It’s been almost four years since The Big Tiny came out – jeez, time flies! Dee roved the country for the better part of that year, speaking with audiences from Brooklyn to Sebastopol, sharing her pioneering version of what it looks like to live lightly with her signature humor, candor and heart.
But tiny houses aren’t the right choice for everyone, and there are so many ways to refocus your life on what really matters. We’ve compiled seven of our favorite books that explore other ways to “live small” – other than The Big Tiny, I mean. These aren’t eye-candy books of schmancy minimalist spaces, they’re non-fiction explorations of ways to use your home, your actions, or your whole life to re-approach life with new eyes. What’s worth reading about more than that?
Seven Great Books About Living Lightly
Hot off the presses, this new book by Kol Peterson dives into the world of backyard cottages, basement conversions and attic apartments – aka accessory dwelling units (ADUs). As the co-owner of Caravan – The Tiny House Hotel, Kol knows small housing from every angle. After building his own ADU, he became an ADU educator and consultant for others, teaching homeowners what they needed to know to take on their own (very) personal real estate developments. In my experience, about 1/3 of the people I meet who think they want a tiny house on wheels really want an ADU but haven’t heard all the pros and cons of each housing type yet. If you’re a homeowner looking for long-term rental income or wishing your home could grow and shrink with your family size, you should definitely check this one out. Learn more about Backdoor Revolution : The Definitive Guide to ADU Development.
Wanna build a fort? If part of you jumps with excitement at that question, then check out celebrated food writer Michael Pollan’s story of designing and building a small writing studio in his backyard in Connecticut. This forgotten gem from his resume didn’t wow the world the way The Omnivore’s Dilemma did, but I found it a unique investigation into why people are always trying to create little forts for themselves for one reason or another. Pollan spends more time than most exploring why he wants this space, what he wants it to feel like and offer him emotionally. Anyone getting way to intense about their living room decorations will be able to relate. It’s also a fantastic way for aspiring/novice builders to follow along with someone else in the same boat as they design and build what is basically an intense tiny house. You can share in his frustrations and successes and chew on whether you’d like to tackle similar ones. Learn more about A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams.
This biography is Mark Sundeen’s fascinating portrait of Daniel Suelo, a real man who simply swears off money, and the remarkable life he lives because of it. There are significant pros and cons to his approach, but it can definitely shake you out of your money patterns – you know, if you’re into that kind of thing. Mark, who does use money, went on book tour with Daniel for some of the readings, and shared that in every place in the country they visited, someone would try to take them out to dinner, cook them a meal at home, or offer them free lodging. Those are some of the upsides – developing real trust and a sense of welcoming with new friends and old. Some of the downsides are inadequate dental work, and living in a cave in the desert – though that’s probably not a downside for everyone. I especially recommend this one for anyone frustrated by capitalism and looking for another way – this one wouldn’t work for everyone, but it’ll make you feel like there are options! Learn more about Man Who Quit Money.
Has everyone including your mother recommended the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo to you and you’re just sick of it? Well, I have bad news: everyone is right. This book is extremely charming. It’s easy for books about stuff to come off as shaming and critical, leaving you feeling dirty for owning whatever you do. Marie Kondo comes off as a delightful magical elf whose superpower is developing positive emotional relationships with objects. That just happens to mean owning fewer of them than most people do, because in Kondo’s experience (and she has tried every tidiness method out there) you can’t appreciate things when you’re overwhelmed by them, and you can’t guilt yourself into loving something that you don’t. While I (like most people) have not become a 100% tidy person since reading this book, it did inspire several productive stuff purges that I didn’t feel guilty about or forced into. That’s unique, and that’s worth celebrating. I won’t recommend any other book about stuff management. This is the one. Learn more about Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
I read this book by Linda Breen Pierce in the mid 2000’s while on an absolute spree to read every book from the “Voluntary Simplicity” movement, and it’s the only one of the 15+ from that era that I felt the need to read again ten years later. It’s on the academic side, but was pioneering for that – it’s a genuine study of people who have simplified their lives in some way, what they chose to do, and what type of effect it had on them. There are a bunch of statistics in it, but in between there are useful stories about how real people just like us are trying to make life more meaningful. Work like this helped lay the foundation for the tiny house movement: the material excess and early workaholism of the 80’s and 90’s was the original inspiration for attempts at “downshifting” into a slower pace, well before those conversations revolved around today’s issues of McMansions, home flipping for profit, social media usage and “screen time” limits. No matter what the issue of the day, it’s really the same issue in disguise: people are always searching for a life that feels more meaningful than the one they’re currently living. The technology in these stories is dated, but the solutions and mindsets are as instructive as they’ve ever been. Learn more about Choosing Simplicity.
This classic of the handmade houses movement in the 1960’s and 70’s is for dreamers, DIY home historians, and anyone who regularly thinks about just moving to the woods and figuring the rest out later. River (yes, just River) was a writer and aspiring home builder living in coastal Northern California, informing her own home plans by visiting and interviewing the many self-taught home builders in the region about why and how they designed the unique homes they did. She interviewed men, women, and even children like her 13 year old son about their building process, results and ruminations. The actual photographs leave you wanting more of each home, but the stunning illustrations by Leona Walden give you a visceral idea of the experience of each special place. This one is out of print so there isn’t much online documentation about it, but it’s worth a gamble. Learn more about Dwelling by River.
This first-person tale by William Least Heat-Moon is a road trip classic. Which is nice, because you can find it at many thrift stores. But it’s also nice because the praise is deserved, and it’s the only “road trip” book that genuinely stuck with me and affected my behavior over time (sorry, On the Road). Facing job loss and a crumbling marriage, the author takes off in a proto-camper van and drives America’s “blue highways”, the little roads everyone drove before the interstate highways commercialized travel into a sea of McDonald’s and Subway “restaurants.” He travels specifically to towns with strange names, and then tries to meet whoever in town still knows why the town was named that – a process that takes him down dirt roads and into the living rooms of wise old women everywhere. He meets surprisingly interesting people at nearly every stop, from hang gliders to Seventh Day Adventist hitchhikers, and takes something away from each meeting. Readers tend to take something away too – a thirst for the road, for a change of pace, for dropping everything to start something new. Keep it by your bedside table, and by summer you’ll be itching for a more interesting road trip than you’ve ever had before. Learn more about Blue Highways.