Mar 03 2008
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(breadcrumbs are unavailable)
Mar 03 2008
So, I’ve bought a floating home in Portland.
“What?!” you say. “What the hell is a floating home? And why in the world would you do that?”
Well, to start with, a floating home is a house that has been built upon a raft-like system called a “float”. Typically they are docked in a slip-space (or in some cases two adjoining ones) in a marina. Mine is sitting in a marina about 20 minutes outside of downtown Portland in the Columbia River. If you’re familiar with the area, it’s just south of McGuire Island and cycling distance to Blue Lake Regional Park.
My house started its life as a boathouse in the 1960’s. At some point, one of its enterprising owners began to carve out living space from the boat well. It has been remodeled by subsequent owners, each time expanding the living space at the expense of boat space.
Currently the living space is a little over 500 square feet. When I finish filling-in the boat well, it will be roughly 650 square feet. Small, I know. Even by floating home standards, which are still smaller than what’s happening on land.
Honestly, though, it feels perfect for me with where my life is right now. I’ve been on a crusade to simplify things for the last year and this feels like the next, right step. (Hey, it was either this or one of Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, which, at roughly 110 square feet, would have been an even more drastic jump.)
But there’s more to the story of “why the hell are you doing this?” than simply a desire to simplify my life and walk lighter on the planet…
A couple months back, on one of the rare rainy days in Tucson, I was rummaging through my “Ex Box”. For the non-nostalgic amongst you, an “Ex Box” is that container in which you keep love letters, pictures, trinkets, etc. of former loves that you can’t quite bear to get rid of but which are probably a Very Bad Idea to let the current love of your life stumble across. My “Ex Box” also contains a random assortment of things like the pen and ink sketch my best friend from college did of the two of us, old fan letters from when I wrote historical romances, and an Underground pass from the first time I scraped together my pennies and went on pilgrimage to London. I hadn’t looked through my Ex-Box in many years.
Normally, when a relationship ended, I just cracked open the lid, stuffed in the new items, adding a new strata-layer of romantic failure, and quickly slammed the lid back on. But I had slowly been working through ever corner of my office getting rid of things I no longer wanted in my crusade to declutter. The Ex Box was the last Bastion of Stuff to be sorted through before I could feel virtuous about having finished the den. So I bit the bullet and cracked open the box.
While I was sorting through items, I came across something I’d completely forgotten about—a two-paged typed list my 20-year-old self had written of all the things I wanted to do before I died. For someone who feels like most of her life has been a series of serendipitous accidents, I was surprised at home many of them I’d actually accomplished…
Write and publish a novel. Check. Fall madly in love. Check. See Venice. Check. Make a lot of money. Check. Spend a lot of money on pointless material objects that don’t really make me happy. (Well, that’s not exactly how it was worded. But you get the idea.) Double-check.
And, there, on the bottom of page one, was one that I’d half-forgot. At some point in my life I wanted to own a home directly on the water where I could park a sailboat directly alongside.
I’m not sure I can explain the reason behind that one in any logical terms. I just know it’s been a dream of mine since the first time I stepped aboard a large sailing craft back at the age of nineteen. Granted, when I originally dreamed it up, I was picturing something like the dockominiums in Traverse City I used to sail past while I was working as a summer intern in MSU’s sailing program.
The dream went that I would become a wildly successful romance writer, sink one of my advances down on a pricey dockominium, and then spend my summers penning my epics aboard my sailboat somewhere out in Lake Michigan.
Well, needless to say, several years and many U-turns later, that’s not exactly how things turned out. However, here I found myself in Tucson, post-divorce with not a lot of ties keeping me where I was at, sitting on a chunk of money I’ve been slowly whittling away at paying rent while I figure out what I want to do next, with my old dream fresh in my mind.
I started poking at for sale listings for houseboats. I found several interesting ones in my price-range. But, to be honest, most of them felt a bit claustrophobic to me with the bulk of their living space being below-deck. And I was nervous about how a houseboat might work with an exceptionally curious Balinese cat who’s never been outside and sinks like a rock when he’s tries to swim. I’d be devastated if I ever lost Rumi. Not to mention, houseboats, by definition, come with motors. Me and motors get along about as well as the fictional wizard Harry Dresden does with anything electronic. (There’s a reason my cars are waranteed to the max.)
Somewhere, about a week into poking at listings, I stumbled over an add for a floating home. A floating home? What’s this? I’d never heard of one but a half-hour of research later, a whole new world had opened to me. The more I read about floating homes, the stronger my conviction grew that this is what I had been looking for. For the price of docking and basic utilities, a floating home allows someone to live directly on the water while having additional space and conveniences compared to what is found on most boats. Moreover, if you’re into boating, you can literally sail/motor your craft right up to your front door.
I’ve been in love with Portland since the first time I visited in my twenties. (Which I’m sure will be the subject of another entry at some point.) After doing a few more days worth of research about the relative cost of floating homes in different parts of the western U.S., I was pretty sure Portland was where I should be looking for a place.
I spent a few more days poking a listings for floating homes that were for sale in Portland. I even went so far as to email a couple of realtors about specific listings. I was surprised that only one of them ever got back to me and she stopped writing to me once I broke it to her I was looking for a place not in the half-million dollar range.
One place in particular kept haunting me. It was this little green and white cottage listed way below expected market value. I knew there had to be a story behind that and it probably wasn’t good. But I kept going back and poking at the pictures on the listing.
After not hearing back from anyone on the place for more than a week, I finally lost patience and picked up the phone. To my surprise, I reached the listing realtor on my first try. Even better still, four days later, on a snowy morning, I met him in person and spent the day touring my very first floating homes. I had a blast. And that first day was also when I saw the little cottage.
The story on the cottage was that the float pretty much needed to be rebuilt. If done right, floats have about a 30-year life span and this one’s was up. To rebuild the float would pretty much double the asking price for the house. But, even with that, the place was still within my price range.
So, endeavoring to do the prudent thing for once in my life, I made myself take some time and think about it. I talked to my boyfriend, Charlie, about it and he, needless to say, wasn’t terribly keen on the idea of me moving halfway across the country from him. However, Charlie and I already live a state apart as it is. (He is in Albuquerque and I have been in Tucson.) And the nature of his job has him traveling a good chunk of the time. The plane trip is longer between Albuquerque and Portland, but it’s no more difficult for him to telecommute from Portland than it is from Tucson. Plus, his company also has a local office in Portland which it doesn’t where I am now.
I bit the bullet, gave up my quasi-retirement of the last few years, and applied for good-paying jobs in the Portland area to better justify and finance a precipitous move from the desert.
I made it to the final round of a job I was really pretty excited about… and then didn’t get it. At that point I realized as much as I was disappointed about the job, I was even more disappointed about the idea of never making it to Portland and owning the little cottage. It was supposed to be mine, dang it.
That was the point where I said “Aww, f-ck-it” and put in an offer. It was accepted in under 24 hours. And, now, I find myself the owner of my very own floating home which, if possible, is more beat-up and in need of TLC than me.