The Tiny house Blog

Audacity of Change with Tiny Homes - Dee Williams

Updated on:
June 9, 2023
Dee Williams sitting in a tiny house

Dee Williams dives deep into what changes she had to make to move into a tiny house, and how her life changed with both blessings and challenges, as a result of that.

Dee Williams: All right, what the heck you guys, let's get going. So, the idea for today, the thing I wanted to offer is a little bit of a talk about change. And I think, because we're in the middle of this COVID, lockdown, we're all going through a lot of changes. So, I kind of wanted to frame that inside the notion of what it was like for me to make a decision to build a Tiny House. And then kind of where that's led me. So, I'll walk through some slides, I'm going to see if I can share the screen, and then open it up for questions. And I have on the one side of my screen on my computer, is a list of questions. So, feel free to send your questions in, I can go through those. Again, I'm new to this forum. So, if I make any mistakes, be kind. So let me go ahead and get started. Let's do it.

My name is Dee Williams. I built a Tiny House in 2004. And I'm currently living in a huge 600 square foot house with my husband, so my life is done. These loop loos over the last several years in a Tiny House have been a part of that. Welcome, welcome. Welcome, everybody. And I hope you're able to talk to each other. And I hope we can have an information exchange after I show a couple of slides. So let me see if I can figure this one out. Okay, I'm going to try to share my screen. One moment, please. Let's see if this works. Hold your breath. Aha, it worked.

So, I just want to walk through some slides. Like I said, and you know, this is a little bit awkward, because I can't read you guys, I can't see you. And I wish I could. And I just hope everybody's doing well and feeling healthy. So, this is a little snap of the house that I built in 2004. So let me take a step back from this moment and tell you what it's been like to decide to, you know, move into a Tiny House. I was living in a regular normal sized house 1500 square feet. For those of you who use the proper measurement, I don't know what that is in meters. But essentially, the idea of moving away from my big house, which I had a really awesome investment in toward a tiny 84 square foot house scared the crap out of me. And for all of the classic reasons, right? I mean, you know, uncertainty, am I going to really be able to do this? Do I have the skill set to do it? And so many of the presentations, starting today and winding up on Sunday are really geared toward giving you information to try to help address some of that uncertainty in not knowing. It doesn't necessarily, you know, address some of the stuff that is kind of internal to how we're wired. I think questions of uncertainty of people making fun of our decisions. Because of that, we fall to the earth in a ball of flames because we make mistakes, and we're not successful in the classic sense. There's fear of losing control of the project starting to run your life instead of you being in control. And that's super scary.

For me, I was really nervous before I started building a Tiny House, I was worried about whether or not I had the skill set, I had done a lot of home remodeling. I had volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and did building that way. So, I knew how to use tools. But I'd never built and engineered a Tiny House that was going to go on wheels and drag it down the highway. I was really afraid of being inadequate in my engineering design and in my general design. I was nervous about the extra work that it was bringing into my life. I was working full time and was also still, you know, updating and repairing the big house that I lived in. And I wasn't sure I would have time to kind of start and finish a project like building a house. And then probably the most clunky, awkward fear that I had was whether or not I would really be happy. Could I be happy reducing the size of my house 20 times over? And then what if I was happy? Am I allowed to be happy? I think there are a lot of people that get nervous when they get too happy because they feel that they're missing something and the rest of the world is in a hurtful place and it feels unfair.  


So, this fear is kind of a crazy thing that we end up facing. That's why I think in order to really go forward and address change in your life, for whatever reason, you know, you really have to take a look at those fears, and grow some kehonies and go for it. It's an awkward, awkward moment to step into a sense of courage, vulnerability, and risk. And it's absolutely the only way that we get to grow, I think, at least at least, that's been my experience.

So, this is a little drawing that I did just to show you guys some of the changes that I've made over the last 20 odd years. So, you know, I bought my big house in Portland, Oregon, I had it about a $300,000 mortgage on it. And then I spent all of my time slowly remodeling it. And there's nothing quite like tempting yourself to try to redo the electrical system in your house or redo the plumbing, to reroute yourself. Every inch of that house, I ended up kind of remodeling and redoing, recharming the house myself. And there was a lot of fear in that. And also, fabulous success.

And then, in 2004, I lived in that house for about six, seven years, and slowly remodeled it and learned how to use power tools, learned how to back myself off the edge of a cliff, when I felt like I was in over my head. I had a lot of life changes these loopty loops in my life where I took a trip to Guatemala, and was given an opportunity to see how the real world lives. And I came back home to my house in Portland and I realized I just spent 300 bucks [inaudible] on my kitchen and that 300 bucks could have bought a [inaudible] nearby lake up to the village where we were building a school. And I felt embarrassed by that choice. But I also felt like I was locked into owning a big house, you know, he kind of got to protect your investment and kind of that was happening at that time. Right before 2004.

Then another really big whammy for me was that I had a heart attack. You know, I was I was racing around trying to get to work. So, I could make money to pay my mortgage. I was spending my weekends working on the house. And I was completely stressed out and I landed in the hospital with a serious heart problem. And after that, I just started kind of, you know, kind of very curious about why I'd set myself up. I had lost control of my life in some ways by owning a big house. So, I read an article about Jay Shafer, who's going to join us in the panel after I finished this talk. He's my hero. I read a really short article about him in a magazine. I tracked him down in Iowa City, had a chance to talk with him and then decided to build my own tiny 84 square foot house. And in again, I launched myself into this fearful place of worrying that my friends thought I was going nuts because I was selling what turned into a really beautiful big house. And I was letting go of that dream for a much smaller one. And I decided I was going to build it myself. I was really wedded to trying that for myself. I re-engineered how the house was going to attach to the trailer. I modified the trailer itself so that I could engineer it so it could handle essentially, you know, driving down the highway is like driving through a hurricane and an earthquake simultaneously so the engineering around it was very important to me.

And then there were just like the mistakes that were made. You know, I glued my hair to the house they lit my shoes on fire one day trying to cut metal. The sparks came back and hit my shoe and it started smoldering. I made mistakes and the house turned out perfect. It was absolutely perfect in my eyes, and not because it was. But because I had challenged my fear. To make these really positive changes, I had the temerity and the audacity to declare myself to fail. And to dare myself to be happy with everything turning out exactly as it did. And, and it was, it was quite a challenge. And it was also awesome. After that I lived in that 84 square foot house for about 13 years. And then I decided to make another change and downsize. And I'll tell you a little bit more about that.

So, I downsized again, into a little tiny, 56 square foot house. I lived in that for about a year. And in that time, I fell in love. And I decided I wanted to shack up with this hunky guy. And we are currently living in a 600 square foot house. So, through all of that, you know, my point in telling you these kind of pivotal changes for me with regard to how I've chosen to live, is that there wasn't a bright light shining at the end of anything for me. There was a lot of curiosity, there was fear. And there was absolutely a great deal of humility and courage that went into making those changes. And that's what I would double dog dare for each of you as you pursue whatever your dream may be in going tiny.

So, after it I started on Memorial Day, which is close to the end of May. And I built until Labor Day, that year. So, it was about three, three and a half months of work to build a teeny tiny cedar clad house. It cost 10,000 bucks and that included the solar electric system, low E argon insulated windows, beautiful old growth cedar siding that I bartered with a neighbor. He had originally gotten it in the 30s. And I scrapped things together. I wanted it to be as environmentally friendly as I could. So as an example, as you're looking at this photo of my house, you know, it's like the front door came out of a dumpster. All of this siding, the exterior cedar siding that you see came out of my neighbor's house. So, it was salvaged. The trim around the windows was an old cedar futon frame that I chopped up into pieces. One of my housemates in the big house had left it behind. So, she lives in Peru now. So, Emily, wherever you are, I'm sorry, your bed is gone. And, you know, proceeded to really take a crack at what it meant to be home in a space kind of smaller than an area rug that used to be in my big house. And this is where you know, those loop tido loos really came in, you know, it was hard to build. But then it was I was scared to death about what it was going to be like to actually function as a grown ass woman In a Tiny House, it made me nervous.

You know, how is he going to entertain people? You know, what was that going to look like? This photo, by the way, is a photo of a bunch of kids that I invited to come over and hang out. And we ended up with over 60 kids in the house at one time they were crammed into the loft. They were standing on the toilet; they were standing on the kitchen counter. And they you know; it was amazing that we were able to get everybody in there. And it was actually kind of comical. If you guys are used to having a dinner party, how do you accommodate that? You know, do you only do that if everybody can hang out in the yard? Do you let go of- I had a dream that I was going to invite a bunch of friends over. And we were going to sit in the living room of this Tiny House and eat sesame noodles and listen to really great music and play board games. And I have to tell you, it never happened inside the house in the 13 years I lived in this house. It never happened. But I did have a lot of fun. You know, trying to get used to the challenge of a smidgen of electricity. So, I installed a 240-watt solar electric system with one giant closed gel cell battery and that ran all my lights which only amounted to two lights. And you know it seemed to work okay. But it was a challenge. Sometimes I wanted to plug in an electric heater because I had a propane heater that didn't work that great.

Getting used to a change in utilities was one thing. Okay, I just got to note you guys that you can't see my slides. So, I'm going to back out of this, you can hear me. So, I'm going to back out. So, hang on one sec, okay. Hi. I'm sorry, you can't see my slide. So, I'm just going to talk to you. So, I'm sorry, you guys, I don't know why my slides aren't working. Instead share a screen. I thought I did that. But technology has thrown us a curve. So, you know, my point in all of this. I'm sorry, you can't see the photos. But that's okay. You can see me. My point in all of this is that it takes great courage in order to make significant changes. And those changes can come in the form of taking a look at what your skill set is and expanding that. And then for me, I think the harder challenge, I'm uncomfortable, trying to figure out technical stuff. The thing that was really hard for me was to learn how to ask for help. In the building process, I had to ask for help. And I am from the Midwest, and we are stubborn, and we don't like to ask for help. So, I had to humble myself and in all, gratitude, except help from people.


I didn't know where I was going to live. After I built the house. I was able to network with friends in Olympia, Washington. And they invited me to live in their backyard. So, I shared the backyard with two other households. One house was occupied by Rita, who was 80 when I moved in, the other house was shared by her, her nephew and his family of two kids and his wife. And, you know, if there's an awkwardness about walking up somebody else's driveway, curling past their patio to walk up to your front door, there's a vulnerability there for them and for me. And these are my dear friends and I didn't want to upset our friendship. So, I was nervous about that. I was fearful of that. And I summoned the courage and I could have only summoned that courage if, my friends were in it with me. So, Hugh, and Annie and Rita, and Hugh, and Annie's kids welcomed me with open arms. And there were a few times that we kind of had disagreements. But our friendship was rock solid, and gave us permission to be confused sometimes too, to feel silly sometimes to get angry, sometimes. All of the emotions that come with fear, and all of the emotions that just come with life. And so, I summoned my courage and leaned into their generosity. And it was reciprocated. I became the handyman around the compound as we called it. And I took care of Rita as she aged. I was able to hold her hand and be with her when she died. And I also was gifted a similar opportunity some years later when Annie got sick and also died. And the backyard changed so dramatically when Rita died, and then when Annie got sick, and then when she passed away.

The backyard wasn't comfortable for me anymore and I missed my old backyard. I miss my old life. And so, I decided to give my Tiny House, the one I show, you guys didn't see the picture of my Tiny House to my nephew 84 square foot house. He lives in Lander, Wyoming. And it's cold there. So, he's modified it a little bit to accommodate his lifestyle. He's a raft guide and an outdoor buff so it's right up his alley. And I downsized into a 56 square foot Tiny House on wheels. That worked out great for me. It was actually a sweet little spot. I moved it out of the backyard that I lived in for 13 years and moved it across town about two miles and into a backyard which I shared. My niece lived in a big house, a big 600 square foot house; so, I was in her backyard. And it worked out pretty slick. And I didn't know if it was going to accommodate me. I mean, 56 square feet I think, almost smaller than a queen size bed. It's tiny. But it had everything I needed: a place to sleep, a place to work at a computer, a place to cook, place to hang out, a place to be Dee Williams.

And so, it worked for me until I met my husband. And he's six foot two. And he has more than one pair of shoes, he has like three pairs of pants. So excessive. And living in the tiny Marteau, this little tiny curved roof house wasn't going to work for both of us. So, we decided my niece decided to move on with her boyfriend, they wanted a bigger place. And Kelly and I moved into this big 600 square foot house. And I have to tell you, it's been awesome. Running water, huh? A flushing toilet, and a seemingly endless supply of electricity. Lots of heat, which I really appreciate in the winter, and room for us to bump around during COVID and not knock into each other, which has been wonderful.

So, you know, just to kind of wrap it up, and I'd like to open it up to questions. I'm really sorry about the slides. And I'm really sorry that I didn't know you couldn't see him. So, thank you, Jason for giving me a shot over the bow on that one. But as far as overcoming your fear of change, and fear itself more than anything else, right now we're getting a double dose of fear around COVID. And what's next, the uncertainty of what the future holds for us. So, I wrote some things down, and I want to share those very quickly and then open it up for questions.


One of the things that's been really helpful for me over the years is to identify why am I really afraid? What is really scaring me? Is it a failure? I'm afraid what the neighbors are going to say, or my friends are going to ridicule me somehow? Am I worried about my life getting out of control, because I'm spending time doing things that aren't that don't honor my values, all of those fears? Can I identify them more specifically? And then, you know, if I feel myself treading water and becoming a little paralyzed by that fear, how do I unshackle that. And a good example of that for me right now is I have a friend of mine, Liz, who's staying down in the little 56 square foot Vardo that I built, and she's going to be there for several weeks. And having her around, I was worried about COVID I was worried about giving it to her or getting it. But we've navigated that. I realized I was afraid of her getting sick of me getting sick, or blah- blah-blah, and we navigated it. So, it helped move me out of the little bit of paralysis.

The other thing that I think is really helpful is to just start small. When I was building my house, this is just an example. When I was building my first Tiny House, I kept a log of what I wanted to try to get done during the day. So, in the morning, I just chronicle you know, stain 10 boards, put all of the plywood on the roof and seal it up with house wrap tar paper, whatever you are going to use. And then, most importantly, I think for me in addressing my fear was taking a look at owning it. I'm afraid I'm scared. I'm nervous about this, and leaning into my friends for help around that, for Grace, for a beer. That I think is the most important thing for me. When I start to feel a little trapped in my fears lean into my community, like we're doing now, like we're doing this weekend.

So that's what I got. Let me see if I can read these questions. Do you guys want to throw some questions at me? Hang on. I'm going through these as fast as I can. If anybody, Oh, Robert, you said I look wonderful. You're kind and I wonder if you need glasses. The videos. Okay. Anything you guys? You have any questions for me? Hello, anybody? All right, well, we only got a couple more minutes. And then we get to go to the panel discussion with Jay and Zach. I'm really looking forward to that. I hope you guys will join us for that. And again, apologies. Apologies for not being able to show you my slides. What the heck, you know, that's a bummer. But it's all good.

Oh, gosh, you guys there's so many people that are chiming in. Oh, you're trying to help me. People are saying “Push the green button, change to Presenter View”. “I wish I had been able to look at these”. Apologies, apologies. And I hope you enjoy the rest of the weekend. You guys. I'm looking forward to it. And I'm really honored to be a part of today, even though there were some technical difficulties, and I love you guys big. So, we still have five minutes.

Anybody have a question for me? Okay, Brandy Long, you said you just left a $300,000 house because it wasn't worth it. And I wonder if you were feeling a little bit like me, and that I had to work in order to pay the mortgage in order to pay the utilities in order to pay the insurance. So, I had to work and then when I would come home, I needed to mow the grass or repair the roof. I had to vacuum-vacuum, dust clean. I identify with that and I am glad you got out from underneath it. I'm curious if you built a Tiny House. Okay. Oh, my goodness. No.


Okay, I'm looking at a little lost slide. No audio is totally gone on my end. No audio. Is anybody reading lips right now? Okay, you guys, I'm sorry. I'm going to end this talk because I'm not sure you can hear me. I'm so sorry. So, a big love if you can't hear me, I'm okay, take care you guys. Bye.

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