Recently there was an interesting thread of comments on Tiny House Talk’s post on John Labovitz’s house truck that highlighted some classic introvert versus extrovert perspectives. The arguments supporting John’s choice of living arrangement and lifestyle mirrored my feelings exactly, and bolstered some ideas I’ve been mulling over the last year regarding introverts and tiny houses.
So for all the introverts thinking of living tiny, I offer you this valentine and validation.
Bucking decades of negative labels, there is a burgeoning movement to acknowledge the value of introverts and the gifts we bring to the world. I have a theory that there are strong parallels with the rise of the tiny house movement. Based on the common themes I read on tiny houser blogs, I rather suspect that tiny houses innately appeal to introverts.
I don’t mean to say that there aren’t extroverts living tiny – clearly there are (though as we will see, introversion is not always obvious on the outside). I just wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there is a high ratio of introverts to extroverts within the tiny house community. Agree? Disagree? Read on, then share your thoughts.
Why is this important? I’ve found that the more I understand my own nature, the better my tiny house design has become. I’m fairly certain that those who take the time to look inward during the design process are more likely to be happy with living tiny in the long run, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. There are big differences in how each interact with the world, and how they like to spend their energy. If you are considering living tiny, take some time to figure out what this means to you and the design of your house. This post delves into what I’m learning as I go through that process myself.
About the same time I discovered tiny houses, I picked up a copy of The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling. I’ve long known I was an introvert but, like others, felt societal pressure to be less so. Reading through Dembling’s humorous insights into her own introversion, as well as her reviews of studies and anecdotal evidence of what makes us tick, I had so many “aha” flashes of self-recognition that it was blinding. Her research cleared up many of my old misconceptions of what it meant to be an introvert. I also realized that this new self-knowledge could be used as a tool for designing a life that was more in line with my personality. This fit in perfectly with what I was learning about living tiny, and became an important sounding board as I made each design decision on my tiny house.
Being an introvert in an extroverted world
I want to share some of the highlights from Sophia Dembling’s The Introvert’s Way regarding what it means to be an introvert. I’m keeping it simple by sticking to her writing and concepts, but there is a lot out there if you want to investigate further. Also see Dembling’s post, Nine Signs That You Might Be an Introvert (this is what started it all for me!), and her blog, The Introvert’s Corner. What follows is a very cursory summary of a complex topic; please check out her book for a more in-depth discussion.
[Note: if you're just interested in the connection between introverts and tiny houses, skip ahead to the next section.]
Not surprisingly, the derogatory connotations all of us introverts have to put up with are thanks largely to dear old Sigmund Freud. He considered introversion “pathological and a form of neurosis.” Other psychologists only considered introversion as the negative of extroversion. So where extroverts were considered “outgoing, sociable, enthusiastic and impulsive,” introverts were described as “unsociable, unenthusiastic and aloof.” Um…no. As an introvert, while I do value my time alone, I am none of these things.
C.G. Jung broke off his studies with Freud to come up with a more constructive spin on introversion, and was the first to propose “the model of psychic energy, suggesting for introverts, energy flows inward, while for extroverts energy flows outward,” a view most introverts can accept. Extroverts feel sustained the more they engage with others, even if it’s just cocktail party chatter. This tends to drain introverts, who need to recharge their batteries after too much socializing. On the flip side, introverts are really good at listening, observing, and having deep conversations. There’s also been research suggesting additional positive roles introverts play in society: we tend to be creative, self-reflective, flexible, and responsible (not to say extroverts aren’t these things, but it’s nice to see some psychologists in our court for once!)
Many introverts can also relate to psychologist Elaine Aron’s definitions of a Highly Sensitive Person (though it’s unclear whether the two are the same): “easily rattled by a lot of noise and fuss, highly attuned to the moods and emotions of other people, have rich inner lives, think deeply, and are slow to warm up to new situations.” There is no one universal definition of introversion, but there is greater acknowledgement that it is worthy in it’s own right. As Dembling lays it out, we are most definitely not failed extroverts.
One of the things I found so fascinating was Dembling’s explanation of the differences in brain chemistry between introverts and extroverts:
“Other research indicates that the brains of extroverts require copious amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine (speaking very basically, that’s the substance that helps control the reward and pleasure centers of our brains), and they get that by being out and doing things. And dopamine doesn’t have far to flow through the brain to reach its target, which allows extroverts to process data quickly, to act and speak under pressure.
Introverts’ brains, however, get a little tense when they’re flooded with dopamine and are much more happily fueled with a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. If dopamine is the neurotransmitter of ‘get up and go,’ acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter of ‘settle down and think about it.’ Acetylcholine also has a long way to go from start to target. Maybe that’s why introverts tend to act and react slowly.”
Can you relate? Basically, we don’t have much choice in being one or the other (or possibly some gradation in between). We are hardwired to be who we are.
Another interesting fact is that contrary to what we are led to believe, we are not some small minority. According to Dembling, research suggests that introverts make up a full 50% of the population. Yet still there is enormous pressure put on introverts to act more like extroverts. Our society tends to value those who are outgoing, gregarious, charismatic. Introverts constantly feel peer pressure to act against our hardwired natures. We’re told we need to participate more in group activities, be able to think quickly and perform easily in the public spotlight, be more chatty at parties. This is exhausting to an introvert. Our best contributions to society typically come from behind the scenes when we are left to our own quiet devices.
Dembling also points out that introversion is not the same as shyness. Though sometimes both may occur in the same person, you can also have shy extroverts and outgoing introverts. There are many actors and entertainers who are introverts: Steve Martin, Johnny Carson, Katharine Hepburn, Julia Roberts and Johnny Depp are a few. A key difference between an extrovert and an outgoing introvert is that after the period of gregariousness, the introverts seek quiet time alone to recapture the energy they expended. This is less critical for extroverts who thrive on an outpouring of energy and social activity.
Lately there has been a surge in interest in reclaiming our introverted selves, with several recent books published on the topic and much discussion on the internet. It’s a fine time to be an introvert!
Why tiny houses and introverts were made for each other (…or at least for this particular introvert)
I’m always trying to tease out why a tiny house is such the right answer for me. Yes, there are the financial savings and debt-free life, and yes, I love that I can take my house with me when I move. These are both important reasons but they are not, in themselves, why a tiny house resonates so well with me.
I’ve tried to get at the deeper reasons below. These are not unique to me – many tiny housers will tell you the same thing. What I want to do here is show how well they also align with the innate nature of an introvert. There’s a congruency here I find very interesting and significant. What I don’t know, not being one, is how much this resonates with tiny house extroverts. I hope some will chime in so we can hear their perspective.
Reason 1: Simplifying to quiet a busy mind
Based on how difficult it is for almost everyone to meditate, I think having a busy mind is probably common to both introverts and extroverts. However, a busy mind can push an introvert over the edge if they’re not careful:
“Having a busy mind is both a benefit and a liability.
Our busy minds keep us from getting bored, they help us be creative,
they are in many ways the essence of who we are.
But sometimes the racket inside out heads is loud as a car alarm…“
~ from the The Introvert’s Way
While I’m building my tiny house, I’m living in a 300 sq. ft. apartment. I’m still in the process of downsizing and haven’t yet achieved minimalist nirvana by any stretch of the imagination. Too often my stuff gets spread out all over the place since I don’t have enough storage space for what I have. This drives me nuts. The clutter becomes the car alarm.
One of the great appeals of a tiny house is it forces you to simplify. If you’re diligent, the end result is a sublime lack of clutter and visual commotion, balm to an introvert’s soul. While it can be argued that tiny living is not always simple, having fewer bills and debt to fret over (perhaps allowing you to work less or in a job more to your choosing), less house to clean, and fewer maintenance demands weighing on you are all benefits of a tiny house. Cumulatively, all of these things help reduce your day-to-day worries, which helps quiet that car alarm. You may still have a busy mind, but at least you’re freed up to focus on more creative and productive thoughts!
Reason 2: Living in a small community of deep connections
“Introverts don’t get lonely if they don’t socialize with a lot of people,
but we do get lonely if we don’t have intimate interactions on a regular basis.”
~ from the The Introvert’s Way
I’m a classic introvert in that I’m pretty hopeless at light banter at parties. I’d rather hear about what’s really going on with you, not some quick quip. And I totally have to recharge alone after spending too much time around others. That said, I definitely value my friendships and need that emotional connection – just not constantly.
I can go long periods perfectly happy on my own. To a point. Then I start bouncing off the walls if I don’t spend time with people. But it’s more than just calling up a friend to do something. I realize I need to be in a living situation where, if I’m not involved with someone, there is still someone in my life for those basic kinds of daily check-ins, the keeping tabs on what’s going on in each other’s lives.
As I was learning about tiny living, I was thrilled to meet the folks at POD49, which was set up as a very intentional living situation. It’s made up of friends living in two “big” houses and a tiny house, all sharing a common backyard and the occasional dinner, but also maintaining their own space. Dee Williams lives in a similar situation. Looking at these kinds of living arrangements from the perspective of an introvert, they are the best of all worlds! Due to their mobility and size, tiny houses lend themselves to creating these non-traditional, backyard cohabiting “families” with all the rich possibilities of meaningful connections (while keeping your little place to retreat to when you need it :) ) – I really love this about them.
(Check out Dembling’s blog post on What If Staying Single Weren’t Stigmatized? for some interesting thoughts on the different ways introverts choose to be together.)
Reason 3: Creating a personal sanctuary
It’s this concept of a sanctuary that is probably the single biggest appeal of tiny houses for me. Even before I became aware of what it meant to be an introvert, home has always been very important to me. It’s a retreat, a place to recharge, to think, to create, to just be. I prefer to live alone or, if I live with someone, I need to have space that is clearly mine, and quiet. Home has never been just a crash pad for me. I need it to be the essence of tranquility.
With tiny houses, we have the beautiful opportunity to design our own personal sanctuary, to create the space around us that is most suited to us, one that gives us energy rather than depletes it. This has been mindblowingly exciting for me.
It’s been incredibly valuable to look at what I need as an introvert to stay recharged and use this as the starting point for my tiny house design. I’ll do a separate post on “designing viscerally,” but creating a sanctuary tailored specifically to my nature involved these critical (to me) components: window size and placement, the perfect couch, a hearth, minimal to no noise, a lighting design to create the right ambiance throughout, moving through the space without restrictions, creating areas conducive to yoga and meditation (whether or not I actually do them!), bringing in nature, and having a place to write and do art. Your list will likely be different. The important thing is to figure out what will nourish your nature and go from there.
Designing a life in harmony with your nature
“When we identify and live true to our nature, we find comfort and grace, and life is suddenly simple.
(As simple as life can be anyway.)”
~ from the The Introvert’s Way
We introverts have rich gifts to share with the world – creativity, the fruits of our deep thinking, and emotional connections, to name a few – but in order to thrive, we need to be aware of how our energy flows. We need to manage the situations that drain us and balance them sufficiently with tranquil environments and people who replenish us.
For me, discovering tiny houses came at a key time when I was dissatisfied with my life and feeling a bit caged. Paradoxically, I believe going tiny will create more space in my life to be more aligned with who I am. Having a better understanding of what my introverted self requires to stay nourished has helped me design a home and life that are more congruent with how I want to live in this world.
“A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing.
She goes where she will without pretense
and arrives at her destination prepared
to be herself and only herself.”
~ Maya Angelou
When I first got serious about building a tiny house, I copied this quote into the front of my design notebook to keep me on track. How funny, or how perfect, really, that it is so similar to Dembling’s quote above.
As you plan how you want to be in this world, whether it involves a tiny house or not, take the time to tune into your own nature and figure out how to live a life in harmony with it. I suspect this is one of the secrets to happiness and contentment. And by doing so, we are better able to live in harmony with others. This is how we all should be, whether we be introverts or extroverts.
Happy Valentine’s Day.