By Dee Williams
Lately, I’ve been looking at the unexpected education that I’ve gotten over the past 13 years of tiny house living. When I set out to build my house, I knew I’d learn more about how to use a saw. And before I moved into my house, I knew I’d learn how to be happy without a lot of stuff. But I didn’t expect I’d get such an advanced education focused on determination, humility, gratitude and the compost toilet. And I didn’t expect that I’d end up teaching – and learning – about these subjects on the other side of the world, but here I am, back from helping with a tiny house workshop in Japan.
Here’s the truth: building a tiny house is harder than it looks on YouTube. It is trickier than the best Do-It-Yourself construction book could ever explain, and it is full of way more drama than any TV reality show could document. The same can be said about downsizing as a life-style choice: it’s hard and it’s exhilarating, and that’s where the real learning comes in.
PAD has been offering educational workshops for a long time, like the one we’re offering in May, that’s centered on design, engineering, utilities and logistics. In our workshops, people are invited into their confusion, vulnerability and the empowerment that comes with learning something new. It is an inspiring thing to witness, and the reason I continue to teach.
Last month, I had the opportunity to go to Japan to help with a tiny house workshop taught by Yuichi Takeuchi. It was the concluding class, hosted at the end of an eight-month series where the class came together for one long weekend each month to build a house on wheels. In October 2014, I helped with a similar workshop, where I made life-long friends with some of my students, teachers and hosts, and I returned home completely inspired.
Yet somehow, the class last month was even better. I had the chance to see how people grow together when they meet monthly to make mistakes and figure stuff out: they bond, and grow intensely protective and supportive.
When I asked Yuichi why the front door was so short – I had to bow my head when entering the house – his response was, “Oh, that was a mistake. The students framed the door too low, so we just went with it.” Essentially, he told me that they learn just as much screwing stuff up as they do knocking things out of the park. That’s the challenge and blessing in learning.
On the final day of the workshop, we scrambled to finish the tiny house before we hosted a community-wide tiny house party. Students and teachers raced across the warehouse carrying tools, sweeping sawdust off the floor, and restacking wood. An electrician literally balanced like a gymnast, continuing to install the lights even as we pushed the house outside and across the parking lot into its party spot.
Local artisans, musicians and food vendors showed up, and I met a guy who was just passing by and wanted to see what all the hub-bub was about. Friends and family of the students and teachers appeared, happy to celebrate the completion of the house. Students from the 2014 workshop also arrived, one bringing the tiny truck house that she had built following the class.
I never imagined I’d meet so many amazing people simply by choosing to do what I felt was good for me: build a tiny house and live more simply. And I never, EVER imagined that that decision would be so challenging and rest so integrally on the people who have schooled me: former students, friends, my family, or the way the rain loves to show up just after you’ve pulled the blue tarp off your project. I have been, and continue to be, humbled by what it takes to listen to the voice in your heart that tells you, “Change is necessary.” And I can’t wait to see what happens next with all of you… tiny house or not.