Ellen Schneider carries the spirit of her mother and grandmother in her blood. “I come from a big Italian family. We came over from Italy, through Ellis Island, and landed in Boyle Heights, California. That’s where all the immigrants were. When you have beginnings like that,” she told me, “there is a stream of gratitude within your soul, there is blood that runs through your veins of the people that were strong enough to pave the way for you. I hope that comes through in everything that I do.”
Ellen, who is now a Feng Shui specialist, believes her gift for helping people intentionally create an environment of beauty and love was paved by the women in her family. “My mom really appreciated beauty,” she said. “As a kid, she would show me how to set the table for holidays and we would go out and pick flowers and put them on the table and use linen napkins. I learned how to appreciate an environment.”
In fact, Ellen believes that creating beauty in a space is not about luxury or what’s in style; it’s a feeling that stems from who you are and what you love. “Everyone deserves beauty,” she says, “their own idea of beauty…In fact, I think a lot of my insight on beauty came from my mom and grandmother. They created these really warm environments for people to land in so they could exchange love and feelings and relationships.”
To Ellen and her mother and grandmother, beauty wasn’t fancy. Beauty, she believes, is “a feeling beneath it all that carries us.” It reflects us and sustains us.
What is Feng Shui?
The concept behind Feng Shui is that everything in our line of sight affects us; we can feel it, whether we notice it or not. And we deserve to be surrounded, when we can, as much as we can, by what reflects our sense of beauty.
Ellen suggests you do an experiment to begin noticing the energy of what surrounds you: “Just look around your room, right now, and say, ‘Is my idea of beauty in my line of sight?’ If it’s not, just get up and make a change. Bring in a piece of art or a photo or a color—something you really love that gives you a feeling of beauty and calm. What’s outside should reflect who you are.”
Of course, not everything about your environment can be changed or controlled. But Ellen’s mission is to help you make the little shifts that matter to you. Everyone can add a little something they love and value to their spaces.
In fact, Ellen insists that this matters more than you may realize. These are the spaces you live in, the spaces you build relationships in, you create in, your sleep in, and you love in. When you have a space that reflects who you are, “you feel constantly nourished and affirmed.” You feel seen.
Why Does Feng Shui Matter for People with PD?
When you’re living with a movement disorder, Ellen believes Feng Shui should not be an afterthought; creating a conscious, beautiful space is part of your wellbeing. “Many Parkinson’s symptoms are outside your control,” she said. “If you look at rigidity, for example, it may feel like movement is restricted and you can’t control it. I would invite someone experiencing rigidity to bring movement into their environment.” Ellen believes your environment can help you feel balanced: when movement is restricted and your body feels tight, try cultivating movement through music in your space. She suggests the peaceful sound of water flowing or the gentle sound of Mozart.
If mobility is challenging and you’re spending most of your time at home or in one room, Ellen says it’s important to bring into your space your favorite things: surround yourself with photos of your favorite people or your favorite game or your favorite color. If you’re a care partner, she encourages you to start this conversation: “Ask your loved one,” she says, “about their favorite color. Bring them into the process of designing their space.” Ellen believes sharing this conversation is the essence of joy. “This is beauty, listening to what your loved one wants, placing in the room what they value, and enjoying it together.”
Ellen supports those she works with in thinking outside the box, exploring what feelings and shapes and colors feel good and honoring. “For someone with Parkinson’s,” she said, “I might suggest bringing whole shapes into the room, like spheres or circles—anything that mirrors back to them that they are whole within themselves.” In this way, your space affirms you: you are more than a disease; you deserve to see your fullness reflected back to you.
How Do You Cultivate Beauty in a Care Facility?
Ellen knows firsthand that, sometimes, the amount of control you have over your space can feel limited, especially when you or your loved one is living in a long-term care facility.
“Can I tell you a story about my mom?” she asked me.
Ellen’s mom had Alzheimer’s late in her life. At that time, she was no longer mobile and she stopped speaking much. “She was living in a facility,” Ellen explained, “and I knew I was going to visit her often.” This meant Ellen was on a mission to make sure this space not only felt comfortable and loving to her mom, but that it could be comfortable for her, too.
“I made sure that room could hold me and my computer for my visits. I made sure there was a comfortable chair and, if I couldn’t choose the chair, maybe I could bring in a pillow so it’s softer.”
For her mom, she hung up little twinkly white lights to add gentle brightness and express light and joy in the space. “My mom had high blood pressure,” she explained, “so I made sure all the lights were soft and there were no reds or jarring colors.”
Ellen also placed family photos on the window ledge beside her bed. While her mom wouldn’t always express it verbally, she knew her mom considered this a beloved part of her room. Ellen shared, “I would come in in the mornings, and I would find her with the photos on top of her.” Her mom would take them off the ledge and rest them with her in bed.
How Can You Support Caregivers in Your Space?
Creating a welcoming space is about the care partner or caregiver, too. When her mom was living in the care facility, Ellen made an effort to get to know the staff and learn about their lives —”Were they single? Did they have families or babies or dogs? I learned all their names and the names of the people they loved.” She explains, “I wanted the caregivers to see that my mom and I, we’re human beings in this environment and I wanted them to feel nourished in my mom’s room, too.” When caregivers came into her mom’s room, she wanted them to “want to be there and know that we cared about them.”
Creating a space of true, reciprocal caring positively shifts the energy for everyone.
What Story Does Your Home Tell?
Ellen believes our homes are not just physical structures; they carry the stories of our lives.
“When you cross the threshold of your home,” she explained, “maybe there’s a painting on the wall that came from so and so. Or maybe you look on your kitchen table and there’s a heart-shaped bowl that your kids gave you and, in it, are fresh lemons from the yard. Every space you walk into is a narrative.”
We get to decide what narrative we want to tell by creating changes in our spaces that more authentically express who we are and what we value.
Telling our stories is not just about aesthetics. It’s about function, too. It’s about honoring what will best serve you. For example, if you struggle with mobility and balance, she says, you can add a handrail in the hallway that you use the most. You deserve to flow easily in your home, to design it around you to the best of your ability. “There is always room for possibility, for choices…That’s empowering.”
Once you’ve applied Ellen’s tips for bringing more beauty into your home and life, discover how an occupational therapist can help you savor it longer by maintaining your independence at home. Watch our replay, “Staying Safe with OT: Aging in Place.”
About Ellen Schneider
Ellen Schneider is a Feng Shui specialist, teacher, and professional speaker who helps individuals and businesses create balanced environments that promote their aspirations. She is the author of You. Your Space. Your Life: Arrange Your Environment to Soothe Your Soul.