Issue 10 – Why a Tiny Home?

Posted July 27th, 2009 by Stephanie Reiley and filed in Issue 10: Why a tiny home?

waldenI guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise that members of the Small Home Movement are nonconformists.  If they weren’t, odds are they wouldn’t be so attracted to an idea so radically outside the norms of mainstream America. Starting with Thoreau and his $28.12 and 1/2 cent house, small housers have all marched to the beat of their own highly-individualistic drummer.

Even knowing that, however, it still catches me off-guard to discover how different the motivations and exact solutions are of various members of the community.  For that reason, I thought it might be worth the SLJ writers taking some time to discuss the personal appeal and perceived advantages of tiny homes.

Also, this issue welcomes a new regular writer:  Lellewynn from Project Rolling Freedom.  We also have a guest post from Betsy McCullen who is becoming a regular on the “premises”.

We hope you enjoy our latest issue…

The Floating Kitchen

Floating Home KitchenI had to laugh when Tammy selected tiny home food management/cooking as the topic of our current issue.  Me writing an entry on cooking makes about as much sense as Paris Hilton writing an entry on frugal living.

In my long history of culinary disasters, perhaps my most ignoble moment was managing to set my kitchen cabinets on fire attempting nothing more than to boil a pot of water.  My survival strategy when it comes to food is simple… I fall in love with men who LOVE to cook. They cook and I happily do all the clean-up. (Even for the one who made it look like Julia Child had not only been busy in the kitchen but had actually been murdered in said kitchen.)

And when that plan has failed, I either eat out or survive on unlikely combinations such as beer and ice cream and an unhealthy amount of  Captain Crunch Peanut Butter cereal. (Yes, Tammy, I can see you sadly shaking your head over there. But I’m being honest.)

What has been interesting, though, is how my cooking and eating habits have begun to change since moving into my little floating home.  While my pantry is pretty expansive compared to what you would find in a Tumbleweed, it is still significantly smaller than anywhere I’ve lived previously.  There simply is not a lot a room to stockpile items that are likely to be around for a long time. Moreover, trash management can be a hassle in a marina.  Any sort of packaging you haul in is also going to need to be hauled out. And I got tired of hauling pretty quickly.

What I’ve noticed as a result is that my diet has shifted significantly away from preprocessed/packaged foods and more towards items such as fresh fruit and vegetables.  (Admittedly, some of this has also been a conscious effort on my part to live on something more than just breakfast cereal as I try to improve my general health.)  That combined with the fact that I have no patience for cooking times of anything more than a few minutes has translated into my diet starting to vaguely resemble that of a raw foodist.

farmers-market-1Additionally, now that I’m spending so much less on housing costs, I have more available funds to invest in quality food.  I’m buying organic and locally grown wherever possible.  I have two farmer stands within a few minutes of my house and also a fantastic Farmer’s Market in downtown Portland on Saturdays.

I’ve never been much for grocery shopping, but I enjoy farmer’s markets.  They’re much more of a social outing and adventure than simply a task to check off my list.  I’ve also noticed that if I’ve gone to the trouble of picking something up at the farmer’s market I’m much less likely to let it go to waste than if I just absentmindedly threw it at my cart at Safeway.

All in all, it’s been interesting to see how my shift in housing has had an impact also on my eating.  Below I have included a brief tour of my kitchen.  (And I just have to note that, once again, I’ve managed to be upstaged by my cat.  He’s becoming quite the little camera hound.)

Adjusting Course into the Unknown

Posted May 18th, 2009 by Stephanie Reiley and filed in Issue 5: Future Plans
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When I was in my twenties, I used to draw up these detailed 5- and 10-year maps for my life course.

800px-carta_marinajpegWhat I discovered, however, is that typically a few years into “the plan” my life would take a dramatic turn that took me clear off the edge of the map and sail into the realm  cartographers of older times noted as “Here there be monsters”. In my case, I rarely encountered anything that dire.  Instead, toppling over the side of the map usually proved to be a far better adventure than what I had initially planned for myself.

As I have grown older I’ve learned to be far more appreciative of allowing the future to unfold in its own unpredictable yet magical way.  So if my plans for the future in my tiny floating home seem a little nebulous, I hope you can at least understand from where I’m coming.

After a year of angst, bills, and contractors, I am finally in my floating home. That is a huge step forward from my perspective.  I have a home again and I where I dreamed of being.

There is still, however, a great deal of work to be done on the inside.  But, as one of my regular readers, James, pointed out when I was lost in the middle of one of my home renovation panic attacks, I really do already have everything I really need.  Now it’s just a question of making it more visually attractive and comfortable.

Floating homeMy immediate plans for the future are to finish off the renovations on my house and actually make it a home.  My goal for this summer is to try to finish the top deck and front room of the house (consisting of my kitchen, living room, and sleeping loft).  After that, I intend to handle the bathroom remodel and back guest room/office space.

I’m guessing “Phase 2″ will not happen until next summer, however.  Both I and my bank account could use a chance to catch our breath.  While I’d love for things to be done quicker than that the cost to my well-being and higher-level goals would probably prove too much.

What I’ve recently come to realize is that by focusing so intently on all the day-to-day details of restoring my tiny home, I’ve really lost sight of the broader picture of why I chose to downsize in the first place.  In simplifying my residential footprint and lifestyle, my hope was to have more time to focus on the things that really mattered to me–time in nature, creative pursuits, and nurturing deeper relationships with others.

Between trying to juggle the responsibilities of my current profession, home renovations, and writing for two different websites regularly, I feel as though I’ve lost touch of my higher-level goals.  I’ve been too focused on the “How” rather than the “Why”.  It’s time for me to catch my breath and reorient.

Beyond just making my home a inviting and beautiful place to live, my goals for the next five years are the following:marina

  • Deepen and broaden my network of friendships and relationships with loved ones
  • Spend more time enjoying the outdoors
  • Continue to grow as a writer
  • Improve my financial integrity and pursue financial independence as it is described in Your Money or Your Life
  • Get re-involved with sailing
  • Become a mother before I am too old for that to be feasible

It’s a short but deeply meaningful list for me.  And that is pretty much right where I hoped to be when I first embarked upon this journey.

In taking time to consider where I currently am and where I hope to be in my own life I’ve come to realize that a good portion of the discussion of the small home movement focuses on the “How” rather than the possible different reasons “Why”.  Certainly, that is been true of my own writing on Coming Unmoored.

My suggestion to those of you who are currently determining your own path to downsizing your lives is that while you’re figuring out the mechanics of how you intend to do what you dream, that you also spend some time writing down your own authentic answer to the question “Why?”  And that as things progress for you, you check back periodically to that answer to confirm you’re still on course.

I wish you all the best on your own journeys and will continue to keep you posted on my own.

Photos by Tammy.

Zoey’s Tiny House

roofing“Do-it-yourself” is not a phrase I naturally associate with myself.

When it comes to home renovation and improvement projects, my traditional mode of operation has been to put in some extra hours at my comfortable desk job and then use the extra income to hire someone who–I at least hope–will have a clue and some experience with what needs to be done.

This approach has proven less than fully successful over the past year, however.  For example, I ended up with the roof of my house being missing for several months during the rainy season in Portland, and I’ve had projects go significantly over budget.

I’ve finally reached the level of exasperation with outside help that I’m beginning to take my first tentative steps into the realm of “do-it-yourself”.  I may not know what the heck I’m doing.  But at least if it’s me doing the work, I know someone will: 1) Show up when they say they will and 2) Be keeping a close eye on expenses.

As I’m still a relative do-it-yourself newbie, I wanted to use this issue’s article to introduce you to one of my tiny home heroes–Zoey.  Zoey is in the process of building her own Tumbleweed Lusby. She writes about her experiences on her blog,

Zoey's tiny houseThe Small Home Movement is beginning to see an increasing number of examples of couples and young men building their own tiny homes on wheels.  However, with the exception of Dee Williams and Elizabeth Turnbull, I’m not familiar with other public examples of women who’ve chosen to take on such an ambitious project by themselves.

(Just to be clear, I believe women are just as capable of building their own home as men are.  I just wish there were more readily-available examples out there of those who have done it.)

Needless to say, it was inspiring to me to discover a woman who had next to no building experience; help in the form of a supportive partner; or financial resources to work with; decide to make her dream of owning her own mortgage-free tiny home into a reality.

I have been following Zoey’s blog since it began last July.  What I particularly appreciate about Zoey is that she doesn’t sugarcoat her experience.  When something goes wrong, she writes about it plainly.  And then later, when she’s successfully turned things around, she reports how she was able to resolve the issue.

ridin_da_roofBy being able to follow Zoey’s trials and tribulations, I’ve come to learn that a misstep doesn’t necessarily mean the calamitous end to a journey.  A false step is simply a false step.  It can be corrected.  And one tentative step and a time, if you simply take the time to figure it out and don’t give up, you will get to your destination.  Moreover, the closer you come to reaching your dream, the more people who will want to join you in the journey.

Zoey was kind enough to do an interview with me for this issue of SLJ.  In it she covers a wealth of information that is useful for aspiring do-it-yourselfers.  She talks about how she was able to learn and master the building skills she needed, keep expenses low, and recruit help when it was needed.

The full podcast runs 25 minutes.  You can either user the player on the SLJ site, or it can be downloaded and played on iTunes where you take advantage of some additional features, including the ability to jump between chapters.  I hope you enjoy it.

A heartfelt thank you goes out to Zoey for taking the time to record this interview for our readers.


Note: You can follow Zoey on both her blog and Twitter.

Starting Over in a Tiny Floating Home

Stephanie Reiley's Tiny Floating HomeIf you want to simplify your life, I recommend you don’t begin your journey by buying a falling-apart, ramshackle floating home that began its life as a 1950′s Ed Hargraves boathouse.  However, that’s exactly what I chose to do a little over a year ago.

I had just finished a messy divorce from a man with way too much money for his own good.  (He kept most of the money; I kept the cat.  I’m pretty sure I got the better end of the deal.)  My divorce took roughly a year, and I struggled with a deep depression during that time.

I’m not sure it’s possible to go through a divorce without some pretty deep soul-searching about one’s own part in a relationship’s demise.  (And, in my case, the decision to begin the relationship in the first place.)

I was just achingly, bone-deep weary of trying to twist myself into various contortions that were radically outside of my nature in a desperate attempt to try to make a long-term relationship work.  I was exhausted to the point that I had zero interest in another relationship.  I just wanted to find me again.

It took me awhile to get back in touch with my own inner voice. It had been ignored so long that it was now giving me the icy silent treatment.  Or perhaps I’d simply forgotten how to listen because what it told me so often contradicted what I thought I wanted.

When I finally did start to hear it speaking to me again, one of my very first intuitions was to jettison everything I was schlepping around that no longer felt like me.  Imagine an airplane with exciting places to go and too much cargo to get off the ground.  That’s exactly how I felt.

That began my journey of downsizing, the mechanics of which I wrote about in Issue #2 of SLJ.


About February of 2008, I was ready to consider what I wanted to do for a new home.  I knew I wanted something radically smaller than the McMansion in which I had lived during my marriage.  I really thought about buying a Tumbleweed Tiny House.  I appreciate the design and craftsmanship of Jay Shafer’s tiny cottages.  I just wasn’t certain I was ready to go quite that small.  (Especially with my love for rather large musical instruments, a collection of books, and a cat with a very big personality.)

I also knew that, after twenty years living in the desert, I really wanted to be closer to the water.  I missed my youth of swimming and sailing.

Those were pretty much my only clues in terms of what I felt I was looking for.

I’m not sure it’s fair to say I found my new place during my search.  It feels far more accurate to say it found me.  I was in the process of poking around on the internet looking at classified ads for sailboats (with the thought of possibly living aboard one) when a small classified listing for little green and white “floating home” in the Pacific Northwest popped up on the screen.

THERE’S YOUR NEW HOME! the voice inside me said.

“Nonesense,” I snapped back.


Are you kidding?  I know no one there.  They have RAIN in Portland.  You remember rain?  And I don’t even know what that thing in the picture is.  I mean, what the heck is a floating home, anyway?”


(And damned if, when all was said and done, it didn’t turn out to be right.)

img_2348For those of you who know no more than I did when I began my journey, a floating home is a house that is built on a raft-like platform called a “float” rather than a typical foundation.  They are designed to float on the water.  Sometimes the terms “floating home” and “houseboat” are used interchangeably.  However, most houseboats  have their own steering and propulsion systems.  You can no more drive a floating home on the water than you can a traditional house on land.  As I like to tell my friends, a floating home is simply a house with more creative landscaping.

The best-known floating home communities in the U.S. are in Sausalito, CA and Seattle, WA.  Portland, OR also has a fairly large population of them and, thankfully, they’re much more reasonably priced in Portland than the first two communities where prices begin in the low millions.  Due to the state of disrepair my little place had fallen into, I actually spent less money of my home than I did on my last car. (Admittedly, since then I’ve paid almost twice that for renovations and repairs, and there’s still a way to go.)

While my new home is roughly 1/6th the size of my last home, I’ll be quick to say there has been very little that was simple in terms of ownership in the first year.  I spent the majority of 2008  weathering the trials and tribulations of various contractors while also trying to manage an unplanned-for cohabitation with my new boyfriend, Charlie.  I’ll spare you most of the gory details, but some of the highlights of the renovations included: discovering a colony of bats beneath the siding, my house not having a roof for two months during the rainy season, and a exploding toilet.

Just recently my place finally became habitable, and I have been able move in.  My plan is to spend the summer finishing the work that remains to be done on the interior including repairing drywall, painting, and laying down a new wood floor.  Things are a little… rustic at present.  But I tell myself to think of it as a form of high-class camping.  (At this point I have both hot water and high speed internet so life is good.)

There are certainly days when, dealing with my tiny house, I question why I chose the particular path I did if my hope was to simplify my life.  Many times I have felt like my choice made about as much sense as a devout vegetarian choosing a Texan roadhouse grill to find something for supper.   But then the sunrise will come over the water, or I’ll catch a glimpse of a seal frolicking directly in front of my house, and I’m forced to admit that my pesky inner voice just might have known what it was talking about, after all.

I realize that many people reading this article may have never seen a floating home, so I have included footage below of both my marina and the interior of my tiny home.  (Please be kind with the video critiques.  This is the first time I’ve ever operated a camcorder.)

I hope you enjoy of the tour of my little home.  Additional pictures of my home and the various phases of renovations can be found in the photo album of my blog, Coming Unmoored.

Tour of the Marina:

Inside Steph’s Floating Home:

Stephanie Reiley

Stephanie Reiley currently works as consultant in the financial sector.  She recently relocated from Tucson, AZ to Portland, OR and she’s not certain whether her hair will ever be dry again. For more information on Stephanie and her tiny floating home, you can read the following at her blog, Coming Unmoored. You can also follow her on Twitter.