Stuff = Dead space: The Feng Shui view


As a way of getting deeper into our new thread on stuff, here is a basic way of understanding why clutter is so bad for you: it “kills” space and blocks the flow of energy around your house and in your mind.

That’s how a Feng Shui guy explained it to me when I lived in Hong Kong.

Feng Shui, if you’re new to it, means wind water (characters above), which is entirely unhelpful in understanding what it is. It’s the ancient Chinese version of geomancy–figuring out how to place buildings, furniture and other features of interior and exterior living in such a way that they make us feel healthier, more energetic and positive.

Feng Shui shares the fate of most things Eastern that are becoming fashionable in the West. That is: there are all sorts of quacks and weirdos eager to sell it to you as modern snake oil. If you know somebody who suddenly put mirrors, crystals and fish tanks all over his house, he probably became a Feng Shui victim.

800px-RepulseBay_holeOn the other hand, if you encounter buildings such as this (right behind a great beach I used to go to), you know you’re in Hong Kong. In this case, Feng Shui (ie, the hole that allows better energy flow) makes for idiosyncratic local architecture.

But if you’re lucky, you meet an expert who treats Feng Shui as the subtle application of common sense. I was lucky.

Ki-hanjaLike Chinese medicine (and indeed Indian Ayurveda), Feng Shui tries to optimize the flow of vital energy, or qi.

That qi is the ki in Aikido and the chi (different transliteration) in Tai Chi and the qi in Qigong. In Sanskrit it is called Prana. It behaves a little like electric energy, as it flows between a positive and a negative “pole”, Yang and Yin. When they stick needles into you in acupuncture, they are using the tiny conductors to amplify the flow of qi along certain conduits (called meridians in Chinese medicine, nadis in Ayurveda and Yoga).

What, you may be asking, does any of this have to do with stuff?

Stuff = dead energy

The way this Feng Shui master explained it to me, clutter in your home or office blocks the flow of qi in that space. The space becomes not just dusty but in effect dead.

Think of a corner of your house, or a drawer or a basement or a tabletop, that is hopelessly cluttered with stuff. (I’m using stuff to mean extraneous things here.) You don’t even want to look into that direction because it makes you feel bad. It reminds you that you should clean it up. Perhaps it reminds you of things on your to-do list that you never did because you didn’t want to, and now they’re piling up in that corner. Perhaps there are really important or useful or sentimental things hidden underneath that crap, but how would you ever know, without digging through it? Just thinking about all this makes you …. go somewhere else–anywhere else–and run away from the clutter once again.

And so your house becomes deader and deader with each cluttered corner. You walk through it as through a graveyard. The constricted space constricts your thoughts, perhaps your breathing (in Sanskrit, Prana means both breath and qi.)

So, to you hoarders: It’s not true that storing stuff costs nothing. It costs you more than any accountant could tally up.

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18 thoughts on “Stuff = Dead space: The Feng Shui view

    • We could buy stuffless stuff: massages, yoga lessons, philosophy walks, … or lots and lots of copies of “Hannibal and Me” when it comes out. 😉

    • Hold on there. Did you say, “Hannibal and Me?” Is that a real title? We waited six months for that?

      I have a condition I call clutter-itis. Onset is typically late on Sunday afternoon. (Where did all this shit come from? This house is going to collapse like a white dwarf!) 0.3 L dose of Italian wine relieves most symptoms. 0.75 L, however, could manifest contraindications.

      Some days I make a goal to get rid of just one thing in each room – even if it’s just flushing the toilet. Clearly there’s more coming in than going out.

      I’ve gotten better at focussing on my own clutter. I have to observe the clutter of others the way one might observe a passing thunderstorm. Interesting from a distance; possibly dangerous. Uncontrollable.

    • No, that’s not the real title. But I just talked to my editor, and he said he will send me his comments soon, and then we’ll figure out what the title will be. Don’t worry: It’ll be announced prominently here.

      “… flushing the toilet. Clearly there’s more coming in than going out….” Too much metabolic information.

  1. You are really strutting your stuff here! Insights from across the ancient world.

    I know nothing of Feng Shui (a form of ancient Chinese fire regulations?) – is the point about blocking energy in the mind a core part of that philosophy? Or something you extended it to include? I ask because it could be yet another instance of modern neuroscience rediscovering an ancient wisdom – that non-concious factors in our environment can have very significant impacts on our behavior.

    • First and more importantly, Jag, a news item hot of the presses: If you become a Feng Shui master you get to shag old rich women and inherit their fortune.

      As with most things on The Hannibal Blog, I take some liberties: Yes, Feng Shui does see the flow of energy outside (ie, in the house) and inside (your own body/mind) as one thing. But I did also extend it by putting it in my own words.

      Western geomancy–or simply urban planning and architecture–entirely agrees, by the way. The space around us utterly influences how we feel within. When was the last time people started dancing and singing at the … DMV?

    • What do you know about Tigers on the Chinese Zodiac Calendar? Most of my clients are Chinese and they say being a Tiger is perfect for a person like me. I am not sure what that means.

    • Don’t know anything about the Chinese Zodiac.
      But judging from Chinese idioms, they’re giving you a compliment:
      “tiger’s head with a snakes tail”= something that starts off well and ends badly.

    • Tiger: Wikipedia says “Unpredictable, rebellious, colorful, powerful, passionate, daring, impulsive, vigorous, stimulating, sincere, affectionate, humanitarian, generous. Can be restless, reckless, impatient, quick-tempered, obstinate, selfish, aggressive, unpredictable.”
      This page says that tigers are often writers. Also, you’re probably a “metal tiger”. Special circumstances.

    • I am sure my clients like the fact that I jump to the conclusion they have already formulated. 😀
      Thanks for the research. Do you fit your dog description?

    • With this East-West fusion of calendars, that makes me a Libra Metal Tiger, one who jumps to conclusions, pounces,and then wants harmony.

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