In Housebuilding, the Communication is as Important as the Carpentry


In the beginning of our tiny house adventure, we thought, “We get along so well, surely we won’t have much trouble building a house with our non-existent construction skills!”  This thought was clearly delusional because despite having prepared our relationship for the challenges of housebuilding, we still encountered unforeseen difficulties and differences in our work styles.

I’d like to share a story about the best-worst experience of our project.

One day we went to our building supply store to buy some screws before going out for lunch.  What we didn’t know was that they were having a huge sale that afternoon only; in fact, anything you could stuff into a tote bag was 35% off! “Wow, what an opportunity!” I thought. “Quick, let’s get as much stuff as possible!” Nate, on the other hand, cringed at my spontaneity and the inevitable chaos looming before us.

I manically paced the aisles snagging supplies while Nate crumbled into a breakdown, overwhelmed by the demands of urgent decision-making. “Do you need a rest?” I huffed. “No it’s ok”, he mumbled, paralyzed with mental exhaustion. When we finally left the store, I was annoyed, Nate was drained, and we both needed to talk to figure out what went wrong.

  • Mistake #1 – not eating food and being unprepared to shop before going to the store.
  • Mistake #2 – not being on the same page; having different goals and appraisals of the situation (exciting vs. stressful)
  • Mistake #3 – failing to communicate our feelings.

This was the best-worst experience because while it evoked negative emotions at the time, we developed a deeper understanding of each other’s vulnerabilities and talked about how to better support each other in the face of stress.

Developing a Toolkit for Relationship Growth 

We knew that we preferred to work a little differently but were surprised at how much the small things mattered.  Even subtle variations in preferences – like how much caulk to apply – could become grating when working together for 8 hours at a time.  Building the house is helping us discover each others’ strengths, weaknesses, and assumptions.  The more we work together, the better we get at identifying patterns that lead to conflict.  Eventually, we stopped blaming our unkind words on hunger or stress and instead started digging into the underlying causes, such as unmet needs or clashing values.

By talking about what actions or situational factors set us on a bad path, we came out feeling more positive and understanding of each other.

It took Nate awhile to learn how to clearly communicate his intuitive understanding of spacial relationships and tool use.  Likewise, Jana had to practice communicating the pros and cons of the different design options.  She could easily evaluate 5 or 6 variables in her mind and couldn’t comprehend why Nate had trouble doing the same.  We also had to develop a shared vocabulary – for example, how bad is “a little” crooked?

IMG_2175Deliberating vs. Diving In

We tend to assume the worst from other people when we don’t understand their motivations for acting a particular way.

If you scrutinize your goals and motivations, you will come closer to knowing your insecurities.

Working through the root of difficulties gives you a deeper understanding of your partner’s needs and desires, as well as your own.  Nate needs to write things down and strategize before doing tasks because he values efficiency and perfection; Jana wants to jump right in and move quickly through tasks because her priority is finishing the house in a reasonable amount of time.

Despite the challenges, I would not trade anything for what we have learned about each other over the last few months!

Thoughts to take with you:

  • It’s not the problems that matter, but how you connect afterwards.
  • Communicating about conflicts can lead to insights into yourself and your partner that you wouldn’t normally have had.
  • Reflecting on why your partner’s behavior annoys you can teach you about your own needs and fears.

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