The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir

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9780142181799: The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir

Part how-to, part personal memoir, The Big Tiny is an utterly seductive meditation on the benefits of slowing down, scaling back, and appreciating the truly important things in life.
 
More than ten years ago, a near-death experience abruptly reminded sustainability advocate and pioneer Dee Williams that life is short. So, she sold her sprawling home and built an eighty-four-square-foot house—on her own, from the ground up. Today, Williams can list everything she owns on one sheet of paper, her monthly housekeeping bills amount to about eight dollars, and it takes her about ten minutes to clean the entire house. Adapting a new lifestyle left her with the ultimate luxury—more time to spend with friends and familyand gave her the freedom to head out for adventure at a moment’s notice, or watch the clouds and sunset while drinking a beer on her (yes, tiny) front porch.

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About the Author:

Dee Williams is a teacher and sustainability advocate. She is the co-owner of Portland Alternative Dwellings (www.padtinyhouses.com), where she leads workshops focused on tiny houses, green building, and community design. Her story has been featured on Good Morning America and NBC Nightly News, and on NPR, PBS, MSNBC, CNN, and CBC. She has also been profiled or featured in hundreds of online blogs and articles, and in print media including Time, The New York Times, and Der Spiegel. Williams lives in Olympia, Washington, with an overly ambitious Australian shepherd, in the shadow of the house of dear friends.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
Copyright © 2014 by Deann Williams

Happy Enough(Olympia, Washington, April 2012)

 

For months now, I’ve been waking up at four in the morning. I’ve got this system down: I toss about in bed for a while, left to right, right to left, then lie flat on my back to stare into the knots in the wood ceiling. I watch my dog breathe as she sleeps, watch her legs jolt as she dreams of chasing rabbits. I look out the skylight window, watch the clouds and the moon; I stare at myself in the reflection of the window a few feet from my face, and wonder if I look as shadowy and pensive in real life as I do right now, a thought that causes me to make exaggerated sad-clown faces as in an old black-and-white movie—which cracks me up. I close my eyes and listen to the my own whistling breath, and wonder if have a vitamin deficiency, if I’m aging ungracefully or will die in the next half hour, which leads to the question of whether I’d want to be “found” in this position in these long johns with the elastic blown out at the waist, with dirty dishes in the sink, dog hair on the carpet, and a compost toilet full of pee. I rearrange myself, smooth out the blankets and uncrinkle my forehead, and think about the neighbors. I wonder if they are also awake and worrying about their vitamins.

Later, when I actually see the neighbors, I probably won’t follow this line of questioning. Instead, I’ll say something neutral like “s’up?” Or if there’s more time, I’ll bring up the clouds or the wind, or one of a thousand other things I’ve noticed floating around in the predawn backyard. I might describe the catfight in the alley or the way seagulls were cracking open clams by flying over and dropping them on the carport roof. I might not even mention that. People don’t really want to hear about that kind of long-winded stuff when they casually ask “How you doing?” while they’re dragging their rubbish bins out to the curb before driving off to work.

When I mentioned my early-morning waking to the old witch down the street, she explained that this is the time the “ceiling is the thinnest,” the moment that the earth’s creatures have the greatest access to the heavens; the time when nuns and priests wake to pray, shuffling in their prayer shawls and pouring themselves into the cosmos; the time the raccoons waddle down the alley into the nature preserve that is really just the woods behind the grade school, and the most common moment when people die. It is a magical time, or so she said.

Hearing all of that helped me feel less resentful about waking up so early, and now it seems less necessary to punch my pillow like bread dough. Instead, I wake up and I think about the day ahead or the day before, or I might try to decode a particular night sound—a porcupine or feral cats, a possum on the porch, or maybe college kids drunk and stumbling down the alley. I toss about until I can’t stand it anymore, until I pitch everything to the side of the bed and carry my dog, RooDee, down the ladder, like she weighs twenty pounds instead of fifty, like this is what normal people do.

If the weather is good, I’ll make a bit of tea and amble out onto the front porch to watch the sun crawl over the neighbor’s garage. On the surface, it’s nearly the same every time: I spend at least five minutes trying to make the dog’s blanket (a hairy but warm apparatus) double as a seat cushion and a backrest, then I’ll spend several minutes looking for my lost glasses, which I find on my head, and then I might notice that it’s warmer today than yesterday.

If it’s raining or cold outside (like it is all winter), I stay inside. I might jog in place while I brush my teeth, or I’ll put on a hat and mittens while I light the cookstove. I’ve even gotten into the habit of warming my underthings by dangling them over the stove while I make coffee. I’m so comfortable with this work that I don’t even see it as clever anymore, hardly worth mentioning except for the fact that I think I’m on to something: I’ve found a way to heat my bra without singeing the straps, and to drape my long johns without lighting the kitchen shelves on fire. It’s a learned skill, and definitely not the sort of thing I’d recommend for small children, but the facts are the facts: once I was cold and then I was not, and now I’m fairly certain that I have discovered something that I’ll want to do for the rest of my life.

I haven’t brought up my warm underwear with the neighbor for the same reason I haven’t mentioned my early-morning musing (especially the stuff about monks and nuns, and death, and that sort of hullabaloo). People don’t want to hear about your warm underwear and what puts a smile on your face when they’re in the middle of chipping the ice off their windshield or digging a drainage ditch across their front lawn to keep their basement from flooding. Winter is hard on all of us.

I live in a tiny house. I don’t mean a small house, the kind with one bedroom, one bathroom, a kitchen and nook for watching television, I mean a house the size of an area rug that’s easy enough to attach to my truck and drive down the freeway. It looks like a mobile gingerbread house, or a cuckoo clock on wheels. I don’t mind the comparisons; I like gingerbread.

The main floor of my house is eighty-four square feet. The sleeping loft that extends over the front porch adds more room. It hangs over the kitchen, bathroom, and closet, and stops about halfway into the center of the house, leaving the living room (what I call the “great room”) open to the pointy-roofed ceiling.

Every night, I carry RooDee up the seven-foot ladder to the sleeping loft. We’ve perfected the process: she takes the form of a fifty-pound soup cauldron and I pretend it is a piece of cake. There’s no drama or exaggerated grunting. No veins bulged, butt cheeks clenched, or near-fatal falls; we operate on autopilot. I lift with my knees, my dog acts like a lead ingot, and together we arrive happy.

My bed consumes most of the loft platform, stretching nearly eave to eave, and from there, the roof pitches up to a point four feet above the center of the mattress. That’s the line I take: knee-walking down the middle of the bed, taking care not to smash my head into the ceiling. I worm my way into my sleeping bag, under several layers of quilts, and curl into a fetal position with my hands tucked into my armpits. RooDee then rolls into the cave at the back of my knees and we sleep.

I sleep with the blankets over my head, barely moving, directing every ounce of body heat inward until eventually, I turn into a happy little bun in the oven. I might wake up when the rain starts or stops, when it shifts direction or rolls alongside the house like a tumbleweed, and if I’m lucky I’ll catch a break in the rain long enough to see that the moonlight is poking through a giant sphincter of black clouds, like something you’d see in a colonoscopy brochure. Nature has such an odd sense of humor.

I have to admit that up until now, given the fact that this is my life and my day-to-day routine, my little winter ritual has seemed fairly normal. But just now, writing this, telling you about it, I can see how it might seem unattractive and cold, and perhaps a bit odd. But I don’t mind; I’ve gotten used to it, and I like what it connects me to.

I’ve come to expect that regardless of my tender feelings, the Arctic wind will still plunge its way past the San Juan Islands, cleverly sidestepping any number of giant shipping vessels, orca pods, and sea life. It will still gather all manner of rain, sleet, snog, and fog that will shower down persistently for months—enough moisture to fill buckets and barrels, and make city parks into lakes; it will march up the alley like a tempest, kicking the lawn chairs and punching at the carport, and then body-slamming my house. But that’s what the wind is programmed to do: work through keyholes and whistle in bottle tops, and make me wonder if my tiny house is being pushed slowly across the lawn like it’s rolling through a carwash.

I’ve gotten used to these sorts of winter high jinks, and to be honest, I like them. I like the excitement of the windstorms and the rain pounding down a thousand different ways inches from my head. It reminds me of weathering storms while backpacking, climbing, or kayaking—huddling in the dead center of my tent as lightning banged down all around, or hiding from the hail in a blown-out school bus, a piece of junk littering the forest service road that paralleled my hiking trail. The winter weather reminds me that some things never change, and I am still the same girl who loved sleeping in her tree house and who preferred staying outside, and who still thinks reading by headlamp is romantic.

I like trying to decipher nature’s antics, like wondering why there are always more ducks on one side of their flying V formation, and why the crocuses have bloomed so early this year. I like that if I’m walking home and I notice that everything seems puckered up, furling inward—the moon, the mud in the lawn, the dried-up tomato plants and cornstalks, the raccoons that hide in the plum tree and the wind circling the lawn chairs—if they all seem condensed, sucked in, and tight-jawed, then that is a clue for me to follow suit and to curl into a tiny ball with my dog curled into an even smaller ball at my knees. And at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, I usually don’t mind that I’m sleeping like a stick figure in a cave painting; that I’m tucked in like the cat sleeping under the hood of the neighbor’s car, like the gulls circled up in the marina’s maintenance barn, or like the adventuresome rabble-rouser I was in my twenties.

I should clarify that I do have a heater—a very nice $500 propane heater that I can turn on and off at will. It has a little exhaust stack that vents out the back of the house, and a tiny glass window in the front that lets me admire the flames as they dart about inside a four-inch-square enclosure. I installed the heater on the back wall of the living room, so I could admire it while sitting on the couch. I can also see it from the sleeping loft, a couple of meters away, and from the kitchen and bathroom. I can study the fire while I cook food or pee or dry off my dog by the front door, when I crack open a beer or take my vitamins, clip my nails or read a book. I can see the heater and its tiny fire from every room of my house because no matter where I go or what I do, I’m still always in the one room. And therein lies the problem.

My house is roughly the size of a tree stump—a big and tall tree stump, like a giant Sequoia that you could drive your car through and then drink hot cocoa on the other side like a tourist, but still a stump of a house, which is why I am afraid of fire. Think about it: a small fire erupts in the living room, which is also the kitchen and dining room, which is also the bedroom and bathroom. It has detonated out of the heater due to some small “oops” in the machinery that causes the tiniest flicker of a flame to brush into the smallest psssst of a gas leak. Almost instantly, the fire is massive, a monster devouring the rafters and side walls, collapsing the roof, exploding the canned goods and buckling the floorboards. In a matter of seconds, my dog and I are left with nowhere to run because there is no other room but this single, highly combustible, highly condensed space the size of a Yule log.

Fire was nothing I’d considered while building my house—not while I was reading about wood grain, kiln-dried lumber or sustainable forest products; and not while I was hefting great lengths of four-hundred-year-old cedar onto and off my car or even while I was pulling wood out of a pile labeled “Firewood.” It never entered my mind as I installed the wood cabinets, the oak toilet seat, and old fir door, or while I picked sawdust out of my hair and lovingly sanded the smoky smell off the cedar floorboards that had survived someone else’s house fire.

Fire wasn’t on the agenda until a delivery truck pulled up, weeks into the building project, and dropped off a propane heater. The instruction manual congratulated me for picking a unit that was designed with automatic kill switches in the event of a fire. Apparently, it had state-of-the-art technology, expert tooling, and a brilliant fireproof design with backups for the shut-offs and shutdowns for the turn-offs. Hummm, I thought as I thumbed through the manual, sure wouldn’t want a fire. Then I tossed the manual aside and busied myself with the best place to install the metal firebox.

Months later, on the first cold night of the year, I lit the heater and tucked myself into bed. The fireside glow was beautiful, transforming my small house into a ringside seat at the best mini bonfire ever. Dark amber shadows hung in the corners, and warm firelight gamboled eave to eave along the ceiling, stretching fourteen feet from a spot above the back living room wall to the point above my head.

I sat up in bed for an hour, watching the firelight play tag with the shadows, and I felt myself relax like I hadn’t in months. I fell asleep remembering the small campfire my friends and I had made in the Canadian Rockies, in a spot beside a river with snow spires circling the horizon, just beyond the forest canopy; that time, I woke up with frost on my eyelashes and the zipper of my bevy sack frozen shut. This time, in my little house, I woke up with my feet twisted up in the sheets. I’d dreamed about racing through a deep thicket, trying to outrun a forest fire, darting with one arm held reflexively over my head and my dog held like a hefty money safe in the other, and all the while the underbrush kept grabbing at my feet, tripping me up, slamming me to the ground. I woke up and looked around the house, realizing for the first time that I’d built a dense, bone-dry tinderbox of a house.

I reread the owner’s manual and retraced how I’d installed the heater, double-checking that I hadn’t placed insulation too close to the hot flue stack, or exterior siding too close to the exhaust cap. I inspected the smoke detector, nearly deafening myself by clicking the tiny test button. I bought a small bottle of specially made “gas leak detection soap” so I could test every fitting, starting with the knob on the gas tank outside the house and ending with the tiny brass nipple at the base of the heater; I checked again, and then a third time. Everything seemed fine, but at night, I still dreamed about fire. I carried a hammer up to the loft so I could smash out the skylight window and launch my dog and me out onto the lawn if necessary, and I dragged a fire extinguisher up the ladder and stationed it between me and the heater like a talisman—a warning to the heater to keep its shit together. Then one night, without really thinking about it, I reached over and flipped off the heater on the way up to bed, giving the heater a little tap and a smile. And that was the beginning of my nightly bundling routine.

Now I run the heater only during the day and late at night when I am awake, and I hardly notice that I’m dressed like an ice fisherman as I lumber off to bed. Instead, I mosey off to the loft in a not-so-sexy pair of wool underwear, curl into a puffy ball along with RooDee, and together we sleep, happily enough.

These days I find that I am happy enough in the same way that I am warm enough—the goal isn’t bliss or even comfort in some cases. The goal is to feel alive, even if the primary proof is chattering your teeth. There’s nothing like ten-...

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2015. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Part how-to, part personal memoir, The Big Tiny is an utterly seductive meditation on the benefits of slowing down, scaling back, and appreciating the truly important things in life. More than ten years ago, a near-death experience abruptly reminded sustainability advocate and pioneer Dee Williams that life is short. So, she sold her sprawling home and built an eighty-four-square-foot house on her own, from the ground up. Today, Williams can list everything she owns on one sheet of paper, her monthly housekeeping bills amount to about eight dollars, and it takes her about ten minutes to clean the entire house. Adapting a new lifestyle left her with the ultimate luxury more time to spend with friends and family and gave her the freedom to head out for adventure at a moment s notice, or watch the clouds and sunset while drinking a beer on her (yes, tiny) front porch. Nº de ref. de la librería ABZ9780142181799

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