Goodbye, Seattle ?

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.

We thought this day might come, but didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. Last week the Hunter House in Seattle went up for sale. After 20+ years in the city, and over 15 years in that house, we are now permanent residents of Orcas Island with the Yurt as our home.

I realize this might come as a surprise and honestly, we’re surprised to be in this position. We didn’t set out to move to Orcas permanently, and we surely didn’t plan to sell the Hunter House. But here we are.

Getting to this point happened behind the scenes because the path was not clear until recently. In fact, it has been a long strange trip full of ambiguity, hope, worry and in some cases, despair. And we’ll get to that in future issues. But, right now we are taking our first breaths as bona fide Orcas Island residents and looking back with a bit of wonder.

bona fide Orcas Island residents

When we first bought the Yurt in the fall of 2016, it seemed like a great second place and for a while, it was. We were lucky to have stumbled onto the property and quickly fell in love. But it didn’t seem like it could be our only home. Compared to our house in Seattle, it felt shabby and incomplete, at least initially. The bedrooms don’t have ceilings. The 1977 fridge, with its duct-taped shelf, could die any day. In winter, cold air seeps through the uninsulated floor. It has a smell. The list goes on.

duct-taped shelf

As we stayed longer and longer with each visit, our perception changed. We’d been comparing the Yurt to the Hunter House and in that comparison, the Yurt could never measure up. It’s not and will never be a nice house in the city. What changed was our perspective regarding what we needed to be content. For example, in Seattle we had a 60” TV and built-in speakers that made movies an experience. At the Yurt, we use a 27” iMac from 2012 as our TV. We had to ask: does the size of the screen or quality of the speakers really matter? For us, the answer was no. What matters is the movie and who’s there when you watch it.  

In the first year, I started to notice an unexpected feeling when the time would come to leave Orcas Island. It was a feeling akin to dread or at least a longing to stay put. As the date approached to pack the car, I’d feel myself wishing we’d planned to stay a little longer. In Seattle, it was just the opposite. I counted the days until we’d go back to the island. This feeling was the first indication, for me, that the island was pulling me in. Sachi says she felt this way from the very beginning. A friend on the island recently told us she used to cry when it came time to leave.

island was pulling

Slowly, we started to question the reasoning of having two houses. In the beginning, it was a luxurious feeling to leave Seattle and have another place to go. That luxury came with a price that put a strain on our finances. To make it work, we tightened our belts and lived as cheaply as we could on Orcas. We limited travel except for family events, cooked almost every meal at home and entertained ourselves as inexpensively as possible.

Piper was entertained
Piper was entertained

The real change in my personal perspective came when Sachi shared a spreadsheet that calculated the cost of our life in Seattle compared to the island. It was breathtaking. Until that moment, I was only thinking about the additional cost of island life, where things like groceries and gas are more expensive. These numbers told a different story by comparing two different lifestyles: city life vs. island life.

Aside from the obvious and significant cost of having two houses, it was clear that simply living in the city came with expenses that weren’t obvious when it was our only home. For example, we constantly spent money on transportation and parking in the city. A night out in Seattle could pay for a week or more of entertainment on Orcas. And the relative bounty of the city inevitably led to more purchases.

The message was clear. We could save thousands of dollars a month if we sold our house and moved to the island. It would be like having another income source in the form of reduced expenses. We both started to see that moving made financial sense.

For the first time, we got serious about changing our lives in fundamental ways and to be honest, the scale of the change made me nervous. Were we really going to sell our house and leave the city we’ve known for over 20 years? It just seemed so…big.

In these situations, Sachi and I have different perspectives. She is incredibly pragmatic and rational. In the context of big decisions, she sees emotion as a liability and a recipe for unintended consequences. I suppose it is her rationality that allows her to be free from worry or fear of the unknown when it comes to the future. Once she rationalizes an idea, she dives in head first and never looks back. Case in point: her belief that we could find a way to pay for the Hunter House renovation despite evidence to the contrary. Her always-forward perspective is a superpower and we’re both better off for it.  

Oddly, there was never a specific moment when we said, “Let’s sell our house and move to Orcas!” and high-fived. It happened much more slowly and lived in the world of “probably” for months as I waded into the idea. It was in this phase that Sachi started packing in earnest. Every trip from Seattle to Orcas moved a bit more of our lives to the island. A box of dishes from the kitchen, a few tools, and a living room chair.  Before I knew it, the assumption that we’d probably move had done much of the heavy lifting, both physically and for me, emotionally. My default setting is overly optimistic, but I needed the help for this load.

As I waded deeper and deeper into the idea, the ripples from Sachi’s dives helped me adjust to the new temperature. Eventually, I grew comfortable enough to dive right along with her and soon changed my perspective from nostalgia about Seattle to anticipation of a future life on Orcas Island. Always forward.

Once we both understood we were fully committed, all sorts of wheels started to turn. The to-do list we share via our phones seemed to be endless as we prepared the Hunter House for the market. After expanding to outfit a second place, we faced the task of contracting into a single, much smaller, yurt-shaped home. It was a blur of activity that didn’t seem to stop until a few days ago when we officially arrived at Orcas Island as full time residents. What a feeling.

For now, we’re both still adjusting to the idea that, for the first time since we’ve been together, we no longer live in Seattle. And it’s nice to know that Sachi, after 25 years away from Hawaii, is once again an island girl.


Ready for Rain is  a newsletter that's personal

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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