BOOK REVIEW: THE BIG TINY A Built-It-Myself Memoir


Have you ever dreamed of a completely different life? A life where you can come and go as you please, untethered to the corporate ladder, a mortgage, or even a permanent location?

Dee Williams began asking herself these questions following a near-death experience at age fortyone.

After being diagnosed with congenital heart failure, Dee came face-to-face with her mortality, realizing that each day was a gift. That’s when she decided to change everything and live her life more intentionally.

Dee decided to “go tiny,” building her own 84-square foot abode, complete with a skylight above her bed, a front porch the size of a postage stamp, and a composting toilet, from scratch. She and her dog, RooDee, happily moved in, and she has never looked back.

Dee shares it all: the successes and failures, the trials and tribulations, and most importantly, the epiphanies, in her 2014 book, The Big Tiny. Is the American Dream all it’s cracked up to be? That’s up to you; but, Dee gently urges us to consider this and other philosophies in her stirring and inspirational memoir.


You may have heard about the tiny house trend sweeping the nation. With TV shows like Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Hunters, the practice of living in a house the size of an area rug has become kind of mainstream.

Many people consider 2007 to be the beginning of the trend, when Jay Shafer, founder of The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, appeared on the Oprah show. At the time, Shafer lived in a 96-square foot house; a blueprint he named the Gifford.

It took just 90 seconds for Jay to give Oprah’s camera crew the grand tour, but he fully utilized that minute and a half, extoling many benefits of tiny house living: he cut his daily work commute to just “inches,” he has much more free time, courtesy of lower bills and much less house to maintain, and he is free from a mortgage. Shafer has inspired many to do the same, and is considered today to be the “founding father” of the tiny house movement.


While she was in the waiting room of the hospital, about to receive an echocardiogram, Dee Williams saw Shafer featured in a magazine article about tiny houses, and a lightbulb went off in her head. Due to her health scare, she had been craving a simpler life, free of debt, excess “stuff,” and rich in time and meaning. After some soul-searching, and over the span of a couple years, Dee reached out to Shafer, ended up building her own tiny house on wheels, sold her “regular-sized” house, and changed her life. Many decisions had to be made, including what to discard as she downsized from a three-bedroom bungalow to just 84 square feet. And, Dee and RooDee encounter plenty of adventure and spunky characters along the way.

In The Big Tiny, Dee Williams outlines this process from start to finish, and we, the lucky readers, have a front-row seat.



Dee’s house is just 84 square feet. That’s right: smaller than a standard parking spot. If you are interested, video tours of her home abound on YouTube. Despite her small quarters, however, Dee is happier than ever, and has everything she needs.

She reflects on page 252: “My house is also painfully small; it is nearly thirty times smaller than the average house in America, smaller than a parking spot, smaller than some SUVs, and smaller than the square footage of tissue provided by a roll of toilet paper. And yet, somehow, it still feels more like home than anywhere else I’ve ever lived.”


Dee revamped her entire life as a result of the change to her living arrangements. Her time is her own, and with her house being on wheels, she can move on a whim if she so chooses. She currently lives in a friend’s backyard, bartering chores for hot showers and electricity. From page 13: “Now that I live in my little house, I work part-time and pay eight dollars a month for utilities. There’s no mortgage, no Saturday morning with a vacuum, mop, or dust cloth … All the time I save leaves me free to cavort and volunteer, building other little houses with friends, helping to care for my elderly neighbor, or staring mindlessly at the clouds forming into balloon animals and broccoli spears.”


Perhaps you are saying to yourself, “This is crazy! I could NEVER live in a tiny house.” Maybe so. It is certainly not for everyone. Dee is single with no children, and she is very handy, so the choice to go tiny was perhaps a bit less complicated for her than it might be for others. But, more importantly, The Big Tiny makes you think. It helps you open your mind to consider your own lifestyle choices, priorities, and how you want to spend the rest of your short time here on Earth. Whether you are a tiny house enthusiast like me, or are just looking for a good memoirstyle book about a simpler life, The Big Tiny is a great read.


Please note that there are some pretty strict requirements for tiny houses within the Duluth city limits. Be sure to check out my accompanying article about tiny house living, in this same issue, which delves into much more detail.
Tiny house information abounds online, but here are a few of my favorite resources on the subject: (Includes detailed photo tours of lots of adorable tiny homes) (Documents the story of a couple who downsized to a tiny house, and decided it wasn’t the right choice for them permanently)
• Book: You Can Buy Happiness (And It’s Cheap) by Tammy Strobel

Written by Andrea Busche for the Magazine.