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INTERVIEW: Tiny House Pioneer Dee Williams Discusses Living Large in 84 Square Feet in Her New Memoir “The Big Tiny: A Built-it-Myself Memoir”
We’ve featured many a tiny house on Inhabitat, but did you know that one trailblazing lady was the inspiration behind many of those miniature homes? Meet Dee Williams: an early pioneer and sustainability advocate of the tiny house movement, she downsized from a three bedroom home into an 84 square foot house she built herself for $10,000 after she was diagnosed with a heart muscle disease. Ten years later, she’s inspired countless others to pursue big dreams in tiny spaces and has just recently published her first book and memoir, “The Big Tiny: A Built-it-Myself Memoir.” Unlike the typical how-to construction manual–Williams has already published a DIY tiny house e-book called “Go House Go”–“The Big Tiny” delves into Williams’ motivations and life lessons learned from building and living in a tiny house the size of an area rug. Click through to read our interview with Dee Williams.
Determined to make a change after a heart attack and life-altering diagnosis of cardiomyopathy at the age of 40, Williams decided to follow the example and house plans of Jay Shafer, a leader and major founder of the modern DIY tiny house movement. After three months of construction in 2004, Williams completed her miniature 84 square foot home for just $10,000 and parked it behind her friend’s house in Portland, OR. Powered by a photovoltaic system and built with numerous green and salvaged materials, the house allows Williams to live so lightly on the land that her utility bills average at less than $10 a month. We had the chance to talk to Williams about her tiny house and memoir shortly after the conclusion of her “The Big Tiny” book tour.
Inhabitat: Before “The Big Tiny,” you wrote an e-book “Go House Go,” a how-to manual for tiny houses. What drove you to write a more personal, built-it-myself memoir?
Dee Williams: Well, there were a lot of different reasons. One was that I had been getting encouragement from friends to write a memoir about what it was like to live in my little house because there were (and still are) more and more people who are interested in living similarly. Go House Go was written to be a more linear, technical guide, answering questions about engineering, codes, zoning, green building, electrical systems and the like. With my memoir, I wanted to dive into the ephemeral nature of “home” – starting with what it is and where it can go. I wanted to describe what the day-to-day looks like in my house. And I simply wanted to address why a reasonably normal, middle class, middle of the road lady would choose to live in house the size of a tool shed.
Inhabitat: You’ve just finished up your book tour around the U.S. Can you talk about the reactions that you’ve had to your book and the most common questions that people have asked?
Dee Williams: I have been totally blown away by how many cool people came to the readings. I went all over the U.S. and I wasn’t sure if it was just going to be tiny house people or not. And while there certainly were a lot of people interested in tiny houses, I was also really surprised and humbled by how many cool people who showed up just because they liked the story. Even if they weren’t necessarily interested in downsizing, many people just liked the idea of double dog daring yourself to make a big change, of determining to be something more and doing it. So, I’ve been really pleasantly surprised that people got it, that it’s not necessarily all about trying to downsize and squeeze myself into a little house, but it’s more about making a decision and going for it.
And I think the biggest question that I get is from people who really want to know in all honesty if I’m claustrophobic, do I eat out all the time, things like that, A lot of the questions tend to focus on whether I’m really happy–and I love that. I love that they’re curious about that because you can just see the wheels spinning as they’re asking these kinds of questions.
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