The Big Tiny: A Built-it-Myself Memoir

I picked up this memoir by Dee Williams and fell in love.  I have lived in a tiny house on wheels for nearly three years now, and so I wondered what this book would be like.  Would there be much in common with my own story?  What would surprise me?

I’ve heard Dee Williams speak on video, I can’t even remember where.  Maybe the Minimalism documentary?  I’m not sure.  From that experience I already knew that I liked her vulnerability and the sense that wisdom emanates from her.  It was so cool to hear her voice in these pages.  She writes like she speaks, like you’re simply there with her sharing this string of interesting situations.  She’s not remotely pretentious or preachy about tiny houses, and there is no snobbery in her voice.  She’s not like that.   The vulnerability in her story telling makes this book a very rewarding read.

I loved everything about this story.  I loved the raw edges when she’s fierce and determined and building that home, come hell or high water.  I love her soft side when she’s talking about her canine companion or the elderly woman who lives next door.  I love the stories about strangers showing up and helping her through challenging tasks, and I felt for her as she deals with the complexities of a very serious medical condition.  What I found the most moving was her persistence and grit.   Dee Williams is a Force.

Going tiny is not for the faint of heart, and nobody knows that better than those of us who have lived this way for a while.  Williams uses the occasion of living tiny to connect to her community in new ways, rather than to isolate herself.  This particular story is of building the house, and it’s NOT a “DIY How-To Guide” at all, thank goodness.  It’s the story of a home, and of the woman who created that home with purpose and determination.

I’ve picked it up a number of times after my initial reading, and found myself absorbed in some random part of the story all over again.  It’s perfectly possible to pick this book up and read at random and do this again on another day.  Sure, the story is linear, but there is also a sense in which it’s all sort of timeless and you can check in here or there and she’ll still be dispensing her story and wisdom in equal measure.

Here are some of my favorite morsels:
“Letting go of “stuff” allowed the world to collapse behind me as I moved, so I became nothing more or less than who I simply was: Me.”  To me this statement was profound.  I’ve been a minimalist for years, finding that owning less was liberating!  I can even get a little preachy about it, but I had never managed to see it with quite this level of clarity.

“It’s weird to take stock of what you keep and what you let go of.  I recently counted and categorized all my stuff, and discovered that I have 305 things, ranging from my toothbrush and silverware to my truck and all the crap that seems to have accumulated in the glove box.  The list invited all sort of contemplative high jinks, where I sincerely marveled over the brilliance of my multi-tool pocketknife and the way I could use the scissors, or open a bottle, cut cheese, or even break out of prison with it.” See what I mean?  She draws you into her contemplation, and then seasons it all with humor.  Brilliant.

Again, this is not a “How-to” book, but folks who are facing the challenge of downsizing may find this memoir informative in the journey.  It’s not so much that she’ll tell you how to do what she’s done . . . as it is that she’ll remind you of your worth as a person for far more than just stuff management and mindless entertainment.  And that reminder is priceless.

Jay Shafer, author of The Small House Book, got it right in the blurb on the back cover: “In The Big Tiny, Dee Williams creates a portrait of humanity through her own compelling experience.  That she has written about home and life with such humor and vulnerability, and in her own unique vernacular, makes her story all the more universal.”

If you love memoirs, tiny houses, or even if you find yourself thinking about right-sizing your life… this is a compelling story written by a remarkable woman.

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