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.

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.

Finding the Right Road

“If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, Any Road Will Get You There.”

–The Cheshire Cat, Alice In Wonderland

Steph in VeniceHave you ever been traveling somewhere and been struck by an increasingly unsettling feeling that you somehow drifted off course?  And that you have no idea how to get yourself turned around but you have a feeling that the longer you wait to figure it out, the farther off course  you’re probably going to get?

Well, I spent the better  part of 10 years of my life feeling that way before I made a hard right turn and managed to get back on track.

I am probably the last person you would expect to find living in a tiny house.  I love spending time at home, and I’m not shy about liking my creature comforts.  Like, say, a few thousand books.

About three years ago, though, I came to the realization that there’s very little that’s “comfortable” about owning a 3,000+ square foot house accompanied with the corresponding mortgage, tax burden, upkeep and maintenance, and all the associated crap one tends to store inside one.  (And I swear possessions stored in a large house are capable of reproducing faster than extra-libidinous rabbits.)

At the time I was married.  My husband was a trust-fund baby and  quite financially successful in his own right.  He also did a substantial amount of entertaining at home as part of his job recruiting faculty for a fairly well-known business college.  A sprawling house in the Tucson foothills was one of the expected trappings of his social circle. (“Come work for us and you, too, can have a place like this!”)

I would be lying if I said there weren’t many days when I felt fortunate to be living in such a beautiful home. I especially adored the views of the mountains from my den windows.  But, man, was I glad I wasn’t the one footing the bill for the mortgage every month.  I paid a hefty enough price just trying prevent the damn thing from crumbling into the state of disrepair it seemed determined to crawl relentlessly toward.

CersaillesKeeping up with the house involved a small army of support staff: a maid service; a landscape crew; a pool maintenance guy; a handyman service for minor monthly repairs; a carpet and upholstery cleaning service; an air-conditioning and heating service; two extermination services (one for insects and one for the Pack-Rat Liberation Movement that seemed determine to reclaim our place in the name of all thing furry); and a whole host of appliance repair men.  The house was big enough that it required three separate air conditioners to cool in the summers, and two heaters and three fireplaces to warm in the winter.  In order to stay on top of just the staff who helped us with the house required that I create a separate Rolodex of business cards.  I kid you not.  And our privacy was constantly being disturbed by some caretaker arriving to perform their ongoing duties.

I wasn’t working at the time but it felt like I had at least a half-time job just staying on top of everyone coming and going from our property.  And–get this– we were paying several thousands of dollars a month for the privilege of this experience.

Even before my divorce, I had been aware of the Small Home Movement.  Sometime around 2002, my mother had sent me a newspaper clipping of Jay Shafer and his wonderful little Tumbleweed Tiny Houses.  Periodically, I would pull up his website, look wistfully at pictures of tiny homes, and dream of a much simpler existence. I was also such a huge fan of Thoreau’s Walden back in college that I convinced my favorite professor to allow me to do a semester’s independent study on the house. (For about ten years, I even had a bonsai I raised from a maple seedling that came from Walden Pond.)


I dreamed of a similar tiny place in solitude of my very own.  I didn’t have the faintest idea how to get there, though.  I was just so hugely off-course from anything resembling that.

I was living in a place that was the absolute antithesis of a tiny home.  I was running in a social-circle which emphasized the gross display of wealth and viewed material consumption as a form of recreational activity.  Everyone was working hard at impressing one another with how successful they all were.  (Admittedly, everyone was running around so fast it didn’t seem like they actually enjoyed any of it.)  And even if I somehow managed to shed the house and convince my partner to embark on a lifetime of simplicity, there was still several moving trucks full of possessions that wouldn’t fit into a smaller place.

It certainly wasn’t due to our house alone, but there were many days when I fantasized about tucking a cat under each arm, walking out the front door, and never looking back.  In a particularly desperate moment, I convinced my husband to consider building me a “studio” in the 5 acres out back to be constructed along my more simplistic ideals.  Thankfully, the project never came to pass.  Hiding out back in a tiny house wasn’t going to fix the mess I’d made for myself.

Steph's tiny floating home (sideview)Eventually, for reasons having to do with a lot more than just the materialistic lifestyle, my marriage deteriorated to the point that I chose to physically separate from my husband.  Moving into a 1,000 square foot rental property with all of my belongings helped me to come to terms with how much of the associated crap–material and otherwise– was actually mine rather than his. (Hey, they say recognizing you have a problem is the first step in the road to recovery…)

I don’t think anyone has a good divorce. For the record, mine sucked in many, many ways.   But it also gave me one priceless gift–a chance to rebuild my life in a way that made sense to me. And, while waiting for the end result of all the legal wrangling to be over, I had the time to really think about what it was I valued.

Here is what I came up with…  I cherished the time I didn’t have to spend in an office.  I wanted to spend a minimal amount of time earning a living. Instead, I wanted to spend as much of my limited remaining time on the planet enjoying friends and loved ones, nature, good books, good food and wine, and creative projects.  I didn’t want to have to worry about paying for and maintaining a bunch of junk I didn’t have the time or energy to use because I was too busy working to pay for it all.

Marina in OregonI didn’t even want to keep the stuff I already owned and had aspirations of someday using.  Like, say, the ten different musical instruments I had dreamed of someday learning to play.  I decided to pick the things that were truly dear to me (like my cello) and focus on those, and free up the rest of the stuff to find homes where they could be better used.

After quite a bit of thinking and research, I finally settled on my tiny home in the form of a 550 square foot floating home which sits in the Columbia River outside of Portland.  A portion of my divorce settlement went into the initial purchase.  I also have returned to the workforce as a consultant, which has helped greatly with renovation costs on my place but also present challenges in terms of my free time.  I’m still actively working to find the right balance there.

I’m afraid there hasn’t been much in the way of  “simple living” going on during the past year in which I’ve been restoring my place.  (It was in need of some serious work when I bought it.)  However, the past year’s journey has also been immensely rewarding to me on an emotional and social level.

There are still many more challenges to be met like finishing my place and establishing the right work/life balance.  At this point, I just keep putting one foot in front of the other while keeping my eye on the course.

The road I’m on certainly seems to have a fair share of potholes.  But, at least now, I’m on the right road.


For more information on Stephanie and her tiny floating home, you can read the following at her blog, Coming Unmoored:

Gone crazy.  Back soon.  (Or maybe not.)

One Upon a Time, There Was Way Too Much Stuff

Moments of Clarity in Lowes

You can also follow her on Twitter.