This past weekend I read a book by Dee Williams called The Big Tiny, which documents her endeavors to build a tiny house. I bought the book because I recognized Williams from a Netflix documentary on tiny houses that I had watched a month or two ago. I’m very interested in tiny homes, and I remember liking the interview with Williams. She did a wonderful job not only documenting her physical efforts to build a tiny home all by herself, but also weaving in bits and pieces of philosophy that really resonated with me. But perhaps I should back up for a moment.
I’ve been interested in the idea of tiny houses for quite some time now. Tiny homes are exactly what they sound like–incredibly small homes. Micro-homes, if you prefer. They vary in size, but the premise is creating a small yet livable space that can exist off the grid. Most tiny homes are solar powered, collect rain water, and their small size makes them much easier to heat and cool. My interest in tiny homes came to be for a variety of reasons, the first of which is economic. Tiny homes are very affordable. I also like the idea of a house with less environmental impact, one that doesn’t encroach on nature so much. Here is a great website with some floor plans. In general, though, a tiny house might look something like this:
You get the general idea. These houses can be built on a trailer or on a foundation, your choice. You can build them yourself (they offer classes) or you can hire someone to build them for you. And you can customize them however you want. But as Williams argues, there are much better reasons to live in a tiny house.
Williams started her journey like the average American: in a 3 bedroom house and up to her eyeballs in debt. And she spent most of her spare time remodeling, rewiring, and replumbing her house. She did all of this because that’s just what we expect people to do once they become an adult: buy a house and fill it with stuff.
But then Williams was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and her entire worldview changed. Time was what became most precious to her, and her relationships with family and friends. And she realized that what was holding her back from really enjoying those things fully was her house. She spent all of her time working to pay it off, fixing it up, and filling it with things. So much so that she had neglected the things in life that really matter. Her solution was building the tiny house.
And build it she did, on her own with her bare hands. Her tiny house is 84 sq ft–not much bigger than a parking space. It doesn’t have running water and it has a composting toilet. Williams can now write out all of her worldly possessions on one piece of paper. She’s completely debt free. And since she’s debt free and the tiny house costs next to nothing to run, she can work part time. And she’s free to spend the rest of her time doing the things she enjoys with the people she loves.
I really identify with the philosophy that Williams laid out in her book. I do think that we tend to place too much value on material goods and following the norms that society presses upon us. Now, to be clear, this book and this way of thinking is not an indictment of capitalism. Nor is it a plea for us all to become hippies and stop working. What this philosophy wants of us is simple.
Live an intentional life.
You don’t have to stop consuming totally, but be intentional when you buy things. That’s all. George Carlin once had a bit about how houses were just places to keep your stuff. And I think he was on to something there, and that something overlaps with what Williams has outlined with her book. Don’t waste all of your time and money trying to keep up with the neighbors or you’ll just end up bankrupt and buried under a pile of stuff you don’t even use. And let’s all be honest–most of us probably don’t even use half of the things we own. It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.
And this isn’t to say that money doesn’t matter. But it isn’t what is important. Being rich isn’t important, ultimately. So much of our lives are spent in pursuit of money. And to what end? Get this raise, earn that promotion, get more money and buy more things. Society tells us that this is normal, and that this is good. But is it?
Where does it all end? Quite literally on our deathbeds. And what do you think the majority of people say they regret with their dying breaths? That they wished they could have worked one more day at the office? That it all would have been worth it if only they’d had a bigger boat? That they regretted not investing more in their 401k? Nobody says those things, yet that is what society tells us we should spend our lives doing.
When people know they’re going to die, they wish they could have more time with their grandchildren or spouse. They wish they could have seen Europe. To hell with their economic needs, they want their human desires and needs fulfilled. They want more time to laugh and cry and hug people and impart their wisdom to someone. In the end, it’s not about having a fat wallet or cool toys, it’s about being rich in spirit.
Death is a morbid topic, but really isn’t that what all of us want, to have a good death? And in order to have a good death, doesn’t one need to have had a good life? Ask yourself whether you do things intentionally, or whether you’re just going through the motions. Ask yourself if you could do more with less. Ask yourself what matters the most to you in life and then figure out what you need to make that happen. You might just find that by downsizing, the world gets a whole lot bigger.