When life changed, Reiki, tarot and home restoration were there to help

When Helen Ho was laid off from her job as an urban planner in the spring of 2020, she knew she wouldn’t be looking for another full-tim...


When Helen Ho was laid off from her job as an urban planner in the spring of 2020, she knew she wouldn’t be looking for another full-time job anytime soon. The pandemic was slowly consuming every moment of our public and private life and suppressing many job prospects for the unemployed.

“Even though I wanted to look for a job,” she says, “nobody knew what was going to happen. There was nothing to do.”

Instead, Ms. Ho, 42, took the time to pursue interests she had always wanted to pursue: reiki, a form of energy healing that originated in Japan, and tarot reading.

She soon signed up for a reiki training run by the NYC POC Healing Collective. She studied videos (“Mostly from teenage girls on Instagram,” she laughed) that taught her how to interpret the 78 tarot deck cards she’d only ever used as a “party trick “. She also volunteered on a small farm in New Jersey, helping them start a flower CSA. (This community-supported agriculture project allows people to prepay for a weekly bouquet of flowers and pick them up at multiple locations in New York City during the six-and-a-half-month season.) While she was consciously giving herself a professional makeover, Ms. Ho did not realize that this would also lead to a design makeover in her apartment.

Ms. Ho is originally from Queens and grew up in Flushing and Elmhurst. She has lived in Astoria for 16 years and in her two-story, three-bedroom home for 10 years. She estimates that 10 to 15 people have cycled through the other two chambers over the years. Mixology consultant Chris Kearns, 33, currently rents the downstairs bedroom; they receive a pandemic discount from their owner.

Ms. Ho took over the two bedrooms upstairs. Last summer, she moved her bed into the smaller bedroom and turned the larger one into her office, which leads to a backyard where hydrangeas bloom in summer and vines tangle around a pergola.

In the spring of 2021, Ms. Ho began seeing reiki clients on Zoom and occasionally practiced with her training cohort in her home office. She also began offering tarot reading services for a fee and took on a paid role with the CSA flower she had helped start.

Through the CSA flower, Ms. Ho met Anna Doré, who ran an Astoria-focused Instagram account, and hired Ms. Ho to do tarot readings at a party she hosted last fall. At the party, Ms. Ho met Lindsay Colby, an interior designer who wanted to try reiki. The couple decided to enter into what Ms Ho calls a “friendship exchange”, in which Ms Colby would come to Ms Ho’s house for reiki sessions and, in return, offer free design advice.


$2,980 | Astoria, Queens

occupations: Ms. Ho is a Reiki practitioner, Tarot reader and entrepreneur; Mr. Kearns is a mixology consultant.

His new office colleague: “In the office I have a large Buddha that I drunkenly bid on at an auction for Chhaya NYC, a non-profit organization that has worked to legalize basement apartments so they can be coded.”

Her favorite piece: “The bathroom, because it’s so small you can’t put any bric-a-brac in it. I think my landlord tiled it himself: there are six different types of tiles here.


After each reiki session, the duo would attack a room in the house. The living room came first. Ms. Colby suggested that Ms. Ho move her sofa to the adjacent wall, and Ms. Ho assumed that was a suggestion and not an invitation. But then Mrs. Colby said, “Well, let’s go – when else are you going to do it?”

Thus began a makeover that has unfolded over the past six months. They have now embellished the living room, office, kitchen and dining room. The main effect, Ms. Ho said, was the loss of unnecessary furniture and items and the displacement of some choice pieces, including a Noguchi lamp and a set of shelves made from discarded scaffolding. She didn’t buy anything new for the apartment, although she inherited a new sofa from a friend and found a lamp in the street that now sits next door.

This process has also helped her appreciate the objects she has lived with for so long. Ms. Ho’s walls are lined with artwork: some by friends, others purchased through local nonprofit fundraisers. Much of it comes from Flux Factory, an arts community space in Queens, and reflects Ms. Ho’s passion for civic engagement. In a painting suspended above his dining table, a pizza hovers above two voter cards; it was painted by a friend with whom she had volunteered to register voters years ago. A print in the living room, which looks like a taxonomy of Legos, is actually a collection of silhouettes of New York public housing buildings by Elizabeth Hamby, an artist. Next to his television is a hand-painted protest sign from 2020 that reads “City workers demand justice.”

Before the pandemic, Ms. Ho often held fundraisers in her backyard for local politicians like Councilwoman Tiffany Cabán, State Senator Jessica Ramos and Councilwoman Julie Won, a former roommate. Changing her office and bedroom means that when she can host those parties again, guests will no longer have to navigate around her bed to get to the garden.

The upgrade was particularly significant during the pandemic, when Ms Ho spent most of her time in the apartment after years in town for most of her waking hours. Now she can enjoy and make the most of the home she built for herself.

“It’s really magical,” she said. “And it’s still all my stuff.” I didn’t know my things could be so pretty.

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