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.

Jessi Arrington: Wearing nothing new

An idea worth spreading: Not buying new clothes was presented as a TED Talk by designer Jessi Arrington. Here’s why Jessi shops at thrift stores and flea markets:

  • To reduce her impact on our environment and her wallet.
  • To meet all kinds of great people.
  • To support a good cause.
  • To dress in a unique way.

Jessi says “shopping at thrift stores is like a personal treasure hunt.”

So true! You never know what you’ll find.

Another great reason to buy used clothes… You don’t have to worry or wonder about how something will ‘wash up,’ because it’s already been through the ringer (or at least a washer). Check out Jessi’s TED talk:

Why do you like treasure hunts?

Rethinking gum

In the back of my mind, I’ve always known that gum wasn’t healthy. Not healthy for me or our environment. I noticed that gum wasn’t sold at ‘natural’ grocery stores and the ingredients, well ah… they are suspect (i.e. polyvinyl acetate anyone?). All that said, I still chewed gum.

That is, until I read ‘Chewing on Plastic? Yum!‘ back in January, and my gum buying days stopped. Wow!Picture of gum

The past few months I’ve been in many checkout lines, surrounded by gum, AND I’ve resisted the temptation. Yay! Once I bought some Peppermint lifesavers, but no gum.

Thanks to Beth Terry at My Plastic-free Life for inspiring me to kick my gum habit! I aspire to live a plastic-free life, and while I have a ways to go, reading blogs by plastic-free bloggers are great motivation for me.

Have you kicked the gum habit? Which alternatives do you like? 

More about gum: Behind the label: Chewing gum

My 365 photo blog post for today:

Picture of blue clouds

Use what you need and leave the rest

I overheard the following comment in the locker room today:

“I like to shower here because of the unlimited towels.”

Unlimited towels? At the pool there are stacks and stacks of towels, but I never thought of the towels as being unlimited. This comment got me thinking about frugality. For me, frugality is not about clipping coupons or choosing the cheapest option (especially if the cheapest option is not built to last).

For me, frugality is my quest to consume less.

When I see a stack of towels, I take one because that’s all I need. I don’t think towels are unlimited. Instead, I think resources are limited and need to be conserved. I avoid using disposable products like paper cups and plastic bags at the pool, and I don’t take long showers. I’m not perfect, but I try to consume as little as possible.

However, now that I think about it (ah, this is good) the best choice is to bring my own towel to the pool. This way I can use my towel several times before it’s washed.

How about you? Are there places in your life where you can consume less?

Plastic free lunches

A few years ago my daughters’ lunches consumed 4 or 5 plastic sandwich baggies times 2. That’s 10 baggies a day, 50 baggies a week, or 200 baggies per month. Yikes! My quest to consume less led me to the following plastic baggie alternatives.

Geometric Tiles Sandwich Sak - Reusable, Stylish, Eco-ConsciousWasteNot Saks – these handy washable bags are great for lunches. Cheese, popcorn, nuts, carrots… all fit nicely inside this bag. The inside is nylon and there are many fun patterns to choose from.

LunchBots – I use stainless steel sandwich boxes for messy sandwiches or anything I don’t want to have smushed. 

Homemade bread with butter and chunks of cheese

I also reuse all plastic bags that find their way into our home. Every bag is given at least a second life. For example, I might use the plastic bread bag to store cheese. The plastic bag from cereal boxes can be reused for any number of things.  

For my lunch I like to use a Pyrex container with a plastic or rubber lid. This makes microwaving super easy (sans the lid). For cold lunches, I’ve had my eye on a cool stainless stacking lunch box from To-Go Ware, but I haven’t pulled the trigger. For now, I’m good with what I’ve got.

Why avoid plastic baggies? Disposable baggies take hundreds of years to break down and when they do, chemicals are released into the soil. So why not go plastic-free?

How about you? What plastic sandwich bag alternatives do you use?

Millions and billions and trillions of glasses

I went to a movie and was handed a plastic bag with 3D glasses. The glasses were nicer than the old cardboard variety, but I was mildly annoyed by the plastic bag. Why are plastic glasses wrapped in plastic?

After the movie, movie-goers can drop the glasses into a cardboard box for recycling. Recycling? Glasses that were worn once are melted down to make new glasses? Seems silly. After my conversation with the theatre staff went nowhere (was I really the first person to ask about the recycling?), I tried the Web.

The Internets revealed that every day some 700,000 Real-D glasses are shipped to a cleaning facility in LA where they’re sanitized, repackaged and shipped back to the theatres (not sure why this is called recycling, but perhaps reusing or washing doesn’t sound sexy?)

Some smaller companies handle the 3D glasses differently. Dolby, for example, has 3D glasses and they suggest that theatre owners buy something called a dishwasher. The glasses are washed onsite and reused. Simple.

I hope that more theatres will install dishwashers (and use compostable food containers).

In the meantime, I took my 3D glasses home to save for my next thrilling 3D experience (no shipping or repackaging needed).

Are 3D movies here to stay?

“There are hundreds of glasses, thousands of glasses, millions and billions and trillions of 3D glasses.”

Maybe I’m old school, but I like regular ol’ 2D. No special glasses required.

[Wiki sayz: Millions of Cats is the oldest American picture book still in print (1926).]