Book review: Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life


My favorite example of the conceivably-possible, magical woo-woo powers of feng shui has to do with two checks for $10,000 each and my kitchen, which, according to the Black Hat school of feng shui* (as differentiated from the compass school) is my prosperity corner.

It was the summer of consternation for me: a devastating breakup, the role of a lifetime and, though I didn't know it yet, the onset of Crohn's disease. I was miserable and looking for distraction; somehow or other, during one of my many forays down the self-help aisle at my local bookstore, I discovered Karen Rauch Carter's Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life.

Serendipitously, the heartbreak had already spurred me to begin what all (good) feng shui experts agree is the first step to chi'd-up house: throwing shit out and cleaning what's left from stem to stern. Earlier that summer, I'd bought a mini-steam cleaner and started cleaning my filthy carpet on my hands and knees in obsessive, 12" squares. When my back threatened to give out, I dismantled every jalousie window in my place (curse you, 1950s designers!) and cleaned not only the glass slats themselves but the hardware, with Q-Tips. Lots and lots of Q-Tips.

I wouldn't suggest going that far (unless you're as OCD as me and whoever invented Q-Tips), but it bears stressing: clean first. And throw a bunch of stuff out. Otherwise, like layering perfume on top of stank, you stand to compound any confusion that already exists.

Once you've got things relatively clean and clear, you can start having some fun with stuff: moving things around, sprucing up, adding "cures" where you feel like they're warranted. A red ribbon tied discreetly around a pipe, to prevent good fortune from going down the drain, a candle (fire element) to bolster my Fame and Reputation bagua, a slip of yellow construction paper behind a bookcase in my Health area. Carter's position on applying feng shui to one's life is that the process should be fun and joyful, not serious and scary, and all of her advice, including cures (to correct shitty shui) and admonitions (to pay particular attention to this or that) is served up in a light, breezy tone. Occasionally, too breezy for me, she veers into cornball territory every so often. But she is charming and authentic and lovely, so we forgive her that.

We also love that Rauch does not advocate breaking the bank to get some money flowing back into yours. The book has lots of suggestions for moving stuff from one part of your house to another, or just rearranging things in the room. The only things I actually bought for my feng shui adventure were some lengths of inexpensive red ribbon (that good-fortune-down-the-drain thing did kind of freak me out) and lavender contact paper. My Prosperity/Abundance corner is square in my kitchen, plus I'd never put down my own contact paper in the drawers when I moved in, so, you know, ew. It was time.

I've told the story at least a hundred times, often just before giving away yet another copy of Rauch's book to another friend in need of lover, cash, luck or just diversion: within two weeks of starting my Feng Shui that Kitchen! project, two gigantic residual checks, for $10,000 each, floated into my agent's office on the same day. My agents had been leaning on the producers, since they keep track of this sort of thing, but something finally broke in that 14-day stretch.

Magic or happenstance? Honestly, I didn't care. I had a clean and lovely kitchen, a ginormous deposit in the bank and the satisfaction of participating in a little white voodoo. It's hard even for a woo-woo-friendly soul like me to say, "Oh, sure! I sprinkled fairy dust around my apartment and Chinese leprechauns showed up at the door with a pot of gold."

On the other hand, I do know that what I turn my attention to tends to flourish and what I ignore becomes a static, sticky mess. And that when I create room for something, it does tend to show up. So who knows?

Ultimately, I see feng shui, and especially Move Your Stuff's user-friendly, no-pressure serving-up of it, as a great framework from which to initiate change. In the book's first chapter, Rauch quotes physicist and feng shui-er Barry Gordon as saying that feng shui is "'the intelligent use of intention through environmental metaphor." He goes on then at length about quantum mechanics and a lot of other stuff that makes my head hurt, but the money graf is this:

Every thing, even the sticky front door that doesn't open all the way, has meaning. Every thing, every action is intentional, sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious. Feng shui brings the unconscious in our environment back into consciousness. That brings the beliefs and feelings back into consciousness. Then we have choice and can create our universe consciously.

First, attention. Then action.

Then checks in the mail, perfect health and a handsome man to play ukulele in your goofy video.


Image by Muffet via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

*Here's a pretty reasonable description of the various schools from a page without too many doo-dads on it. Amazing how many feng shui pages have crappy feng shui themselves.