Tiny Houses and Quiet Spaces

            I’ll admit it: I’m obsessed with HGTV’s “Tiny House Hunters.”  Over the years I’ve been hooked more than once on home improvement shows, dating all the way back to the days of TLC’s “Trading Spaces.” Remember that show? Neighbors would swap keys and redo a room in each other’s houses. Sometimes it was amazing; sometimes it was awful. But it was always entertaining. And as the Food Network has taught me a lot about cooking, HGTV has inspired me more than once to tackle projects around our house, to decorate and renovate, and put my own creative touches on the space we call home.
            I always find the relational dynamics of the people on these shows every bit as interesting as the renovations themselves. The way people communicate, negotiate, and compromise as they are making decisions about their home tells a lot about how they navigate other areas of their relationships.

            The tiny house trend is fairly new, and while I love the idea of simplifying your life, minimizing your footprint on this earth, getting rid of excess stuff, and living below your means, I would have some concerns about the practicality of living in a house that’s less than two hundred and fifty square feet and uses a composting toilet. I think that like a new prescription drug, we’ll have to wait awhile to fully understand the long-term risks and side effects associated with moving your entire family (pets included) into a house the size of a shed.

            I know that for our family, the immediate effects of us living in a tiny house would be disastrous. And it would be mostly because of me. I’m an introvert, and the truth is, when I watch Tiny House Hunters I fantasize about what it would be like to have one. But I’d want to live in it alone. Not every day of course – I love my family – but maybe once a week. Or an occasional weekend.

            Am I a horrible person for saying this? Because I sure have felt plenty of guilt over the fact that I need time and space to myself. But being an introvert doesn’t mean I hate people. It doesn’t mean I’m shy. It doesn’t mean that I don’t value and need connection with others. It means that I tend to be energized by spending time alone (or with someone one-on-one), and that being with people tends to be draining for me.

            And yet, even though I understand this about myself, I still feel bad. I feel bad because I don’t enjoy ladies’ night out; I’d much rather meet one or two friends for lunch or coffee. I feel bad because I hate going to our annual block party; but I love when I run into one of the neighbors when walking the dog and we stand on the sidewalk and chat for twenty minutes. I feel bad because when I’m really depleted, sometimes I want to stay home on Sunday morning (and have the house all to myself) because we go to a megachurch with thousands of other people, and sometimes crowds exhaust me. And I felt bad over Christmas break, after having had a group of teenagers in our home a couple days in a row, telling my daughters that the kids needed to find another house to go to that night. I love my kids’ friends. And I always wanted our house to be the one where they all want to hang out. But with the stress and activity of the holidays, with various social events, with all the noise and commotion, I had a headache that wouldn’t let up for two days straight. And as I stared out our kitchen window while washing the dishes, I wondered if we could renovate our kids’ playhouse into a tiny house. A retreat for me to get away once in a while.

              I’ve always known that I need solitude, but it has never been more difficult to find than in this season of life. We’ve got three kids with lots of friends. (Did I mention I love their friends? They are the greatest kids on the planet.) I work part-time out of the home, and my husband works full-time mostly at home. So on my days off, he’s here working. His office is our dining room, and we have an open concept living space. You get the picture. On the rare occasion that I find myself alone in the house, it’s exhilarating. It’s energizing. I love the peace and quiet. I love to write and not be interrupted. I love to read. I even enjoy tasks like cooking and cleaning in total silence. Solitude restores my soul.

            People in general are becoming more aware, I think, of the differences between introverts and extroverts, with best-selling books even being written on the topic. Each of our family members have taken personality tests, and it’s fascinating to analyze our temperaments and personalities and understand how God wired each of us. We are learning to value our differences, and that begins with understanding one another.  

            A couple of my goals for the new year are to be more aware of my energy levels, and when I start to feel depleted, to do something restorative. Go for a walk. Go to a coffee shop to write. Meet a close friend. Go to my room and read. I’m working to get better at figuring out what I need. And then I’m learning to voice those needs – not in a demanding way, insisting that other people meet them – but in an observing, accepting way.

            Right before I sat down to write this post, my husband called. He had picked up our daughter and her friend for lunch, and he asked me a kind, beautiful question.

            “Would you like to have some time alone?”

            “I wouldn’t mind,” I replied. “Why, what are you doing?”

            “Well, if you’d like to have the house to yourself, I could go to the coffee shop and do some work before I pick up the girls from school.”

            “That would be great,” I told him. And then I ate my leftover beef burgundy while watching House Hunters, swiffered the floors, and then hunkered down in the kitchen and wrote in silence until the family came home. It was heaven.

            I don’t know what marriage experts would think of this, but I think it’s awesome. It’s awesome to be understood. And it’s amazing to be valued and loved just the way I am. Maybe even because of the way I am. What a gift.