Come on in. Take a look around. In this issue of Small Living Journal, we invite you to take a peek inside the authors’ own homes.
Once inside, you’ll quickly see that small living does not place limitations on creativity. On the contrary, we’ve got homes that float, homes that roll, homes for the city and homes for the country – small homes for all.
If 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.
IT’S IN PORTLAND. YOU’VE ALWAYS SAID YOU WANTED TO LIVE IN PORTLAND.
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?”
IF YOU’RE SO SMART YOU CAN FIGURE IT OUT FOR YOURSELF. BUT I’M TELLING YOU YOU’RE GOING TO BUY THAT HOUSE. AND IT’S GOING TO BE THE BEST DECISION YOU’VE MADE IN A LONG TIME. With that, my inner voice tromped off in another huff.
(And damned if, when all was said and done, it didn’t turn out to be right.)
For 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.)
Tour of the Marina:
Inside Steph’s Floating Home:
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.
Part of living a smaller lifestyle, means living in an area with accessible services, restaurants, cultural activities and more. With this in mind, my partner (Logan) and I found a perfect tiny home to meet our needs.
Below are a few reasons why we love our home so much:
1. A tiny apartment fits my needs. Living in a 400 square foot apartment has streamlined my life. Less stuff, less cleaning and a 30 percent decrease in rent has lowered my stress levels, improved my health and saved an enormous amount of time. My extra time is now spent with friends, hobbies, and Logan.
Feel free to take a tour of the tiny apartment:
2. Work is within walking distance. I’ve been commuting to various jobs for the last 6 years. While we lived in Davis, Logan had the luxury of commuting by bike everyday. Needless to say, I was a little jealous.
Moving closer to my job in Sacramento meant less stress and worry over commuting time. Even if my work days are stressful, I know my commute home will be easy. A walk home in the fresh air helps me unwind. It’s the perfect way to end a work day.
3. Public transportation is accessible. My main method of transportation is by bike. But it’s good to have options. Sacramento has an accessible bus system, light rail and I’m only 1 mile from the Amtrak station!
4. The community is walkable and bikable. Mid-town is close to amazing restaurants, the park, city pools, the YMCA, the Sacramento co-op, a farmer’s market and the American River Trail. Additionally, the Second Saturday Art Walk is available for free every month!
5. Closing thoughts. Our little home is beautiful and when I reflect on the fortunate state of our lives, I am incredibly grateful. Simple living has given me the tools to remove the unnecessary, define my values and pursue happiness.
For more information about simple living, check out my blog: RowdyKittens.
My current home isn’t tiny, but it is the primary catalyst for my desire to downsize and simplify my life. It’s an 1,800 square foot Streng Brothers home built in the early 1970′s. We bought it because it was so different than the ubiquitous ranch style homes that surround it for miles and miles. It’s the largest home I’ve lived in since leaving my parents home as a kid and is the first home I’ve lived in that has had a lawn. It was also our first real home purchase, but it also came filled with lessons. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- Energy Efficient: A house must be energy efficient, passive solar, and require little additional energy to be comfortable. Older homes in hot climates cost more to own because their air conditioners run all the time when it’s hot. When you buy an older home you are buying a big utility bill or an enormous upgrade cost.
- Temperate Location: Choose to live in a moderate climate. The additional cost of these high demand locations could easily pay you back in money and time spent outside. Avoid locations that require homes with air conditioners unless you build appropriately for the region, like adobe homes in the southwest.
- Garden: This house has some very nice bonsai Japanese Pine trees. Unfortunately to keep them looking nice, which I’m not very good at, requires regular pruning. If you choose to plant a garden or trees consider planting things that require less time and produce something you can use or eat.
- Elbow Room: Many suburban lots are small. Privacy is limited and if your neighbor decides to light up a cigarette in their backyard prepare to close your doors and windows. More space is also nice for more garden and places for kids to play. The downside is additional upfront cost and maintenance.
- Roof: This house has a flat roof and water tends to find it’s way inside. Leaks are inevitable with flat roofs. The smart choice it to avoid a roof that is prone to leak like complex designs or roofs with many openings like skylights.
- Less is Less: Every square foot you add to a house requires heating, cooling, organizing, and cleaning. This includes the space you don’t use. When you choose to have more you are also choosing to spend more of your time and money taking care of more.
- Real Value: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that the true value of a home should be measured by the happiness and security it brings instead of its size and cost. At the moment this house feels a bit like a debtor’s prison and we hope and pray regularly that the market will correct itself and free us. In the future we will avoid this trap buying more value for less money and doing everything possible to avoid a mortgage. Instead of asking ourselves how much we can afford, we’ll ask the question, how much can we get for the least amount of money.
Ironically I knew many of these lessons before buying this house but never really understood how much the size, design, location, and construction of a home really impacted the quality of life until I’d lived it. I guess sometimes we have to make mistakes ourselves and live the consequences to truly understand what the lesson has to teach.
I also try not to regret any past choices. Every choice we make, good and bad, has led us to where we are today. In fact I suspect that it’s our bad choices that make us wiser and better able to make better choices in the future. I also have to admit that if we had not bought this home and moved to Sacramento when we did we may have never been able to adopt our daughter Katie. That chain of events lead us to where we are today and I wouldn’t change any of it for any amount of money. That simple truth, and her presence in our lives, makes any cost seem microscopic.
My hope for the near future is that before Katie starts kindergarten we’ll be un-stuck from our current situation. I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to weather this current economic storm and come out the other end smarter and positioned to built a simple place in a semi-rural area closer to the California coast.
But I’m also prepared to stick it out here if the housing market doesn’t play out in our favor. If this should happen I’ll feel more comfortable about putting more money and time into this house to make it more efficient and cost less to maintain. But for now I’m downsizing everything else that adds to my load like expenses, possessions, and obligations.
I suspect there are millions of people just like me who were temporarily taken in by a successful career and boom times and then suddenly woken up by the simple truth that a lifestyle built on the bubble is extremely fragile and completely unsustainable. My hope in sharing this with you is that maybe a few people will be able to avoid learning these lessons that hard way, or if you’re in my boat too, know that you’re not alone and there can be a light at the end of the tunnel if you choose to turn it on. You might also now have a better idea about why I’m building a tiny free house.