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Living large: A look inside the tiny house movement

I have exciting news to share with you! My friend Dee Williams was featured on PBS last night. For those of you who are thinking of downsizing your life watch this incredibly inspiring video.

For more tiny house awesomeness, visit Portland Alternative Dwellings, read my interview with Dee, and watch this segment!

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • rachel July 31, 2010, 10:43 am

    What a great segment! I love the tiny house movement, so fascinating. 🙂 xx

  • Virginia J. Pulver August 1, 2010, 5:44 am

    My spouse and I spent 2 1/2 years living in one (small) room during our Peace Corps Ukraine experiences. I love the idea of small spaces. This small space movement resonates with me. Thanks for posting this video. <3

    In Sunny Santa Fe

    • Tammy August 2, 2010, 6:19 am

      @Virgina – Very cool! Thanks for sharing part of your story. I’m happy you enjoyed the video. 🙂

  • Shawn August 1, 2010, 7:28 am

    My dad used to say he could live in a sheep wagon. I guess I’m a lot like that too (but mine would need a fully functioning bathroom Dee). I don’t collect a lot of ‘stuff’, but I do tend to hang on to 10 yrs. worth of financial paperwork (what can I say, I’m over 40…*shrug*). I’m tired of hauling this stuff around. Any suggestions? I love this blog. I thought I had a disorder…like the opposite of hoarding. I purge constantly. I like order and simplicity. Glad to find others like me.

    • Freth August 1, 2010, 2:42 pm

      Use a printer that can scan everything and save it onto CD disks.

      Or, rent a storage shed, put pallets in there to keep everything up off the floor and out of possible moisture …
      it will last longer if you scan it. 🙂

    • Tammy August 2, 2010, 6:17 am

      @Shawn – I agree with Freth. Scan as many items as possible. It will help a lot. I just wrote a post for AOL about photo clutter. I think the tips might help you downsize all your paperwork. 🙂

      Thanks for reading. And have an awesome week!

    • Shawn August 2, 2010, 6:26 pm

      @Freth and Tammy – Thanks for the tips!

    • Rayman August 15, 2010, 7:13 am

      It is probable that you have records not longer needed. “Financial records” can cover a lot of area. Perhpas you can look at the older paperwork and discard those. Check with a tax professional, if they are tax records, as what is legally needed. I tend to keep last 7 years. Each year you file a new return throw the oldest out. I also like the digital storage suggested by Tammy. Best of luck.

  • Wine Harlots August 1, 2010, 7:45 am

    Awe inspiring!

  • Domestic Kate August 1, 2010, 11:07 am

    I love the tiny house movement! Thanks for turning me on to it. I, like Shawn, have a purging issue. I can’t stand having “stuff.” I still don’t think I could live in a house as small as what they’re featuring, but I could definitely do something much, much smaller. I also like that these houses are providing comfort and solutions to those who are anxious about job loss, etc.

  • Annie August 1, 2010, 1:29 pm

    I am working my way to a smaller home as well. Right now I am in a 720 s.f. mobile home and it is my hope to downsize to 500 s.f. or less while the kid still lives with me. When she turns 18 in seven years (yes, I’m counting down) I want to downsize into something similar to the Fencl or perhaps just live in a class B van instead.

    I am not where Dee is yet but I know I am headed in the right direction. Every little step counts. Every little thing I eliminate just makes life more peaceful, you know?

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Tammy August 2, 2010, 6:14 am

      @Annie – Very cool. You are totally right – every little step counts. Remember going small is a process. It took us a number of years to fit into a 400 square foot apartment. 🙂 You’ll get there!

      Thanks for reading!

  • Lynn Fang August 1, 2010, 5:36 pm

    Awesome segment! It was great to see the inside of her home, and great to hear that the tiny house movement is growing! I’m very fascinated, like Rachel said. =P

    • Tammy August 2, 2010, 6:22 am

      @Lynn and Rachel – If you have a chance visit:

      The Tiny House Blog and Tiny House Design. Both sites have a wealth of information on the tiny house movement. 🙂

  • dj August 2, 2010, 3:06 pm

    Cool! I have a small house picture on my refrigerator that I tore from a magazine years ago. I love them! On the opposite end of the scale, during the housing boom we were looking to downsize (realtors were so surprised). As we were driving around, researching, we saw a developer’s sign along the road describing why you should buy their homes: “They were large”. Many experts predict these large homes will be our downfall, especially with falling wages. I must be old school, because I still believe a house is a home for family within a community and not an investment (i.e., I’m not planning on retiring on the sale of my home). In fact, one realtor swayed us away from the west part of our state, which is lovely, because the houses weren’t appreciating as fast. Argh. Just think of all the things you can do, if you don’t have to spend all your money on the mortgage interest, property taxes, maintenance (roof, water heater, furnace, air conditioner), furnishings, and the time to clean the space. And the lifespans of things have decreased a lot. I’d rather replace a roof on a small house, then a 3000 sq ft house, same goes with sizing a furnace. I’m so happy to see the small house movement getting its props, and love reading about them.

  • Joaquin August 2, 2010, 6:07 pm

    Uhm… I can’t view the video for some reason… Anyone else have this problem? I have the latest Adobe Flash installed. Blah 🙁

    • Tammy August 2, 2010, 7:08 pm

      @Joaquin – weird. It’s working for me. Maybe trying going directly to the PBS site and watching the video?

  • Little House August 3, 2010, 11:45 am

    I love Dee’s house (I’m pretty sure it’s a Tumbleweed plan.) The video also showed a dinky little house squeezed in between two much larger structures, I love it!

  • Hillary @ This Tiny House August 4, 2010, 11:20 pm

    Thanks Tammy! I would’ve missed it completely!

  • Aaron August 5, 2010, 10:43 am

    I’m finally building a tiny house with easily enough room for all of my things and room to cook. The house will have a big passive solar wall and good insulation.
    Here’s a work in progress
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/4863365345/

    • Sheila August 9, 2010, 6:52 am

      Hi Aaron — do you have a blog you’re updating with photos/info about your house? The photos are great. I love the windows! Sheila

  • Minimalist Beauty August 7, 2010, 2:01 pm

    This is truly inspiring! I have always wanted a home that is completely off the grid and a tiny house does make it possible. I have been downsizing my possessions since this past December and have already experienced so much relief and success doing it. It really helps to have a vision of what you desire to help your goals come true. I love your blog and thanks for such an amazing article!
    Dawn Michelle

  • Diana August 7, 2010, 10:58 pm

    Amazing. Just came to you and your blog thru the NYT article this morning. I have a BIG project (we renovated an old farmhouse and barn in Italy and turned about 90% of it into a working/artist B&B – and we live in a tiny part of it). The things you write pull me like a huge magnet. The Small House Movement is something that has attracted me for a very long time- the video was great and I just kept shaking my head and saying “amazing”. I have spent the last ten years paring down my possessions, but nothing like you have done. I can clearly see the freedom you have received as far more valuable than the things you have given up. I am going to link you as I continue on my journey towards abundance through simplification. You totally made my morning.

  • KeithTax August 8, 2010, 6:27 am

    Like many, I have come to regret remodeling and expanding my home. The cost in debt and life spent paying that debt is massive.

  • Bend Oregon Real Estate August 8, 2010, 12:15 pm

    Thank you for posting that video which was really inspirational. As a real estate agent, my income is earned off of finding people the home that suits their lifestyle. Many clients still want large homes, however I believe what you are doing in advocating a smaller footprint on life, is gaining traction and I hope that, that growing attraction brings new, more sustainable housing for a variety of lifestyles. I have a personal love of small homes. I live in a small home (not as small as your friends) but small by my areas standards. It’s a matter of pride for me to live with LESS, yet live MORE life.

  • Sheila August 8, 2010, 4:45 pm

    I LOVE Dee Williams. Isn’t she just fantastic?

    My partner Kai and I are building a Wee House this summer. We’ve been purging ourselves of our “stuff” in preparation for the move to a smaller footprint and I have to say, it is liberating in a way I hadn’t expected. Next spring will be the true challenge for us though, as we will be heading off on a round the world tour with only what we can carry on our bikes!

    I saw an interview with you and your partner and our lives/choices/thought processes seem to be in parallel with yours. Thanks for all you do – keep up all the great work! I truly believe each of us can make a difference.


    • Tammy August 9, 2010, 6:38 am

      Wow Sheila! That is really inspiring. We hope to be not too far behind you in both tiny house construction and in bike touring. Back in October, we hosted a couple bike tourists, Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of the path less pedaled, and they were a huge inspiration to us. Best of luck on your adventure! Let us know if you come through Portland! 🙂

      • Sheila August 9, 2010, 6:59 am

        We’re following Russ and Laura online as well! I haven’t met them but I really like the reflective quality of their writing. They’re doing some great stuff out there on the road.

        We’ll definately say hi if we’re in Portland, and if you’re headed to Vermont anytime in the future (bike touring or not) please let us know!

  • Michael August 9, 2010, 1:19 am

    Haven’t these people ever heard of RVs? They are even smaller, more self sufficient and have been around for a very long time.

    • Tammy August 9, 2010, 6:00 am

      Hi Michael,

      Recreational Vehicles can be a solution to small living, however, most RVs are not constructed with full time occupation in mind and lack the traditional “home” aesthetic that most folks crave in their shelter. Jay Shafer, the designer of Dee’s home, has some great stories of his RV experience through a winter in Iowa. He mentions that the insulation in most RVs isn’t enough for 4 season living. 🙂

    • Ruth August 12, 2010, 8:22 am

      I lived for 2 years in a 22 foot camping trailer in Northern Wisconsin back in the 70s. It was not hard to live in but couldn’t handle the winters well. Too little insulation. We countered that by installing a small pot-belly stove. Heated well but you couldn’t hold a fire in it very long. Wood had to be small. We let it go out in the night and tried to survive with down. Bedroom end got frosted. I like the squareness of the little houses. Easier to heat and the deliberateness of the small movement helps with other things like clutter and feelings of deprivation. Even so, we were happy until our small amount of cash ran out and one of us got a full time job. All balance went out of our lives. We ate soups and beans and pasta and had a full kitchen in there although not much in the way of refrigeration. No electricity at first and we had to haul water from the neighbors. We had an outhouse. I learned to bake all our bread. We had big gardens. We also ate stewed rabbit that we hunted and walked in the woods for recreation. We had only one pair of snowshoes so took turns with those. But the trailer wore out bit by bit. I’d do it again–but would prefer a little house. How cool would that be!

  • ruth daniel hunter August 9, 2010, 4:13 am

    Small houses? This is nothing new….I was born in 1928…the Great Depression took my grandparents home, investmest property, and health….they built on land behind my parents a two room house with a front porch where Grandfather could sit in his wheel chair……uncle supplied the labor…a neighbor built the chimney…an Early Morning heater (wood stove) supplied the heat…the surrounding property was used for gardening, including flowers…times were tough! but there were no complaints…”to complain is an insult to God”..so my humble Grandmother said!!!! Oh…and a Johnny House was at the end of he lot! A washtub was used for Saturday night baths!!! Poor but proud!!…and good genes! A constrast of lifestyles with other relatives!!!! I remember it well…redh

  • Raffi / Gardenology.org August 9, 2010, 5:48 am

    I was at the book store last week and saw a book on “small” houses… 1,800 square feet and under. I had to laugh, though it’s actually not funny. That’s the common perception of small these days. I’ve lived in a 350 square foot flat in Europe, and it was truly perfect for me.

    Anyway, great post, links and blog! I hope more people see that less truly can be more. You not only don’t have to waste all your free time dealing with all the junk you’ve accumulated and managing a huge home, you also don’t have to work 40 or 50 hours a week to pay for the huge house, all the stuff in it, and maintaining it. The feeling of liberation has to be experienced to be believed.

  • Tommy August 9, 2010, 5:55 am

    In the past 3 years, I have purged away many unnecessary items from my life by selling or donating them to charities. I want to avoid contributing to the ever-growing landfills with useless plastics that also add debt to the credit cards and deplete the savings.

    I found this website from the NY Times article “But Will It Make You Happy” and am thrilled to see a growing consciousness that bigger isn’t always better. We Americans have so much junk that we should think about the entire process of how it’s made, where it’s made and where it ends up — usually in our closet taking up valuable space or in a landfill.

    I find myself enjoying experiences more than material objects, like extended trips or my desire to play in more ultimate frisbee tournaments internationally. Living a simple life is easy, it just takes some discipline and desire to see the bigger picture. I always ask myself, “Will I use it from a year from now?”

  • Lefty99 August 9, 2010, 11:46 am

    I saw your blog in the NYT article and think it’s great. The scanning idea alone was worth the time spent! I’ve finally made the decision to sell my 1800 sf house and move into a 2BR condo that I’d been renting out and that is about half the size. The economy helped me along in this decision, but I’ve felt the need to downsize and stop living with STUFF for a long time. After thinking about this move, I realized that the only thing really bothering me was sharing a bathroom with my two sons! But then I recall that I grew up with two brothers in a house with one bathroom, and we never considered that there was anything different. So it’s just no big deal when I think of the benefits: great downtown location; walk/bike to school, work, parks entertainment; pool & workout room (no more health club cost!); neighbors I actually know; no outside maintenance or yard work, etc. I got rid of the TV when I adopted my sons, and now I want them also to become accustomed to the benefits of living smaller and more simply. They waited 5 years for a Playstation and were so thrilled when they finally got one, and are still thrilled to play the games on weekends, even though it’s hooked to a little old-fashioned 14″ TV with no cable! I like the idea of valuing experiences (and the increased social connections they can bring) over commodities and think that’s especially important for kids.

  • Maggy August 9, 2010, 1:38 pm

    I am currently obsessed with the tiny house movement. It’s so neat!! 🙂 I just read an article on Yahoo about your lifestyle and I love your blog. My husband and I are total packrats so it’s very difficult for us to part with anything. But I’m trying!

  • Criss August 9, 2010, 3:05 pm

    What do you suggest for a family of 5?

    • Mom August 10, 2010, 6:02 am

      yes, i was wondering how proponents of this movement accommodate kids. i have infants that seem to have more “stuff” than me.

      • Tammy August 10, 2010, 6:56 am


        Thanks for reading. You may want to check out a few parent bloggers in the simplicity movement to answer your questions regarding stuff and kids 🙂

        Joshua Becker
        Leo Babauta
        Katy Wolk-Stanley

  • Teena Hullum August 10, 2010, 5:55 am

    here is another web site for tiny houses here in big, ole Texas…..


  • rod August 10, 2010, 7:52 am

    great, but how and where do you find a nice parcel of land at a reasonable price?
    try that in the outskirts of Denver….

    • Becca August 10, 2010, 5:01 pm

      I’m with you Rod… I’m really curious about the land issue involved with Tiny home living. I haven’t seen anyone be particularly clear on this. Surely not every tiny-home owner is squatting in a friend’s backyard. All the supporters of this movement seem really excited about the idea of owning a home free and clear for $30,000 or so, but never seem to mention availability or costs involved with buying or renting appropriate land to park their tiny home on once it’s finished.
      I’m a big believer simplifying and in only living in as much space as you really need; I live quite happily in a 400 sq. ft apt. And, I can see the appeal of a tiny house. But, I don’t think relying on family and friends for their land (or their showers, for that matter) is really right or that much more sustainable in the long run…

  • Gisela August 10, 2010, 1:57 pm

    I’d love to show this video to my husband. Maybe this will help me convince him that our two-bedroom 1200 sq. foot co-op is all the home we’ll ever need!

  • Annie August 10, 2010, 6:03 pm

    I agree about not wanting to depend upon other’s land or showers. They have versions of these homes with showers included, fortunately.

    I have considered this issue, one could either rent a spot in a park that caters to the RV crowd (around here they are $125-150/month) or park it behind a place that they rent out, like Jay Shafer mentioned doing in his Small House book.

    Most areas won’t allow you to “camp” in these full time however so not sure how that would work.

    While I am considering a tumbleweed or similar home when my daughter turns 18, I am interested in watching how others solve these issues.

  • Angie August 10, 2010, 11:05 pm

    Sorry, but Dee’s house doesn’t count. What happens if we have no one with a home/lot that we can park our tiny house on? She has no shower and no indoor plumbing. We’d have to have someone who was accomodating. Please post someone whose small home lifestyle is accessible by people who have no family who would let you park your home there. What do we do? What are some alternatives for people who live in large cities (like LA, where I live, or Chicago, where I used to live) who have no plans (either do to preference or career, in my case both) to move to towns that are tiny. What are some good alternatives for city dwellers? I use recycled everything (including toilet paper) drive an inexpensive car and am very handy when it comes to refinishing furniture/sewing etc. What other things can a city dweller do?

    Also 100 items… i’d have to get rid of all of my tools and painting supplies, which I’d think would be contrary to your movement. (also, does art count? I paint and have original artwork which I will not part with, plus signed books that are valuable) Someone who is very self-sufficient has tools… how many items can people like me have? I don’t believe in disposable items so I maintain my supply of home improvement items because I need them on a regular basis. Suggestions?

  • Barb August 12, 2010, 3:39 am

    I’ve been living alone since 2008, for the first time in 60 years, and have been trying to down-size. Thanks for the much needed boost in motivation!

  • Becca August 12, 2010, 4:24 am

    Angie, 100 items is an interesting experiment and a nice idea for some, but its ok if it doesn’t fit your lifestyle. I’m an artist like you, plus I cook a lot. I’d have 100 art and cooking supplies, alone. I use these things to make handmade goods and cook and prepare lovely sustainable and local foods. Sorry, not trading in my pots and pans and gorgeous produce and humanely harvested local meats (in my full sized freezer) for a mini-fridge, one burner and some mass-produced cans of processed soups. But, I also don’t think anyone is asking me to do that.
    I think the key to simplifying is to surround yourself with the just the things you really use and truly love. More of a Feng Shui approach. Needless clutter will never make you happy, but neither will purging your belongings simply to adhere to a less is more philosophy that doesn’t necessarily make sense with your life.

  • Diana August 12, 2010, 11:33 pm

    I agree. I think the things you need to be successful professionally, while they might be able to be reduced and cleaned out, need to be excluded from the count completely. The idea, I think, is to feel free in both your personal and professional life, and to be able to flow from one to the other without too many barriers. It’s not necessarily about a specific number, but about getting the different aspects of life to the point where you feel clear and comfortable and not overwhelmed about them. I am an artist, a potter, an innkeeper and a writer. Those four things each require a specific set of tools to do well. But I can see also how I can make all four of those things cleaner, easier, and more functional.

  • jen August 18, 2010, 7:42 am

    I just read about you in the NY Times & you are inspiring me to downsize this year…. being an artist, a teacher, and a grad student, all of these things enter your personal space & sometimes just take over. I didn’t realize how much so until I had this summer’s bedbug crisis – all of my belongings are packed in boxes and bags – I had NO CLUE how much I owned until then. and living in an 800 ft space caused me to have to buy storage furniture i never had before, living in a 500 ft studio.

    I’m so excited that you have the tiny house movement on here! I’ve been into Jay Schaffer’s ideas for the past couple of years, am looking at the permanent 2-br houses – like the Enesti or the Sebastino…. so that i can also have room for an art studio/home office as well….

  • Michelle August 18, 2010, 8:20 pm

    I really enjoyed watching this clip. It seemed to come at just the just time. Tonight, I spoke with my aunt to let her know that we were coming for a visit. The first thing out of her mouth was the fact that their appartment was just too small and that she had hope that I was not thinking of staying with them. Very sad to hear since I have been working on the 100 Thing Challenge, I guess I thought everyone enjoyed their small dwellings. She went on and on about how she feels like she is living in a fish bowl. She did get rid of a lot of stuff after having to leave her 5 acre horse property and move into a 500 sq. ft. apartment, but I really feel for her because she does not see the bigger picture in life. Thanks again!

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