Everything is Temporary in the Guesthouse ?

October 01, 2019

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

I usually wake up around 7am and the first thing I see is almost always a dog’s face. They seem to have a natural ability to detect, often before I realize it, that the day has begun. While Maybe, our older dog, has better manners when it comes to humans in bed, Piper is unburdened. She plops down on my chest in an attempt to rouse me with cuteness alone.

our older dog

Our morning routine is simple and based on needs. I need coffee and head straight for the coffee maker, which I prepared to brew the night before. The guest house, like the Yurt, is a single room and with Sachi sleeping just a few yards away, I try to keep the coffee noise to a minimum.

Handling dog needs has been different in the guest house. For the first time in nearly 20 years, we don’t have a dog fence that allows them to roam without my supervision. One of us has to go with them, every time they need to go out. Now that fall and winter are upon us, these romps are about to get progressively less enjoyable and no less required.

The complicating factor is the ever-present deer who mock and tease the dogs by simply living their wild animal lives. Given the chance, Piper will chase them deep into the woods and through unknown hazards before coming home. We want to keep those instances at a minimum, so she stays on the leash, while Maybe can roam a bit more free. Like so much of our lives right now, this isn’t a big deal because it’s temporary.

Piper (left) Maybe (right)
Piper (left) Maybe (right)

With their business done, we all come inside and the dogs race up the stairs to pounce on Sachi in bed, which makes Sachi giggle. She has always wanted big dogs and we now have over 100 combined pounds of canine. csx

The small kitchen of the guest house usually becomes a hive of activity in the morning and tests our ability to economize. Because we don’t entertain anymore, our collection of dishes and cookware has been boiled down to the essentials and it reminds me of how little we actually need. We use the same few plates, glasses, bowls and silverware everyday and are rarely inconvenienced.

small kitchen of the guest house

There are things we miss, of course. I, for one, will never take dishwashers for granted again. The bigger issue, day-to-day, is counter space. Between appliances, we have about four square feet of working room. A month ago, that changed when I discovered a hidden feature of the kitchen. Tucked under the counter, there is a small white refrigerator. In a flash of insight, I pulled it out of the counter and into the kitchen space, revealing a new kitchen work space. It’s been there ever since and I now count this as one of my best innovations for this place.

I love the idea of home appliances and objects, like the little fridge, having multiple purposes and the flexibility to adapt. For example, our TV is currently an aging 21” iMac computer. Rather than placing it on a table across the room, or attaching it to a wall, we put it on a rolling shelf that can be easily moved to a better viewing location and then tucked out of the way when it’s not being used.

iMac computer

The TV setup is a stark change from our home theater in Seattle and adopting a smaller, lower fidelity version of TV might seem like a negative consequence of moving. But it’s not. I enjoy it just as much. A movie is still a movie.

This is true for so many parts of the transition. Our home lifestyle is more compact, with fewer features and more disarray than we’d grown accustomed. But does it matter? Would 30% more counter space make us 10% happier? Doubtful. A dinner made in a toaster oven in a one room guest house can be just as delicious as in any other location.

Living in a relatively small space has its benefits. Cleaning the house is quick and easy. The rent is affordable and the constrained space means our essential belongings are never far away. But there is one thing that drives me crazy. It works like this…

The guest house is filled to the brim with boxes and piles of belongings in closets and a loft area. For the most part, the boxes will remain untouched until we move out.

Just after we moved in, we realized that a few random things were missing. In this case, it was a cocktail shaker. This set up a dilemma. That shaker is in the room, somewhere. Do we start the process of diving into the closets and boxes in search of it? Or, do we throw up our hands and do without? I often choose the latter because lurking within those boxes is the shaker and a high likelihood of serious frustration for me. For now, I mix cocktails in a measuring cup. It will appear, some day.

We both look forward to the day when we can once again have dinner parties and entertain friends over weekends. For now, there is a happy medium. Friends can visit the guest house overnight, but it’s strictly BYOB (bring your own bedroom). Our friends, Tony and Lindsay, recently visited with a teardrop trailer that they parked outside. It worked perfectly.

The temporary nature of this phase of our lives colors our perception of what’s needed, or desired. We will probably be in the guest house for another year and we have chosen not to invest in making it feel more home-like. We’ve hung no art on the walls. There are no plants or decorations. The guest house feels like a quick stop on a long journey and our goal is to get in and out without a trace. We are but visitors.

Living in the guest house is a reminder of how much of our recent lives have revolved around moving. Since acquiring the Yurt two years ago, it feels like we’ve been floating from place to place. First, we split our time between Seattle and Orcas. Then we moved to Orcas and a few months later, to the guest house. In a year, we’ll move to the new house. 

Two years of moving means that living in a state of flux has become a kind of lifestyle and something that doesn’t feel like a burden or trial. More than anything, it’s been a reminder of how lucky we are to have this opportunity.

Our friends Chris and Sarah (and their three dogs) lived in a fifth wheel trailer on their property for three years as they finished their house. Their story seems to be closer to the norm on Orcas and we expected to do the same. We owe deep gratitude to the kind family who first offered us the space.

We’re still settling in, but today it feels like the guest house is home. Almost everything has a place, a box, or a pile. And that’s okay. It’s temporary.


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On most Tuesdays, I share a story from my life on Orcas Island and a recommendation for something I love. I'm interested in how to design work and home for lifestyle, livability, and fluffy dogs. Learn more.

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