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.

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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.)

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.

13 Responses to “Starting Over in a Tiny Floating Home”

  1. KenNo Gravatar says:

    Stephanie

    Very Cool.

    However, while I don’t doubt that the house itself is very stable (despite being on the water) I must confess that your camera work on the first video made me more than a little seasick.

  2. DraceneaNo Gravatar says:

    I have one question…

    Does your home move?

    Sounds silly, I know. I didn’t see any waves and the raft that you’re on seemed large enough that maybe it doesn’t move. Curious minds want to know.

  3. MargyNo Gravatar says:

    I enjoyed both of your videos. I’ve been following your blog for several months. I can understand your excitement about living on the water. Our float cabin isn’t as upscale as your place, but we love it and living off the grid away from lots of people (except in the summer of course). We live there almost full time, with journeys to town when necessary for meetings and land based activities. Thanks for sharing your unique lifestyle with all of us. – Margy

  4. StephNo Gravatar says:

    Hi, Margy! Thanks so much for the note. I follow your blog, as well. (You live in such a beautiful location!) I have to admit that I’ve never really thought of my place as “upscale” before. :)

  5. ChristinaNo Gravatar says:

    What a wonderful little place in a great neighborhood setting. Are you near Hayden Island?

  6. Stephanie ReileyNo Gravatar says:

    Actually, I’m closer to McGuire and Government Islands if you know where they are. Hayden Island is a lovely place, though.

  7. Stephanie ReileyNo Gravatar says:

    My home does move somewhat up and down but most of the time it’s pretty subtle. Usually when I feel it, it’s either because I’m laying still at night or because someone in a motorboat just went zipping by.

  8. Stephanie ReileyNo Gravatar says:

    Sorry. I’ll work on getting better with the camera work. I’m just learning. :)

  9. DebbieNo Gravatar says:

    I am looking at buying a floating home with boatwell, I am wondering if you can give me so information as things to look for, ask and avoid. Thanks

  10. Jack GriffinNo Gravatar says:

    You have a beautiful voice…

  11. christopher michaelsNo Gravatar says:

    Dear Ms. Reiley:

    I would like to know more about living on the water (home) not like
    living on a sailboat. (as I do now). If you can can suggest some
    reasonable home sites for me to peruse, would greatly appreciate
    any personal or professional input. I will send more info from my
    end as needed. Thank you.

    Kind regards,
    Chris Michaels
    Turbo Motor World, LLP
    former Boeing test pilot
    …………..end

  12. ThadNo Gravatar says:

    Stephanie has sold this house.

  13. mmNo Gravatar says:

    as one who is thinking about the lifestyle, would like to know what happened to her, why sold the house? BIG change and moving heaven and earth for me so would like to know what happened?