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Brainiac

How to rearrange your home to impress a date

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First dates can go wrong in lots of ways. Many are beyond your control. Others can be neutralized by simple steps, like stocking an extra roll of toilet paper before a potential romantic partner comes over. That, at least, is the idea behind a new consulting service that promises to use academic research and the principles of feng shui to turn your living space into a relationship magnet.

“You are what you see, and if you’re living in an environment that’s not attracting what you want into your life, you’re not going to attract what you want into your life,” says Carol Olmstead, a feng shui expert who has teamed with the personal services marketplace Handy to provide free feng shui “makeovers” to hard luck daters.

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Feng shui is an ancient Chinese philosophical system, most widely known for its emphasis on promoting personal harmony by aligning your home décor to the points on a compass or nearby natural features like rivers and mountains. While these recommendations aren’t scientific, psychologists are increasingly exploring the subconscious ways people respond to the objects around them. For a long time, the field has been interested in how people form social relationships — now there’s an understanding that mutual perceptions are influenced by the stuff we have around us when we meet someone new.

“While we’re having these social interactions, we have to look at broader context,” says Lindsay Graham, a researcher at the Center for the Built Environment at the University of California Berkeley. “There’s this sort of symbiotic relationship that happens with our environment.”

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The new dating service attempts to improve daters’ odds by both mystical and scientific means. In April, Handy hired Graham to survey the site’s users about what attracts and repels them the first time they walk into a date’s home. Forty-seven percent of women said the biggest turn-off was entering a house that had no toilet paper, setting a reasonable but extremely low bar for potential partners to meet. In the same survey, men, whom Olmstead finds are generally less attuned to this kind of thing, complained most about “general mess.”

Handy is running a promotion that intends to help people incorporate these and other lessons into the way they organize their living spaces. For free, Olmstead, the feng shui expert, will review photographs or take a Skype tour of your home and suggest changes that could make it — and you, by extension — more attractive to would-be companions.

Some of Olmstead’s tips are common sense reminders: Put away photos of an ex-boyfriend before a prospective one comes over. Others acknowledge the reality that first-time visitors like to snoop.

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“Most men don’t realize women will open the medicine cabinet when they use the bathroom,” Olmstead says. “What are you keeping there, a grody old toothbrush, congealed toothpaste? It’s a clean up your act kind of thing.”

While ratty dental equipment sends all sorts of overtly negative signals, more subtle aspects of your material life can make an equally powerful impression. Olmstead says it’s bad feng shui to pile shoes by the door because “that represents walking away from a relationship.” She cautions against positioning a bed in a corner, such that a new companion would have to climb over you to get out because that will make him or her feel trapped. And as a general rule, she maintains, it’s important to exorcise clutter, so that new arrivals see there’s space for them in your life.

“In women’s bedrooms, we sometimes see beds covered with stuffed animals and pillows, which sends the message there’s no room for a lover to join them in bed,” she says.

Graham notes that over time, it’s easy to let your living space degrade so that it no longer shows off or brings out your best side. People can get so used to living amid piles of dirty dishes that they no longer notice them — even as the dishes function as a glaring warning sign to visitors. At the same time, she says, there’s danger in trying too hard to stage where you live.

“I think one of the coolest things about environments is that it’s really hard to consistently mask your true personality because there’s so much there,” she says. “You can fake it for a minute, maybe, but you can’t consistently fake it over time.”

Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at kshartnett18@gmail.com.
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