Dee Williams: Dream big, live small

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


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.

Dream Save Do – Amass the cash to live your dream

I just finished reading ‘Dream Save Do’ by Betsy and Warren Talbot. Betsy and Warren spend their days meeting people, traveling the world, and trying new things. Sounds pretty fun huh?

How did Betsy and Warren become world travelers? Betsy and Warren were your basic corporate drones, who on the cusp of turning 40 stopped buying things and started saving for their dream. Traveling the world.

In two years’ time they saved $75,000, more than enough to fund their travel budget of $100 a day (read Dream Save Do for all their money saving details). Last fall Warren and Betsy packed their backpacks and traveled to South America, then Antarctica, Europe, and now Thailand. They’re living their dream and inspiring others to do the same. Very cool!

Are Betsy and Warren the real deal? Yep! A couple of years ago I met Betsy when she was stockpiling cash and selling her possessions. I thought Betsy was fun and full of interesting stories (and this is before she started traveling!).

I love reading about people following their passion because they inspire me to do the same. Reading ‘Dream Save Do’ got me thinking about my dream.

What does my ideal day look like? If I could live anywhere, where would I live? What would I do? And what can I do today to make my dream reality?

Good stuff.

You can read all about Warren and Betsy’s adventures at

Life is short. Live your dream.

Kindle library books

A few weeks ago Amazon added library books to the Kindle. Yes!

Now you can browse and download library books to your Kindle from the comfort of your own home. While I enjoy reading on my Kindle, the price of Kindle books has inched upwards since they were first introduced. I haven’t used my Kindle a ton, because it’s expensive to feed. Kindle library books are great because they’re free and sometimes available instantly.

Don’t have a Kindle? No worries. If you have a smartphone, you can use the Kindle app to read Kindle library books on your phone. At first I scoffed at this idea thinking the screen size was too small, but I’ve found that reading books on my phone isn’t that bad. Having books on my phone is handy when I’m waiting for an appointment to start, or my daughter’s piano lesson to end.

To see which Kindle library books are available – go to your library’s website. The downside?

  • You can’t download library Kindle books over 3G (you need to use Wi-Fi or a USB cable connected to your computer).
  • The lending period is 21 days, so read fast.

My public library also has eBooks in PDF and Adobe ePUB formats, which you can read on your computer. So check out the ‘Downloads’ section on your library’s website. You never know what you might find.

It’s raining books

This weekend was wet in Seattle, but my family had an great time relaxing with a few books.

Me: I read Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork. A YA book about a young man with Asbergers who is pushed into the ‘real world.’ The protagonist is curious, compassionate, intellectual and wonderfullly naïve. I enjoyed spending the day inside the mind of someone who sees the world a little differently.

Meanwhile my teenager discovered James Bond books. She devoured Live or Let Die, Dr No, and The Spy Who Loved Me (all by Ian Fleming).

My youngest laughed her way through Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney. This series has helped my nine year old appreciate the teen in our house (as far as teenagers go, she is a good egg). Also, my youngest is happy that her school doesn’t have bullies as in the Wimpy Kid.

Sunday morning we made a quick dash to the library to ‘replenish our supplies.’ If it had been a beautiful sunny weekend we probably wouldn’t have read so much.

Thank you Seattle, for giving us plenty of time to read.

How about you? What did you read this weekend?

(The library is an incredible free resource. Why not use it?) 

52 ways to use your libary card

Empty your library

I was reading Seth Godin’s blog last week and came across an idea that I like:

“Find someone you care about and give away a book that has changed you. Books don’t earn interest unless people are reading them. Ideas that spread, win.”

Like many things in life, books are meant to be enjoyed. Meant to be read. Once you read something great, why not pass it on to someone you know?

“There is no delight in owning anything unshared.” Roman philosopher

I’d like to share a book that kept me up at night. A book that I thought about when I woke up in the morning. A book that I savored ’til the last drop.

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

This book is about three women who are determined to tell a story that no one has heard before, despite the inherent dangers of telling the story. This book is a real page turner – it’s funny, compelling, thought provoking, and inspirational. It’s simply wonderful.

What book would you like to share?

Large packages, large Americans

While reading Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink, I came across an interesting idea.


Large packages can save you money and delay a store trip, but have you ever thought that large packages contribute to overeating? In Mindless Eating, Food psychologist Brian Wansink shows us how what’s around us influences how much we eat.

For example, two groups were asked to make a spaghetti dinner. The cooks in one group were given a medium box of spaghetti, a medium jar of sauce and 1 pound of ground beef. Another group of cooks were given a large box of spaghetti, a large jar of sauce, and 2 pounds of ground beef.

The results?

The cooks with larger packages prepared 23% more food.

Did they eat it all?


Typically people eat 92% of the food that’s served. The larger packages resulted in more calories being consumed.

When a package is large we naturally pour more. The bigger the package the more we eat. We may only eat 20% more, but over time this extra consumption can increase the size of a muffin-top by say… 20% (muffin-top: The flab that spills over the top of the waistband of low rise jeans).

For snack foods, overeating is more dramatic.

In another study, a group of movie-goers were given a 1/2 pound or a 1 pound bag of M&M’s. The group that was given a 1/2 pound bag ate 71 M&M’s on average. Those with the 1 pound bag ate an average of 137 M&M’s. Almost twice as many M&M’s – 264 more calories.

Ouch! I knew there was a good reason to avoid 1 pound bags of M&M’s.


I enjoyed reading Mindless Eating – it’s fascinating and fun, rather like Malcolm Gladwell’s books. Wansink describes the many influences behind overeating: package size, labels, lighting, family and distractions like TV.

Why do you think we overeat?