Last summer, I moved. And that meant a downsize: I donated, sold, or recycled easily two-thirds of my home. The swarm of feelings left me emotionally and physically depleted — especially because I’m an HSP (highly sensitive person).
In my case, I was leaving a space that held my family until a divorce ended the marriage. Surrounded by both happy and unhappy memories, I oscillated from grief to relief. Only the beige walls witnessed what I went through. And, as I locked the front door to walk away, I could hear the last set of memories say goodbye for the final time.
For all of us, sensitive or not, moving is listed as being one of the top life stressors. The unsettledness, the endless details and the unknown are unnerving — even if the move is a positive step.
But eventually, we all have to move from one place to another, whether it’s an apartment, a dorm room or — as in my case — the daunting process of selling a home.
Here’s why moving can be so hard for highly sensitive people, and what you can do to get through it with as little overwhelm as possible.
Why Moving Is Hard for Highly Sensitive People.
Highly sensitive people have a nervous system that processes all stimuli very deeply — including feelings, disruptions, and sources of stress. It comes with many superpowers, but it also means we can get exhausted or even overwhelmed in stressful circumstances. Moving is definitely one of them.
For those who are highly sensitive, moving magnifies anxiety, over-processing, and overthinking as well as significantly disrupts our regular routine.
It’s also high stakes. The moving process has multiple layers of organizing, planning, and sifting through our belongs. In many cases, we are dismantling spaces that have always been our quiet, safe refuges in an overwhelming world. It’s heartbreaking work.
During my recent move, I often wished I could strategically wrap myself in bubble wrap and just be done. Sadly, the movers told me that wasn’t an option.
Instead I had to learn ways to manage the stress, to care for myself, and survive the process — and, yes, even to make it easier. I’d like to share my list of lessons learned to hopefully ease your transition.
11 Tips to Survive a Move as an HSP
1. If you’re buying or selling a home…If possible, interview several realtors. You’ll need someone who is intuitive and yet comfortable being in the spotlight, negotiating, and making important decisions with you regarding your next best home opportunity.
For example, this person will also need to be extra aware of your boundaries and call ahead to give you ample time to show your home to prospective buyers. They also need to respect your questions and give you time to make decisions. You don’t want to be stuck with the Pushy Know-It-All Realtor.
Another type to shy away from is what I call The Last-Minute realtor:
“Hey, I happen to be in the neighborhood, and I have a family with me, right now, who are very interested in seeing your home! We’ll be stopping by in a few minutes.”
Of course, there are exceptions! And of course, you want to show you home, but without respecting your boundaries, it will feel like an attack on your private space.
2. There’s a lot more prep than you think. Once you sign the paperwork to list your home, be prepared for a lot of prep work. What happens behind the scenes is chaotic, and it is critical to keep things as calm and soothing as possible.
Start the packing and prepping early.
If feasible, start a year to six months ahead of your move. During this time, begin the process of sorting, recycling, and donating what will not come with you. I went from drawer to drawer, room to room and through each closet.
You might have to do this twice to whittle things down to what you will keep and what can be given away, and what will fit in your new space.
You know how I said I got rid of two-thirds of our belongs? It was a mixed experience. On one hand, it felt delicious, and on the other hand , very disorienting. Many of these things were imbued with special memories, even if I no longer used them regularly.
But this kind of downsizing is often necessary, so give yourself the space you need to get it done at your own pace.
3. Get ready for emotions. As a highly sensitive person, be ready for an avalanche of memories and feelings.
Those tears aren’t bad or wrong. For an HSP, they’re necessary.
They’re the “First time we did such-and-such in our home” type of tears.
For example, I had one closet of precious items that simply stirred me upside down. I could only go in there for about an hour at a time. Taking it in doses like this helps avoid emotional overwhelm.
It also helps to remind yourself you’ll have new first times. And do it with intention:
(Of course, this will happen right before the first open house when you must find someone else in a hurry!)
There will be a series of home repairs necessary before you sell. And it seems major appliances feel the energy of the transition and go caput.
Ask friends or your realtor for a list of trusted repair people.
For me, one of the most helpful expenses was to have a pre-home inspection. Which turned out to be very good for my highly sensitive self. I was better able to know what needed to be fixed before our home went up for sale.
Knowing this allowed me to be more in control when so much was out of control. I was then able to schedule a week for most of the repairs and get it over and done with. Phew!
5. Know how to deal with getting “hangry” and exhausted. Have back-up meals ready. Or pick up dinner at your favorite restaurant. In my case, I also made larger meals to have leftovers. It was much easier to heat things up after a long day of work and navigating the loudness of hammers, ladders, paint, drop cloths, landscapers, and such.
Having healthy food choices at the ready also helps balance out wild emotions which may pivot from exhaustion, tears, anxiety, and the infamous “hangry” mood.
6. If you’re going to “stage” your home…Some people are fortunate that they can move out while their home is still being sold, but most people live in their homes during the process (myself included).
If you decide to have your home staged while you’re there, be prepared:
The staging process is like a mini move inside of a move.
Nearly all of your belongs will be removed and an entirely different style of furnishings, that you are not used to, will be brought in.
For a highly sensitive person, this is beyond hard. What you thought was lovely and pretty doesn’t “make the cut” in the eyes of a stager, whose only focus is to sell your home.
The color scheme, wall art, the excessive number of lamps (at least three per room), the antique looking wheelbarrow coffee table and lambs wool throw : it might not be anything you’d choose, and it can feel invasive.
Prepare yourself ahead of time and try not take it personally. This will help a lot with the shock. It also helps to have even a few very personal things — perhaps a favorite piece of artwork next to a favorite chair — that you keep on the property so you have some familiar space to retreat to.
7. Be prepared for all sorts of people to walk through your home. That includes potential buyers, neighbors who are simply curious, and as I mentioned earlier, repair people.
While this is exciting, because you want to sell your place, it is also stressful.
Have a few empty laundry baskets at the ready so you can quickly fill them up with your children’s and/or pet’s toys or to scoop up the mail. This makes it easy to tidy up well-lived-in areas before a showing.
Likewise, place a fresh set of clean hand towels under the sink in your bathroom, in case you need to change them out quickly because a prospective buyer wants to visit.
And have a set of wipes in the bathroom to give it a quick swish and a fresh scent, without the stress of a whole house cleaning.
8. Adjust your schedule to get the sleep you need. Overthinking and overdoing can really mess up your normal sleep routine, even keeping you wide awake at night. And we all know how important sleep is to HSPs.
At the end of each day, take a break one to two hours before going to bed.
Your nervous system is on high alert because your surroundings are in a state of flux. You are over-processing and over-sensing all the possibilities of the upcoming move. If you don’t give yourself time to wind down, your brain will be too “loud” with thoughts to fall asleep.
Make that extra hour or two as soothing as possible:
9. As hard as it is, try not to take things too personally. Like when the realtor wants to help you pack and dumps your prized set of seashells into the same box with your toothbrush.
Or makes numerous comments about how much you have left to do. (You already know, and your lists are birthing lists.)
Or some “helpful” person unplugs your main phone because the stager decides they must put a set of large brass pine cones right where the phone was.
Let it go as much as possible. It’s not the end of the world, even if it feels like it is.
Your sweet collection of bottles and seashells are still lovely. Your colors and art and family pictures are by now tucked safely in boxes ready to be perched on a new shelf and hung on a new wall.
You will get through this. Deep breathing is portable and sure as hell helps in moments like these.
10. The day of the move will come, and you will get through it. The day of the move is honestly hell.
Movers are moving. Walls are bumped. Kids have allergic reactions to something you’ll never figure out. (Have a mini first-aid kit for your family — it’s worth it.)
A mover will walk in on you while you pee.
The front door, back, and side doors will all be wide open.
Neighbors will be watching. People you’ve never spoken to will pretend they are your BFF.
Those who really love and know you will drop off your favorite sandwich and will slip away quietly. (Thank them later.)
11. Keep your loved ones close and your comforts even closer. On the day of your move, take the sheets off the beds and stuff them into a pillowcase with your jammies and perhaps a favorite stuffed toy. Have one for each family member and put those in your car.
Fill one or two boxes that you keep with you that includes: Coffee, tea, favorite snacks, dark chocolate, emergency first aid kit, any medications you might need, epi-pens, your favorite mug, a set of clean clothes, comb/brush, toothbrush, and a favorite book for everyone.
Pack a separate box with utensils, plates, a pot, and basic ingredients for a super easy meal or better yet, if possible, order take-out.
These small comforts will be your refuge on your most stressful day. And they will help hold together your family or loved ones — and keep you from bickering (too much) — when everyone is exhausted and crabby.
Yes, HSPs, You Can Survive This Move.
I was very fortunate to have a supportive, detailed-oriented realtor who helped smooth over the numerous bumps in selling my former home. We are now renting a sweet new home and have already had numerous new firsts — and I believe we’ll have many more.
In other words, I am creating memories just as special post-move as anything I gave up pre-move. And one of those? Knowing I can survive even the biggest shake-up I’ve experienced. Without resorting to the bubble wrap.
Originally published in Highly Sensitive Refuge: How to Survive the Chaos of Selling Your House and Moving as an HSP
Carolyn Riker is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in private practice. She is also an author of three books. Her most recent book is "My Dear, Love Hasn't Forgotten You."