How Does Mental Illness Affect Your Living Space?

living room loveseat and table
Image by Martina Kopecká from Pixabay

I’m not sure how universal a thing this is, but one of the many aspects of my life that’s been affected by my mental illness is my living space. This is something I’ve noticed over the past few years, and while it’s relatively subtle, it’s definitely there.

Hanging out in the bedroom

I spend the vast majority of my time at home (which makes this whole social distancing thing much easier), and almost all of that time is spent in my bedroom. I rarely use my living room anymore, and I haven’t sat at my dining room table for ages. The biggest appeal of the bedroom, besides the comfort factor, is that’s closest to the guinea pigs (the girls are in my bedroom, and the boys are in the ensuite bathroom).

The bedroom preference actually brings me back to a habit from earlier in my life. When I was living at home with my parents, and then when I was living in university residence, my bedroom was my only private space, so that was my retreat. The condo I’m in now was my first real adult home where my bedroom wasn’t the default hang-out spot.

If it’s not in front of me, it doesn’t exist

In the kitchen, if something isn’t a staple item that I always have on hand, then most likely I’ll keep it on the kitchen counter rather than in a cupboard. Because of depression-induced mashed potato brains, things aren’t right in front of me, I tend to forget that they exist, so throughout my home, things are out in the open rather than tucked away.

I spend a lot less time in the kitchen than I used to, because depression means I just don’t care enough to put a lot of time into meal prep. My baking cupboard still has staples from when I used to bake on a regular basis; the cheapskate side of me is a bit reluctant to toss nonperishable food products even though I never (or almost never) use them anymore.

Getting rid of stuff

Aside from that, though, I’ve always been a thrower-outer. I picked this up from my dad. I don’t like accumulating stuff, and I get great satisfaction from getting rid of stuff. Depression has taken that to another level, and I’ve gotten rid of the few sentimental items I had as well as assorted other things that reminded me of my old “normal” life.

Closet culling has been a bit of a work in progress, although it’s not that I have an excessive amount of clothes. I’ve held onto some things that don’t quite fit currently, knowing that my weight does fluctuate. I also have clothes that fit my old style, which was much more feminine and dressed up. At some point, I’ll probably come to the conclusion that I’ll never again wear those old clothes from when I was well, but I’m not quite there yet, and there’s no space crunch to push me in that direction.


Cleaning isn’t something I’ve ever been a fan of. I’m neat and organized, but a little dirt doesn’t bother me too much. My tolerance for a little dirt has expanded to quite a bit of dirt. Most of that dirt is guinea pig-related; they (along with their bedding and hay) create a lot of dust, and they kick up hay and bedding and poop from their cages that ends up on the floor.

I’ll clean eventually, but I care less than I used to, plus I don’t have to worry about anyone coming over and seeing the dirt, because I’m a hermit and no one comes to my home.

Change over time

In my early 20s, I started travelling. It quickly became my passion, and I established a pattern of yearly backpacking trips.  Home became whatever hostel I happened to be staying at for the night.  If I started to feel homesick for Western food and toilets, McDonald’s would serve as my temporary home.

Then mental illness got in the way, and travel lost all its appeal. I’ve gone from being a girl who was at home wherever her backpack was to being someone who relies on the stability and grounding of home in order to get by with basic day-to-day functioning.

The importance of safety and comfort

Home, specifically this home, has become important because I feel rooted here. Most of the time I’m holding myself together by a slender thread, so having a safe space makes a big difference. It’s my space where no one cares if there are Corn Flakes scattered all over the kitchen and the guinea pigs’ hay, with a little bit of poop tossed in, is all over the floor.

It’s my fortress of solitude (not that I know much of anything about Superman; I only know the reference from Seinfeld). I’m here with my guinea pigs, and the rest of the mostly unpleasant world is kept at a distance. Granted, I’ve always been very introverted, but the need for a safe space is relatively new over the last few years.

I know not everyone living with a mental illness has that available to them, so I’m very grateful that it’s something I do have. Having a comfortable home also works well with my desire for hermit living, and I”m glad to have a space that is mine and mine alone.

Is your living space impacted by your mental illness?

52 thoughts on “How Does Mental Illness Affect Your Living Space?”

  1. Wow. Literally I’m the same way except that I have to share a home with 2 other people. I stay in my room pretty much 24/7 unless I have to cook food and clean the kitchen. I do occasionally go out into the yard to have extra alone time. I am forever getting rid of stuff. All my clothes come from thrift stores so I don’t care a bit to get rid of them at every season change. I too have gotten rid of alot of sentimental stuff in the moment and sometimes regret doing that. My C-PTSD and Bipolar tend to stay on the more depressed low energy side with high energy mania maybe once a month which is when everything gets purged.

      1. Same. Especially when im in manic mode. Thats when I go outside and rake leaves or something lol

  2. As I’m still living with my parents (a fact I’m still trying to feel less embarrassed by at my age) my room is also my safe haven and my private space. I think I’d feel odd like you with having your own place to then find that space opens up. I’m lucky here with it being more like a house share rather than living with parents per se. It’s interesting to see how your living space is affected by or is viewed differently with your mental health, and it’s a really good topic to explore, Ashley. xx

  3. I like my space whether it be a one bed flat, or two bed house. But a three bed house, that does feel too big.
    Until I lived away from mum, then my bedroom would be my private space.

    I like to keep things tidy, otherwise it will bug me eventually.
    When my mental health slips, then the kitchen is where it first starts to slip. When it slips, it may seem subtle to others, but to me, it’s an annoying slip. The pots start to mount up that need washing, is what happens in my kitchen.
    The bathroom can be the next that slips, depending on how I am.

      1. Yes, it’s good if you can recognise the signals and yes, my kitchen is always the first to go. Otherwise I am one who doesn’t like to see pots first thing in the morning and at my worst, I have had 3 days of pots before washing them.

  4. You can always tell when I’m feeling depressed or overwhelmed by life – our apartment gets noticeably more cluttered as I have less energy to pick things up. Of course when things are cluttered I feel worse so I force myself to clean.

    My husband is a big help on that account, he’s a very tidy person so he keeps the place pretty nice when I just can’t. Thank goodness!

    I know what you mean about the bedroom being your sanctuary/outpost it is for me too, sometimes to the detriment of my mental health. I just had to move my workspace onto a real desk because I’ve been spending waaaaay too much of my day in bed!!

    Thanks as always for sharing your unique perspective <3

  5. Up to this week I lived in my first real place, my small apartment, my sanctuary. Now I’m learning how to live together but haven’t found my space yet. (my furniture needs to be moved but that is being delayed due to the virus). I have a small place to blog in the dining area. I will paint and decorate the attic, that is planned to be my safe space.

    Moving shakes things up more. Now my mood fluctuates, my housing is different and the world is in a pandemic. Sometimes I don’t know where to hide. I’m trying to adapt the best way possible. I’m glad that I can stay inside, that I don’t need to go to parties, at least the hermit side of me is finally relaxed that there is no need to explain or to avoid things.

    On cleaning I set the bar very low, you know so low that you can easily step over it. I just can’t be the neat freak I used to be. I try to cook when I can but that is not everyday. I love love love to throw things away. Sometimes I feel like it helps me to shed the old burdens, let everything go. With moving I really moved the things I like and nothing more. In that way I feel that the move can mean a new beginning. We’ll see how it goes.

    I really loved this topic, it is very interesting how mental health has its impact on things that are not always talked about. Thank you!

    1. We use the bedroom to sleep and for romance. We will sometimes put on clothes there; sometimes we get dressed in the living room, especially if Spouse is asleep. We will meditate in bed or use our weighted blanket only for retreat, tantrum, panic, shame.

      We are in kitchen a lot. We created a standing space: reading stand, books, journal. Bad back, so we stand a lot. We are the cook and so we feel ownership of kitchen counters.

      We have lots of clutter. We also forget we have possessions if they are tucked away. Our junk drawers have junk drawers. OCD does not love dirt, so we sweep kitchen floor and clean dishes but there’s grease everywhere. T-1 told us to cook/bake yesterday and we mistakenly started a fire in the oven. Spouse found the fire, as we’d forgotten we were preheating the oven.

      We have trouble throwing things away, though we can recycle. We have a closet full of work clothes—fancy—that are unlikely to be worn again. We don’t need the space and so aren’t acting on it.

      With Spouse working from home and kids now home indefinitely, we are going zonkers. We asked yesterday if they would all go for a walk together sometime soon. The response was non-committal. We are used to hours of alone time every day. Need it. Our area goes to shelter-in-place starting tomorrow night.

        1. You wrote that you drink lots of tea. What kind do you like? We like black tea. Strong. Usually iced and nothing added to it. We will drink peppermint rarely, too

            1. PG Tips is our house tea. Away from home we will drink any tea that starts with the name of a country and ends in “breakfast.” ☕️

      1. I asked too for a walk in the weekend! Answer was negative as there are too many people outside and that is too dangerous. I want to see the start of spring and to pick some fresh herbs as for some it is the best time now.
        Oh well, we’ll see if another opportunity arises.
        I have alone time when bf goes to the bakery. That is not every day and it doesn’t take long but it is very needed.
        Though times! Glad we have WP to vent here and there 😊

  6. I constantly clean up and throw out. But I do accumulate things, such as extra water bottles and boxes of tea, bandaids, nail polish, etc. I like everything put away, unless I’m actually working on it. I’m always vacuuming and straightening up blankets. Crooked stuff annoys me!

  7. As a young adult, fresh from living at home, I NEVER shared my apartment(s) with anyone, nor the house I rented for eight years prior to buying my first house. After I owned, it seemed fate decreed it was time to share and in came hubby. My house was very small (723 sq feet was all) and it quickly got on my nerves badly to have someone in that close a proximity. If hubby hadn’t been a long distance truck driver and only home periodically, I think divorce would have happened. As it was we stayed married until he passed away. That little house became a prison of sorts. I physically felt the weight of the atmosphere in that house. Depressive, oppressive, and my depression got worse and worse over the years. After hubby died, I still felt really depressed living in that house, and so when I got the opportunity to sell, I did and I moved to a house that is mostly a lot lighter in feeling. It’s still not home to me though and I’ve got a blog cooking that will talk about that, to be posted one of these days. This whole COVID thing hasn’t impacted me that greatly as I was isolating before it was mandatory to do so. My mental health has been impacted by the whole surreal atmosphere, and my house is a safe haven. So the impact of my mental health on my living space is more because of the virus thing than the structure I live in. So to answer: Not all that much really. It remains a safe haven though.

    1. That is very little space for 2 people!

      I’m very grateful to have a home that’s a safe haven. I think my mental health would really suffer if I didn’t.

  8. I am somewhat of a hoarder… as a child and even into adulthood, my life was not very stable. I was kicked out from my home several times over and got to the point where everything I owned could fit in a trash bag so if I had to leave, nothing was left behind. Now that I am somewhat stable, it is hard for me to get rid of stuff which is weird yet it isn’t. I never had much and what I did have beyond just basics was taken from me so it’s like a protection of sorts. Like maybe if I keep it all around me, if someone takes something at least I still have something. I’m completely ashamed of it but I feel like my life to this point has programmed my responses.

  9. Hi Ashleyleia, I hope you are doing fine at home. You mentioning the closet culling reminds me of a time when I deleted my facebook account instead if deactivating it. I lost all the old photos which are over hundreds of pieces. Then, after some time, I unfriended many in my second facebook account. Some true friends then befriended me again on Facebook.

    Talking about clothes, I have a lot of old clothes which I never wear for years. Some were from my secondary school years though I am now in my 30-year-old crisis. It is for the same reason which is that I think my weight fluctuates. Funnily, everyday, I wear clothes from the same few.

    After my undergraduate study, I deleted all my assignments and sold all my textbooks. Then I realised that I needed them during my master’s study. Haha…

    Reading your post makes me feel understood to some extent. Stay safe and take care <3

    1. I haven’t deleted old photos, but I choose not to look at them. I guess I just don’t want to be reminded of the past when things were better than they are now.

      That’s so frustrating about needing things again when you were doing your master’s degree. Sometimes getting rid of things backfired…

      Stay well! 💕

      1. I see. I hope you will feel better and better. And I am looking forwards to hearing about your beautiful moments coming soon. May our all time Lover shine on you.
        Yes, I regretted getting rid of them as some were good books. Luckily, I managed to cope with my study without the books and old assignments. Still, it felt like a loss. Haha…

        Thanks and you too 💕

  10. I like a clean organized environment. I feel like I can’t think straight if things are dirty and cluttered. I’ve learned to survive when the house feels out of control. Right now Jases girls are here and I’m spending more time in my room as it’s not possible to keep the home tidy. We live out in the middle of nowhere so I was able to take 3 walks yesterday and to read a book outside. The home I grew up in was disgusting, dad was an alcoholic and my mom didn’t keep a clean house. I took up cleaning and organizing as a way to feel like I had some form of control. While raising my 4 boys you could eat off our floors, I couldn’t stand the thought of them feeling embarrassed to have friends over. I’m glad I’m able to loosen the grip as I get older, but there are still times the anxiety hits like a truck when things are dirty and messy.

    1. My parents are hard-core clean freaks, and I always felt like they were judging when they came over. It would be hard to stay on top of the mess the guinea pigs manage to kick up. It doesn’t help that one of the room they’re in has carpet…

      Nice that you’ve got some space to roam around where you are.

      1. Jases mom is a neat freak, so he is the opposite of me lol! Funny how that works isn’t it?
        Cricket kicks up lots of litter that I pretend isn’t there or i’d go crazy trying to clean it all the time
        They’re pets and we love them no matter what

  11. I recently moved into a 1 bedroom apartment after living in a tiny studio for several years. It’s so weird now that I have a whole living room and more space everywhere, lol I tend to spend a lot of time in my bedroom, which I’m trying to break that habit but I’ve been used to doing that my whole life so it’s hard to.

    My cleaning habits fluctuate depending on my mood, if I’m depressed things get pretty messy but if I’m manic I love cleaning, sometimes it’s from my OCD though. It’s definitely affected by my mental illness.

    1. It also took me a while to spend less time in my bedroom once the option became available.

      I can definitely see how with that mix of illnesses cleaning would vary a lot.

  12. My place and style is. I am too lazy to fix things up and make my home more mine. My kitchen and bathroom are not clean. I pick things up and that is it. I spend equal time in my room and living room. I don’t have anything to cook other than simple things. My place still feels safe and mine.

    Like you, no one comes over to my place. I have asked my sister to when she isn’t busy. She says no because she wants to be home to eat. This is hurtful to hear when she always expects me to come and visit her. I make an effort to but she can’t make the effort for me.

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