Living Big in a Tiny House


Photo by Tammy Strobel.

Photo by Tammy Strobel.

I haven’t been writing much here, but I’ve been busy! I have lots of articles coming, which I’ll share. I’m also determined to carve out more time to write here.

I reviewed Dee Williams’ The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir for Cities Are Now, the Winter 2015 issue of YES! Magazine.

72 Cities Cover

At 41, Dee Williams was a “nor­mal, middle-class, middle-of-the-road woman with a mortgage and a job and friends.” She worked as a state hazardous waste inspector and owned a 1927 Portland, Ore., fixer-upper that she shared with a rotation of roommates. She “went running and climbing and paddling, racing in a thousand different direc­tions at a thousand miles per hour.”

Then one day she woke up in an intensive care unit tethered to a urine bag, IV pole, and heart monitor, and the doctors diagnosed her with a potentially fatal heart condition. “It felt like death, or my mortality, or something bigger still, was leaning into my bed with the moonlight, clat­tering when I moved hangers in the closet, buzzing behind the sound of the shower running or my car idling in traffic,” she writes in The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir.

Soon after her diagnosis, Williams discovered an article about an Iowa City man who built and moved into a house the size of a shed. The idea of building such a little house—the process itself and the paring down it would require to move in—enticed Williams. “Somehow, it would shrink my life into a manageable mouthful,” she writes. Before long, Williams was drafting blueprints for her own tiny house.

Designing a house, even a very small one, involved some “outright panic” for Williams. She planned to live in the backyard of a house belong­ing to friends more than a hundred miles away in Olympia, Wash. Thus the house would need to fit on a trailer and be under 13.5 feet tall per Depart­ment of Transportation requirements. It would also need to withstand the rough shaking that transporting a house on the highway can present.

Excerpt from the book:

I thought I’d find something in all of this, and I got more than I bargained for. I discovered a new way of looking at the sky, the winter rain, the neighbors, and myself; and a different way of spending my time. Most important, I stumbled into a new sort of “happiness,” one that didn’t hinge on always getting what I want, but rather, on wanting what I have. It’s the kind of happiness that isn’t tied so tightly to being comfortable (or having money and property), but instead is linked to a deeper sense of satisfaction—to a sense of humility and gratitude, and a better understanding of who I am in my heart.

I now this sounds cheesy, and in fact, it sounds fairly similar to the gobbledygook that friends have thrown at me just after having their first baby. But the facts are the facts: I found a certain bigness in my little house—a sense of largeness, freedom, and happiness that comes when you see there’s no place you’d rather be.

As she built, Williams experienced sore muscles, bumps, bruises, smashed fingers—and lost her ponytail after she accidentally glued it to her house. She also had a lot of fun. “Risking life and limb every day” distracted her from her potentially debilitating disease. And she erected an undeniably attractive 84-square-foot cedar-and-knotty-pine house that man­ages to look open and airy in photos despite its minuscule size.

In a society drowning in commer­cials, books, and schemes promising to deliver us from hardship, it might have been tempting for Williams to oversell downsizing. She resisted that temptation—The Big Tiny abounds with refreshing honesty, humor, and endearing quirkiness.

Williams admits that getting rid of her three-bedroom house full of stuff was more agonizing than she expected, and living in less than a hundred square feet isn’t always comfortable. She has no refrigerator or plumb­ing. She cooks on a single burner and sleeps with her propane heater off, because she’s afraid her house will catch fire. She estimates she’s happy about 85 percent of the time, about the same amount of time she was happy in her big house.

When she escaped the “mindless rotisserie of work and projects” that guided her in her old house, Williams discovered a satisfaction that came from getting to know herself. “Let­ting go of ‘stuff,’” she writes, “allowed the world to collapse behind me as I moved, so I became nothing more or less than who I simply was: Me.”

The house and its large skylight helped her connect with nature in a new way. “I like the excitement of the windstorms and the rain pound­ing down a thousand different ways, inches from my head,” she writes. She also has more time for drinking tea on her porch and chatting with friends, because she no longer has to juggle bills and worry about constant home repairs.

What Williams celebrates most is that her new lifestyle requires her to depend on others. She lives “in com­munity” with her friends Hugh and Annie, their two sons, and Hugh’s elderly aunt Rita because she’s located in their backyard and needs their run­ning water. Williams happily takes on the role of Rita’s caretaker in exchange for using Rita’s shower and occasion­ally her oven. “If more people under­stood how nice it is to have a sense of home that extends past our locked doors, past our neighbors’ padlocks…we’d live in a very different place,” she insists.

Williams’ enthusiasm for small living and her charming hand-built house have already helped launch a tiny house movement. The Big Tiny will encourage many more people to assess whether bigger and more means happier—proof that making something tiny can ignite something very big.

Hello sunshine!

We’re making the most of a stretch of sparkling spring days with tea parties, egg hunts, and fun-packed afternoons with friends. I’m sure the rain will send us inside soon. See you then….








Hopeful Weekend Links


Get Ready! A tetrad of lunar eclipses, beginning in April – Earth Sky

Why do we make students sit still in class? – Carolina Blatt-Gross

How to Save Money on Food by Wasting Less – Lindsay Wilson, Shrink That Footprint

The Overprotected Kid – Hannah Rosin, The Atlantic

The Hard Alphabet – Sara Bir, Full Grown People

Ideas for Making Small Spaces More Efficient – Amazing Oasis

Celebrate the First Day of Spring

first day of spring

Finally . . . the first day of spring is March 20! Here are some simple ways to celebrate.


Go on a hike and identify wildflowers if some are sprouting in your area. Or visit a local farm and see if you can get a glimpse of calves, lambs, or chicks in the barnyard.


Fly a kite. Or make dandelion or clover chains and wear them as spring crowns.


Hunt for spring flowers, cherry buds, egg shells, a bird’s nest, and other signs of spring. Decorate the house with crocuses, daffodils, tulips, or dandelions.


Watch the sun rise and set. (You can find out what time it will rise here.)


Sow seeds. Have each family member pick a favorite flower to plant. Designate a special garden, and make a ceremony of it.


Check out this list of novels “where the characters blossom and where there is hope in the midst of struggles, like flowers on bare branches.”

And don’t forget about the kids. Some of my family’s favorite spring picture-books are: Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schur, Spring by Ron Hirschi, and Home for a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. We also enjoy reading aloud from The Spring Equinox: Celebrating the Greening of the Earth by Ellen Jackson.


Make a spring feast with the first crops of the season. Dandelion leaves, steamed nettles, and asparagus are delicious spring greens. Other traditional spring foods include eggs, ham, and sweets. Eat outside if weather permits, or have a picnic on a blanket in the living room.


Attract birds to your yard by making these easy Audubon-approved bird feeders out of peanut butter and bird seed.

Or create your own traditions to welcome spring this Thursday.

Resources for seasonal celebrations:

The Artful Spring by Jean Van’t Hul
Ceremonies of the Seasons by Jennifer Cole
The Spring Equinox: Celebrate the Greening of the Earth by Ellen Jackson
Together: Creating Family Traditions by Rondi Hillstrom Davis and Janell Sewall Oakes
The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule

Do you have plans or ideas for how to celebrate spring this year? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Hopeful Weekend Links


What Happens in One Minute Around the World – Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic

Farm-to-Table Living Takes Root – Kate Murphy, New York Times

Freedom in 704 Square Feet – Sandy Keenan, New York Times

Help Kids Learn About Business and Finance : 60+ Resources – Laura Grace Weldon

Americans Are Riding Public Transit in Record Numbers – Justin Prichard, Associated Press

‘Genius Hour’ : What Kids Can Learn From Failure – Emanuella Grinberg, CNN

Hopeful Weekend Links


Corn and Soybean Farmers Learning to Grow Veggies and Sell Locally – Michael Moss, The New York Times

This Guy Stopped Charging Clients and He Has Zero Regrets – Arin Greenwood, Huffington Post

A Gallery of Spectacular Photographs – Helen Walters, TED

13 Predictions About the Future That Were Spectacularly Wrong – Huffington Post

The Delicious Truth About Getting Older – Susannah Conway

What Happens When A Woman Gets Sick Of Divorce And Mortgages – ViralNova

7 Ways a Kitchen Timer Can Improve Your Life

Photo by Michael Cory

Photo by Michael Cory


Someday I will spend a few weeks at a cabin in the woods or an isolated beach house with no clocks. I’d love to let nature’s rhythms and my own perception take precedence over the ticking of clock hands. But right now my life requires some scheduling, and I’m embracing the power of a simple tool that most of us have on our cell phone, oven, or stuffed in a cupboard somewhere — a timer.

Here are seven ways a timer has improved my daily routines and might improve yours:

1. End procrastination

At the beginning of January, Copyblogger’s Sonia Simone advised bloggers to set a timer and write for 20 minutes every day in January. I didn’t think much of it. I have to write for more than 20 minutes if I want to finish anything, I thought to myself. But I heeded Simone’s advice, and I was far more productive last month. Committing to a short amount of time eliminated my resistance to getting started. And once I’ve started, 20 minutes nearly always turns into more.

2. Prevent sibling fights

My boys inspired my love affair with the timer. At two and five, they finally play together. They also squabble a lot. “It’s my airplane.” “Mine.” “Mom, he took my plane.” “He hit me, so I had to hit him back.” You get the picture. Well, would you believe that a timer puts a stop to all of it? Each boy gets two minutes with whatever toy is en vogue and then they switch. Researchers believe humans are hard-wired to desire fairness. Sure enough, once my boys know they’ll get equal time, the fighting stops. It’s magic.

3. Tame cleaning pitfalls

Housework: it can be hard to get started on it or it can eat up your entire life. Setting a timer solves both problems. We often set one in the evenings or on weekend mornings, turn on music, and clean together as a family for 30 to 45 minutes. It’s amazing how much we get done in a short time and how much fun it is when we do it together.

4. Improve focus at work

The Pomodoro Technique teaches people how to manage work time better using a kitchen timer. The idea is to get everything ready for a task, set a timer for 25 minutes, and stick with the task until it dings. Then take a break and do it again. Do this all day long, and you’ll train yourself to stop multitasking. I don’t use the Pomodoro Technique, but I utilize another technique that encourages me to schedule my work in small, focused units – working at home with two little boys.

5. Limit mindless activities

A timer is not only great for helping you to get started and focus, it can help you stop wasting time. Most of us have seen hours dissolve while blog-hopping or scrolling through status updates, and it never feels great. Next time you go online, decide what you want to do there and set a timer. The trickiest part is forcing yourself to actually stop when it dings. But in my experience, mindful online time is more fun and fulfilling.

6. Ensure quality time

Many childhood development experts say that connected parenting requires 30 minutes a day of undivided attention. Marriage likely improves under similar conditions. With dishes, laundry, and deadlines always looming and sometimes taking over entire sections of the house, it can be tempting to drop each other off the to-do list. But a simple timer can help you reserve time for connection.

7. Carve out alone time

According to studies, meditation can relieve anxiety, lower blood pressure, boost immunity, reduce inflammation, and on and on. But I wonder if part of meditation’s power is in simply setting aside time every day to be alone and do something quiet and restful. I imagine you’d notice benefits from setting a timer and walking, exercising, stretching, playing music, or mindfully doing anything everyday.

Have you discovered ways to use a kitchen timer to improve your life? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Feeling stuck? Slow down.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” – Lao Tzu

Photo: Tristan Schmurr

Photo: Tristan Schmurr


Full confession: I like fast. I like to move fast, work fast, learn fast. My dad used to tease me about how quickly I walk. “That’s not walking; that’s sprinting.” I love running and zipping across town on my bike. I like page-turners.

But I’m embracing the power of slow.

Anat Baniel, a clinical psychologist and dancer, teaches people how to overcome limitations and find joy in their lives. She guides people through deceptively simple, gentle movements, which she says rewire the brain to learn. She’s had amazing success helping children with severe disabilities learn to walk and live full lives.  One of the nine essentials in her method is slow.

“Fast, we can only do what we already know,” she writes. “That is how the brain works. To learn and master new skills and overcome limitation, the first thing to do is slow way down. Slow actually gets the brain’s attention and stimulates the formation of rich new neural patterns. Slow gets us out of the automatic mode in our movements, speech, thoughts and social interactions.”

I was reminded of the power of slow recently when I learned to code eBooks and revamp my websites. Frustration dissolved when I let go of hurrying and simply allowed myself the time and space to learn. The process became fun.

I’m astonished at how quickly problems evaporate when I simply ease my foot off the gas pedal, whether it’s a toddler tantrum or a disagreement with my husband or a piece of writing that’s not coming together. And slowing down transformed the way I cook and eat.

But I’m the most amazed by how slowing down can instantly transform the way I see the world. The moment comes bursting into life. My senses turn on. Everything is rich and vibrant and alive.

I still like fast. I just realize that it has its place. Fast is best when we’ve taken the time to learn something and already mastered it. “When we do something fast, and without tension, it can be both exhilarating to do and exciting to witness. Our brains are built to turn slow into fast,” Baniel writes.

But to grow and change and to really experience our lives, we must harness the power of slow.

I am fortunate to live with true experts in slow. When a walk turns into an opportunity to inspect a blade of grass or watch a snail inch across the sidewalk, I’m usually tempted to hurry my boys along. But when I crouch to inspect a pile of rocks or listen to two crows calling to each other, I am nearly always grateful to have such brilliant teachers in the art of slow.

Have you learned to embrace the power of slow? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.



Hopeful Weekend Links


 Take Two Hours in a Pine Forest and Call me in the Morning – Florence Williams, Outside Magazine

8 Lifestyles for Healthy Eating – YES! Magazine

11 Resolutions for a Better You – Proven by Science – Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

Best of Little Eco Footprints 2013 – Tricia, Little Eco Footprints

At 94, he must let go of his piece of paradise – Thomas Curwen, LA Times

Lean in? Not Sabrina Parsons – Jennifer Margulis, Oregon Business

13 Ways to Spread Holiday Cheer Without Spending a Dime

Photo: zaimoko-woodpile

Photo: zaimoko-woodpile

I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s all of our adventures in November, but I’m simply not stressing about the holidays this year. We’re planning to exchange some gifts, go for a hike, and eat a delicious dinner, but mostly we’re aiming for a relaxing day.

Around now, I’m always thinking about where I want to put my attention in the new year, and this year I am zeroing in on our finances and paying off debt. So a simple Christmas is exactly what we need. But we’ll be on the look out for ways to spread holiday cheer all week. If you’re in the same camp, here are 13 ideas for spreading joy without opening your wallet:

1. Leave a note on your mail box thanking your mail carrier for all of the hard work they do over the holiday season.

2. Send an email to old and new friends, catching them up on what you’ve been up to, and thanking them for being part of your lives.

3. Donate some of your extra clothes, books, and/or canned food to a homeless shelter or group home.

4. Give your friends, kids, or your partner the gift of your undivided attention for a few hours. Make a point to really listen.

5. Go caroling.

6. Invite some friends over for dinner or dessert.

7. Write to a few of your coworkers or colleagues and thank them for their hard work.

8. Smile and say hello to everyone you pass.

9. Visit someone in a nursing home.

10. Make a Skype date with a faraway friend or family member.

11. Make paper snowflakes to hang in your windows.

12. Leave a greeting on one of your favorite blogs. (We bloggers love connecting with readers.)

13. Take some time out alone to do something you love doing this time of the year, whether it’s going for a long walk, drinking eggnog, or reading a novel.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas this Wednesday if you celebrate! I’ll be back here on Friday with Hopeful Weekend Links.

What are your favorite ways to spread joy without parting with your cash? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.