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.