Dee Williams: Dream big, live small

In 2004 Dee Williams designed and built a house that was roughly the size of an area rug.

rug

Dee downsized from a 1,500 square foot house to an 84 square foot house.

1500 -> 84 square feetDeeWilliamsHouse

(a downsizing of 1,416 square feet)

Why downsize?

Dee’s motivations for downsizing include a trip to Guatemala, losing a close friend to cancer, and her own diagnosis of congestive heart failure at age 40. These events made Dee begin to question the time, energy, and money that her home required. She started dreaming. She dreamed of a bigger life in a smaller house.

While 84 square feet might seem ridicuously small on paper, her house feels much larger-like maybe 120 square feet. This magical expansion of what Dee calls her 6 X 7 “great room” is made possible by an 11 foot ceiling, a skylight, and some space saving ingenuity.

Here you can see Dee’s inspiring story and TED talk:

Twelve years after building her tiny house Dee still lives in it. Wow! Tiny house living is not a fad? At least not for Dee Williams. Downsizing, or maybe I should say rightsizing, gave Dee something that many Americans crave: more time, less busyness. A smaller home allowed Dee to exit the rat race.

(insert small sound of envy here)

Today, Dee works part time for the Department of Ecology, volunteers in her community, and spends time noticing the world around her (while I inhale a Starbucks muffin on my way to work).

Last year Dee wrote about her house building adventure in The Big Tiny, A Built-It-Myself Memoir. In this memoir, Dee describes her building project from the moment of inception til its completion. She also shares her thoughts on the benefits of slowing down, letting go of stuff, and connecting with nature and her community.

BigTiny

My favorite quote from Dee’s book:

“I discovered a new way of looking at the sky, the winter rain, the neighbors, and myself; and a different way of spending my time. Most important, I stumbled into a new sort of “happiness,” one that didn’t hinge on always getting what I want, but rather, on wanting what I have. It’s the kind of happiness that isn’t tied so tightly to being comfortable (or having money and property), but instead is linked to a deeper sense of satisfaction—to a sense of humility and gratitude, and a better understanding of who I am in my heart.”

In her TED talk, Dee asks us to think about the end of our lives and what it means to be human.

‘Gratitude, humility, grace’

Yes, the world needs more of this.

(and perhaps more tiny houses)

What do you think? Have you thought about downsizing/rightsizing? 

 

Practicing poverty, so that you have nothing to fear

Around 63 AD, a Roman stoic philosopher named Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote 124 letters to a knight named Lucilius. These letters explain and extol the virtues of a philosophy known as Stoicism.

For example, Letter 18 (On festivals and fasting) suggests that you:

Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?”

Seneca suggests that practicing a fear, helps diminish the fear. So if you fear poverty or losing your job, practicing being content with less (the scantiest, cheapest fare) can help reduce your fear.

Seneca goes on to say…

…my dear Lucilius, you will leap for joy when filled with a pennyworth of food, and you will understand that a man’s peace of mind does not depend upon Fortune; for, even when angry she grants enough for our needs.

Seneca argues that if you rehearse poverty on a regular basis, say a few days each month, you’ll better appreciate your current situation and understand that happiness is not dependent on wealth.

…let us become intimate with poverty, so that Fortune may not catch us off our guard. We shall be rich with all the more comfort, if we once learn how far poverty is from being a burden.

Here are some things I’ve done in the past that I found rewarding:

  • Food: Ate oatmeal for breakfast, hard-boiled eggs for lunch, vegetables and lentils for dinner (cost of about $3 a day).
  • Transportation: Rode my bike or walked whenever possible.
  • Electricity/Heating: Cut back on electricity and heating/cooling; read by candlelight, went to bed early and got up with the sun.
  • Spending money: Counted how many days I could go without spending money.

And here are some new things I’m contemplating after reading Seneca’s letter:

  • Sleep: Sleep on the kitchen floor instead of my comfy bed.
  • Food: Fast for a portion of the day or drink Soylent once a day (liquid nutrition that tastes like chalk).
  • Clothing: Wear the same clothes for several days, washing them by hand.

What do you think? Is practicing poverty worthwhile or just annoying?

To read more letters, check out Moral letters to Lucilius or at your library checkout Letters from a Stoic by Seneca.

Nearly and freshly expired soup

Winter is a great time to eat your way through your pantry, with a keen eye on expiration dates. Last week, I found these products were all nearly expired or freshly expired:

IMG_0120

So I threw all of this into a slow cooker, along with lentils, brown rice, and spices. Wha la! I made many tasty lunches and dinners from food that might have been wasted… had I not searched for expired food in the dark corners of my pantry.

The inspiration for this soup came from a 99% Invisible Podcast called Best Enjoyed By (episode 195).

Use by
Sell by
Best by
Best if used by
Expires on
Forget about it after

What do all these mean? Today, there are no definitions or standards for the freshness labels that we see on our food. Companies can print whatever they like on their products. Also the labels are about freshness, not food safety. Food that is past its freshness date is not necessarily unsafe to eat.

So what should we do? Take a sniff and taste test?

In the end, common sense must prevail. Just as you wouldn’t drink milk that tasted funky (even when not expired), the ‘Best by’ date doesn’t have to mean the ‘Toss date’. At least that’s my thought.

What do you think? Is it safe to eat food past its freshness date?

I found this additional morsel of info on the USDA website:

  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.

 

Learning to love lovely lentils

I’ve discovered a perfect food.

Lentils.

Lentils are perfect because they are . . .

  • inexpensive (a pound of dried lentils is $1)
  • chameleon-like; lentils take on the flavor of their surroundings
  • quick and easy to cook
  • nutritious (protein, amino acids, minerals, and vitamins)

Yes, lentils are perfect.

I made two pots of ‘Lovely Lentils’ this week after stumbling on Jules Clancy’s Stone Soup blog.

Lovely Lentils

1/2 lb of dried lentils
1 onion
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
  1. Add dried lentils to a pot of cold water (water should cover the lentils).
  2. Roughly chop up an onion and add it to the pot.
  3. Bring the lentils to a boil.
  4. Turn down the heat to medium and cook for 15-20 minutes.
  5. When the lentils are the texture that you’d like (I like tender, but still a little firm), drain the lentils well.
  6. Put the lentils back into the pot.
  7. Stir in equal parts soy sauce and sherry vinegar (1-2 T).
  8. Stir in a tablespoon of olive oil.
  9. Add some pepper if you’d like.

Store leftovers in the fridge and reheat for an instant snack, a side dish, or breakfast. Yes, I said breakfast! After a few days of eating lentils for lunch, I woke up one morning craving lentils. Kind of crazy.

Variations: I added roasted red peppers one day and goat cheese another day.

Jules Clancy’s blog has delicious recipes and most have just 5 ingredients.

What do you think is a perfect food?

Office shopping temptations

I started a new job with an office, coworkers, and a commute. Previously, I worked from home in my pajamas, blissfully ignorant of the many shopping temptations that accompany an office job.

Working outside the home I found…

  • Lots of opportunities to buy food and drinks.
  • More consumer products, fashion, and gadgets. Hmm, that Kindle is smaller than mine and looks cooler. Should I buy new work clothes like those?
  • More opportunities to shop. I can easily shop on my way home or walk to a store during lunch.
  • Thoughts of grabbing dinner on my way home.

And finally, I felt compelled to buy something on my way home Friday. You know, as a reward for a job well done at the office.

In the end, I didn’t change my spending habits this week. But I can see that it’s easy to spend when you’re exposed to so many products and stores.

What do you think? Do you feel more compelled to buy things when you work outside the home?

Removing redundancies

In an effort to simplify my life and create space, I’ve been systematically removing things from my house. Today I focused on a couple drawers in my kitchen. What did I find?

Three peelers:

Vegetable or potato peelers

One peeler that I never use,

another peeler that I use if I can’t find the one I really like,

and then there’s the peeler that I use and like (the one with the blade that swivels).

Three! So today, two peelers went to goodwill along with a box of other miscellaneous things that I don’t use or don’t need. I was keeping two peelers just in case they were needed (large peeling party?), when in truth I only need one peeler.

Having more than I need clutters up my kitchen, my house, and my mind.

Are there things that you’re holding onto just in case they’re needed?

If you’re interested in a minimalist kitchen, check out these excellent posts by Jules Clancy of Stone Soup:

Go old school. Use a basket

My daughter grabbed a basket at the supermarket.

“Let’s get a cart in case we want to get something big,” I said.

“But this basket holds less. I’m trying to save you money,” she insisted.

And so we shopped with a basket.

We found a few things that weren’t on our list (pretty typical when shopping with a child). However, since we had less space and had to carry everything, many purchases were averted.

The basket forced us to carefully consider our purchases. We stuck to our shopping list like glue.

Which got me thinking… when were shopping carts invented? Shopping carts first rolled into stores in 1937. The concept was delightfully simple: make shopping easy for customers so that they’ll visit often and buy more.

Ah, but of course!

If you want to put the brakes on your spending (and improve your upper body strength), go old school. Use a basket.

What tactics do you use to buy less?