Does everyone remember when Feng Shui became really popular in the late ‘90’s? We do. And we too rearranged our furniture to face East, we purchased crystals and plants and probably some incense even though that’s not exactly related, we moved our bed so it wasn’t aligned with the door – all in an attempt to dip our toe into the tranquil waters of spiritual serenity.
At the time, it didn’t really pan out. But we were proto-Done and Doners – we were experimenting. We were seeking a solution to the brain buzzing that comes from a cluttered apartment, and were willing to try anything. And although it didn’t quite take, and you now couldn’t find a crystal in any of our homes, it helped us along the journey to our ultimate realization, so foundational to our philosophy. That one’s brain chemistry, behavior, mind, body, soul is connected to the space in which one lives. If we have learned anything from helping others de-clutter, or embarking on our own personal journeys with minimizing, it is this. And funnily enough, that was what Feng Shui was trying to teach us the whole time.
It occurred to us that it might be worth a deeper look into these ancient bodies of knowledge, such as Feng Shui, Vastu Shastra, and Minimalism. We did so, and found that they are all complex, ancient, and beautiful philosophies – far too extensive to fully capture here. But we also discovered that there are remarkable similarities between all of them. If we were to cull some practical tips from the ancient philosophies of Feng Shui, Vastu Shastra, and Minimalism, what would they be?
Feng Shui originated in ancient China, over 8,000 years ago. The words “feng” and “shui” translate into “wind” and “water,” and it means the practice of aligning oneself with nature. It is based on the idea that there is Qi – vital energy – emanating from the earth, and there is a way of arranging a living space in order to channel that energy and live with healthful mindfullness. Vastu Shastra has iterations all over Northern and Southern India, but its direct origin is debated. Still, similarly to Feng Shui, Vastu supposes that the whole world is made up of five elements: earth, water, air, fire, and space. Vastu allows one to “access” the “life force,” called Prana, behind these elements.
But why is it that we want more Qi or Prana in our lives? It’s the basic life force, people! The practice of Vastu allows one to influence various aspects of life, such as wealth, health, energy levels, spirituality, prosperity, education, fame, and relationships. (Sounds good, am I right?) According to Vastu Compass, the blending of constructed buildings to it’s natural surroundings will “reduce the gravity of the problems faced by human beings,” and can even enhance physical health, improve relationships, creates tranquility, gives you inspiration and maximizes effectiveness, provides you with a better night sleep, promotes a general fortune and well being.” Feng Shui, too, is used as in Chinese medicine as a cure for physical ailments, depression, low energy, improve relationships – the whole bag.
Both Vastu Shastra and Feng Shui are complex spiritual practices, involving rituals and ceremonies that ready ground to be broken for construction, or a house to be newly occupied, and more. There is a Hindi ceremony called Grihya Pravesha to ready a house for inhabitants, where a mandala is drawn to invoke the gods and planets, while medicinal ingredients are burned in order to purify the air. Feng Shui advocates for cleansing elements such as plants, crystals, fountains, and aquariums. These are amazing and meaningful steps that one can take to connect with your home.
We were particularly struck by the instructions on the bedroom space. The principles of Feng Shui suggest that the bedroom be inviting, pleasurable, and calming place. How, you may ask? No TV, computer, or exercise equipment in the bedroom; use air purifiers such as certain plants and room diffusers. Utilize several levels of lighting, and a dimmer if possible; the colors should be neutral and flesh-toned, anything from pale white to deep, rich brown. Keep your bed easily approachable from both sides, and have a bedside table on each, and keep all doors closed at night.
In combination with plants and crystals, as well as positioning your furniture in certain directions, one can have a bedroom which fosters “pleasure and dreaming.” Yes, please!
Both Feng Shui and Vastu Shastra encourage abundant light and air in one’s home. The Vastu literature similarly warns against a TV in the bedroom, and using separate mattresses and bedsheets than your partner (wink!). Plus, more tips on how to arrange your furniture to align the body with the earth while you are relaxing at home.
But in all of our research, one point is made exceedingly clear: none of these practices will work unless cetain steps are taken to clear your apartment, house, studio, or office of material chaos. In other words, de-clutter is the first step to a spiritual solution. Vastu Tips suggests, “One should never hoard stale food, withered flowers, torn clothes, waste paper, waste materials, empty tins old jars and useless things,” because they prevent the goddess Lakshmi – beautiful goddess of wealth, love, spiritual and material prosperity – from entering the house.
Heavens! Perhaps this pertains to our years worth of saved takeout containers, or the 1,400 Fairway bags balled up under our sinks. But we will use them, one day, right? Right? ….. Hello?
If any philosophy emphasizes the notion of letting go of useless things, it’s Minimalism. Inspired by the Japanese tradition of Zen philosophy, Minimalism promises a freedom from materialism that creates a sense of internal peace and tranquility. Zen Philosophy implements the notion of Ma (open and empty space) and Wabi-sabi (the quality of simple and plain objects). It was a great influence to later American architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed many of the classic, minimalist buildings of our age.
Josh Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are two American dudes who abandoned their corporate finance jobs to live a life based on minimalism. Their blog is being published as a book, titled The Minimalists. (Five points for cutting to the chase with that one, guys. Pro tip: save your shelf space, and buy it for six bucks on Kindle.) Instead of organizing, they advocate for letting go of excess material possessions, which allows them to be present in their lived experience and make meaningful contributions to the world. They equate the idea of “spareness” with establishing a sense of self, and believing that without excess materiality, you yourself are enough. This reflects the Buddhist principle of letting go of attachment, which reduces suffering and increases happiness.
So, does that mean that you have to throw everything you own away? No, there are many ways go about creating mindfulness in the home. Be More With Less suggests creating one clutter-free space in your house – whether it be a kitchen table, desk, or drawer. If you truly enjoy this space, if you find that your mind is clear when using it, then expand it little by little every day.
On Wednesday morning, we read a fantastic article in the New York Times about Marie Kondo, a professional organizer in Japan who has reached a celebrity status from her organizing skills. Her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” encourages her clients to discard any item that does not “spark joy” in their hearts, thank objects that you are discarding, and make good use of the space you have versus spending money on organizing equipment. In other words: have gratitude for your possessions – but more importantly, express gratitude towards them. Every piece of clothing should have meaning, and if you think of your socks as dogged helpers providing you with a necessary service, it is easier to treat them with respect.
None of us at Done and Done practice any of these principles perfectly. In fact, we would suggest viewing all solutions – practical, emotional, spiritual – with a critical eye, and asking yourself what actually makes sense for your space and your brain. But we do foster an active connection with the space in which we live. To us, it doesn’t really matter what set ideas appeals to your spirit, but more that you establish a sense of self within your apartment; that you feel invested, delighted, and excited by what it feels like to be home. With that, the organizing, sorting, and minimizing is less of a chore and more of an activity of great self-care, one that you complete with joy on a regular basis in order to maintain quiet, calm, peace and prosperity in your home, your relationships, and your life.