Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Today you’ll learn some natural English vocabulary!

What is a modern and native way to say that something is taking up too much space in your mind?

We say it’s ‘living rent free!’

Find out today how American culture has shifted to mental wellness in the last five years.

Mindful of your thoughts

Michelle asks Lindsay if she has trouble with thoughts that cycle around in her head.

Lindsay admits that she definitely does.

Michelle does also but she tries not to ruminate on things.

Most people have a lot on their minds.

It can be something about their personal lives, work, or even concerns about family.

Lindsay shares her mind would dwell on the past if she was worried she offended somebody inadvertently.

She’d find herself wondering if there was something she could’ve done to prevent offending them or apologize.

Michelle is similar and does the same thing.

Today’s question

Today’s topic is inspired by a listener’s question through Spotify about a unique expression.

Here is the question from Akira:

Lindsay and Michelle are lovely podcasters.

I have been listening to you for 2 years and wanna ask you about this expression:

“This X lives in my mind rent-free.”

Thanks in advance!


Michelle defines rent-free as something that you can’t get out of your head.

She finds there is a negative connotation to this expression.

If something has been bothering you and you keep thinking about it, it’s not good for you mentally.

When something’s living rent-free in your mind, it’s evident the thought hasn’t paid the necessary price to stay there.

The structure is often, “Don’t let X live in your mind rent-free.”

Lindsay mentions that it means something is ‘gnawing at you.’

To gnaw literally means to bite or nibble persistently.

You can think of a dog gnawing at a bone.

So letting something live rent-free in your mind can feel like that and make you feel distressed.

You can check out more English expressions in episode AEE 2066: 3 Ways to Speak More English.

Negative thoughts

Michelle mentions an article she read about this expression.

It’s called What Does ‘Rent Free’ Slang Mean and How to Use it?

This was written by Beaulah Sahana.

She mentions that the phrase ‘rent-free’ was intended as an insult.

A person living rent-free in your mind

The term ‘rent-free’ means something is taking up space and it shouldn’t.

You can use this to refer to thoughts about a person.

Here are some examples:

  • Don’t let her live in your mind rent-free. She was so mean to you and she’s not worth it.
  • She let her toxic relationship with her roommate live in her mind rent-free for way too long.

Releasing negative thoughts

Lindsay asks how you let go of negative thoughts.

When can you tell something is taking up too much space in your head?

You can feel anxious when negative thoughts keep pestering you.

These days, there is help offered to make sure you are healthy mentally.

The current generation is more aware that mental health is something you need to look after and not ignore.

Lindsay shares that regular meditation and physical movement can help you free your mind from negative thoughts.

Michelle agrees with Lindsay that physical movement and changing your scenery can help you decrease the negative thoughts in your head.

A few other expressions mean the same as ‘rent-free.’

You can use these as an alternative to avoid using the same phrase over and over again.

#1: Taking up too much space in your head

This means the same as something being ‘rent-free.’

Stacy is taking up too much space in his head. He needs to move on.

#2: Stuck on something

This has a similar meaning.

It means something is stuck in your head.

She was stuck on the conversation she had with her boss. It left her sour.

#3: Keeps replaying in your head

This phrase refers to thoughts cycling that you can’t get rid of.

I keep replaying what happened over and over in my head. I think I’ll meditate to try and stop it.


Lindsay and Michelle share a roleplay using the phrase ‘rent-free’ so you can get a glimpse of how it’s used in a conversation.

In this scenario, Lindsay is talking to Michelle about a friendship that Michelle has lost.

Michelle: I’m just so bummed. We were best friends. I keep replaying our last fight over and over in my head.
Lindsay: I know. I’m sorry. The thing is, she’s taking up too much space in your head. She doesn’t deserve that.
Michelle: I know. I’m stuck on the whole thing.
Lindsay: Don’t let her live in your mind rent-free. You deserve better.
Michelle: Thanks.


Don’t let any negative thoughts live rent-free in your mind!

Try to distract yourself if someone or something is taking up space in your brain.

‘Rent-free’ is a great English expression to use in conversations.

Use it to share that something has been bothering you and you’ve been thinking about it a lot.

When you’re talking with friends and family, you can use this to share what has been stressing you lately.

Use today’s expressions to connect in English!

What is living rent-free in your mind?

Share it in the comments below.

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