Interior design might be the last thing on the minds of parents, who are constantly scrambling to just keep up in the face of mile-long to-do lists and double or triple shifts. But a well-thought out home design can restore the equilibrium you lost somewhere between the stork’s visit and the baby’s first steps and even save you time in the long run.
With kids of pretty much any age in tow, it’s unrealistic to aspire to the latest minimalist décor as featured on the covers of glossy design magazines. Rather, let a set of principles from an age-old design philosophy guide you in making small changes that bring about big impact results. Feng shui is a time-tested art of environmental design from China that makes explicit the connection between our environment and the state of our health, wealth, and relationships. Although some of its recommendations are tied to specific beliefs and local conditions of its place of origin, its core principles hold up remarkably well in any place, at any time. The main feng shui principle I always have foremost on my mind when I approach a space is the principle of flow.
In Chinese medicine, martial arts, and design, the flow or chi (also spelled qi) is of the utmost importance. Without flow, a body or a house becomes stagnant and is drained of its vitality and strength. In a house, the ideal chi is one that is circuitous and uninterrupted. It should feel natural and easy to move from one functional area of the house to another, and such movement should be without obstructions.
Parenting comes with a lot of baggage. Literally bags brimming over with stuff. You might have resigned yourself to a home overflowing with plastic toys and baby gear, with whatever decor items you once proudly showcased buried under kid rubble. Unfortunately, chaos feeds into more chaos, and your life will very likely become what you manifest in your environment. So, let the principle of chi guide you in your attempt to tame the chaos around you and perhaps even in your mind.
One of the hardest things for parents to get a handle on, and something that feng shui emphasizes, is the cultivation of empty space within which chi (energy force) can flow. 21st century families are drowning in gadgets and toys, much of it worth little more than a few moments of attention from the little people living in your home. We’re all too familiar with the post-Christmas or birthday blues, when it seems that a truck has unloaded another heap of junk on our doorsteps. Here are a few effective tactics that can pre-empt or reduce all this clutter and invite chi back into your space.
- Ask family members to buy the kids more experiences (i.e., family membership to zoos, museums, and other kid-friendly organizations) rather than things.
- Ask family members to pool money together to buy fewer but more expensive and meaningful gifts.
- Have a “conveyor belt” in place, wherein you receive from and give to other families or charities gear, clothes, and toys that the kids have outgrown. Put things on this “conveyor belt” seasonally, at least twice a year.
- Have bins at the ready for different collections of toys and rotate them regularly so that a long-forgotten toy feels new when rediscovered. Both parents and children can enjoy having the bulk of toys out of sight.
- Things with sentimental value—i.e., kids’ art and photos—should be compiled and displayed rather than gathering dust in piles scattered everywhere. Consider, for example, making photobooks that show both art and photos and framing a few of the more special pieces. Once they’re digitally stored, they should no longer occupy real estate in the house.
- Parents can also place moratoriums on purchasing nonessential items for themselves. Once you decide not to buy any new nonessentials for a given length of time, you will discover long forgotten clothes and knick-knacks and begin to dig out of all the stuff you own.
- After a purge of toys, clothes, books, etc., make sure to find a unique place to put the things that made the cut that will make them more accessible for use and enjoyment. Get kids (and adults) to make a habit of putting things back in their proper place after use.
Another feng shui strategy that improves the chi of a home involves making spaces functionally efficient. Good flow of energy is also about good flow of people. Here are some easy to moderate to implement tactics to ensure efficient movement of people.
- Make the entryway your launching and landing pad for school and work. Keep a basket or bin for each member of the family into which they dump their backpacks, shoes, jackets, etc. Have a place for keys and mail to land. Keep this area organized and welcoming. A pretty and healthy plant is a nice addition here.
- Organize closets with storage systems. It’s well worth the investment of trouble and cost to install closet systems that are smartly laid out. Arrange and rotate things so that often used items are close at hand and out of season items are tucked away in the back. Lay out the kids’ closets in such a way that they are able to reach what they need and dress themselves from a young age. This enables you to have more time and energy for other things and gives the kids a sense of accomplishment and confidence.
- Organize well used areas—such as the kitchen and the bathroom—to make it possible for little people to help with setups and clean-ups. Are their cups and silverware within reach? Are their toothbrush and toothpaste easily accessible? Think like an operations engineer and design the home to accommodate the daily routines of the members of the household in the most efficient ways possible.
Finally, think about the appearance of your home. Even very young children respond positively to beauty. Good design can motivate everyone in the family to work harder to maintain a chaos-free environment and feel that extra tug of affection upon return. A lovely bouquet of flowers or an eye-catching art work can make your home an extra special place for you and your family, one that you’re happy to share with others. Aesthetics matter in feng shui because feng shui is all about designing a space that supports your best life, and your best life should absolutely abound in beauty.
With everything you’ve got on your plate as a parent, it might seem too daunting to launch into a full-fledged home renovation. Instead of trying to do everything at once, take one or two suggestions at a time, checking off the easy ones to get the momentum going. You will be pleasantly surprised by how your new streamlined home keeps the chaos in check and how that allows you the time and energy to tackle the more challenging tasks. You will not only get to keep more greens in your wallet in the long run but will also help the earth stay greener with less junk in circulation. But perhaps best of all, you will be teaching your kids how to design their lives to live with greater intention and control. As challenging as it may be, keep the kids in the loop during the process of renovating and have them participate in the maintenance of the family hearth.
If you’re interested in learning more about parenting and feng shui-inspired design, check out my new e-course, Transform Your Space for Baby (the first 50 students to sign up get 50% off!). If you have tips for managing a household + family, please leave them in the comments below.