July 13, 2014

“Tiny Houser” Dee Williams on the 1 question to ask ourselves before we shop. 

WATCH: This 60-second Clip Might Change the Way we Consume.

In 2004, Dee Williams sold her 1,200 square foot house in Olympia, Washington and moved into an 84-square foot Tiny House that she built herself, from scratch. Ten years later, Dee is still living tiny and has become an author and major spokesperson in the growing movement to live minimally.

I met Dee in 2010, when Christopher Smith and I filmed her for our documentary, TINY: A Story About Living Small. TINY chronicles our own process of building a Tiny House from scratch with no building experience and profiles other people (like Dee) who have radically downsized their lives. As we built our house and traveled around the country visiting other ‘Tiny Housers’ we were motivated by one central question:

“What makes a good home?”

If home wasn’t defined by space or stuff, we wondered, then what was it?

Dee williams TINY A story about living small

What struck me about Dee was her honest and straightforward approach to life. In many ways, this is born from necessity: Dee decided to downsize shortly after she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Though she’s healthy and going strong today, the precariousness of her health has helped her to prioritize. While it may seem extreme to think about death every time we embark on a shopping spree, it’s true that impermanence has a way of putting everything into perspective and reminding us of what matters most.

Dee’s point isn’t so much that we shouldn’t buy that new pair of pumps or the flatscreen TV, but that it’s worth noticing what kind of life we are cultivating with each choice and purchase we make. It’s fun and sometimes necessary to buy things – but let’s make sure our possessions are highlighting and not hindering our connection to the people and experiences that make our precious, short lives worth living in the first place.

The above video is an excerpt of a 12-minute extended interview with Dee Williams that appears as a special feature on the DVD of TINY: A Story About Living Small. You can also rent or download TINY on iTunes and Vimeo on Demand.

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documentary Oct 26, 2014 4:33am

thank you for sharing this info

Lisa Jul 16, 2014 7:58am

My dad was a hoarder and I had to deal with all his stuff when he became ill and subsequently passed away. Without going on and one about what's messed about how he got into that position, dealing with his massive amount of stuff made me want to get rid of all my stuff. I don't want my son to have to go through what I went through. Now when I buy something, it's because we need it. Can I live without it? If so, then it can wait. Yeah, I'd love a Vitamix mixer, but I don't need it. Now I just need to get rid of all the junk I already have. I live in a 1200sf house. I have a husband, a son and two dogs. My husband has said we need a bigger house. No. Three people should be able to live comfortably in our house.

Jamie Khoo Jul 14, 2014 10:06am

This. is. tremendous.
I'm ashamed that I never thought of this one question as I merrily shop my way through sales and shopping malls and promotions and discounts, thinking (in spite of an MA dissertation on consumerism and many years studying Buddhist teachings on impermanence) "If I just bought this new mascara, THIS will complete me". But this one question. Wow. I'm thinking that each time that impulse buy bug bites me again.

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Merete Mueller

Merete is a writer and filmmaker, and was once-upon-a-time the Managing Editor of elephant journal’s print incarnation, from 2006-2008. Today, you can find her on Twitter @meretemueller and on her blog To The Bones. Her first documentary, “TINY: A Story About Living Small”, about people who have downsized their lives into homes the size of a parking space, premiered at SXSW in March 2013.