Living Large in a Little House

by Tammy Strobel on December 9, 2011

{Editor’s note: Earlier today, I was digging through my blog archives and pruning old content. I stumbled across this interview with my friend Dee and I decided to repost it because it made me smile. And I had a lovely dinner with her last night. I feel so lucky to have such amazing friends in my life. Enjoy the interview! Ping me on Google+ if you have questions.}

Tammy: Selling your big house and moving into a tiny home was big decision. What inspired you to downsize your life?

Dee: There were a bunch of things that inspired me to down-size in 2004. My friend, Mark, had just died of cancer; my job as a hazardous waste inspector was increasingly reminding me that my (our) consumer choices have terrible consequences; and I had just returned from a trip to Guatemala, where I was brought face to face with my affluence and real-world poverty. There were lots of big things that were ultimately encouraging me to go small.

I just found this Wendell Berry poem that says it all:

“Like a tide it comes in,
Wave after wave of foliage and fruit
The nurtured and the wild,
Out of the light to this shore.
In its extravagance we shape
The strenuous outline of enough.”

Tammy: You live a beautiful, yet tiny, 84 square-foot home that’s been featured in Yes!Magazine, TIME Magazine, on Good Morning America, NBC Evening News, National Public Radio, and other media. Can you tell us about your popular little house?

Dee: Media is a weird thing. I think people are curious, intrigued, sometimes horrified, and sometimes simply entertained by the fact that a grown-up lady can live in a tiny space. I’ve been told people are inspired by my choice to live small, and have also been told that I’m what’s wrong with America – that I shouldn’t be allowed to visit the library or use any other public resource, and that I should be ashamed of myself for sponging off other’s hard work. Ouch. My mom’s response to the media is “it seems 99% of the people who have written really like your choices and the other 1%, well, they can’t spell.”

Tammy: What’s your favorite thing about living in your little house?

Dee: I love the loft. From there, it seems everything is good. I’m taller. Better looking and operating with a clear head. The moon is closer and all my problems, pinned so far away, look like tiny ants.

Tammy: Has your smaller lifestyle brought you more happiness? If so, how?

Dee: I think my smaller life has offered me a clearer picture of the difference between what I want and what I need. That discourse doesn’t always make me calm or happy; it challenges me. That said, living small does bring a certain satisfaction and awareness to life; a certain ‘ah-haaaa’ when you recognize that you don’t really need a bigger house or more ‘stuff’ to be in love with your life. And beyond all that… well, living in the backyard is simply awesome. I have wonderful neighbors, a nice garden, the food coop is only a few blocks away, there are bats that swing by at dusk, herons and whales just down the hill in Puget Sound, rain on the roof, wind in the eaves, sunflowers coming up in the garden… all sorts of things that make my life so incredibly gifted. All that makes me crazy happy.

Tammy: You recently started a new business with the awesome Katy Anderson. Can you tell our readers a little bit about Portland Alternative Dwellings and the services you offer?

Dee: Katy and I started PAD to encourage folks to dream big and build small; to think about extending their idea of home to something tiny. Henry Thoreau offered that “civilization ought to be making better people of us”. PAD believes our structures should do the same. That’s why we craft dwellings that are both functional and beautiful, tiny enough to fit on wheels and are grown out of environmentally friendly products and practices.

We want to help folks design their own space, or build from existing plans – ultimately, hoping to encourage folks to re-dream what’s possible.

Tammy: What book(s) are you always telling people to read? 

Dee: Here are my favorite books today:

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Morteson

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracey Kidder

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch

Material World by Menzel

Tammy: Everyone has unique skills; skills that I call superpowers. What is your superpower?

Dee: I’m really good at packing big things into small spaces. This is, perhaps, a genetic gift from my father who could pack our car for a road trip like a super hero.

I also think I have a lot of faith in people – to shake free of the ‘stuff’ that holds them back from their potential and from saving the world. I have very high hopes for humanity to pull its head out of its ass at any moment. Even people that bug the crud out of me… I absolutely believe they belong here in this place with me, and together we’re meant to change the worlds suffering.

Tammy: If you weren’t living in a tiny house with super power-abilities, where would you live?

Dee: Maybe Portland with my friends; maybe in California, where I could possibly fall in love; maybe on a boat in Puget Sound. Lately, I’ve been infatuated with the Sound. I worry about it and want to keep mud from flowing into it; I want to understand how the tides rise and fall, and how sometimes you see very weird, completely unexpected stuff.

Tammy: Thanks Dee!

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Want to learn more about building a little house? I highly recommend reading, Go House Go! Check out PAD’s website for more information.

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