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? 



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:

Reconsidering everything you own

I’m reading a novel called “My Year of Meats” by Ruth Ozeki and was struck by the  following passage. This quote is by a documentary filmmaker living in a small New York apartment:

“It’s a ritual I perform every year. I go through all my possessions, touching each one by one. I reconsider everything I own, and either choose it again or throw it away. It’s a deterrent to shopping and stuff stays special that way.”

I love this passage (except the throwing away part); I like the idea of touching and reconsidering each possession on an annual basis. 

I can’t help but think that if I did this my garage would not look the way it does right now. Unfortunately, I don’t have a small New York apartment that forces me to reconsider everything I own. Instead, I need to be self-disciplined. Oy! 

Seems overwhelming to go through everything, but I’ve found that breaking things down into small tasks helps.

Drawer by drawer, I’m trying to make it so that my possessions are ones that I would choose again today.

What are your strategies for tackling clutter?

New season, less clothes

The beginning of each season is a good time to simplify your closet. On the first day of fall I found my favorite pair of summer capri pants. While I was delighted to find my pants, I’m sad that they didn’t get worn. 

I have too many clothes.

I read about people who have 100 personal items and it sounds appealing to me. They have a few favorites and use something called a washing machine to keep things clean. Sounds simple.

My closet has much more than a few favorites. I have plenty of backups or ‘just in case’ clothes. I wear my favorites and hold on to other clothes for a number of silly reasons.

So I say, wear it or donate it. Why not keep things simple and move things along to people in need?

Not sure what you wear? Try this tip: Put your hangers backwards. When you wear something, switch the hanger around. After a few months, look and see which hangers are still backwards. These hangers are your donate candidates.

Another idea – any time you add one thing to your closet, remove two things.

Do you have too many clothes? How much is too much?

All mixed up

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up.  -Winnie-the-Pooh / A.A. Milne

Spring is coming (yeah!) and with it comes an opportunity to un-mix things. Spring is a time to start fresh, to start anew. So why not take the most mixed-up thing in your home and un-mix it.

You can take a mixed up mess like this:

and start fresh (ctrl+alt+delete). It can be like moving into a new home, but without the hassle of moving.

While organizing this drawer I…

  • Put things where they really belonged (not in this drawer)
  • Got rid of duplicates (I only need one good peeler – not one good one and one crappy one)
  • Took account of what I have
  • Spent time with my daughter who enjoys organizing things

Organizing my silverware drawer took all of 20 minutes, so why didn’t I do this sooner? 

Good question. Ah, I was waiting for inspiration? (she says sheepishly)

What will you un-mix today?

Decluttering drawers: a step-by-step guide

Tackling your firsts

With New Year’s resolutions looming, I’m continuing my quest to simplify my life and unclutter my home. To this end I’ve been reading “Unclutter Your Life in One Week” by Erin Doland (author of the Unclutter blog).

Erin suggests tackling your firsts first. By firsts she means the areas you encounter first – your closet/wardrobe, your desk at work, and the entry to your home. Uncluttering these spaces will make your firsts more pleasant and will motivate you to do more.

Your desk is the first thing you see when you walk into your office. This was my desk today:  

Not an ideal way to start my day.

Ah, much better.

I removed everything from my desk, cleaned it and then went through the miscellaneous stuff that was taking up residence on my desk. Such as:

  • Electric toothbrush that needs a new head
  • First grade art project (my daughter is in 3rd grade now)
  • A backup mouse
  • A battery and some polished rocks

I find that things accumulate on my desk day-by-day, until I have a jumbled mess and then I clean it up.

Erin’s advice for your desk:

“The only things that should be on your desk are those things that you use regularly – as in more than once per day.” Everything else should have a place somewhere else, preferably in a drawer out of sight.

Now that I’ve cleared off my desk, let’s see if I can go a week without adding anything.

Can I create a habit of keeping my desk clean?

What’s on your good habits list? – I enjoyed this post at Serene Journey. Instead of New Year’s resolutions, think about what habits you’d like to form. If you fill your life with good habits, you’ll leave no room for the bad ones.

Go big; Decluttering a play room

After completing a few small decluttering projects – drawers, cabinets and bookshelves, I decided to do a project outside of my home. I asked my friends if they had an area that needed decluttering.

My friend Laura enthusiastically said ‘Yes!’ 

So, we set a decluttering date.

When I arrived at Laura’s home and saw her daughter’s play room for the first time, I ran.


OK I didn’t run, or cry. At first sight I knew it was going to be a long and rewarding day. This project was big. Where should we start?


We started with the big stuff; the furniture. Was all the furniture needed? What would be the best layout for the room? Since it’s a small space, we decided to remove one piece of furniture; a green shelf and drawer unit.

Sorting and purging

Next came the sorting and purging. We purged little kiddie stuff (like Teletubbies and Sesame Street toys) and sorted everything. We put all the art supplies together, the costumes, Polly Pocket, littlest Pet Shop toys… you get the idea. Once sorted, we organized everything and put things away.

In the end we removed four large trash bags full of kid stuff and donated them to goodwill. We threw away two bags of miscellaneous junk toys – broken toys and random pieces of plastic.  

The finished space

Ah, much better!

We found…

  • Decluttering is more fun with a friend
  • Big projects are smaller when you have help
  • You purge more when someone else asks questions like: “does your daughter play with this?”
The desk space is inviting now
Playroom closet - before and after

I left Laura’s house exhausted, happy, and completely inspired to declutter my office. I came home, purged a few books from my shelves and sat on my tushie the rest of the night; satisfied with a job well done.

The next morning Laura spent time in her daughter’s play room because it was a peaceful and inviting place – the space was transformed. We added nothing to the space, instead we removed things so that what was there could shine.

How about you? Have you taken on a big decluttering project?