Do HSPs Need a Unique, Quirky Lifestyle?

A highly sensitive person with a unique look

Do you long for a life that is more peaceful, more authentic, more “you”? It may be more realistic than you think. 

As highly sensitive people we often talk about how we experience the world differently. However, we rarely hear that we should live in the world differently, too. Sure, we discuss little “fixes” for common problems — what to do when you’re overstimulated, how to deal with criticism, stuff like that — and these are certainly important. But, on a bigger level, highly sensitive people (HSPs) often benefit from living a completely unique lifestyle. Even if it’s outside the norm.

That can look many different ways. My sister, for example, joined a Tibetan Buddhist monastery where she earned the title of Lama; she now leads the women’s retreat there. A friend of mine, who I’ll call Dinah, intentionally chose to adopt shelter animals rather than having children. She recently purchased a small home which she has decorated brightly in zebra print and retro furniture. Other HSPs focus on living off the land or moving to a country with a culture they’ve always loved.

Some HSPs find meaning in more adventurous lifestyles. For Rachel Horne, a highly sensitive person who was living in the UK, it meant giving up her overwhelming job and backpacking the wilds of Scotland. She eventually learned to support herself by working on horse farms and has now traveled all over Europe. (I myself did something similar when I was younger, traveling around Latin America and working remotely as a freelance writer.) 

It’s possible that none of these lifestyle are the one you need, and that’s fine. But ask yourself: have you always dreamed of some wistful lifestyle, that seems perfect but “not realistic”? A life that would be more peaceful, more authentic, or more “you”? 

If so, it might actually be more realistic than you think. And there are likely other HSPs already living a life much like it. 

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What Kind of Life Is Best for HSPs? 

I do not believe that one specific lifestyle is right for all highly sensitive people. I do believe, however, that HSPs tend to “march to the beat of a different drummer” and deserve a life that honors that. I also believe you have the power to create a lifestyle that matches your own unique personality and needs. 

If that lifestyle is unusual, quirky, or even eccentric, that’s fine. HSPs don’t owe it to anyone to be “normal.” And you will likely be less happy and fulfilled if you try to fit in.  

Certain types of lifestyles do tend to come up most often. Based on my work with HSPs, most sensitive people crave one or more of the following things in their life:

  • Solitude
  • Travel 
  • Being surrounded by nature
  • Not needing a normal job to survive
  • Dedicating themselves to their art or craft
  • Dedicating themselves to a greater purpose or cause

These longings don’t replace more typical desires, of course — most HSPs still want a family, a comfortable home, a good partner, and a reliable income. But HSPs have additional needs. You might long for a little house in the woods so badly it aches, the same way most people pine for true love. Or you might chaff so badly at a job without a greater purpose that you feel queasy when you walk into work each day. 

For highly sensitive people, the desire for peace and purpose is as great or greater than the desire for money, love, and status. 

That’s why building a life around your dreams and values pays off so much in terms of both happiness and wellbeing. Below, I’ll cover some of the ways you can do that.

6 Lifestyle Choices That Are Perfect for HSPs

You have more power over your lifestyle than you may think. While the right path will be different for each HSP, there are some lifestyle choices that especially support HSP needs. You don’t need to follow all of them; focus on the one(s) that resonate most with you.

1. You may want to be extra picky about choosing a romantic partner

This means not “settling” as many people would urge you to do. In fact, many of the HSPs I know have chosen to stay single rather than lower their standards. Each is clear about the drawbacks — there are times of loneliness, and it’s not fun to take care of yourself when you’re sick — but each agrees it’s worth it. 

You might even embrace being a “quirky alone,” someone who focuses on being their best self and enjoying life while single, rather than focusing on finding a partner to be complete. As author Sasha Cagen, the originator of the quirky alone concept, says, “Quirkyalone stands for confidence, true love, self-love as the foundation for all relationships [and] connection.” That may mean standing out and being quite different than others, she says, and that’s okay. As she explains: “The quirky in quirkyalone is about authenticity. It’s about accepting and being fully yourself, whether you’re single or in a relationship” — even if you do hope to end up in a relationship eventually. 

Focusing on your own development, rather than finding a partner, has three hidden benefits:

  • It actually makes you a more attractive partner, because you are confident, happy, and full of the energy that comes from self-growth. 
  • It makes you somewhat “abuse resistant.” Since you’ve already determined that a relationship is not something you “need” to be happy — and spent time getting to know and value yourself — you are much less likely to ignore red flags or put up with abuse, and more likely to get out of an unhealthy dynamic.
  • It can be a temporary or long-term lifestyle. You don’t have to sign up to be a “quirkyalone” for life. You could just take a year to focus on yourself and then dive back into dating, renewed and refreshed.

2. Practice radical authenticity

Authenticity is a major growth point for HSPs, because we feel so much internal pressure to people please, hide our emotions, and conform to the “normal” expectations of others. This holds us back from our full potential. 

Psychologists have learned a surprising amount about the “true self.” Research suggests that your true self is your best self, associated with acting morally, having control over your life, and experiencing self-discovery. Researchers have also found that authenticity is a “bedrock of wellbeing” and that the more authentic you are to yourself, the more self-esteem, energy, and sense of purpose you have. It even makes you better at achieving goals and coping with setbacks. 

In other words, people who act authentically stand out, but they are also happier. 

You can practice authenticity as an HSP by being honest about your feelings, being open about your sensitivity and who you are, and saying what you mean even when you know people won’t agree. 

Authenticity can be a hard habit to form, and it may be easier if you practice “radical authenticity” — the decision to honor your true values and feelings in all situations, not just those where it seems socially acceptable. This approach may sound like it would alienate people, but in reality it usually garners respect, comes across as wise, and reduces conflict by eliminating passive-aggressive communication. 

3. Decorate the way your heart wants you to 

A huge amount of our self expression — and our happiness — comes from the spaces we inhabit. Most of us are trained to keep those spaces as neutral as possible. This is disguised as design advice, but really it’s to please others. (It’s also capitalistic: a neutrally decorated house is easier to sell, and on-trend furniture must be purchased new, at high price.) 

But what if your goal in decorating your home is to please yourself? You’d probably end up with a space that is far more interesting, even magical. And you’d probably feel a lot more comfort and happiness in your home. 

Dinah, for example, mentioned above, didn’t just throw some zebra print pillows around. She made the whole house a reflection of her wonderful, quirky, ex-punk personality. She put up birdcages as light fixtures, painted accent walls in every room, repurposed found objects as décor, and created a library that looks like something out of a movie. Is she wealthy? No. She bought a small house in a not-popular neighborhood and turned the inside into the stuff of her dreams, buying almost everything used. 

Your taste is probably nothing like Dinah’s, and that’s fine — you can and should envision something all your own. If you’re not sure how to bring it to life, here are a few principles that may help:

  • Embrace maximalism. As a life philosophy, minimalism is very freeing. As an aesthetic, however, it’s often sterile and depressing. Many HSPs invest their emotions in nostalgic keepsakes and beautiful objects. None of these are clutter if they can be displayed in a way that does not gobble up table or floor space. Don’t be afraid to fill up an entire wall with eclectic paintings or put up wall shelves for knick knacks.
  • Don’t be afraid of colors. There is a myth that things looks better when they consist mostly of neutral colors. This is false — there are plenty of soft colors that are soothing, and small flares of brighter colors make a room more inviting. (Dinah is particularly fond of robins egg blue with little dashes of red; I like to use sky blue and yellow accents.) 
  • The more organic elements, the happier you will be. Materials that clearly come from nature tend to be more attractive and comforting than synthetic materials. This includes real wood, leather, stone or brick, live houseplants, dried flowers, and antiqued or patinated metals. The more you can use these types of materials, the warmer and more visually appealing your space will be. 
  • People like unique spaces more, not less. There’s a misconception that the more unique you make a space, the fewer people will like it. My experience is that the opposite is true. When you make your space reflect your personality, it actually draws people in and makes them feel more comfortable — whether it’s the style they would use in their own homes or not. In a way, it might feel like they are finally seeing full color.

Need to Calm Your Sensitive Nervous System? 

HSPs often live with high levels of anxiety, sensory overload and stress — and negative emotions can overwhelm us. But what if you could finally feel calm instead?

That’s what you’ll find in this powerful online course by Julie Bjelland, one of the top HSP therapists in the world. You’ll learn to turn off the racing thoughts, end emotional flooding, eliminate sensory overload, and finally make space for your sensitive gifts to shine.

Stop feeling held back and start to feel confident you can handle anything. Check out this “HSP Toolbox” and start making a change today. Click here to learn more.

4. Live where you want (but be cautious about trends)

Many HSPs fantasize about living in a particular type of environment. The most common ones I hear are:

  • Living off the land, such as a farm or a cabin in the woods
  • Traveling as a long-term lifestyle
  • Living in a communal environment, such as buying a house with a number of friends or living on an artist commune
  • Moving to a specific country that has always captivated you

As risk-averse as HSPs usually are, I have never heard one express regret about taking the leap and switching to the lifestyle they dreamed of, even if it was risky. I have, however, often heard people express regret for not making these kinds of leaps when they dreamed of them. 

Thus, if there is a specific place or way you long to live, my best advice is do it, even if ends up only being for a few years before you return to a more normal lifestyle. 

My second best advice is to be cautious about lifestyle trends like the tiny house movement or the van life movement. These trends are just as valid as any other lifestyle, but they are also heavily monetized (a tricked out camper van can run well over $50,000; a tiny house can cost just as much or far more). That creates a lot of risk if you end up not loving the lifestyle. I recommend you try it out before committing to it, such as by renting a van for a two-week vacation. 

(For all of these lifestyles, I understand that money is a limiting factor, though often not as much as you would think. Online communities of fellow enthusiasts are the best places to learn how to do it on a tight budget.) 

5. Practice a different kind of self-discipline

Most people think of self-discipline in terms of getting up early, saving money, going to the gym, and focusing on work and family responsibilities. That form of self-discipline is useful, but it’s not the kind that most HSPs are lacking. Instead, we sensitive people need to be disciplined about matters of the heart and soul. For example:

  • Be disciplined about who you allow in your life
  • Be disciplined about how you spend your time. That might mean declining social invites that will drain you. Or, it might mean making time for your artwork or music every day. 
  • Be disciplined about enforcing your boundaries.
  • Be disciplined about prioritizing your own needs, not just the needs of others. 
  • Be disciplined about expressing your emotions honestly. 
  • Be disciplined about speaking up when something is wrong. 

These steps reinforce the radical authenticity discussed above. More than that, they pull you out of the most common HSP pitfalls. 

6. Revolutionize and reinvent your career. 

Many HSPs end up in jobs that emotionally burn them out, or work environments that have no appreciation for their sensitivity. Unfortunately, many HSPs are also risk-averse, making us hesitate to switch jobs or strike out on our own. But HSPs are particularly well suited to being self-employed (where you can control your own work environment) or even business owners. That’s not the only unique path, however. Research suggests that HSPs get a bigger boost than others from forms of support like career coaching, a mentor, or a training program. That suggests that the risk of changing careers may be lower for HSPs than it is for others, as long as you use external sources of support to help you. The payoff can be big, too: switching to a career you actually like isn’t just rewarding, it also makes you one of those few individuals who have multiple fields of expertise under their belt. These are often the people who achieve especially high levels of success later in their career. 

If you need some inspiration, here are some of the best jobs for HSPs.

What Does Your Dream Life Look Like? 

Your HSP dream life may not be as exotic as any of these examples. Still, if you feel a deep longing for a different way of life, it’s important that you honor that — it is likely a message from your intuition about what type of life is healthiest for you. 

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