Asking the Big Questions

Dee Williams' road trip.
Views from a road trip! Photo by Dee Williams.

By Dee Williams

Someone once wrote an article about my tiny house that described me as a “Sustainable Barbie,” which threw my friends and I into hysterics. We joked about the accessories that would be come along with a Sustainable Barbie: a pop up tiny house, a teeny, tiny roll of duct tape, and a mini-Swiss Army knife complete with magnifying lens to find itty-bitty eating utensils.

Today, a decade later, the duct tape still fits. The knife still belongs and so does my little house in Hugh and Annie’s backyard, but even Barbie gets an update every few years. And I can’t help but think lately: what’s next?

Three years ago, I was lucky to join forces with Joan Grimm to re-start PAD, not as a design/build company but as an educational resource that delivers information to would-be tiny house builders. We wanted to make sure folks knew what they were getting into — that they understood the engineering associated with building on wheels, that salvaged materials are an awesome addition to any home, and that Code Enforcement might see things different than you. It’s the stuff we’ll address in our Tiny House Basics Workshop this November. Our pie-in-the-sky dream was to reach the small audience that was searching for tiny house information, and maybe make enough money to take a vacation to Hawaii with our friends.

I never imagined that tiny house living would find its way to Netflix, to HGTV reality shows, or into the hearts of thousands of amazing people. 40,000 people reportedly showed up for the recent Tiny House Jamboree! Holy Cow!

Tiny House Jamboree 2015
Tiny House Jamboree 2015! Photo via Tiny House Blog.

I never would have guessed that so many people would be interested in launching themselves toward the unknown, unconventional weirdness of down-sizing and tiny house living. But they are.

Why? What does it offer them?

Dee Williams' beloved folks.
Dee’s folks. Photo by Dee Williams.

I chewed on these questions while traveling 2,000 miles from my tiny house in Olympia to my folks’ house in Kansas City, stopping to camp in the Montana foothills and South Dakota sweet grass. I met my parents and their questions were just as profound: in this, likely our last decade of life, why are we here? What can we offer?

I love the parallel.

On my way back to Olympia, about half-way through Utah, I ran into Natalie Johal and Ronny Kerr as they walked across America, which has been on my mind since meeting John Francis when I spoke at The Vine. They had walked about 2,000 miles along highways, back roads and side streets, starting on the east coast and moving toward the west. They were living an unconventional life, existing one moment to the next, which included engaging with a wacky tiny house lady who suddenly veered off the highway to offer them some ice-cold beer. They were, like many tiny house people, simply putting one foot in front of the other, and seeing what happened next. Which is a pretty extraordinary choice in this current moment in time.

Natalie and Ronny walking across America
Natalie and Ronny, walking. Photo by Dee Williams.

As I asked questions of myself on my road trip, and in trying to help my folks find solutions to their own late life questions, I didn’t come up with any reasonable solutions. But I was faced again and again with how Natalie and Ronny’s stance is, in a way, the best answer to any big question.

“What does tiny house living offer to an exploding population?”

“What can my parents offer as they grow older?”

“What’s next for me?”

Simply putting one foot in front of the other, and seeing what happens next. That’s life. That’s all we’ve got. Our challenge is to be present for it, and find things to enjoy in the process.

Taking time out to think about my big questions did make me remember why I initially fell in love with my tiny house – it smelled like the forest, like fir and cedar, which made me believe that I was a wild animal, myself. It reminded me that I am a part of my natural, primal environment, and a part of the earth and the small creatures that share our common destiny. I remembered that I belong here. Here, with all the other living things, putting our feet, paws, fins and leaves in front of the others, and just seeing what happens next. Even when we think we’re doing something else entirely, this is what we’re actually doing. Knowing that is probably half the battle.

Dee Williams' backyard jungle.
One of the places I belong: in the jungle of my summer backyard. Photo: Dee Williams.

I know that may sound cheesy, but that’s the way things shape up on a road trip. I wish all of you the best, most profound understanding that you belong. You are vital, no matter which unanswerable questions you grapple with. You are pivotal in our path forward, even if you have trouble seeing past the next few steps.

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