Crowded, small, and often poorly designed smaller spaces like city apartments can make it hard for residents to feel healthy, happy, and at home in them.

Here’s where the ancient Chinese art of feng shui promises to help. Feng shui, which isn’t a religion though it’s linked to Taoism, translates to “wind and water.” It’s a practice that helps people align their energies with their surroundings.

“If you create a balanced representation in your home, it can reflect how you’re reacting to outside experiences. It becomes a metaphor for everything in life,” explains Laura Cerrano, of Feng Shui Manhattan.

Sure, it might sound kind of... strange. But there’s some science behind it. Over-crowded living spaces have been shown to have an effect on our health, acting as a stressor. And research shows that spaces and our environments play a huge role in how we feel and perform. This logic is kind of what feng shui is all about.

Many feng shui practitioners are adamant that adopting a few simple tips to carve the right environment can improve nearly every aspect of life — whether it’s improving your health, finding love, or making more money.

Feng shui is a set of principles to help align one’s living space with who they are and what they want. The practice has been around for thousands of years, but it’s not stodgy or outdated. In fact, it’s seen quite the Western resurgence in recent years, with thousands of trained feng shui consultants currently offering services across the country. Oddly enough, even Donald Trump reportedly hired a feng shui consultant back in 1995.

“You want to change your life? A simple way to do that is to change your environment,” Laura Cerrano notes. An expert, who considers feng shui both an art and a science, she’s currently collaborating on a book with scientists and researchers in the hopes of demystifying how feng shui actually works.

“It’s somewhat complex, but at the same time it can be very simple,” she says.

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Feng shui helps you make the most of your living space by harmonizing its energy flow. Feng shui splits the world into five elements:

  • wood: creativity and growth
  • fire: leadership and boldness
  • earth: strength and stability
  • metal: focus and order
  • water: emotion and inspiration

Working to balance these five elements properly in your home can help their corresponding traits to thrive in your life.

Chinese feng shui masters also devised a tool called a Bagua map that lays out various life areas, or stations, including health, wealth, marriage, and fame, to name a few. These areas correlate with various parts of a building or living space.

You can line up the Bagua map with your floor plan to help determine the optimal placement of colors, artwork, objects, and more. If there’s a certain aspect of your life that feels off, adding different touches or reshuffling your possessions in the corresponding life area might help.

Balance energies to build your space

Balancing yin and yang energies is also part of feng shui, and generally speaking, an apartment feels best when it’s got them both. Yin is feminine energy, associated with:

  • nighttime
  • coolness
  • quiet

Yang is masculine, denoting:

  • the sun
  • sociability
  • heat

You can change the feeling of your space by playing with these energies.

Because everyone’s living space is different, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to feng shui. If you need to entirely revamp a cramped, run-down apartment, it might be best to take a class or hire a consultant. But if you’re curious about experimenting, here’s what you can do.

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1. Kill the clutter, especially in the bedroom

Laura Cerrano’s biggest all-purpose feng shui suggestion is to kill the clutter in every part of your apartment. “No matter if you're a millionaire or if you’re dealing with unemployment, the pitfall everyone falls into is clutter,” she says. “Clutter isn’t just about aesthetics — it’s been proven to be detrimental to your mind, to the neurons in your brain. It creates stress.”

This doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, seeing as how Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” made waves in homes and with journalists all around.

2. Act like other people live there

If you’re trying to find love, feng shui would ask you to follow mom’s old adage of “acting as if.”

Cerrano explains, “Look around your apartment and ask yourself, ‘Is this space being prepared for the next person to check in?’ If you only have one towel, your soul is living a single life. So instead of having one towel, have two towels. Even though that person hasn’t arrived physically yet, act like they're there already.”

When it comes to moving past a failed relationship, your first order of business is cutting the cord to your last one. “We use the word ‘energy cord,’” Cerrano says. “If you have all this stuff from [a past relationship] scattered through your home, it’s energetically creating a cord to that person. When you're done with a relationship, it’s recommended that, at your own pace, you release the things that aren’t beneficial anymore.”

3. Add plants (the wood element) to inspire productivity and money

For improving productivity and boosting money flow, Cerrano suggests adding one or two plants near your desk, home office, or work area. “It’s related to the element of wood, which connects to networking, expansion, growth, growing wealth, and opportunities. Also, have your business card on display on your desk.”

For financial prosperity, she advises getting a desk-sized lucky cat or lucky frog figurine (“Google it!” she says).

Don’t turn to feng shui expecting a miracle. “You can't bring anyone back from the dead,” Cerrano notes. But beyond that, stay open, even if you’re not completely convinced. According to Cerrano, there’s not much feng shui can’t help you with. She even says it’s helped clients conceive children and get rid of cancer!

To find a good feng shui consultant in your region, try the International Feng Shui Guild's consultant directory, but keep in mind that not every qualified expert may be listed there. Try asking consultants whether they focus on residential or office spaces — and don't forget to ask for references.

“If people — even skeptical ones — are willing to participate and test out the suggestions, feng shui is able to do almost everything,” she says. “We’ve seen some amazing transformations.”


Laura Barcella is an author and freelance writer currently based in Brooklyn. She’s written for the New York Times, RollingStone.com, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, The Week, VanityFair.com, and many others.