Dee Williams' life changed in an instant, with a near-death experience in the aisle of her local grocery store. Diagnosed with a heart condition at age forty-one, she was all too suddenly reminded that life is short, time is precious, and she wanted to be spending hers with the people and things she truly loved. That included the beautiful sprawling house in the Pacific Northwest she had painstakingly restored but, increasingly, it did not include the mortgage payments, constant repairs, and general time-suck of home ownership. A new sense of clarity began to take hold: Just what was all this stuff for? Multiple extra rooms, a kitchen stocked with rarely used appliances, were things that could not compare with the financial freedom and the ultimate luxurytime that would come with downsizing.
Deciding to build an eighty-four-square-foot house on her own, from the ground up was just the beginning of building a new life. Williams can now list everything she owns on one sheet of paper, her monthly housekeeping bills amount to about eight dollars, and it takes her approximately ten minutes to clean the entire house. Its left her with more time to spend with family and friends, and write a glorious new book.
Part how-to, part personal memoir, The Big Tiny is an utterly seductive meditation on the benefits of slowing down, scaling back, and appreciating the truly important things in life. (available now for pre-order and available nationwide on Earth Day – April 22).
In this excerpt, Dee explains her first exposure to tiny homes: in a magazine she read in a hospital waiting room, while waiting for a check up on her recently-diagnosed heart condition:
“I came across an article about a guy who’d built a tiny house on wheels, a house smaller than my garage, smaller than a parking spot. It looked like a cabin that would be used in a commercial for pancake batter, or in a painting titled A Simpler Time.
The article indicated that the owner had built the house himself, a fact that caused me to pull the magazine closer so I could examine the guy’s arms. To my surprise, they didn’t appear to be overly manly or even any stronger than my own. The article went on to explain that he had built the little house and then moved it to a spot behind his bigger, 1,200-square-foot house, tucking it near a low fence and scrub oak tree.
I was curious about Tiny House Man. Apparently, he rented out the big house and lived “for free” in the backyard, while his renters paid the mortgage and utilities. No bills. No overwhelming debt. A house the size of a Tic Tac to clean…
I just stared at it, mulled it over, daydreamed, and then thought: What would happen if I just…sort of…did that?
What if I sold my big house with its rats in the front yard, the mortgage, the hours of dusting, mopping, cleaning, vacuuming, painting, grass cutting and yard pruning? How would it feel to live so light?
I wasn’t sure why I was so drawn to the photo, but the best I could figure was that it reminded me of everything I’d wanted as an eight-year-old. As a kid, I’d have been happy living in a tree stump or a tree house, or even in the scratchy little caves that my brothers and I carved out of the blackberry bushes along the fence line of our farm. The point was that I’d have a place of my own where I could hide from my chores or my family, where I could cry my eyes out if I needed to and make sense of the world by viewing it through a tiny spyhole. I had big plans for myself: I’d live in the woods and learn to speak to the chipmunks and squirrels. I’d spend my time examining the small bones and rocks found in the nearby creekbed. I’d make “sit-upons,” leafy sort of seat cushions, just like we did in Girl Scouts, and whittle tiny stick figures for my mother, hoping to make up for running away. I’d do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and in the end, all the woodland creatures would love me (like the birds, bunnies, and mice who loved Cinderella).
That was my dream life, so perhaps you can understand why the idea of building a tiny wooden house would click for me. Plus, building a house would be fun!
Then there was another voice. The idea of living in a tiny wood house appealed to my inner eight-year-old, but what kind of adult does that? I wondered if Tiny House Man was happy; if he had good friends who would come over for dinner despite the cramped quarters, if they packed themselves into the living room (which was also the kitchen and bathroom), where they’d balance their dinner plates on their laps and play mini Scrabble with tiles the size of their teeth. I wondered what kind of man would choose to live in a house that small when he obviously had other options. He didn’t live in Ireland, where a person might build a little Hobbit hut and live happy as a clam. This wasn’t Mongolia, Africa, South America, or China, where people regularly lived in houses that were big enough to keep the rain off your head and not much more, this was America, where everything is BIG.
…Ultimately I hoped the tiny-house guy was similar to me; a sane person without a big agenda, who simply wanted a way to make sense of the world, to create a new map with a big X in the middle labeled “Home,” even if that meant shrinking his world down to the size of an area rug.”
Click here to pre-order Dee’s new book The Big Tiny, find a reading near you in April or May, get updates about the book, and more!