I have a student who is absolutely obsessed with tiny houses. As long as I have known her, which has been two years now, she has talked about her desire to live in a tiny house. When she first told me about this, I thought she was a little bit crazy. After all, she was talking about having cardboard furniture and all I could think about was her either getting a ton of paper cuts all over her backside or sitting down to watch some TV and having her “chair” collapse.
After she showed me what her dream cardboard furniture looks like, I felt a bit less worried for her. However, I still didn’t think it looked even remotely comfortable, even with pillows and blankets piled on it. But, to each his own, right?
This student is in my AP Language and Composition class and as part of the class, students are required to pick 4 books off of a rather extensive non-fiction book list. Each book has a different project that goes along with it. The first book, which they read over the summer merely has to be annotated. The second book, which they read during the second quarter, gets an essay over the author’s bias. The third book, which they read during the third quarter, also gets an essay, this time over the theme. The final book, which they read during their final quarter of high school requires a creative project which explores both bias and theme.
Although the list I provide has a wide variety of books to suit just about every reading interest, I also allow students to suggest books for me to read and then approve for their essays/project. Due to her love of all things tiny house, she asked me to read The Big Tiny: A Built-it-Myself memoir by Dee Williams.
Unlike some of the books my kids suggest, I was intrigued by this one. I wanted to understand the tiny house craze and what would drive someone to give up a perfectly nice sized house for something smaller than my bedroom.
Williams’ journey from slightly hippy Washington homeowner to full-fledged, living off the grid hippy Washington tiny house owner began after a near fatal illness, which made her re-evaluate her life and her priorities.
Slowly, she began downsizing all of her possessions and building her tiny house. The book chronicles here entire journey from her life before her illness, through her sickness, through building her tiny house (almost completely on her own), to actually living in her house (which she parked in friend’s backyards). It was interesting to see Williams go through the planning process to see what was absolutely vital to her.
It turns out that in order to have the size of house that would fit on the trailer she was having custom built, everything would have to fit in a 6X11 area. This meant that there was really no way for her to have even a shower in her tiny home. She also made a rather large measuring mistake and could not fit the small fridge she had intended to use in her new pad. So, she decided she could get by with a cooler. After all, she only has one hot plate burner, so it’s not like she was planning gourmet meals. Since any sort of space heater would be an insane fire hazard in the house, heat was also out. Instead, she invested in thermal underwear, lots of think socks and warm blankets for her sleeping loft. She tells stories of the frost and snow right above her head as she wakes up seeing her breath each morning.
Luckily for Williams, she’s not completely alone in her tiny house. For the majority of the book she has her beloved dog with her. A dog she carries up into the sleeping loft every night and then back down each morning. This leads to more than one slip, one of which does some real damage. Williams was also fortunate not to have to buy any land for her tiny house. Two good friends of hers allowed her to “park” her house in their backyard. While technically illegal for her to live in someone else’s backyard, as long as she claimed to be the caregiver to her friend’s aging aunt, she could live in her house with no interference. Which is exactly what she did.
Living in her friends’ backyard solves a few issues for her. First, she actually has access to a power source if she needs it. Although she uses solar panels to charge the rather large battery which she uses to power her burner and laptop, if need be, she can also plug her tiny house into her friends’ power source. In addition, she had an easy place to shower, negating her original plan to shower at truck stops. This arrangement also gave her access to safer food storage and an extended ability to cook. Since she had not only befriended Rita, the aunt, but was also helping to care for her, she had daily trips into full-sized homes.
The access to some of these amenities makes it easier to understand how she can survive in only 84 square feet.
Although the book is interesting, I think at times Williams comes off as a bit sanctimonious. While I cannot, and would not want her lifestyle, I did like looking into a life so very different than my own.
For anyone interested in seeing inside her home, here is a video she made not long after the book came out. Amazingly enough, since the book has come out, Williams has actually downsized even further, giving up her palatial 84 square feet for just 54. This time she does have a shower–it’s just outdoors. Check out her new house here.