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.