The Feng Shui of Family Photos


“The realtor has told me to put away any personal photographs,” said Mom the other day.  “Is that right?” I just knew she was going to ask me that.  She’s been asking me a lot of things lately since she just put her house on the market this week– something she’s never had to do before.  At least, not by herself.  But Dad’s been gone for almost nine of the 50+ years she’s been in that house, and the kids all live far away, so it’s been a nerve-wracking and scary process for her.  She phones often.  While I’m no expert, I (and Andy) did sell a house less than six years ago (and shopped for a new one) and last fall, we helped his parents navigate a little bit of their move to “senior living”…


I’m sure my realtor friends would disagree, but I answered her question with a resounding, “NO.”


“Don’t take down any photographs unless you really want to,” I said.  “I think it’s wrong that they always tell people to do that.”  I mean, have a heart, realtors. Home sellers are often already going through an emotional upheaval in giving up such a big part of their life—why make it worse by asking them to put away small, cherished mementos? While realtors may have some kind of data or “realty science” that tells them they need to make a house as generic as possible in order to sell it, I challenge that science.  Because whenever I’m in a house, whether it’s visiting friends or relatives, passing through on a charity “Tour of Homes”, or looking at one to buy, I think the personal photographs that may be on the walls and shelves are just as interesting, if not more, than any granite countertop, walk-in closet, or “hand-scraped hardwood floor”.  And whenever friends or family are visiting our house, I’ve noticed they are drawn to the few photographs we have on display.    


My theory for years has been that personal photographs give a house a certain “spirit”, a certain air of happiness and positive attitude.  They make a house a “home”.  And after doing a little research, I discovered I’m not alone with those thoughts.


Feng Shui practitioner Ken Lauher says on his website that photographs, especially when people are shown happy and smiling, “are a great way to increase the positive chi in your living space and bring your environment into alignment with your true self and your goals.”  Beliefnet Editor Laurie Sue Brockway is quoted in a blog post at beliefnet saying that “images of loved ones and real people add a touch of warmth to a home” and recommends using certain types of photos to enhance certain spaces, such as photos of children to bring good energy to your “creative area”, photos of loved ones and ancestors to help “heal and connect us to the power of our lineage” in the family area, and placing “couple photos”, like a wedding photo, in your bedroom.


Some Native American tribes and several other cultures have believed, ever since the camera was invented, that “photography steals the soul” and because of this belief, they refuse to be photographed.  Well, I don’t think it exactly steals the soul, but good photography can certainly share it.


I just know that I smile and I feel good when I see, within a frame or tacked to a corkboard, images of people acting silly while on vacation, or happily holding children and grandchildren, or posing for a family reunion portrait…I even like to see the sweet progression of those awkward smiling posed school photos.  Surely a family’s photos help a realtor sell a house, creating an atmosphere that stays with the buyer and softly whispers in their ear, “Nice people lived in this house.  Nice people raised a family in this house.  Nice people had good times in this house and took care of this house.  And doesn’t this house seem even nicer because of that?”


True, decorating magazines will tell you that too many personal photographs in a home can look tacky or cluttered, like when they’re piled on a piano or fireplace mantel.  But the more houses I visit where they break that “rule”, the more I disagree with that one, too.  For example, one of my siblings has a gorgeously decorated, uncluttered home, worthy of any Elle Decor or Southern Living cover, yet what’s one of its focal points? The refrigerator, which is covered in small clear plastic “fridge frames” with beautiful photos of family and friends.  Fun to look at, and a great “conversation piece”.  One cannot help but smile when looking it over, and I’m so glad it’s kept “fresh” with new photos.  Definitely adds to the “positive energy” of the house!


I realized recently that I’ve gotten way too lax in my own home when it comes to photos.  No, I’m not talking about scrapbooking again—I’m still several years behind with that.  I’m talking about doing something, anything, with new photos once I create them.  Back in the 35mm film days, I took every roll of finished film to the drugstore to get developed, and an hour or a couple days later, everyone in the immediate family would see each one.  We’d send some to relatives, put some in frames, put some in a photo album…  But for the last decade that I’ve had a digital camera, with a memory card that can store hundreds of images, “if I have the time” I unload the photos to my computer, and then “if I have the time” (and enough ink, and photo paper), I print some with my own printer.  Meanwhile the photos keep piling up in the camera and on the computer, and no one gets to see them.  And a whole lot of picture frames sit empty, inside a cabinet.


Before I catch up in my scrapbooks, I’ve decided to make an effort to get more photos “out and up”.  No, I’m not going to cover my fridge with them (Andy would have a cow) and I just cleared piles of sheet music off the piano so I don’t really want to cover up all that newly clean space with photo frames. But our upstairs walls have pretty much been bare since we moved here, so… I’ve been having fun (and some huge laughs) going through my stored photos, deciding what to print, dusting off my unused digital photo frame (who knew it could be so cool?) and buying mats for those lonely old frames in the cabinet.  It’s time to fill up those walls.


My belief is that as the kids, Andy, and I pass the photos on our way to our rooms each night, we will glance at them and feel good, maybe even smile, maybe even have sweeter dreams.  And when we head out in the morning, we’ll see them and smile again, and maybe start our days a little happier because of it.  And when friends and family see them, they’ll smile, too.

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