How to Optimize Your Space For Your Mental Health

A room with tips for mental health incorporated into the layout and interior design

Verywell / Jiaqi Zhou

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Life’s daily ins and outs don’t just keep us busy. Sometimes they bog us down with their weight, making it feel like we’re paddling our way through the mud just to make it through a full day.

While there are many ways to improve your mental health including therapy, meditation, exercise, hobbies, a healthy diet, and time spent with loved ones, there are also small things we can do to create a shift in our mood.

One of those small things is tweaking the space in which we live and work. These small changes and tweaks can make a world of difference in your overall mental well-being.

From incorporating fresh plants to removing clutter, consider making the following interior design changes that are scientifically proven to improve your mental health.

Bring in Sunlight

Think about how you feel when you walk outside on a bright and sunny day. Even a few minutes in the sun can bring a sense of calmness and serenity.

“We know that being outside in the sunshine increases your production of vitamin D, helps regulate your sleep through melatonin levels, and improves your mood,” says Tracy Nathanson, LCSW, MA, and founder of Pace of Mind Therapy. “The science behind feeling good in the sun is that increased exposure to sunlight enhances the brain’s production of serotonin, also known as the mood-lifting chemical.”

Conversely, not getting enough natural light can result in both physiological and sleep issues and depressive symptoms.

Don Vaughn, PhD, a neuroscientist in the department of psychology at UCLA, says, "One study found that employees who worked in a space with no windows had greater signs of depression and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who did have a window.”

Simple Ways to Add Light to Your Space

Here are some ways to allow sunlight into your living or work space:

  1. Move your workspace as close to the window as possible
  2. Try strategically place a mirror in your room to reflect the sunlight
  3. Pull back the curtains as far as you can during the day and switch to drapes or blinds that are less restrictive

“If you cannot be near a window, try some bright lighting. It also can do the trick in terms of helping you feel better,” advises Nathanson. “You can use LED, halogen, or fluorescent bulbs to help you achieve your desired lighting.”

Remove Clutter

There are some people who claim they thrive amid the chaos, but for the bulk of us that’s not the case. Clutter can actually have a negative impact on our mental state—and perhaps in more ways than you’d assume.

For instance, clutter can make it difficult to find things quickly in a pinch, create a feeling of embarrassment, and generally cause distraction or a sense of feeling weighed down.

Erin Hicks, Interior Decorator

Get rid of things that no longer serve you, and try to only keep things that bring you joy. If this seems daunting, start small. Clean out one drawer per day, and have an accountability buddy to help keep you on track. Also, adopt the motto: 'A place for everything, and everything in its place.'

— Erin Hicks, Interior Decorator

When you're ready to declutter, a good rule of thumb is to pull everything out, get rid of what you don't need, then put everything else back. Organizational supplies can go a long way in your efforts to keep things tidy.

Incorporate Art

When selecting décor items, choose at least a few different items that make you feel happy. Different things spark joy for different people, so there’s really no wrong way to do this. For example, you might want to incorporate a painting or print of a landscape that makes you feel calm when you look at it.

Choose Nature Scenes and Family Photos

“Research from a 2013 study states that viewing nature scenes positively affects your mental health and helps with de-stressing,” notes Nathanson. “Perhaps it’s a past trip to your favorite beach or a recent hike. Look at that photo and let your brain reminisce about that moment and that feeling of joy.”

Other ideas might include family pictures from a moment that makes you smile, or a framed quote that helps you find your grounding.

Aim to bring in two or three of these items into the rooms you spend the most time in.

Add Plants

In addition to incorporating artwork, also consider adding some plants to your space. Think about how you feel after a walk through the forest or when admiring a rosebush.

Plants Can Reduce Stress and Boost Productivity

“Plants are not only visually pleasing, but also help freshen the air as they release oxygen and absorb carbon monoxide,” says Nathanson. “This is a fact many of us may already know, but there is more to it as a growing body of research highlights the myriad mental health benefits associated with exposure to indoor greenery.”

For example, a 2015 study that appeared in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology concluded that being in proximity to indoor plants and looking at them can reduce stress levels and help you feel calmer.

“Looking at plants or other greenery also can sharpen your ability to concentrate and focus, which may increase your productivity,” adds Nathanson. “This is the idea behind attention restoration theory, an idea that became popular in the late 1980s and now feels more relevant than ever as we are enmeshed with and distracted by our computers and social media.”

If you're looking to start adding some plants to your living space, it might help to choose some low-maintenance houseplants including:

  • Aloe vera
  • Aansevieria (snake plant)
  • Bamboo palm
  • Succulents
  • Pothos

If real house plants aren’t feasible, another option is to add some earthy elements into your space.

“Incorporate a mix of organic materials with different textures in your décor. For example, wood, metal, stone sculptures, glass vases, crystals, mineral gemstones, water features, and soft and luxurious textiles also help to create harmony and warm space,” says Hicks. “I’m of the belief that texture makes the world go ‘round!”

A Word From Verywell

You spend a lot of time in your home and workspace, so making these areas feel inviting and peaceful is a great way to help improve your overall mental health.

Many of the changes we recommended above are quite simple and inexpensive (sometimes even free), and their impact can be impressive. Allocate a day or two to brainstorm some ways to make these changes in your own spaces and then put your plan into action.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Harb, F, Hidalgo MP, Martau B. Lack of exposure to natural light in the workspace is associated with physiological, sleep and depressive symptoms.Chronobiology International. 2015; 32(3):368-375. doi:10.3109/07420528.2014.982757

  2. Kingston K. Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui (Revised and Updated). New York: Harmony; 2016.

  3. Roster CA, Ferrari JR, Jurkat MP. The dark side of home: Assessing possession 'clutter' on subjective well-being. J Environ Psychol. 2016;46:32-41. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2016.03.003

  4. Brown DK, Barton JL, Gladwell VF. Viewing nature scenes positively affects recovery of autonomic function following acute-mental stress. Environ Sci Technol. 2013;47(11):5562-5569. doi:10.1021/es305019p

  5. Lee MS, Lee J, Park BJ, Miyazaki Y. Interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity in young adults: a randomized crossover studyJ Physiol Anthropol. 2015;34(1):21. Published 2015 Apr 28. doi:10.1186/s40101-015-0060-8

By Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a lifestyle reporter with over a decade of experience covering health and wellness topics.