Tiny Houses

12 May 2014

The Big Tiny: A Built-it-Myself Memoir

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

– Henry David Thoreau

It is hard not to draw parallels between Thoreau’s Walden and the modern day tiny house movement. Diagnosed at age 41 with congestive heart failure, Dee Williams began to question just how deliberately she was living. Like so many middle-class Americans, before her diagnosis, Williams had been drawn to the thought of home-ownership. She soon found herself stressed and unhappy, caught on the hamster wheel of working to pay for her Portland, OR fixer-upper, its renovations, requisite utility bills and more and more stuff to fill its rooms. Downsizing, after all, is counterintuitive to our American sense of success.

Inspired by a magazine article she stumbled upon in her cardiologist’s office featuring Jay Shafer’s miniscule home, Williams set out to build a tiny house of her own. In The Big Tiny, Williams recounts the highly personal and peculiar experience of building her 84-square-foot home, mounted atop a 13×8 utility trailer. Williams writes conversationally, her stream of consciousness, though scattershot at times, relaying the undulating emotional experience of building a home with her own two hands. She echoes the sentiment of others who choose to build their own tiny house, attracted to the prospect of creating something they can touch and have an intimate connection to.

By her count, Williams has whittled her life down to 305 items, from books to bed sheets. In one of the more memorable passages, she talks of the emotional process of culling the unnecessary from her life, ensued by the feeling of liberation of not being tied to too much. But more than anything, she enjoys being unburdened from the heavy yolk of a 30-year mortgage, a freedom that allows her the luxury of working part-time, and of reaching out to her community, or simply enjoying that second cup of coffee in the morning.

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