Natalie Woodburn-Heron has a 144 square foot house that she built in her parents’ backyard in Dorval Quebec. She had a career as a stage manager and in 2000 had a burnout while in Nova Scotia. She was hospitalized for three days. Once she was out of the hospital she began the slow process of healing. She examined her relationship with herself and everything else around her. The burnout made her create a new life for herself. She discovered what was important in her life. Who she was and what she wanted. It led her to think about how she wanted to design her life and her near future tiny house.
The above paragraph sums up a part of a presentation Natalie Woodburn-Heron gave in 2016 for TEDXTALKS. The video is available on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YRMV6aUOT0
I am going to do something different from my usual articles. I will continue summing up Natalie Woodburn-Heron presentation and then I will add comments between paragraphs on those summaries in bold black.
Natalie’s presentation begins with a health crisis just like Dee Williams story on how she came to build a tiny home for herself. (see the previous article). There is a strong message here of two women overworking themselves and making themselves sick to the point of having to reevaluate everything they had been doing in their life that led to the crisis.
She had her burn out after stage managing in theatre for eight years. That career had her working in Manitoba and Prince Edward Island and everywhere else in between. When she was away from her home base she would generally rent rooms that were 10 by 10 feet. All of her possessions were in a suitcase and a backpack.
During this time period, she bought a regular size house in Winnipeg. The house needed work. The repairs were expensive and she was not able to make the house as ecologically friendly as she would have loved to do. Having a home did not change the fact that she lived on the road a lot. She lived in Winnipeg for two years.
Her work had her moving around a lot and living in small rooms. It is something that eventually let her know she would like living in a small house. I won’t spend to much time on that fact as she does bring it up later on in the presentation.
The helplessness she felt about not being able to make her home sustainable is relatable. Not just because it was too expensive to do. Many of us live in homes that we feel are not as environmentally friendly as they could be but for different reasons, we feel helpless to do anything about it.
Her next home was in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. It was a bit bigger than her Winnipeg home. It also needed repairs. Despite that, she adored that house. She had a wonderful yard and garden. She had wonderful neighbors.
She discovered a community of friends she had been seeking all her life. It was a community of makers, farmers, artists, activists, and community workers. Then her burnout occurred. She spent a year in Charlottetown attempting to heal herself without much success.
The second house she bought also needed repairs. It almost seems like she is saying regular size houses are not only money pits, they are also part of an old system that is old and cracked. You can be happy in them but you have to be careful. It is questionable if these houses are fixable to our growing environmental awareness. Her loving her yard and garden shows her desire to connect with nature.
The friends she made demonstrates her desire to connect with other human beings. The technology we have today often breaks us away from that connection with other human beings. She had to have been exposed to it. Camaraderie is one of her values amongst her desire for change. Her hanging out with protesters supports the latter.
She returned to Montreal to live with her family. She was back in the city where she had been born but she had been away for 8 years and did not have much community left. Just before the two year anniversary of her burnout, she discovered tiny houses. She was enthralled with them. It was a house she could afford and take with her if need be because it was on wheels. She could afford to live in a green manner in that house. It was just the right kind of home for her. It was affordable. She could live the life she wanted to live with it.
She returned to her native city only to feel isolated. Then she was introduced to tiny homes on wheels. A new concept to her that came with new possibilities. It was not just because she could afford one. With this house, she would finally be able to live as much a green existence as she wanted to. The house would be that flexible.
After her discovery of tiny homes on wheels she was on her computer every night for a year doing research on this community of makers and builders. They were willing to live by there own rules, not according to what everyone else decided was right. She discovered a community where women were leaders in a field normally dominated by men. A world of possibilities opened up for her. Women were building their own homes and worlds. They were living outside the norm and sharing their experiences.
She became very enthusiastic about the subject of tiny houses and she looked for a connection with the people behind the tiny house movement. She was attracted to the fact that they lived by their own rules, which can mean they are more ahead when it comes to environmental issues than the rest of society. As a woman, she could learn to be all she could be in a female guided world.
What she loved about her tiny home on wheels was how she would be able to live as she wanted to live. She was able to define what she wanted in her life. She used a quote from Dee Williams “What do I want to hold in my arms when I die?” to narrow down what she needed in her life, to bring it down to its essentials. Like Dee Williams, she wanted to be surrounded by the people she loved. She wanted to know she made a difference in someone’s life. She wanted her life to be filled with moments of beauty and those moments don’t have to be grand.
The tiny house is new and ready for new concepts, a new way for her to live. She did not want any clutter in her life. What she did have in her life was what she actually needed. Her values are spiritual ones. She sought connection again with other people but she also wanted to serve a purpose in theirs. Her life has to have meaning. She searches for moments of beauty in nature.
Here is a youtube video on Natalie’s tiny house https://youtube.com/watch?v=sJQh0Ms_nUs
Another reason she loves her tiny house is that it is too small to meet all of her needs. She does her laundry outside of her home. In doing it elsewhere she is forced to interact with others. A lot of these actions are by choice. She has to rely on the community for her needs. For the past two years, she has only worked part-time and that is by choice. A job that feeds her soul not her wallet. She works with families in transition. Couples that will soon be parents.
Maybe it is true her tiny home on wheels cannot meet all of her needs. I don’t actually know the size of her tiny house. I have seen, however, seen some pictures of tiny homes that did have small washing machines and dryers. They found ways to reuse the washer water and connected power to the dryer through solar power. They were likely the biggest of the tiny houses though.
I think Natalie is a bit of an extremist in her goal to conserve water and electricity. She is somewhat influenced by Dee Williams who though a dear can be a little extreme also. I think Natalie just liked being connected to the community. She felt happy with her work which involved connecting with people and helping them which in turn supported the community.