all the time.

  3. Not to worry, Barbaro. The main thing is to keep experimenting till you find what works best for your particular closet and clothes, rather than following rules of organization (your own or someone else's) that don't work well in your particular situation.

    I find I'm happiest with my surroundings when decoration and organization (i.e., form and function) are one and the same, because it's easier to find things if you like the look of where and how they're stored. The more you like to look at something, the more time you'll spend looking at it. And the more you look AT it, the better you'll remember where it is, so the less time you'll spend in future looking FOR it. (This is one of many ways you can use feng shui to put the Pleasure Principle to work for you!)

    Conversely, it takes a long time--every time--to find things stored in cluttered spaces. Our eyes and brains can't process or remember visual chaos as quickly or as easily as patterns. So it's unpleasant and stressful to stare at cluttered spaces for the amount of time it would take to decode them visually. End result? We don't. We slam the closet door shut in self-defense, and the next time we need to find that same object, we have no memory of where it was.

    Re: men's vs. women's clothing, I have also wondered which allow for more permutations. Women's clothing catalogues make all kinds of claims for mix and match, but it's never actually worked with any clothes I've ever owned. On the other hand, I have female friends who do manage to mix and match, so maybe other readers have thoughts they'd like to share on this?

  4. Anonymous, that's a great idea to bring boxes of stuff you don't want to work with you for your co-workers to dive into and help themselves. The things you've gotten tired of or no longer need may be exactly what your friends or colleagues have been seeking for months. I have girlfriends who periodically organize clothing, shoe, and accessory swaps for this same reason.

  5. I just wanted to say I tried Gwen's suggestion to organize my closet by color and not category and she is spot on! Not only does it look more attractive and less busy, but it is easier and more effortless to find things. I don't have to think- I just have to look. And the process to get it that way was fun and effortless as well. Try it!