Tiny Tuesday: The Big Tiny

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a long time. As I have mentioned before, I met author Dee Williams in 2013 at the Yestermorrow Tiny House Fair in Vermont, and in the two minutes I spent actually talking to her she made me feel like a close companion. She greeted me – a stranger whom she only recognized because I’d asked a couple of questions during her presentation – with a hug. She teased out that I was a structural engineer and immediately asked me to proofread her other book, a how-to manual for building your own house on wheels. In The Big Tiny, a memoir, her infectious personality comes through loud and clear.

Dee used to live in a big house in Portland, Oregon, spending her weekends on home improvement projects. A cathartic experience at the age of 41 makes her seek deeper happiness, and soon afterwards she meets Jay Shafer and builds a tiny house and sells most of her stuff. Eventually she takes up residence in a friend’s backyard in Olympia, Washington, in exchange for caring for an elderly neighbor.

It’s important to realize these events happened in the early 2000s, when there was no Tiny House Hunters on HGTV and probably less than a dozen Americans lived in one. If you think moving into 100 square feet is crazy now, you can imagine what it was like then, with virtually no precedent. But you don’t have to imagine it – Dee lays her emotions bare, walking her readers through all her tough questions and nagging doubts. Will I be comfortable? What will other people think? Why am I doing this? Moments later she’s a kid again, building the treehouse of her dreams and making the reader pinky-swear not to tell her secrets. In her honesty, Dee proves she’s not a recluse or an environmental nut; she’s a kind and genuine person who had the courage to make a big tiny life decision, the sort of person you’d feel blessed to count as a friend.

Tiny Tuesday: 3 Tips to Control Your Stuff

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Tongue not entirely in cheek, I believe the same is true of stuff: it expands to fill the space you have. When people find themselves with a spare room or closet or cabinet (because they built an addition, or moved into a bigger place, or a roommate moved out), it doesn’t stay spare for long. Either they fill the space with rarely-used stuff, or they buy new stuff to fill the void. Nature – including human nature – abhors a vacuum.

Here are three tips for controlling your stuff, instead of letting your stuff control you.

1. Everything in its place. Designate a place to drop your keys, a place to put mail and newspapers, places for dishes and laundry and anything else in a state of “not ready to be put away”. Never let things pile up in places they don’t belong.

2. Keep surfaces clean. This is the grownup version of “pick up your toys”. When you’re working at a desk, cooking at a counter, or eating at a table, the surface becomes a temporary space for stuff. Don’t let it become permanent. This lifeedited post takes a different approach: to keep surfaces from piling up, reduce the number of surfaces you have!

3. One in, one out. This is the hardest rule to follow, but many small-house residents swear by it. Every time you acquire a new item, make room for it by giving up another item. Not necessarily throwing it out, but selling it, donating it, or otherwise purging it from your home and your responsibility. Keep constant the number of things you own, and the tank never overflows.

The end goal is not being able to declutter (lots of people thrive in messy spaces), but breaking the habit of consumerism. For the big picture, read this article on theminimalists. Your needs should define the place where you live – not vice versa.

Tiny Tuesday: What’s Under Your Bed?

In the late 1990s, a chain email made the rounds among teens and tweens in the form of a survey. (For all I know, it may STILL be making the rounds.) The idea was to send your answers to all your friends in the hope that they’d write back with their own answers. Questions ranged from “What’s the last thing you ate?” to “Have you ever been in love?” My favorite question in the survey was: “What’s under your bed?”

In my case, what was under my bed was a bunch of artwork, including dozens of fake ski area maps I’d drawn, and more often than not my dog. Other answers were “books,” “toys,” “dirty clothes,” and “another bed” (i.e. a trundle). Nobody, not one, claimed to have an empty space there.

I’ve written previously about beds that do double duty, including sofa beds/futons and Murphy beds. The majority of us sleep in traditional beds, raised off the floor for ease of getting in and out (and also for ventilation). That means anywhere from 6 to 20 inches of storage space that’s permanently available and easy to hide. Kids know this right up through college; a lot of adults seem to forget.

If just jamming stuff under there seems yucky, you could invest in some shallow plastic boxes to store out-of-season clothing and extra linens. My bed has built-in drawers underneath; an overhang on all sides hides the storage and gives the bed an appearance of floating. Bedworks in Cambridge, MA offers a beautiful platform bed in a similar style, although it doesn’t come cheap. Captain’s beds, raised higher with drawers below like on a ship, are available in grownup styles from Resource Furniture and IKEA. If you want to keep more things in a small house, under the bed is one place not to ignore.