Dee Williams on the One Question to Ask Ourselves Before we go Shopping

Merete and Dee

Dee Williams on the 1 Question to Ask Before we Shop – TINY: A Story About Living Small from TINY on Vimeo.

If you’re into Tiny Houses, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Dee Williams. In 2004, Dee sold her 1,200 square foot house in Olympia, Washington and moved into an 84-square foot Tiny House that she built herself, from scratch. Today she’s still living tiny and has become an author and major spokesperson in the growing movement to live minimally.

I met Dee in 2010, when Christopher Smith and I filmed her for our documentary, TINY: A Story About Living Small. TINY chronicles our own process of building a Tiny House from scratch with no building experience and profiles other people (like Dee) who have radically downsized their lives. As we built our house and traveled around the country visiting other ‘Tiny Housers’ we were motivated by one central question:

“What makes a good home?”

If Home wasn’t defined by space or stuff, we wondered, then what was it?

What struck me about Dee was her honest and straightforward approach to life. In many ways, this is born from necessity: Dee decided to downsize shortly after she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Though she’s healthy and going strong today, the precariousness of her health has helped her to prioritize. While it may seem extreme to think about death every time we embark on a shopping spree, it’s true that impermanence has a way of putting everything into perspective and reminding us of what matters most.

Dee's house

Dee’s point isn’t so much that we shouldn’t buy that new pair of pumps or the flatscreen TV, but that it’s worth noticing what kind of life we are cultivating with each choice and purchase we make. It’s fun and sometimes necessary to buy things – but let’s make sure our possessions are highlighting and not hindering our connection to the people and experiences that make our precious, short lives worth living in the first place.

The above video is an excerpt of a 12-minute extended interview with Dee Williams that appears as a special feature on the DVD of TINY: A Story About Living Small. You can also rent or download TINY on iTunes and Vimeo on Demand.

TINY Film Poster Image

Join Our eMail List and download the Tiny House Directory

Simply enter your name and email below to learn more about tiny houses and stay up to date with the movement.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Bob Ratcliff - October 26, 2014 Reply

For ALL of us who’re facing serious health problems that’s leading to death sooner than expected, values usually morph in new directions we’ve never would have dreamed of during our previous normal life. For Dee, it was Congestive Heart Failure that guided her towards a more simplified & downsized lifestyle. As one who’s in her exact situation, the only thing I’d challenge about extreme downsizing is in that you might just be creating new problems. Being handicapped sometime requires things such as walkers or class III wheelchairs that simply requires more space for pretty much everything. Isn’t there a middle-ground out there?

Dee elegantly speaks about ridding herself of stuff and in many ways she’s right. I’d also challenge the idea that “some” stuff might just be that glue that holds us together while our lives slowly dissolve. While it’s true it’s ALWAYS people or even pets we often reach for as our bodies wind down, I’d also be saddened to part with items such as family artifacts/heirlooms that reminds us just how wonderful life has been.

Little homes are touted as a financial liberator yet I’m concerned that by boxing ourselves in 300 square feet or less, we might just be creating new problems.

I purpose some middle ground of let’s say 1,000 square feet. Big enough for bathrooms, bedrooms, & real living areas big enough to enjoy 7/24 now that we can’t go dashing about for long walks in the woods or even a local coffee shop now that simply moving around is considerably harder. Create homes that meets not on the needs of today, but those that might also arise. Now that’s what I’d call fiscal responsibility.

I’d like to redefine tiny houses into tiny living. Reprioritizing what’s important doesn’t necessitate we live with two glasses, one chair and a bed that’s in a loft. It’s a frame of mind. As one who’s being hounded by my doctor to bring in Hospice, I’ve found it’s relationships and yes, a certain degree of comforts I’m enjoying more than ever while my world continues to shrink in size and time.

Make sure you have a freezer that’s large enough to overflow with your favorite ice cream. Include a bedroom that’ll handle that adjustable bed you can roll up too and then reach for the overhead bar while you haul yourself into peaceful slumber. Include areas large enough for your passions be it cooking, art, or simply enough room for enjoying friends at your place now that you no longer have the ability to visit pristine vistas. Now is the time to enjoy goodies. We can have our cake and eat it too – all it takes is a bit of planning for more than the here and now.

    Jennifer Mills - October 26, 2014 Reply

    Very well said Bob. We need to think today, and 10 years down the road. I have MS, and we have bought a small cottage home. With my passion for travel we opted to buy a 27 foot high end RV, 2 yrs old, 17,000. We are doing a small remodel widening the door and adding a pull out ramp so my electric scooter and I can come and go. On the good days we just pull out the stairs, on the rough days the ramp comes out. I love the sense of community and good sense, as well as kindness in the I tiny home community. Although I have an “RV” my mindset is it is my tiny home of freedom, the RVing mindset seems a little different than my values. Everyone find joy joy, in whatever is YOUR best square footage. Jen in CA

Tina - October 26, 2014 Reply

Bob~ I agree; great post

Natalie Kravetz - October 26, 2014 Reply

I’m in the beginning stage of planning a tiny house project, for reasons similar to Dee’s, blog forthcoming. I have fibromyalgia and my husband has chronic pain due to many spinal injuries from his years as a martial artist. Clearly we are not in a position to be the primary builders of our home but we certainly plan to do most of the finish work. Once the structure can be moved into we plan to do so, and finish it as we go. There are a lot of obstacles not least of which is little money, but people have managed to succeed starting with even less; I do after all have a job, and the will, and the belief.
Having a physical challenge in itself causes one to change priorities, and if it doesn’t, life has a way of changing them for you! Our goal is to own a mortgage free home by the time I retire from State service in around eighteen years. I am so excited to watch this dream unfold!
Dee is an inspiration to us both!
Aaron and Natalie

Moxy - October 26, 2014 Reply

Bob, you expressed so many wonderful points! I am about to become wheelchair-bound, so am paring my possessions (and relationships) down to only those that bring me joy. Things like family & friends, a fireplace, scented candles, a German Shepherd puppy, my grandmother’s dishes. To me, the tiny house movement isn’t about a square footage number, but about appreciating the essentials: love, beauty, and peace.

David Remus - October 26, 2014 Reply

Right to the heart of the matter.

Very good.

Jane - October 26, 2014 Reply

Another good pov, Bob. I agree with you on several points, but I also find that now that I’ve been in the process of downsizing for the last several months, I have to point out a few other things.
I have been ill with multiple chemical sensitivity for over 30 years. It turns out that pernicious anemia and hormonal changes combined to make it life-threatening, along with fibromyalgia that incapacitated me. I was lucky enough to find a few doctors and social workers that worked to save my life. I’ve bounced back from 10% to around 60%.
Twelve years ago, a Rush Limbaugh dittohead of a landlord evicted me when the state started paying for my rent, because he didn’t want a ‘welfare queen’ living in his building. Mind you, I had lived there for seven years with no problem.
I became homeless when I was desperately ill, and moved from the pollution of Seattle to an island, in a tent, where I started to regain my health. My things went into storage, and I learned what was really important. When I finally got on SSI, I found housing, and got my stuff back.
I now know what is really necessary for me to live. I have had to move several times because of my health, either from neighbors with diesel trucks, smell from the paper mill 20 miles away when the wind blows from that direction, mold in the walls, or landlords that didn’t believe that I was ill, and did things that endangered my health.
All those mementos are lovely to see, but a PITA to move. Now, I’m finally taking pictures of them, and letting them go to the thrift store here that supports one of the finest food banks in the country. I volunteer there when I’m able, and feel wonderful about it.
I’ve still got up to 30 years to go, if I can follow in the footsteps of my family, so I designed my tiny house on wheels so that I can relocate, in case my only daughter should decide to leave this area, and still have safe housing for me. French doors, a bed on the first floor, and wide aisles in case I need a wheelchair again are part of the plan. Getting rid of things is often a challenge, but much more often a relief. I’m down to deciding how to dress the couch/bed and which staples I really will use. I’ve also found that ice cream comforts me, but doesn’t help my health as much as freshly made juice or a smoothie, and stir-fried veggies allow me to feel like getting up from the table and going to the garden rather than to my bed.
Yes, all our health challenges are different, and I’ve been on my quest to find ways to live differently and well, and have found my relief in a tiny house. It will be ready in a few weeks, and I’m almost ready.
I wish all of you a healthfully fulfilling later life, in a home that is safe and sheltering for your needs.

Christina Nellemann - October 27, 2014 Reply

I’m in the middle of Dees’s book and she has an honest voice and quality of strength that is a joy to read.

Becca - October 28, 2014 Reply

I read Dee’s book earlier this year and loved it. Excellent post.

Di - December 8, 2015 Reply

Try a 12′ x 12′ one-story building with a peaked ceiling, solar electric and skylights. Envi wall heaters to save space. Bay windows to extend space. Grey water tank only.

From outside:

Front wall: bay window at left, entry door at right. Narrow folding shelf beneath window.

Right wall: bay window over 2′ x 6′ undercounter kitchen at left and small window in 6′ x 6′ corner bathroom at right.

Back wall: same corner bathroom at left, bay window over 3′ x 6′ daybed at right.

Left wall: large slider window opens to yard.

Kitchen: under-counter combination washer/dryer (found online at Compact Appliance), one standard-sized sink with hook-neck faucet for larger work area, under-counter fridge near entry door for convenience with groceries. For additional counter space, place a cutting board over sink.

Beneath kitchen sink: plumbing and tankless water heater against wall, add sliding trays to store a portable stove top, one set of stackable kitchenware and dry goods. Store upright utensil basket(s) on bay window sill.

Bathroom: door on left and 1’ x 1’ corner sink, without a vanity, on right. Back wall with composting toilet on left and 3’ x 3’ shower on right. Store towels/cosmetic bags on open narrow shelving over back of toilet. Clothing hooks and full-length mirror on back door. Towel and cosmetic bag hooks near sink and shower.

Bed: shelf and mattress. Store wardrobe in large pull-out hassocks beneath daybed. Extend bed with hassocks. Store additional pillows, blankets or clothes in pillowcases on daybed. Use window sill for convenient items, such as a beverage.

Use hassocks at folding shelf. Try a 1’ x 1’ floor-to-ceiling cupboard to right of shelf. Store coats/boots, dry goods, crafts.

When everything is stored away, this leaves a 10’ x 6’ living area. Store additional floor cushions, folding chairs/cots in the trunk of a car.

Leave a Reply: