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Feng Shui blog

Tips to help you rearrange spaces, shift energy, and transform your life.

Welcome to Carol Olmstead's Feng Shui For Real Life Blog. Read her musings about Feng Shui, design, and clutter clearing, and how Feng Shui can come to your rescue. You'll also find success stories from her clients, guest posts, and some fun posts that go "beyond Feng Shui."
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Odd Jobs

Thu Apr 09 2015 | Author: Carol Olmstead
I was pleased when a Feng Shui colleague in Vermont got TV airtime on her local station because that's good for our profession, but I winced at the title of the feature: "Odd Jobs." Really? I'm entering my 18th year of Feng Shui and working with a Fortune 100 company on the interior design of 23 floors in their new headquarters, and the media is still calling Feng Shui an odd job?

The great timing is that right after I read that my profession was an odd job I was approached by a college placement professional to contribute a story for his book about how choices in college affect future careers. How could my journalism degree possibly relate to my current Feng Shui career, you ask?

In the summer of my junior year I won a coveted spot in the Magazine Publishers Association college intern program. There were 30 of us from across the country, each assigned to magazines in New York City. The participating pubs included Newsweek, Time, and the prize assignment The New Yorker - oh, how I wanted that one. What did I get? Woman's Day Magazine. It was 1970 and I couldn't believe I had to work for a "housewives" magazine that featured articles like making your child's Halloween mask from a plastic bleach container.
Yes, that was not only an actual article, but I wrote it that summer.

The first day I walked into their editorial offices I was surprised to find I'd entered a hotbed of feminism and I ended up loving every minute I worked there, especially a phone conversation with Grace Kelly (yes, that's how she introduced her royal self in her beautiful voice.)

Toward the end of my internship, Editor Geraldine Rhoads took me to a publisher's luncheon in a private club on Madison Avenue. When we checked in the receptionist said we had to enter through the kitchen because this was an all-male club.

I will not go through the kitchen, Geraldine replied.

She grabbed my hand and with head held high she marched us through the reading room into the dining room. A few men looked up and scowled, most didn't even notice. We sat down at our table and my heart was pounding. Did we just do that? my old na´ve self asked. We just DID that! my new self replied. And my world was forever changed as I realized I didn't have to follow what was expected of me, and that I could make decisions that were outside the box, no matter how odd.

Fast-forward many years, past the expected writing and public affairs jobs to my current "odd job" as a Feng Shui practitioner. I was always happier editing than writing so it all makes perfect sense that I'm now "editing" people's surroundings to help them live better lives. While it may be an unusual career choice, it's surely one that Geraldine influenced, and I'm happy being the "odd" woman out in a cutting edge field. Maybe I'll start wearing a hat like the original Oddjob.

Posted in: career & office | Tags: feng shui, career, odd jobs, college, magazine, journalism

The Feng Shui of Fixing Broken Things

Thu Mar 26 2015 | Author: Carol Olmstead
The question of whether to repair or to remove an object comes up often in my consultations: "If I break something and then fix it, is it still good Feng Shui?" a client will ask. My answer is usually another question: "If you fix the object, will you see a treasure that's been restored or something that's flawed?" If it's the former, keep it and display it with pride, but if you only see what's wrong with an object, it's time to let it go.

Taking the time and money to restore a ripped vintage shawl is positive Feng Shui, but keeping those broken clay pots in the back of your house (and you thought I didn't notice them, didn't you?) is negative. If you an possessions that you love that have aged (shall we say "gracefully") and you make the repairs, well that's very good Feng Shui.

When I conduct a Feng Shui analysis of a home or office, the first thing I do is look for the three major conditions of negative chi that are especially detrimental:
1. Things You Don't Like
2. Things That Are Broken
3. Things That Are Cluttered

Once I identify these negative conditions, I recommend ways to correct them following my Rule of 3Rs: Replace, Repair, or Remove all items creating negative chi as soon as possible.

Here's where the Japanese practice of wabi-sabi works in coordination with Feng Shui rather than at cross-purposes.

Wabi-sabi is the ancient art of appreciating the simplicity and serenity in things that are imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Wabi-sabi has incorrectly been called the new Feng Shui. Instead, while Feng Shui is a design system for helping you attract wealth, harmony, and love, and a whole lot more, wabi-sabi is primarily a design philosophy that asks you to set aside the need for perfection and instead focus on things as they truly are. It's a meditation on the beauty and simplicity of natural objects and how they change with time. Sounds like good Feng Shui to me.

Wabi-sabi is the blending of the Japanese word wabi, which means humble, and sabi, which suggests beauty over the natural course of time. For example, you can see wabi-sabi in the weathered metal gate from an antique store you include in your garden design. In my own case, I have mixed Feng Shui design and wabi-sabi in the three wooden door surrounds that came from the front door of a 100-year-old Vermont farmhouse that I repurposed as a wall decoration.

Take a look at the pottery in the photo I chose for this article, which shows the art of kintsukori, or restoring things with gold. I think it says it all about whether a repair can be good Feng Shui.

Posted in: clutter & organizing | Tags: feng shui, clutter, repair, wabi-sab, vintage, kintsukori

Is It Hue or You?

Sun Mar 08 2015 | Author: Carol Olmstead
I resisted for a while, but now I'm posting my thoughts about DressGate - also known as #TheDress - the social media phenomenon that asks you to decide whether a possible mother-of-the-bride dress is blue and black or white and gold. First, for the record, the dress is clearly light blue and brown, but that wasn't one of the options so I've kept out of the debate.

Until now.

No matter what color that darn dress really is, in Feng Shui we know that the colors you wear can be as influential as the colors you place in your surroundings. The Feng Shui discussion of color revolves around what we call The Five Elements - Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. Each has its own characteristic colors, so when you wear the color of a specific Element, you activate its corresponding energy. That means it does matter whether you wear a blue dress with black trim - the Water Element that represents movement and flow, or a white dress with gold trim - the Metal Element that represents strength and focus.

I did a little searching and found these cool facts about color and behavior.

Red attracts. A French study reported that female on-line daters received twice as many emails from potential dates when they wore red in their photos. "Red reminds people of how their face looks when they blush in the presence of someone they're interested in," says Adam Alter, author of Drunk Tank Pink.

Blue may reduce criminal behavior. After officials near Kyoto, Japan, installed blue streetlights in dangerous neighborhoods, the crime rate fell by 9%. "The lights mimic those atop police cars and seem to imply that the police are watching," said Alter.

Strawberries are packed in green baskets to appear juicy. These complementary colors make even imperfect berries appear more vibrant, says Leatrice Eiseman, the Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, the group that picks the color of the year.

Red and yellow are go-to choices for fast food chains. McDonald's and Burger King use bright, warm colors that "leap" forward, beckoning you to the drive-through, says Eiseman, instead of cool colors that recede. These hues also stimulate the appetite because there are so many foods in those colors.

So for the record, what colors do I see for #TheDress?

Actually, the colors don't matter because of those stripes. Horizontal stripes for the bride's mom? You gotta be kidding!

Posted in: colors | Tags: feng shui, DressGate, #TheDress, color, Five Elements

Passover and Easter Feng Shui

Thu Mar 05 2015 | Author: Carol Olmstead
easter egg seder plate250
The twin treats of spring are almost upon us, Passover and Easter, which are holidays that everyone loves. But, what is it about family holidays that brings out the stress along with the anticipation of reconnecting with loved ones? And is there a way to apply a little Feng Shui magic to improve communications around the table this year? Why is this Passover going to be different from all other Passovers? (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

So, in support of family harmony no matter which spring rituals you celebrate, here are a few Feng Shui thoughts:

Avoid seating a husband directly across from a wife, or partners across from each other, which is known as confrontational seating. Instead, seat the guest of honor across from one spouse and seat the other spouse in the middle, complementary position. The guest seated closest to the door usually leaves first, so if you have a relative you wish you didn't have to invite... well, you get my drift.

Give the house a thorough cleaning to help remove any negative energy from a long winter, especially if you have been stuck in the house because of weather or illness. Cleaning is a traditional part of Passover, where Jews search the house for traces of bread and foods that can't be eaten during the holiday, called "chametz." The Feng Shui parallel is to clean your home before a holiday, searching for dust, removing old dried flowers, replacing air filters, washing windows, and making other seasonal adjustments.

Choose a color scheme for your table that includes blue for harmony and new beginnings, white for clarity, and gold for power. Arrange fresh flowers to symbolize growth and rebirth, and place them in front of a mirror to symbolically double their positive energy. Just be sure the mirror isn't located across from a window or the positive chi will be directed right out of the room.

It's a spring holiday tradition to buy new clothes (my husband thinks I invented that one), but be sure to avoid wearing red at your family holiday meal. Red is the Fire Element, and adding more heat and fire could lead to family disputes.

If you dye Easter eggs, display them in your Creativity Area, because this area is activated by round shapes and white colors. Display the palms from Palm Sunday in the Family Area, which is activated by the Wood Element and the color green.

Place the Seder plate in the center of the table and arrange the traditional items on the plate according to the Feng Shui bagua - the egg is on the far left of the plate, the shankbone is on the top right, the bitter herbs in the middle, the vegetable in the lower left, and the charoset in the lower right.

Happy Spring, Everyone!

Posted in: seasonal, holidays, travel | Tags: feng shui, Passover, Easter, spring, holidays, family

Birds Bouncing Badly

Tue Feb 24 2015 | Author: Carol Olmstead
Two birds have already bounced off my office windows this morning - one hit the window across from my desk and the other dive-bombed into the window on my left - and it's not even 9am. Yesterday, a bird bounced off the other window across from my desk. Fortunately, they all seemed to have survived. But it seems to be the season for bombardier birds, because last weekend I got a frantic email from a friend who lives about 5 miles from me saying that 14 robins had bounced off the glassed-in room at the front of her house. Sadly, these fellows were not so fortunate as mine.

In Feng Shui, birds are considered powerful symbols of new opportunities that are there for you, even in times of adversity. So, I figured it was time to consult my colleagues at the International Feng Shui Guild (IFSG) about this one.

"Any Feng Shui significance with birds flying into windows?" I posted on the Guild's special private Facebook page.

"Sadly, this is likely a very mundane problem," wrote Mia Staysko, Chair of the IFSG Board. "Usually, at two times of the year windows in buildings reflect in such a way as to make it appear that they are not there. The poor birds simply cannot see them."

I appreciated Mia's explanation, and in fact the lighting was strange the morning my friend had her bird bombardment - the sun was gleaming off the mountains that were covered with new snow. Within seconds the sun got brighter and fog rolled in and created this eerie light so we couldn't see anything, and that could have easily spooked the birds.

But of course, since the IFSG welcomes all approaches to Feng Shui I wasn't surprised to read a different take on the issue. "The robin is the symbol of spring and of new growth," wrote another colleague, and whenever birds hit windows like that it's the universe trying to get the attention of the people in the home." Another colleague suggested that the message from the birds was to ask where you're resisting growth in your life or in the affected bagua area. And another added that death of a bird or any animal is about transformation for the observer. "It seems like the people in the bird-bombed house are resisting moving forward in some area of their life."

OK, now I'm listening.

And leave it to the always-grounded Mia to come back with another take on my bouncing birds. "I don't mean to rain on the metaphysical parade with this explanation," she added, "but sometimes there is meaning in things and sometimes birds just hit windows. And if it was a big flock who tend to stick together, if one goes down, they all follow."

Hummingbird in garage280
Last summer a hummingbird flew into our garage. It perched on the bright red and blue cross-country skis hanging on the wall (I never knew hummingbirds could stop flapping their wings long enough to perch but it did), and then after a minute it flew up into the skylight. When it couldn't get outside that way it flew back to the skis. The poor little thing did this four times as we gently tried to use a broom to aim it toward the open door. Finally, it got the message, flew out the door, and then went straight up like a rocket until it disappeared into the stratosphere.

So, okay, maybe I'm the one with the bird issue after all. My Feng Shui colleagues advise putting decals on the windows. My granddaughter Izzy says I should put out a warning sign for the birds. Maybe it's time for my friend and I to sit down with a bottle of Grey Goose to toast our bouncing birds and try to figure out just what transformation we're resisting.

Posted in: general | Tags: feng shui, birds, symbols, windows, bagua

A Different Kind of Valentine's Day Tip

Sun Feb 08 2015 | Author: Carol Olmstead
Tell me they didn't really do this: Australia-based Jetstar Airways teamed with a Feng Shui Master to launch a Valentine's campaign called "Love is in the Zodiac Pair" that supposedly uses Feng Shui to match compatible single flyers, then chooses the best seats, destinations, and activities to make them fall in love. For example, single flyers born in the Year of Horse are matched with flyers born in the Year of the Goat, and these couples should sit in row nine, 19 or 29 and travel to Jakarta.

Wait, it gets worse.

In the first seven hours after the campaign's launch, the site had already received more than 5,000 applications.

OK, shoot me now.

It ticks me off when anyone trivializes Feng Shui because I've seen it work for so many people, and it's an especially cheap shot for Jetstar to invoke love and Valentine's Day. This holiday already makes a whole lot of people feel insecure with its focus on idolized versions of love and the perfect way to spend the day.

Yes, I've been as guilty as every other Feng Shui practitioner who writes about Valentine's Day. Right now the Articles Section of my web site includes 27 Feng Shui Tips to Rev Up Your Romance, Feng Shui Tips to Attract Love, and Romantic Dining Ideas. That last one even got me a mention in the Washington Post a few years ago. Mea culpa!

Does there really need to be so much pressure on one day of the year? My husband and I stopped going out on Valentine's Day years ago because we got tired of the "assembly line" way restaurants handled the crush of diners. We discovered that if we go out the very next evening or a few nights later, the prices are back to normal and we don't have to settle for their prix fixe menus. Lovely.

So, this year I'm offering some different tips for Valentine's Day instead of my usual "rev up your love life" post.

First, let's talk about how to be alone on V-day. In her great newsletter, Relationship Specialist Kelly Chisholm shares sage advice for spending Valentine's Day alone in the article "How to Cope With Being Alone on Valentine's Day." The tips range from getting together with single friends or special relatives and expanding your notion of what type of love this day is meant to celebrate. The message is that a Valentine can be anyone who's special to you, including you - and that's where the Feng Shui comes in.

The upper right area of your home is usually referred to as the Love/Relationship Area of the Feng Shui bagua, but it's also related to self-esteem and self-love. So here's my different kind of Feng Shui love tip: Plan to do some clearing and rearranging in that area on Valentine's Day and you just might reap rewards beyond a box of chocolates and a red rose.

Posted in: love & romance | Tags: feng shui, Valentine's Day, love, relationship

What's Behind Door #1?

Thu Feb 05 2015 | Author: Carol Olmstead
I get a lot of questions after my monthly ezine goes out, and this month I answered one about which door to use when orienting the Feng Shui bagua, the front door or the door from the garage to the house. The simple answer is the "front door," because it's the way your home was designed to be entered, but deciding which is Door #1 for you is far more complex.

"Thank you so much for your book and informative newsletter, I'm a fan," Sheryl wrote. "My question is, which door is the primary, the front door we never use, or the garage/laundry door we use all the time?"

Ah, there's the phrase that got me thinking: we never use the front door. Many of us hardly ever open our front door because we pull right into the garage. In Feng Shui, the front door is called the "mouth of chi" because that's where all the positive energy and wealth enters your home. So if you don't open the front door, symbolically you don't open yourself up to the possibilities to attract wealth. So I suggested to Sheryl that she try using the front door more often, even if she only opens the door each morning to greet the day.

That still doesn't solve the problem of entering your house through the laundry room, mudroom, or cluttered hallway each and every time you come home. Not the most relaxing site to come home to, is it?

Some of the decorations near my garage door.
"If you come in through the garage like I do," I advised Sheryl, "make sure that entrance is as pleasing as your front entrance. Paint the door between the garage and house the same as your front door, use the same door mat, and if you decorate your front door for holidays do the same with your entry door." I reminded her that in Feng Shui thinking, an attached garage is considered one of the rooms in your house so you need to decorate it with the same care as you do with the rest of your home.

I often suggest that people decorate the area around the door from the garage to the house with bright, cheerful art that welcomes you home. Or, hang a bulletin board or white board near the door where you can post a joke of the week, family photos from the past weekend, or upbeat messages to each other. You work hard all day and coming home should make you smile.

What do you see when you pull into your garage - a can of dried up paint and an old set of tires, or something attractive? Email me and let me know.

Posted in: room by room | Tags: feng shui, doors, garage, mouth of chi, entrance

© Copyright 2015, Carol Olmstead