Say Hello to My Little HouseJULY 19, 2008
- Tiny Palace
- (Joshua McNichols)
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Dee Williams' house is very, very small. It's eight by 15 feet, and 13 feet tall. She can stretch out on the floor and touch one side with her hands, the other with her feet. There's just one room below, and loft for sleeping. It's a beautiful house, made with natural wood and full of light But Williams says it gets tricky when relatives come to stay.
One time her brother came to visit. "And he brought, like, a piece of luggage," she recalls. "I had a lot of anxiety around his luggage. [I said] that's almost the size of my house. Where's that going to go, you know? I guess he could keep it in the yard."
Dee hasn't always lived in a small house. In Portland, Ore., she lived in a 1500 square-foot bungalow.
"Like everyone else in Portland, I decided to remodel it," she says. "And I loved that house. You know, I spent a lot of time working in order to afford to fix my house up." Williams often found herself at Home Depot buying construction materials. But she eventually grew uncomfortable with how much she was consuming, and how much remodeling consumed her.
In the middle of this, she went up to Olympia to help a close friend who was dying of cancer, and she found people helping each other, not worrying about their houses. It made her take a look at her own priorities.
"I have a heart problem, and I have an implanted defibrillator, and my prognosis at different times has not been very good," she explains. "And at some level, I watched this community outpouring for Mark and his family, and I was like, you know, that's what I want. I want to be a part of a community that's gonna take care of me, when I get too sick to take care of myself."
So Dee sold her big house in Portland. She ordered plans from the Tumbleweed Tiny House company and built herself a little house on wheels.
Annie McManus and Hugh O'Neill are among Williams's friends in Olympia. Around the time Williams was building her house, she came up and joined Annie for a walk. Annie recalls asking, "'Dee, where do you planning on moving the little house when you move up?' And she says 'Well, I was kind of hoping to put it in your backyard.' And we kind of laughed as we both realized that's really what we all wanted."
Dee moved into a new, pared-down life in Olympia. Her wardrobe now includes three outfits and a couple of pairs of shoes. She's given up refrigeration and running water. But on the other hand, she only works 3 days a week and her utility bills are next to nothing. It's hard sometimes to explain.
"I'd run into people and they'd say, 'Hey, where you living?'" she recalls. "And I'm like, 'Oh, I'm in Hugh and Annie's backyard.' You know, which just kind of sounds not quite right. And they'd say, 'Huh, really... well, that's great...'"
Williams didn't want to feel like a burden on her friends. She did jobs around the house and helped out with their family. Still, she worried about being a mooch.
When your house is on wheels, it's easy to leave. One day, Dee towed her house to a different spot. She told Annie she wasn't coming back. The two of them had a good cry. Then Annie responded, "I really want you to do what you need to do. But I really want you to come back here."
That's when Dee realized she'd become family. She had to think that through and then she decided that this was OK. She's been living in Hugh and Annie's backyard for three years now.
Dee climbs up to the tiny loft where she sleeps. From here, she can look out over her garden or lie in bed listening to the birds. "This skylight over the bed is beautiful. I really love it. And there's a window behind my head, too, that opens up to the front of the house. I love feeling like nature is right there."
For many of us, home is our fortress, where all our needs are met. Dee's house can't fill all those needs. She's forced to depend on her neighbors for things like eggs and fresh water. But she doesn't want an independent life in a bigger house.
"I think there are a lot of people that live in these houses but don't feel at home, they don't feel at home in the world," she says. "And all of a sudden, I feel so very blessed, and so very much at home. And maybe for the first time ever."