Teen girl moving away from home for college.

Moving Away from Home and Living on Your Own

How to make the transition to living on your own for the first time

Moving out for the first time can bring up a lot of emotions. For many young adults, this is a time of excitement and anticipation as you prepare to start a new life on your own. For others, it can bring up sadness and nerves as you imagine all the ways your life will change. For almost everyone, it’s a mix of all of these things. 

Let’s explore what to expect when you’re moving away from home for the first time, recommendations for how best to take care of yourself, and how to get more support when you need it.

What to expect when you’re moving out

Expect a mix of emotions 

There are lots of reasons why you could be moving out of your family home for the first time:

  • First full-time job
  • College
  • Travel
  • Moving in with friends or a partner
  • Family conflict
  • Parent expectations

The reason you’re moving out will likely influence how you feel about it! If you’re leaving for college, work, or to live with friends or a partner, this could feel like a very exciting time—you’re embarking on being a “full adult” for the first time. If you’re leaving because your family home is unsafe or your parents are kicking you out, you may feel angry, lost, or alone. Even if there’s one dominant feeling at first, expect to feel a mix of emotions. 

It’s normal to feel elated during your first week at college when there are a lot of activities and excitement around meeting new people. But it’s also normal to feel loneliness kick in when classes get going and it’s hard to find consistent folks to spend time with. 

It’s the same with moving out for other reasons—if you were forced to move out because of family conflict, most people feel scared and angry as they try to find a safe and stable environment. It’s also normal to feel some relief and excitement in a new chapter. No matter how you feel at first, expect to feel a mixture of emotions throughout the process.

Expect things to get expensive

One thing most young adults agree on is that life is expensive! Whether you have family support or are independently earning your income, it can feel overwhelming to suddenly be fronting every bill. One way to get ahead is to make a value-based budget for yourself. A “value-based” budget considers what’s most important to you, in addition to basic needs. Be honest about what’s important! When you’re deciding whether or not to eat out, attend a concert, or buy someone a gift, you can feel more confident about where your money is going. 

Financial planning is a really central element of success and comfort in your adult life, but there can be a lot of variance around how families talk about money. If your family can offer advice and support, lean into that before leaving home, and come up with plans together. If your family can’t provide financial advice, think of another adult you trust and admire, and go to them for suggestions about how to make a personal budget. 

Expect things to “feel different” when you come home again

You will inevitably change as a person after being “out on your own.” You’ll find strengths you didn’t know you had, and discover vulnerabilities, too. As time passes and you’re on your own, you’ll find yourself solving problems more independently and taking on new skills. A lot of young adults are surprised by how “different” they feel when they visit home. This is usually a mix! 

You may feel proud of your new abilities and independence, and your parents and family may recognize and admire this, too. But you might also feel sadness and loss over not being a “kid” in your family anymore. Old rules that don’t feel like they should apply to the new adult you are may rankle you! No matter what, give yourself time and space to adjust—and allow this for your family, too. 

Even if visiting home is not in the cards, expect to feel slightly different around your family and old friends. This doesn’t mean you can’t stay close to people who matter to you, but healthy relationships evolve over time. Leave room for yourself to grow.

Tips for moving out for the first time

With all this change coming at you fast, it may feel hard to get your head around all the preparation you need to do. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, recruit help, and take things one step at a time. Even if you’re feeling nothing but excitement, doing some planning will still help to make things easier. Here are some tips for easing the transition:

  1. Phone reminders—a grown-up’s best friend! 

    When you’re out on your own for the first time, you’re suddenly responsible for keeping track of everything in your life. Set reminders on your phone for things to remember, even if you think you will naturally. This can be for bills like rent and utilities, a paper due in a week, or renewing your driver’s license. It can also be for fun or personal things, like “mom’s birthday” or “text best friend from home.” If you’re wondering how adults manage to keep track of everything, the truth is we rely on a bunch of external reminders. Once you’re in a routine you may not need reminders as much, but it can be helpful when a big transition is using a lot of brain power.
  1. Learn three meals and three simple repairs

    Before leaving home, learn how to prepare 3 easy meals with ingredients you can easily access where you’re moving. If you’re already a good cook, learn 3 more! Knowing how to cook nourishing food that makes you feel good is an important skill that matters even if you’re going to be living in a college dorm or house with a shared kitchen. Similarly, learn how to do 3 simple repairs—for example, how to hem pants, replace a bike chain, and recover an Apple ID. Skills like cooking and simple repairs are great for building connections with others, too. It’s easy to make friends by helping others. You and your new friends can swap meals and skills and build community together. Cooking for yourself is also a great way to stay on budget!
  1. Bring a hobby with you

    Think about what brings you joy right now in your life and then how you can bring that into your new life. If you’ve been playing soccer since you were little, search for a soccer team you can join before your move. Even though this is a new chapter, retaining some elements of your old identity will help you feel like yourself in a new place and make new connections with shared interests.
  1. Find some favorites

    After moving around a lot in my own childhood and adult life, I’ve learned it usually takes three things to begin to feel at home in a place—a dependable grocery store, a favorite local sports team, and a “favorite spot.” The “favorite spot” might be a park, a pizza place, or a library, it just depends on the town. While settling into your new home, even if it’s near your old one, try to explore through an open lens and find some favorites for your new adult self. It’s amazing how much more anchored you feel once you know a few places to go for things you need, to have fun, and to feel like you belong in your town.
  1. Stay connected

    It’s normal to get caught up in new friendships when you start a new life, and things can feel fun and exciting for a while. It’s also normal to feel isolated and have a hard time making new friends at first. In either case, remember to prioritize true connection for yourself. If you’re in love with your new life and new friends, remember to maintain some connection to people who know your history (and maybe call your parents occasionally). You never know when you might need someone who knows you well. And if you’re feeling lonely, don’t judge yourself for not having dozens of friends right away. Get creative and look for opportunities for connection built into your community via sports, clubs, or meeting spaces.

How to deal with over- or under-involved parents

One of the most common questions with moving away from home is about over or under-involved parents. How do you build a fun new life when you get too much or too little help?

Over-involved parents

Most over-involved parents are anxious about you being ok. They want to think of every scenario and problem ahead of time and solve it for you. It may feel like they don’t trust you to handle things. Some quick tips for coping with this:

  • Make a communication plan. Set expectations in advance for how often you’ll be in touch and how (phone, FaceTime, text). Plan your next visit in advance. And then be clear about your boundaries.
  • Make an emergency plan. Many parents will feel better knowing that you have some numbers pre-set in your phone and lots of people to call in an emergency. It’s also helpful to go over what you both consider an emergency!
  • Demonstrate your readiness. You’ve probably told your parents 100 times that you’re ready to go. This is easier for them to recognize when they see your preparations—share that budget you made, the meals you’ve learned to cook, and the resources you’ve already found in your new home. 

Under-involved parents

Maybe one of the reasons you’re leaving home is because your family doesn’t have the resources to help you or your relationship with your parents is strained. It can be hard to feel “on your own” before you’re even left. Here are some tips to build up your resources:

  • Look at the community you’re moving to you before you leave. Even if you’re staying nearby, try searching specifically for resources or gathering spaces for young adults.
  • Look for other adults to provide support and connection. A coach, a counselor, a friend’s parent, or an extended family member can all provide advice and connection around life’s big transitions like moving out.
  • Tap community resources for help before it’s an emergency. Don’t wait until your rent is overdue to find financial help or until you’re in the ER before researching health insurance. This is where advice from another adult can relieve some pressure.

No matter how excited or nervous you feel about this next phase, many good changes are on the horizon when you’re becoming an adult. With some preparation, you can ensure moving away from home is smooth and fun—and the start of a great new chapter in your life.

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August 15, 2023
Katey Nicolai, PhD | VP of Clinical Services

Katey Nicolai, PhD | VP of Clinical Services

Katey Nicolai, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Seattle Pacific University. Dr. Nicolai provides services to adolescents and adults using evidence-based treatment rooted in cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic therapies, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy, interpersonal therapy, and family systems. Dr. Nicolai has specialized training in treating trauma and PTSD, personality disorders, self-harm and suicidailty, family problems, emotion dysregulation, and mood and anxiety disorders.

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