During the 20 or so years when we rented our winter house in town every summer and moved to one five miles away, on Gardiner’s Bay, we had the drill down pat. Even when the kids were young — when we had a dog and a cat or two, plus assorted pets like Ginger, the goat, and Peeper, the aggressive goose — the process worked. Patterns developed about what had to be done. I knew which china to store away and which to leave for the tenants. Never mind that when we got to our summer house it was chaos; the tenants, at least, weren’t left with a mess.
That ritual came to an end after one of my sons got married and took over what had been our summer house as his year-round home. Nevertheless, I have often wondered if the system could be revived, somehow — perhaps if we moved out of our village house and into one owned by my husband’s family, down by the ocean, for August. Or, maybe, by playing the real-estate domino game, renting something smaller for ourselves for a month and still making a bit of money on this one.
Last year, I decided I needed to take these idle thoughts more seriously. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I discovered just what it would take to get the house ready to show. Suddenly, it seemed, everything from the window shades to the front steps needed fixing or upgrading. Nevertheless, I dove into the process with this summer in mind. I told myself that even if we didn’t rent out the house, it would be nice to have it shipshape again.
If you live in one place for many years, you are bound to find a task such as this overwhelming. Plenty of things around the house had worn out or gently fallen into disrepair. My daughter says the concept of “shabby chic” could have been inspired by our family.) Would tenants be happy with our 1960s Le Creuset pots and truly ancient cast-iron pans? Would they be comfortable with our old cotton-poly-blend sheets, or would I need to buy new, matched sets? Would they mind the shelves that were overflowing with books? Certainly, the empty jars and forgotten staples in the pantry would have to go; and probably the toys in the grandchildren’s playroom would have to be boxed up and carried to the attic, as well.
Then, of course, there would be the closets. When they are small and stuffed, as ours are, it is incredibly dreary to empty them. And what should I do with the antique Chinese bibelots in the corner cupboard, which were brought home from Shanghai in the 1920s (and have practically never been moved since)?
Photos of gorgeous houses — in shelter magazines or on the pages of publications like The East Hampton Star — can be insidious. I don’t dare spend too much time poring over them, because I am afraid of being infected with Martha Stewart syndrome: an obsessive compulsion to reach for impossible-to-meet standards of organization and spiffiness. As far as I’m concerned, it’s akin to the unreasonable beauty standards young girls are burdened with by ubiquitous media images of super-skinny fashion models and surgically enhanced Hollywood stars. (My laundry room just doesn’t measure up! My towels are too thin!)
So now it is the end of June, and I’ve long since missed the potential summer renters who start looking in February or March. I’m reconciled to reality. A long trip in August is not in the cards. But there’s still next year. And the house is indeed shaping up . . . except for just one thing: The brokers tell me if I really want to rent I’ve got to put in a pool.