Memoir, Non-Fiction

The Big Tiny

Cover image for The Big Tiny by Dee Williamsby Dee Williams

ISBN 978-0-399-16617-4

“Now that I live in my little house, I work part-time, and pay eight dollars a month for utilities. There’s no mortgage, no Saturday morning with a vacuum, mop, or dust cloth.”

In the late 1990s, Dee Williams achieved the life-long dream of many Americans; she bought her own home, a three bedroom fixer-upper that was the best she could afford in pricey Portland. Several years, and a health scare later, Williams realized that her house had consumed her life. Where she had once spent weekends hiking and rock climbing, her free time was now given over to renovating and repairing her house. Williams loved her home, but longed for more free time, and less debt. Reading a magazine in a doctor’s office, she learned the story of Jay Shafer, who built a tiny house in Iowa City. Enthralled by the idea, Williams set out on her own journey to build an 84 square foot house on wheels that could follow her wherever she went.

The early part of the book focuses on Williams’ life before the tiny house, and how she came around to the idea. Throughout the book, Williams is a bit cagey about how her heart condition affected her lifestyle change. She walks a fine line between the amount of sharing that is necessary to a good memoir, and trying to maintain some personal space around her medical condition. In some ways, building the tiny house seems to have been a way of avoiding thinking about her health problem. The project consumed her life for months, allowing her to focus her attention on creating something rather than worrying about a condition she could not control. It seems to be hard for Williams to be vulnerable to her audience, and this is something she struggles with throughout the book.

Williams was a handy, DIY-type before building the tiny house, but the project forced her to take her carpentry skills to a new level, learning as she went. She initially thought that she could build the house in a month once she had the trailer to put it on, but it ended up taking several months. She relied heavily on the library for instruction books, learning about tar paper, roofing, and how to install siding in her spare time. But in the end, the real learning was physical, as Williams learned to trust her instincts, and apply her new knowledge to her project.

Williams is generally upbeat, focusing on the positive aspects of simple living, but she does admit to hardships. When she was downsizing, she found it unexpectedly difficult to give away her possessions. Culling her book collection proved to be a particular challenge. In the end, she gave most of them away, putting her “faith in the good old-fashioned public library.” In the vein of The 100 Thing Challenge, Williams eventually counted her belongings, and found that, living in the tiny house, she owned about 305 things. When it came to actually living in the little house, she writes, “I’m happy only 85 percent of the time, roughly three hundred days out of the year… Here’s the raw truth: 15 percent of the time, you might find me grousing while slopping my water back to the house, or pouting about how I don’t like going to the laundromat.” While Williams covers these problems, she is generally cheerful and entertaining, and some of her anecdotes are laugh out loud funny, particularly the story of the day she ran out of her tiny house in her Superwoman underpants (see p. 247).

This book will make you think about how and why someone might choose to downsize, but it is by no means a step-by-step how-to guide. It gave me what I wanted, which was a look inside how a person decides to live in a tiny house, and what that experience is like.

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