A few weeks ago we went on a cavern tour in the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains. The caverns were dimly illuminated with artificial lighting, but at one point the guide turned off the lights to allow us to experience total darkness. In those 30 seconds of blackness, it felt like I was completely alone; everyone else momentarily ceased to exist. My mind felt calm.
The cave experience got me thinking, “how can we create mental peace and quiet when living with someone else in a small space?” Because in 300 sq ft, you will hear your partner’s every rustle, sniffle, and grumble. Solitude is elusive.
Being a typical introvert, this issue was already on Nate’s mind even before we started building! When we initially created our budget, he immediately put down “noise canceling headphones.” At first I was a bit offended (“you’re already thinking about how to avoid me??”). He explained it’s not about getting away from anyone, it’s about retreating into your own head for awhile to recharge. The headphones are just a tool for creating a temporary inward focus and separate-ness in a place where “alone time” can be difficult.
When an Extravert & Introvert Go Tiny
As the cave experience taught us, we realized solitude could come from psychological mechanisms rather than physical distance. We don’t need to be “away” from each other in the house to recharge; we can sit inches apart, absorbed in our own thoughts and activities (we call it “being alone together”). We do find that once a week, having a full 1-2 days spent physically apart helps us feel more connected when we come back together. For introverts especially, the extended alone time helps bank energy for future obligations and interactions.
While introverts need their down-time, for extraverts like me it’s tough to not constantly engage with others. But despite the challenges, extraverts and introverts can thrive together in small spaces and privacy is indeed possible! Below are some first-hand tips for making it work.
Have a routine. Nate gets up early to shower, write, and wash dishes while I sleep in and I sometimes like to cook our lunch or dinner by myself. We can be productive in the same house and contribute in our preferred ways while not encroaching on each others’ space.
Realize they are different from you. At one point, Nate was exasperated from the stresses of the week and exclaimed, “I just need a weekend alone!” Say what?! To me, an extravert, that’s torture! Point being, we realized a lot of our misunderstandings stemmed from incorrectly mapping our own emotions and preferences onto the other person.
Find your mini-retreat. Nate likes having podcasts or things to read when there’s down time or he’s feeling low-energy. My strategy is to catch up on emails, work on blog posts, or talk to someone.
Walks. We regularly go on walks together in the evening. It is provides an opportunity for fulfilling conversations because the extravert can talk a lot and the introvert doesn’t have to worry about appearing attentive enough (less emphasis on eye contact and body language when walking).
Learn to be alone. Learning to be happy being alone doesn’t come easy for an extravert! Twice I transitioned from living with social roommates to suddenly living by myself. It felt lonely at first, but I would strategically make myself look forward to alone time by going on long walks, calling a relative, or cooking an exciting meal. I also used the time to reconnect with old friends and practice yoga.
Learn to cultivate social energy. Have you ever been forced to attend an event that you really didn’t want to be at? You just have to scrap together the mental energy for social interaction, which can be very difficult for some. In these situations, Nate helps the host or engages in deeper conversations with 1 or 2 people, which he finds less tiring than chatting with everyone.
Figure out what activities are revitalizing vs. draining to everyone involved, and know you can partially outsource your social and emotional needs to family, friends, or others in your community. Even when sharing tight quarters, it’s possible to “be alone together”; in fact, tiny living is a great way to improve your ability to cultivate mental peace and quiet – no matter how often you need it.