Meet Dee Williams: She Lives in 84 Square Feet

When Dee Williams wakes up, she climbs down a skinny ladder and pours water from a ceramic jug. After making a cup of tea on her single-burner stovetop, she soaks a towel in the leftover hot water and washes her face, pretending she’s in the shower.

Big Tiny author photo - credit Betty UdesenPhoto courtesy of Betty Udesen

Later, the Olympia, WA resident takes her dog, Olukai, for a walk and reads on the front porch. It’s an ordinary day for Williams, who has been living this way – the tiny-house way – for the past decade.

“The corncob-pipe lifestyle has worked nice for me,” she said. “For others, it might push them beyond bending to breaking.”

Big Tiny - in backyardPhoto courtesy of Dee Williams

Williams’ home is just 84 square feet. Her bedroom is lofted above a small kitchen counter and sitting area. There’s no running water or refrigerator, which means Williams composts her waste and keeps perishables such as milk and beer in a blue cooler under the front porch.

“I think I would be fairly miserable if I didn’t love camping,” she said. “But my bed is a lot more comfortable [than sleeping in a tent].”

Big Tiny - sleeping spacePhoto courtesy of Dee Williams

After owning a 3-bedroom house in Portland, OR, Williams loves having fewer belongings and expenses. She doesn’t have an electricity bill because she uses solar power, and she doesn’t have a mortgage.

However, saving money isn’t why Williams set out to build her tiny home 10 years ago.

“I was diagnosed with heart muscle disease [or cardiomyopathy],” she explained. “I wanted to be able to live close to friends who would end up taking care of me as I got sicker.”

Photo courtesy of Dee Williams

Williams admits building a tiny home wasn’t some well-devised plan or a cure-all. But with a newly-implanted defibrillator in her chest, she knew she needed to slow down and live closer to friends and family.

“I was sitting in my doctor’s office and read an article about a guy [Jay Shafer] that built a little house on wheels,” she said. “His reason for building was to avoid building code restrictions for the minimum size of an accessory dwelling unit. It’s hard to get permission to build less than 400 to 500 square feet.”

Williams visited Shafer and then decided to take the tiny plunge. She spent $10,000 on the materials needed to construct a cedar-clad, eco-friendly house. To avoid possible building code restrictions, Williams also built hers on wheels.

“I wanted to build super-small so I could live close to friends but not inconvenience them too much,” she said. “Hugh and Annie – they are my friends – and Hugh’s aunt Rita lived next door. I kind of slid between these households sharing a common backyard.”

Williams also seamlessly slid into their lives, watching “Wheel of Fortune” with Rita until she passed away, playing with the neighborhood kids and doing yardwork for Hugh and Annie, whom she pays a small amount each month in exchange for using their water and other household facilities.

Big Tiny - giving a talkPhoto courtesy of Dee Williams

“We get sidetracked by the size of things,” she said. “I know it seems weird to live in a smaller space in a community with people like this, but it works for me.”

Williams says the local library has become her bookshelf, and the laundromat is her laundry room. “I look at places differently than I used to.”

She also teaches workshops about the tiny-house movement and has written a book, “The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir,” about her experience.

“I’ve grown very attached to the backyard,” she said. “I trust the wind will come from the southwest like it does every winter. I love the spot I’m at. I don’t want to move.”

Originally published May 29, 2014.

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