The Floating Kitchen

Floating Home KitchenI had to laugh when Tammy selected tiny home food management/cooking as the topic of our current issue.  Me writing an entry on cooking makes about as much sense as Paris Hilton writing an entry on frugal living.

In my long history of culinary disasters, perhaps my most ignoble moment was managing to set my kitchen cabinets on fire attempting nothing more than to boil a pot of water.  My survival strategy when it comes to food is simple… I fall in love with men who LOVE to cook. They cook and I happily do all the clean-up. (Even for the one who made it look like Julia Child had not only been busy in the kitchen but had actually been murdered in said kitchen.)

And when that plan has failed, I either eat out or survive on unlikely combinations such as beer and ice cream and an unhealthy amount of  Captain Crunch Peanut Butter cereal. (Yes, Tammy, I can see you sadly shaking your head over there. But I’m being honest.)

What has been interesting, though, is how my cooking and eating habits have begun to change since moving into my little floating home.  While my pantry is pretty expansive compared to what you would find in a Tumbleweed, it is still significantly smaller than anywhere I’ve lived previously.  There simply is not a lot a room to stockpile items that are likely to be around for a long time. Moreover, trash management can be a hassle in a marina.  Any sort of packaging you haul in is also going to need to be hauled out. And I got tired of hauling pretty quickly.

What I’ve noticed as a result is that my diet has shifted significantly away from preprocessed/packaged foods and more towards items such as fresh fruit and vegetables.  (Admittedly, some of this has also been a conscious effort on my part to live on something more than just breakfast cereal as I try to improve my general health.)  That combined with the fact that I have no patience for cooking times of anything more than a few minutes has translated into my diet starting to vaguely resemble that of a raw foodist.

farmers-market-1Additionally, now that I’m spending so much less on housing costs, I have more available funds to invest in quality food.  I’m buying organic and locally grown wherever possible.  I have two farmer stands within a few minutes of my house and also a fantastic Farmer’s Market in downtown Portland on Saturdays.

I’ve never been much for grocery shopping, but I enjoy farmer’s markets.  They’re much more of a social outing and adventure than simply a task to check off my list.  I’ve also noticed that if I’ve gone to the trouble of picking something up at the farmer’s market I’m much less likely to let it go to waste than if I just absentmindedly threw it at my cart at Safeway.

All in all, it’s been interesting to see how my shift in housing has had an impact also on my eating.  Below I have included a brief tour of my kitchen.  (And I just have to note that, once again, I’ve managed to be upstaged by my cat.  He’s becoming quite the little camera hound.)

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.

Radical Downsizing

I should probably start this article with a confession… I’m really not a minimalist by nature. In fact, I seem to have a remarkable aptitude for collecting stuff. Lots of varied, interesting stuff that I’m convinced at the time of purchase will add to my quality of my life. And, in a strange way, I think that makes me particularly qualified to write this piece–because I recently had to go through the exercise in getting rid of more than 2/3′s of all my possessions in a little under six weeks. I wouldn’t say that was the least stressful six weeks of my life but, if I can do it, you can, too. (And, with any luck, you will have more time in which to downsize.)

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To give you a little background on my situation, I had moved from a 3,000+ sq. foot house with separate garage to a 1,000 sq. foot adobe home + 300 sq. foot art studio during my divorce. While I took only those items belonging to me, I did a remarkably good job of filling the smaller place with my stuff. Due, in part, to my ex hiring a moving company to precipitously dump about half of my belongings on my new doorstep, the “art studio” out back pretty much spent the next year as a storage unit, packed floor to ceiling with boxes–each of which contained a near-random collection of my stuff. (While the picture in this article is not from my studio, I’m afraid it looked remarkably similar.)

When the legal proceedings were over and I pulled out of my depressed haze, I promptly  bought a 550 square foot floating home with a grand scheme of simplifying my life. (Let me just say that there are definitely simpler ways to simplify one’s life than the route I chose, but that’s an article for another time.) Knowing I had a bunch of renovation costs in front of me, I then made my second less-than-fully-sane decision to be out of my current place when my lease was up the following month. My mission, whether or not I chose to accept it, was to take inventory of all my worldly possessions and reduce them by more than two thirds in just under six weeks.

Here are the strategies I used to accomplish near-Herculean task, and how I think you could also employ them…

1. eBay
I used eBay as my first stop in trying to find new homes for many high-dollar items I knew I wouldn’t be taking with me. Through this channel, I sold several fairly valuable musical instruments, electronics, and even one of my two cars. The trick for successfully using eBay was taking good, clear photos of the items and providing detailed descriptions. The more detail you can provide on an item, the better justification you have for where you set your price.

I think it’s also important to make an effort to respond quickly and honestly to questions sent to you by bidders. There’s an element of trust involved with buying high-dollar items online. Anything you can do to ensure a potential buyer that you’re not a con-artist operating from the Caymans is a good thing. If you’re using eBay to sell large or high-dollar items, be careful not to underestimate your shipping costs. I took a bath on the first to instruments I sold because of this.

I experimented with trying to sell some of my large pieces of furniture on eBay but found Craigslist was a lot more successful for this. (Although, I was able to find a local buyer for my large, flat-screen TV via eBay which I listed as “pick up only”.)

2. Craigslist
Most large cities now have a Craigslist for their area. Essentially, this is a free online classified service. Through Craigslist, I was able to see most of the large pieces of furniture I wasn’t planning on taking with me.

Like with eBay, good photos and descriptions can go a long way in attracting the attention of serious buyers, as can staying on top of email inquiries. My experience leads me to believe that most people hunting Craigslist want to buy a specific item in a short period of time.

I think it’s a good idea to post your general crossroads with the item but refrain from listing your address until you’re certain someone is serious about coming by to look at an item. Also, wherever possible, I recommend scheduling appointments to view items during daylight hours when you know neighbors will be around. Better yet, have someone else with you when you know you’re going to have people standing by. To be honest, unlike with Freecyle, I never had a scary situation come up with someone off of Craigslist. (In fact, I had a couple of buyers who I think were just as cautious about their own safety as I was of mine.)

Expect most Craigslist buyers to want to pay with cash. If you’re not charging an even multiple of $20, make sure you have bills handy to make change. I would recommend setting your prices on items slightly higher than your bottom line as two thirds of the Craigslist buyers I dealt with want to haggle over the price.

If you’re selling items that will be difficult to move, make sure you prep your potential buyers that they should bring help with them to transport the item. If you don’t, odds are good you’re going to be doing some heavy lifting.

3. Consignment Furniture Stores
I used a local consignment furniture store to deal with the last few pieces of furniture I was unable to sell off Craigslist. (My couch and loveseat, an entertainment center, and a bedframe.) I discovered both pros and cons to this approach.

consignment-furnitureConsignment stores are convenient if you don’t have much time to deal with individual buyers coming through your place. They normally pick up your items in one stop and deal with all the headaches of dealing with buyers.

Expect most consignment stores to take 50% of the sale price of an item. Some will also charge you an upfront appraisal and/or transport fee for your items. (I ended up paying $50 for my items.) On the plus side, the consignment store also priced my items for roughly twice what I was advertising them for on Craigslist. So, I’ll end up seeing roughly the same amount of cash for my items.

Most consignment stores issue checks once a month on items that have been sold. It’s not a bad idea to find out what day checks are being issued and call a few days before to check on the status of your items. The place I selected did eventually sell all my items where they were initially priced. But it took multiple phone calls to actually get the checks sent to me once the sales had been made.

Most consignment stores will ask for a couple of months to try to sell your item. If they are unsuccessful, they will give you the option of trying a lower price or donating your item to a local charity.

4. Gifting
I had a couple of treasured items that really didn’t serve a purpose in my new home but which I also couldn’t bear to simply sell. In most cases these were things that had been deeply meaningful to me at a certain point in my life, either because of the purpose they served or because they were a gift from someone dear to me.

Of all the things I had to downsize, these were probably the most difficult for me to figure out how to handle. Ultimately, I chose people whom I thought might appreciate them as much as I had in the past and offered them as gifts. Seeing my friends excitement at receiving something special at an unexpected time allowed me to finally let go.

5. Donations
In the process of downsizing, I significantly culled both my wardrobe and small household items. This resulted in several bags of clothing and boxes of small items (most of which were small appliances, knickknacks, or other decorations). Stronger souls might have had the fortitude to host a garage sale or to Freecycle all these. I didn’t. Plus, I had the excuse that I was on a tight schedule and didn’t have an open weekend.

For these items, I opted to donate them to local charities and take the tax write-off. Clothes and household items went to the Salvation Army. An old cell phone went to a local battered woman’s shelter. The collection of stuffed animals and toys given to me by various exes (minus a few I couldn’t bear to part with) went to Toys for Tots.

freecycle-tp-med6. Freecycle
Many communities now have a Freecycle program. Freecycle allows users to advertise items they no longer want. People interested in the items contact you. Most groups expect items to be offered for free and the normal expectation is that the person receiving the item is responsible for pickup unless other arrangements are made with the donor.

I have seen just about everything from used coloring books to an antique clawfooted bathtub posted on my local Freecycle group. In my case, I used Freecyle mainly to offload: small pieces of furniture that weren’t valuable enough to try to sell; lawn equipment; pet supplies I couldn’t use with my new cat; and some household appliances like an old, box-style TV.

I’ve had both good and bad experiences with Freecycle, some of which I’ve written about previously on my blog. Freecycle appeals to me because its a way to given items you no longer need directly to people who can use them. However, I found using Freecycle to be more time and energy intensive than several of the other methods.

If you’re going to advertise items on Freecycle, I recommend posting them early in the day. Don’t necessarily always chose the first person who responds to agree to give the item to. I found that in my local group there were a group of people who remained online all day and offered to take pretty much everything off my hands. After a couple of experiences accepting first responses, I learned to wait until I found someone who really seemed like they were going to benefit from the item. And who seemed on-the-ball about when and, perhaps even more importantly, how they planned to pick the item up. (Don’t get me started on the college student who tried to pick up an Ikea wardrobe on a bicycle.)

Only give directions to your place if there’s still several hours of daylight left. Otherwise, I guarantee you’re going to have someone tromping around your house later in the evening than you would like. (I learned this point when someone set off my security system banging around my porch at 1 AM picking up an old vacuum cleaner I was giving away.)

As a matter of safety (and also convenience for the person picking up the item) I also recommend wherever possible leaving items on your porch rather than inviting someone you don’t know into your home. And if you’re leaving several different items on your porch, label to whom each is supposed to go. I found this cut down on people showing up and helping themselves to items other than just what they were supposed to pick up.

7. “The Great Giveaway”
This one was pretty much my own invention. I have to confess to having a personal loathing of garage sales. I don’t like the experience of people showing up on my porch at 5 AM “to beat the rush” or sifting through my worldly possessions and trying to haggle over something priced at a quarter. But the potential to find homes for much of my remaining “misfit” items was too great to ignore, so I devised The Great Giveaway.

What this consisted of was inviting a bunch of local friends and college students I know to come by anytime during three different timeslots/days I named. I clearly marked everything that was up for grabs. All people were expected to “pay” was their effort to cart the stuff away. I used this method to divest myself of a bunch of craft supplies, camping gear, and old Target bookshelves I’ve been carting from place to place from my college days.

Undoubtedly many of those items could also have been donated but it would have taken multiple trips using my car. Moreover, I found it far easier to give away things like my treasured cache of fabric to friends than it would have been to strangers.

I’ve subsequently seen an online version similar to my strategy where someone posted a Flickr album of items they were giving away for free and allowed people to claim them. That is another way to do something similar.

8. The Town Dump
For some, strange reason I’d never actually been to a dump before my downsizing project. I don’t know if I thought there would be seedy characters there doing drug-deals or what, but it was definitely an eye-opening experience to see the mound of stuff people leave behind. (It certainly makes you think twice about the things you buy–especially when you see how much that has been thrown away that is still clearly usable.)

The trash was pretty much my channel of last resort, but I had two carloads of stuff like soggy cardboard boxes (that had never been successfully throw away after my last move), old xeroxed research articles, etc. that really had nowhere else to go.

For anyone else who’s never gone to their local dump, usually the way it works with residential vehicles is that they either charge you by the vehicle-load or they weigh you entering and leaving the dump and charge you based on weight. I ended up paying roughly $30 for two carloads.

9. Renting a Dumpster
dumpsterAs I progressed further into the process of downscaling, I realized I was going to either need to make several more trips to the dump (which was 45 minutes each way) or I was going to need to find a better way to manage the garbage.

I called my local trash service to see if it was possible to get a larger trash container and learned that most cities make available various size dumpsters for a rental charge. The dumpster you tend to find behind commercial establishments are referred to as “roll-offs”. I ended up renting something roughly half that size and paid approximately $100 total for a month’s rental, including delivery, pick-up, and disposal of the contents. Depending on how much garbage you have to get rid of, you can also schedule additional trash pick-ups during the term of your rental. I didn’t have that much stuff, however.

The dumpster ended up being a true godsend in terms of getting rid of a large quantity of junk quickly. I only wish I’d discovered this option earlier in the process.

The only negative I experienced with the dumpster is people coming by to dumpster-dive in the early mornings. More than anything, that was an issue of noise. It was actually a bit of a relief that people more motivated than I were finding homes for items I hadn’t managed to.

10. Photo Scanning Service
I had a large hatbox which is stuffed to the brim with pictures that has followed me from location to location since college. I always had the good intention of sorting through all the photos, organizing them, and putting them into albums. I felt guilty every time I caught sight of that box and, after ten years of this insanity, I decided that I refused to move the box one more time.

Instead of taking the box of photos with me to Portland, for a little under $100, I had a photo scanning service take my mound of photos and put them into nice, neat digital files which I could dump into my iPhoto application and sort to my heart’s content.

Now, admittedly, media formats will change over the years. But I figure it’s far easier for me to transfer my photos from an old computer to new one than to deal with fading paper pictures for which I no longer have negatives or any sort of organizational system.

11. Converting to MP3
Fortunately, I already had about 95% of my music collection converted to MP3′s on my laptop. I converted the rest to MP3′s over the course of a weekend while packing. Then I turned in my three boxes worth of CD’s to the local college used bookstore and donated the credit to a local literacy program.

While it’s possible that I might someday regret having given away my hard copies, I haven’t had a reason to use an actual CD in several years. I am also careful to back up my computer’s full hard drive on a regular basis. The cost-to-benefit ratio of continuing to cart and store those three boxes of CD’s as back-up was just didn’t make sense to me.

12. Giving Away Books, Going Digital, and Shifting to the Library
Of all the things I did to downsize, drastically reducing my book collection was probably the most difficult step I took. Over the course of about a week, I forced myself to go through all of my bookshelves and select the books I simply HAD to take with me to Portland. I packed them as I went.

Then, I pulled all the remaining books from my bookshelves and stacked them into boxes headed to the used bookstore. If anything else caught my eye in the process of packing the “donate” boxes, I set it off to the side. Then, at the very end, I went through this stack and picked out the true treasures I’d missed. Everything else went into a “donate box”.

Through this process I ended up reducing my collection by enough books to fill my PT Cruiser to the roof, with the back seat pulled out, TWICE.

To help ease the pain of separation, I took a portion of the credit I received for turning in my books and bought an Amazon Kindle, which allows me to acquire and store new books digitally.

As a further proactive step to try to slow my re-accumulation of books, I’ve forced myself to develop the habit of not buying any book if it’s available through my local public library system. There’s only been one book I’ve checked out from the library that I found valuable enough to subsequently purchase for my permanent collection.

And, that, ladies and gents, is how I managed to downscale my belongings by two-thirds in less than six weeks. Hopefully some of these strategies will be useful to you in your own attempts to downsize.

By way of a very quick epilogue to my journey in simplifying, I’d like to say that, with the exception of one or two items, I don’t regret anything I off-loaded. In fact, having been forced to store most of my remaining possessions in a storage unit for ten months while renovations were completed on my new place, I’ve come to realize I don’t need a lot of what I kept.

While the process of downsizing can be a lot of work, the end result more than makes up for it. I really enjoy the sense of space and freedom I have now. I’ve come to realize that clutter comes with more than just physical costs. It weighs down on you emotionally. Getting rid of it frees a lot of energy and resources that can be directed in far more productive areas of your life like spending time with loved ones, hobbies, or even possibly getting rid of more clutter. In an odd way, the cycle of decluttering can actually become addictive.

Give me some time. I just might become a minimalist yet!

Stephanie lives in a 550 square foot floating home outside of Portland, OR.  You can read more of her writing at ComingUnmoored.com.  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.)

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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.

stephanie

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.