I once heard an anecdote about travel that said you’ll always fill whatever size bag you choose to take with you. A good first step to traveling light is selecting a smaller bag.
Having just moved to the new house, our forever house, I’m reminded that we’ve made a very permanent decision about the size of our bag. We set out to build an efficient home and now that we’ve moved, it’s obvious that some things are not going to fit and I take it as a good sign.
On Saturday morning, when the move began, I was optimistic. The first couple of trips were quick and I was feeling strong. We used our two SUVs and our landlord’s pickup truck to ferry it all from the guesthouse to the new place. We’ve always moved ourselves and this was no different. We moved it all and I’m more thankful than ever that our moving days are over. Saturday saw us take 26k steps and 100 flights of stairs, with box in tow.
The guesthouse is deceptive: It’s a small place, but there is amazing storage tucked into closets and overhead spaces. As the day wore on, our stuff seemed to multiply like wet gremlins. We’d clear the floor of boxes and then dive into another cavern of a closet to find office supplies, sweaters, and shoes we hadn’t seen since we moved from Seattle.
Over two days it was complete and we said goodbye to the guesthouse, our home since June of 2019. We are so thankful to have had the opportunity. Phew.
A few sticky notes remained, mainly representing projects that are 99% done and only missing parts.
Moving without the dogs getting outside was a challenge, so we built a wall to keep them away. It worked for about 30 minutes.
Once we got everything into the house, the sorting project began. Big piles became small piles and small piles were organized by category. Today we’re close, but the pod from Seattle won’t arrive until Monday and it has furniture for holding categories of piles.
Last night we dumped everything bedroom-related into a big pile on the floor. Every piece of clothing we own along with wooden coat hangers. I took on the job of organizing the hangers and it was stressful for a couple of reasons.
In 2019, we made the ill-fated choice to move them in kitchen trash bags. That might work, if coat hangers were not triangular and covered in hooks. Over time the bags ripped apart and any attempt to remove a coat hanger required dislodging a triangle with a hook from the bag full of triangles and hooks. The only path that worked reliably was to open the bag like the sharks belly in JAWS and let them leak out onto the floor. Still, some remained.
The coat hangers were a reminder of how much stuff we once owned. Presumably, we had enough clothes for all the hangers, yet only about one-third of them fit in our new closet. This bothered me for a while, but then I remembered that we used to live in a bigger house with more closets and in a city where a wider variety of clothes were helpful. Today, on Orcas Island, I don’t have a need for more than a few dress shirts. Truthfully, I’d could get by with a few shirts of any kind.
If nothing else, the process of moving three times in two years has helped us winnow down our possessions. Each time a box crosses a threshold, like the front door, it is examined and unwanted items are culled. This is what we’re doing today. There are now multiple piles of items that are going to other homes because we’ve made a choice about the size of ours.
Everyone knows the feeling of apathy that comes with the end of a commitment. In school we called it “senioritis”. As the end of a semester nears, the daily rituals and responsibilities that once kept everything on track take on a more onerous feel as motivation fades. A bare minimum of effort will suffice.
We are probably a couple of months from moving into the new house and a significant part of that excitement is not simply moving into the new house, but moving out of the guesthouse, which will have been our home for over 18 months. A feeling of senioritis is real and growing.
At the heart of this feeling is the contrast. For this phase of our lives, the guesthouse has been perfect and I don’t say that flippantly. I could not imagine a better situation for waiting out the construction. It’s comfortable, well-built, and close to the construction site. The owners are kind people and we are fortunate to have the opportunity.
That being said, we are both itching to get the hell out. As the new house gets closer to completion, it’s difficult not to fantasize about the future that we’ve so carefully designed. This is the contrast. Knowing that a new experience awaits, the guesthouse lifestyle grows more cumbersome every day.
There is probably no clearer picture of this than washing dishes. We don’t have a dishwasher in the guesthouse and it’s clear that I’ve been taking dishwashers for granted for too long. If I never have to wash another piece of individual silverware in my life, I’ll be just fine.
But you know what? For most of our time here, washing dishes by hand didn’t feel like an inconvenience. It was just part of our day, like homework, that needed to be done and we adapted. I am a believer that we humans are more adaptable than we realize. Time and repetition make almost any situation feel normal. Within a couple of months after moving in, we settled into the guesthouse lifestyle and never looked back, until now, when we look forward.
This quainter version has highlighted the value of the things we use every day. Our current version of a TV is an iMac computer that is so old it can’t be updated. Sometimes, the fan runs so loud we can’t have a conversation. Other times, it just stops connecting to wifi and requires a reboot. We treat it nicely and say encouraging things as we caress the top of the monitor, “just a couple of months and you can retire.”
For audio, we use USB speakers about the size of softballs. And they work amazingly well. We’ve enjoyed countless movies and shows and rarely want for more. This forces me to wonder: Is TV size or speaker fidelity proportionate to happiness or enjoyment?
We spend a lot of time in the kitchen, where Sachi is the chef and I’m the sous chef and meat cooker. The guesthouse kitchen is not one with a great deal of finery. The electric stove is apartment-sized with an oven that sports an unreliable thermostat, which means baking is done in a toaster oven. Our drawer of tongs and spatulas is full of equipment that is becoming less useful by the day. Yet, I feel that we eat like royalty. Nearly every evening I finish dinner with a smile and remind myself how lucky I am to eat such amazing food. Do the appliances really matter? A nice oven and gas stove will be convenient and beautiful. But will the food be that much better?
I also think about our grill. For two years now, I’ve used a Weber Smokey Joe charcoal grill. It’s tiny, cheap, and the best grill I’ve ever had. It taught me how to cook with charcoal, which has given me a great deal of satisfaction. Our new grill will have multiple burners, lights, an electric starter and more. It will feel luxurious. But will it make grilled fish taste better than the Smokey Joe?
Of course, this idea is more complicated than simply boiling everything down to outcomes. We can’t discount the experience that comes with a new kitchen, especially in contrast to the guesthouse. Having a full-sized sink that’s not installed in a corner cabinet will be a revelation. The potential to have two or more people in the kitchen at the same time will feel liberating. An oven with a working thermostat, a miracle. It’s the everyday things that we will appreciate the most.
On most nights, I go to bed before Sachi, who likes to stay up and watch TV. Because our bedroom shares the same space as the iMac TV, this means I usually go to sleep hearing the audio from the Great British Baking Show. I’ve grown accustomed to the situation and Sachi turns the volume low. But man, the idea that I could go to another room, close the door, and fall asleep in silence? It feels like a dream.
There are also a host of small annoyances that seem to grow more annoying the closer we get to moving. We have a small Ikea drawer that holds our socks and underwear. It lives inside a small, unlit closet by our bed because we have no other place for it. Outside the closet door is a dog bed. This means that getting ready for a shower entails stepping onto the dog bed, opening the closet door into the dog bed and reaching blindly into a dark closet to retrieve underwear. It’s a small inconvenience, but I think about it every single time.
Speaking of the bedroom. The space we have to move around is the defining characteristic of the room. To get to the bathroom (which thankfully has a pocket door), we must walk around the bed. But there is only room for almost one person at a time. This means that the entire bedroom side of the guesthouse, including the bathroom, is blocked if someone is there. We’ learned to move through it like passengers passing in an airplane aisle.
I now see that space, the ability to move freely in a room, is a kind of luxury that is worth its weight in gold. I look forward to adapting to it.
Looking around the guesthouse as I write this, it’s clear that we’ve made a number of decisions that were always meant to be temporary. The guesthouse has only four drawers in the entire living space and most are full of silverware and other kitchen tools. In this way, our storage for everyday items is mostly made of the finest material of all: cardboard.
While the impossible skyscraper is made of cardboard, it abounds in other places. My “office” requires cords, headphones, thumb drives, and general office paraphernalia. Because I have no drawers, these currently live in a cardboard box with an Amazon logo. Little did I know, when we moved in, that the random box I put on the desk would become so useful. The same is true for boxes that hold dog toys, hats, keys, and more. Cardboard does the job just fine, for now.
We were always at a loss for coat storage, in part because our current pantry was placed in front of the only coat hooks. So, we decided to use disposable hooks that adhere to the wall. It turns out that these hooks can only hold so many coats before breaking. We started with three and are now down to one. There is some chance, by January, that our coats will live in a pile on the floor. Then, soon after, coat hook camelot!
As the move approaches, we’re trying to make old, worn-out items last just a bit longer. One of our pillow cases is ripping in two places. Most of our towels are over ten years old and look it. Our hand vacuum only works in short 2-second bursts because the battery has issues. We wear the same few clothes every day. These things have made it sixteen months, what’s two more? Soon they will be gone, perhaps in a ceremonial fire.
Another class of senioritis is true apathy. When we moved in, we used carpet squares from the Hunter House to cover the linoleum floor. The squares will not make the jump to the new house and you know what that means? Those carpet squares don’t matter anymore. Two weeks ago, the dogs found a printer cartridge and spilled printer ink on one of the squares. We shrugged. It was liberating not to care.
I’m thankful to have had the guesthouse experience, with its eccentricities and all, because it serves as contrast. In the beginning it challenged us to find new and temporary ways to live. Now, some of those things are becoming more grating by the minute.
Just as we’re ready to throw our hands up and refuse to do homework, we’ll move and be able to appreciate the luxury of space, convenience, and quality from a healthier perspective.
I Can Recommend…
Peaky Blinders (Netflix) – An all-time favorite on our house. Cillian Murphy plays the badass leader of the Shelby family gang (the Peaky Blinders) in Birmingham, England, just after WWI. Awesome style, great storytelling, and fitting music. Turn on subtitles if you can’t understand the dialog.
The Crown – Season 4 (Netflix) The new season just arrived and covers the Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher period. It’s hard to believe a show can be so good retelling stories we’ve all heard so many times.
Dawes (band) – Sometimes we get stuck on a band and play them over and over. Dawes has been that for us lately. They have a folk rock sound and great songwriting that feels easy and nostalgic to me. A couple of good songs to get started: When My Time Comes and All Your Favorite bands.
Everything is Alive (podcast) – If you’re looking for a very odd and sometimes hilarious podcast series, take a listen. The show is unscripted interviews with inanimate objects, often voiced by comedians. It’s as weird as it sounds and you should listen.
In the corner of the guesthouse stands a plastic fold-out table that is the closest we’ve had to a dining room table in two years. At the Yurt, it hosted crab feasts, laptop work, building plans, and puzzles. Most recently, it was the only table in the guesthouse and like many tables, it collected inconvenient things. When something like a camping mug, that needed to be storedwith the camping supplies, but neededan interim home, the table was it. And it performed admirably.
Today, just a couple of months from when we expect (hope?) to move in, I can barely see the table thanks to dull cardboard boxes, stacked like impossible skyscrapers. Under the table are boxes of Big Enough, samples of stained fir, and a box of dog toys at dog level. But what constitutes the cityscape is shipped boxes of fixtures and accouterments that will someday make the jump to our walls, doors, floors, and more.
Over the past six months, we have collected a large amount of temporarily inconvenient things. This is, in part, because we are the designers. We enjoy the responsibility of discovering and selecting the exact products we want, without someone in the middle. We order it all ourselves and become the warehouse until the move.
The box closest to me, according to the marker message scrawled on its side, is “Front Door Deadbolt and Handle”. Inside is a Baldwin Minneapolis Handle Set and with keypad entry, in satin black.
When the door handle arrived I took it out of the packaging and held it in my hand. It felt strong and well-built. The latch mechanism was smooth and sounded like a precision instrument. It was heavy, too. When mounted on a door, you won’t feel the weight directly, but there’s still part of you that knows, just by how it feels, that it has weight and strength.
Over a year ago, I shared our building plans with our architect friend, Alonso, and we talked about some of the themes he had learned in architecture school. Alonso made a point that I’ll never forget. He said to think about the features of the house that people will touch and how it will feel to them; the surface of countertops, the floor under bare feet, door handles, and sink hardware. The sense of touch is easy to overlook and one of the only ways to relate a sense of quality.
When I held the door handle for the first time, I imagined how it would feel on the door when someone visits for the first time. To me, it felt solid and well-built, the way a front door handle should. It is a security feature, after all.
The skyline of boxes have come to represent, in my mind, a vision of how the house will look and how we’ll use it. At best, they are a collection of educated guesses. At worst, something marked off a never-ending to-do list.
On top of the door handle box is a box marked “Floor Outlets” and it, too, is the product of guessing. One of the biggest guesses of all is where to install outlets, or what electricians call “receptacles”, throughout the house. Building codes require them every eight feet, so most of the decision making is easy and we err on the side of having too many. But there is a difference between what is required and what we want and in this, we worked hard to anticipate how we would use the house.
A large portion of our daily lives will be spent in the “great room”, which is essentially a box that holds the kitchen and living/dining areas. We will have a fireplace and TV on one wall, which means our seating areas will be close to the middle of the room. In thinking about using this space, something became very clear. We would need to power devices in the center of the room. Instead of stretching cords from some far off outlet, we decided to put two of them in boxes recessed into the floor. We chose these.
The idea of outlets in the floor is easy. What’s a real challenge is deciding where to put them. The goal is for them to be hidden under furniture or a rug so that electrical things like computers and lamps can magically be powered where we need them.
The problem is that, through all our planning, we’re still not sure where the furniture will be. We have ideas, but the reality is that the furniture arrangement will evolve. The great room is a blank canvas, capable of morphing into whatever we want over time. How, in this context, do you decide where to put the floor outlets? You guess and hope for the best. We tried to imagine where each of us would sit in the living room and put the outlets there.
Beside the floor outlets is a box labeled “deck step lighting”. These are lights that will be recessed into the vertical of “riser” steps of our deck, making the floor easy to see. In talking to the electrician, he said to consider how the lights would look from the water and pick lights that reflect down and not out, or up. This put me on a path of learning about light pollution and the “Dark-sky” movement.
One thing I love about living on the island is the incredible darkness at night. After years in the city, it’s remarkable how clear the stars appear at night. The electrician’s recommendation is smart all the way around. By being deliberate about our exterior lighting, we can reduce light pollution and achieve a soft, elegant look that comes from indirect or reflected light.
The table has many more boxes, and each one represents hours of research and a healthy dose of guess work. Maybe someday, we’ll get the table back and resume the feasting and puzzling. Seeing the surface of it again will be a sure sign we’re in transition.
I Can Recommend…
Book: The post above inspired by the writing of Bill Bryson and especially his book At Home. In it, he steps through the rooms of his house and tells entertaining and historical stories inspired by objects and the rooms themselves. I also enjoyed his latest book The Body.
Quiz: The Upshot at the NYT created a fun quiz and map based on American dialects. You answer 25 questions about the language you use, like, “Do you pronounce cot and caught the same?” At the end, it guesses where you’re from. One of the three cities it guessed for me was Winston-Salem, NC, my birth city.
Wikipedia Page: Wikipedia has a page that contains a list of lists. That sounds boring, but it’s a useful resource with a long tail of interesting lists. Perhaps you’re curious about a list of beers and breweries in Nigeria? Or maybe a list of lists of hills? My friend Newley pointed out this note: “List of lists of lists: This article itself is a list of lists, so it contains itself.[a]”
Podcast: My friend, Justin Cox, is a fantastic musician and lifelong fan of Jackson Browne. Over the past year he created and produced a podcast series about the Jackson Browne discography called After the Deluge. 12 episodes, special guests, and lots of great music. If you’re into Jackson Browne or JB-curious, you should give it a listen.
Photo: We hiked up Turtleback Mountain in the fog. Piper was into it.
There was no way around it. To build the new house, our yurt-shaped house on Orcas Island had to go, and this weighed on my mind more than I expected. Sure, I had grown to love it and we’d made memories there, but that didn’t bother me. What I felt was a sense of finality.
Throughout the planning process, there was always an escape hatch. We could simply decide not to build and make the Yurt our home on Orcas. The plans were just that, plans. By moving out and demolishing the Yurt, the hatch would be sealed and we’d be locked into the house project.
As this lingered in my mind, Sachi was predictably undeterred. From her perspective, we would make the project work, one way or another, and the clock was ticking. The second-guessing was a sideshow. Her confidence helped me over the hump and soon enough, the demise of the Yurt became inevitable. Always forward.
Before demolition could commence, we had to move out. This was move #2 in a matter of months. After moving nearly everything from Seattle to the Yurt, we now had to figure out how to fit it all in the guest house that would be our home for another year or more. Thankfully, Sachi was born to move and planned storage for every square foot of the guest house.
I’ve found that moving is like a filter. Every time I do it, some things make it through and others don’t. This is especially true when moving to smaller and smaller places. In this journey, we moved from a 3500 sq/ft house in the city to a 1500 sq/ft Yurt shaped house to a 500 sq/ft guest house. To make those transitions work, something had to give. And ultimately, giving is what we did. Our filter left a number of items at the Yurt that were up-for-grabs.
Leading up to the demolition, the island ethos of squeezing value out of everything possible had started to become a larger part of my perspective. While not the finest of specimens, the Yurt did have value and it became a goal to keep as much of that value on the island as we could. Anything that went to a home on Orcas was something we didn’t have to pay to remove, which added to our motivation.
To start the process, Drew contacted a few people to let them know it was now a salvage project. The washer and dryer, couches, a mattress, mirrors, various hardware and more, went to good homes. This included our 1985 Blaze King wood stove, which I was happy to see start a new life.
The only thing I needed was the name plate.
One person spent a weekend taking apart the garage and salvaging cedar shingles and wood decking from the ceiling. He also cut out a few big beams from the house and created a neat pile at the edge of our property.
While we gave away what we could, we salvaged a few things for future projects. For example, we liked the idea of saving the windows and sliding glass doors and using them to build a greenhouse at a later date. We also salvaged the hog wire from the deck railings for use in the garden.
With the Yurt stripped, we considered if it could be moved or disassembled for reuse. Some houses can be cut in half and moved on a truck or barge. A few people came through to take a look and decided it would be nearly impossible. The whole structure was held together by a metal cable, kind of like the ring around a barrel. Once the cable was snapped, the whole structure loses integrity and would eventually collapse. Further, the building was designed to sit on an unfinished basement that couldn’t be moved.
Over ten days, the Yurt became a shell of itself and that became apparent the first time we departed without locking the door. It wasn’t ours anymore. It had a gaping hole in the ceiling from the wood stove, missing windows and doors, no railings on the deck and no life. It felt depleted and abandoned, which was a sign we’d done what we could.
Within minutes of the deer fence coming down, the deer decided to move in to devour all the tasty plants they had watched grow from the outside. The property was theirs, once again.
I’ll never forget the last afternoon we spent at the Yurt on the day before demolition began. We sat on the deck with a couple of ciders, with our legs hanging over the edge where railings used to be, and tried to soak up what we could from the experience. We looked out over the water knowing that it was something we’d never experience again, in that configuration.
The Yurt-shaped house that came into our lives two years before was about to breathe its last breath. The next day, it would all go away and once again, we’d be moving forward, always forward.
Answering the question, “Why Orcas Island?” isn’t as easy as it sounds. Within that question are bigger questions like, “Why move?” and “Why move to an island?” along with smaller ones like, “Why Orcas, specifically?”
We’ll start with the former.
I think a lot about where our happiness originates and what we can do to keep it flowing. Over our many years together, Sachi and I have become accustomed to changing our lives (and our business) to support what matters to us and what we believe will make us happy. At heart, our move to Orcas Island is a change that we hope sets the stage for future happiness.
While acquiring property and eventually moving to Orcas seemed to happen quickly, it felt like it was a long time coming. As we both approached our forties, our perception of city living started to change in ways large and small.
Access to nature and the great outdoors is one of the reasons people move to Seattle and it was something we valued. We love being able to drive a short distance and find ourselves floating in the ocean or a lake, climbing a mountain peak or stepping deep into the forest.
In recent years, we’d spend a few days without leaving our home office and say, “Let’s go for a hike!”, which seemed simple enough. But then, we’d think about rush hour traffic leaving town and how to avoid it. We’d choose times and locations to avoid crowds.
And it wasn’t just the outdoors. An evening out might include more traffic, finding (and paying for) parking, shuffling through elevators and escalators, crowded trains, standing in lines, etc. These things aren’t new, or unique to Seattle, but our perception of them was changing. We found ourselves choosing to tune out and stay in more and more.
As much as we love the city, we longed for something different. We imagined living in a smaller place, with fewer people, that still offered access to the outdoors, good food and some of the amenities we enjoy. We imagined being more self-sufficient and finding happiness in simpler pleasures on a day-to-day basis.
Further, aside from connections to our friends and neighbors, we had no formal ties to Seattle, like corporate jobs or kids in school. We started to ask: what’s next?
Looking back, there was never a time when one of us said, “We should move to an island!” but I now believe it was inevitable. Sachi, having grown up in Hawaii, has island living in her DNA and has always imagined a return to that life.
In fact, on our first weekend trip away together, we went to Orcas Island. There, by a beachside fire pit, she told me that she would someday live on Orcas. At the time, I’m sure I just smiled. Sure you will. That was nearly twenty years ago.
Below is what Sachi posted to Instagram the day we officially moved to the island.
Living on an island has always been a romantic notion in my mind, but not one I thought would become a reality. It was never even real enough for me to consider, before the move, the trade-offs and consequences.
For example, Orcas is not big enough to be fully self-sustaining. Most of the island’s population depends on boats that bring supplies like fuel and groceries. This begs the question: what happens if the boats stop coming? You can’t just drive to the next town. This reality has bred a culture of preparation and self sufficiency into Orcas that wasn’t obvious early on.
The price of this isolation is also true for healthcare. The island has family doctors, a dentist, optometrist, vet, etc. But if you need anything specialized, or if something serious happens, getting to a hospital can be a trial. That’s why many people, including us, have airlift insurance.
And some of the retail conveniences of city life are scarce. In Seattle, we could walk to grocery stores and coffee shops. We now drive at least 15 minutes to reach them, when they’re open.
In the winter, much of the island has limited hours or shuts down along with the tourist industry. When the long, wet winter arrives, residents convert to a cozy interior lifestyle. As they say… in summer, it’s Orcapulco, in winter, it’s Orcatraz.
But, it’s a trade-off. We were prepared to deal with whatever came our way because we were seeking change. We knew it wouldn’t be all rainbows and unicorns and that’s part of the fun.
Within months of getting the Yurt, we were driving back from a hike with our friend, Tony, who asked, “Why Orcas Island, not another island?” It was a perfectly reasonable question, but not one that I had actually considered myself. To us, Orcas seemed like a given.
Today, two years later, I stand by most of my response. I told him that we had always loved the island and that Orcas checked more boxes than any island we’d found.
It has a combination of natural beauty that is spread across mountain peaks, hiking trails, lazy lakes, rural farms and rocky coastlines that are just a few minutes away.
There are no chain stores (aside from a bank), no stoplights and traffic only appears when the ferry arrives. Most businesses are owned and run by people who live on the island.
It sometimes seems like there are more boats than cars and thankfully, the waterways stay traffic free.
And seeing wild animals is as easy as taking a walk by the water or paddling into the Salish Sea.
Orcas has four airports (one on land), and remarkable restaurants and bars that rival any in the city. All in 55 square miles and a few thousand people.
But there is something else about the island that is difficult to define. Over and over, a single word appears on social media in reference to the island: magical. Our friend (and Ready for Rain reader) Carter recently used it to describe his visit.
Soon after we moved, we had a short conversation with a friendly server over lunch and she said something I think about often. She said, “Something I love about Orcas is that it’s a small, rural place, but it has an open mind.”
Coming from Seattle, that felt like what we wanted. And she was right. A few nights ago, we attended a Dolly Parton-themed drag show in a tiny craft cocktail bar called The Barnacle. That kind of event doesn’t happen in many small towns. Maybe that’s part of the magic?
Amenities aside, there is one factor that mattered above all others: being a part of a community. One of my biggest worries in moving to Orcas was not finding people like us. This, we knew, was one of the most important sources of our long term happiness and without it, we may not last. I started to ask about it and everyone said the same thing: your community is here. It’s instant. You’ll find it or it will find you. Today, I am amazed at the accuracy of those words. Our social lives are fuller than we ever expected.
Orcas Island continues to feel like a launch pad for the new life we were seeking. The trade-offs seem minor compared to the possibilities. Now that we’re two years into the adventure and knee deep into a house project, I can only say that we have zero regrets. We are more convinced than ever that Orcas is the place for us.
Once we have the house done, we imagine executing the idea that first drove all the change. We’ll be in a place, both geographically and in our lives, where we can live a new kind of life, at island speed.
Sachi and I spent months packing, piling, cleaning, and eventually moving from Seattle to Orcas Island over multiple trips in our car. To most people, this probably sounds completely unappealing and that’s a very reasonable reaction. No one likes to move, do they?
In observing her over the past six months, I have come to the conclusion that moving is actually right down the middle of what gives Sachi an abundance of satisfaction. She was born to move.
Let me explain. Sachi, in every situation, has thought ahead and has a plan that’s been tested in her mind for longer than she wants anyone to know. When she sits on the couch next to me, I can see her mind spinning through scenarios before coming out of nowhere with a remark like “we need to put air in the tires”. I’ve learned over time that these conclusions, while often lacking context, have backstories and lots of reasoning.
In this case, she had been planning a trip to Orcas that included the use of a cargo carrier that attaches to the back of our car. This carrier sits pretty low and when we exit the ferry, it can potentially drag on the ferry deck. This is especially true at low tide. She had reviewed the tide charts and thought we might be able to avoid damaging the carrier if we boarded a ferry in the late afternoon when the tide was higher, and put air in the tires for extra lift. In this case, I hesitated because I didn’t think it would matter, but in the end, I agreed and we put it on our to-do list. Sometimes, she just needs to get an idea out of her mind and then decide later if it’s worth doing.
In discussing it with her, I’ve learned there are two ideas that drive her incessant planning. The first is optimization. She looks at nearly everything from the perspective of there being a “right” way. This is not a moral judgement, but one that is focused on efficiency and effectiveness. If she has a chance to think about it for long enough or do a bit of research, the right way will present itself. On countless occasions, I’ve made suggestions about how to improve a process only to find out that she had considered it and dismissed it, like, four ideas ago.
The second driver is regret avoidance. I’ve rarely seen Sachi more disappointed than when she misses an opportunity to optimize and feels the sting of regret. In this case, regret is a signal that the desired result was possible, but went unnoticed or unoptimized. This realization, that the present could have been better with a bit more consideration, really does sting. To her, it feels like a personal failure.
Now, Sachi and I are very different and I admit that she’s helped me become a better, more observant planner. But man, I sometimes long for a bit of chaos. When everything has a bulletproof plan, there’s not a lot of room for surprise or serendipity. I miss the days of living closer to real time, when events force you to make decisions on-the-fly. There is magic in letting the chips fall where they may.
A good example is our dogs who are managed like any other project. Generally, I want them to be free and get used to being off-leash now that we’re out of the city. Sachi wants to keep them safely on-leash, and there are valid reasons why this is the case.
On a recent occasion, we parked the car outside the Yurt where I said, “Screw it”, and let the dogs out of the car without leashes. The moment Piper hit the ground, she saw a deer and chased it across our neighbor’s property and disappeared down a steep embankment toward cliffs by the water. I ran after her, yelling useless commands at the top of my voice. Piper eventually trotted back unhurt and followed me back onto our property, where we encountered Sachi by the car with a smug smile on her face. Magical, right?
This begs the question: would I trade one for the other? Do I really want chaos or cost instead of complete optimization? Not in a million years. Sachi’s approach to planning smooths rough seas on a day-to-day basis. For every instance of optimization that I notice, there are three that happened behind the scenes. These are things like placing a new roll of toilet paper on the back of the toilet when the roll is about to run out or keeping our bottles full of water in the car.
Once it became clear that we were probably moving, planning went into overdrive and honestly, she was happier than I’d seen her in a long time. There were a million things that could be planned and optimized and organized and strategized. You’ve never seen an adult so happy about bubble wrap and cardboard that’s designed for packing plates.
Now that I think about it, there is another driver of her planning and optimization that’s related to our move: frugality. Her default option in most situations is DIY. She will gladly spend extra time to do something herself if it means saving a few dollars. And it’s not really the dollars that matter, but the principle.
When we first got together, we had a huge bowl of coins and my first instinct was to take it to a Coinstar machine in a grocery store and pay a small fee to get it counted. Sachi wouldn’t have it. She went to the bank and returned with little coin sleeves and rolled up dozens of sleeves of coins with no fees involved. This is still what we do and once again, I’ve come around to her way of thinking.
In preparing for this move, we had to figure out what to do with over a decade of financial documents that filled multiple filing cabinets. Sachi looked up IRS recommendations and found that we only needed a fraction of them. We could get rid of the rest, but how? They contained sensitive information.
My first inclination was to take it to a shredding service who would destroy them in minutes for a fee. That didn’t make it past Sachi. Instead, she put our little office shredder to work over multiple days and thousands of documents. It would run until it overheated and stopped. After it cooled down, she’d be back at it. We recycled over a dozen trash bags of shredded documents for free. Sachi was incredibly satisfied and I shrugged. Her satisfaction was more than enough for me.
This kind of planning also applies to food. Any time we are about to leave home for a few days, Sachi’s planning manifests in what we call “eating down the house”. This means planning meals days ahead so we leave without buying anything new or wasting any perishables. The perfect scenario for Sachi is leaving with just enough food to pack up and eat on the road. In moving out of an entire kitchen, the mother of all eating down the house projects commenced, sometimes producing strange but still delectable combinations served with a side of optimization and without the sting of regret.
On the last night at the Hunter House, the entire kitchen had been emptied, except our trusty coffee maker, which was about to make its final journey from Seattle to Orcas Island. Before heading to bed, I always grind the coffee and fill the coffee maker with water so it’s ready in the morning. With the grinding done on the final night, I panicked for a second. What about the filters? Had we packed them deep in some unknown pile of boxes? I opened the cabinet where they usually resided and sure enough, it was completely bare, with the exception of a single coffee filter, obviously placed there by Sachi, with a plan in mind.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.