Rachel Abrams Rents a House & Here’s What Happened

Some people fancy a second home in the Hamptons for the urban escape, the social status, or entrée to the beach, but when we decided to purchase a house in Sag Harbor, I confess that I was most thrilled about the opportunity to relocate a bunch of stuff from our city apartment.

I’m a Virgo and thus in constant negotiation with my possessions, perennially striving to reduce, sort and organize what surrounds me, keeping only the most essential and functional items. If I could reside in a photo spread from Real Simple magazine, I would. As an only child, I listed organizing among my hobbies—it’s still on my resumé—and spent hours refining this skill, filing school papers and artwork, rearranging toiletries in the bathroom cabinets, lining up ingredients in the kitchen pantry, and sequencing photographs and slides from my family’s travels.

When my husband and I acquired our house out east, it was a wreck, in immediate need of new plumbing, electricity, walls, and floors. (“Yoo-hoo…” I waved to him through the gaping floorboards in the upstairs bathroom, where I stood hovering just above his head in the living room.) But despite the urgent structural work, I zeroed in on the home’s potential for systematized storage: it has four closets, a cellar and an attic! Growing up in a flat-roofed house, I fantasized about cozy crawl spaces and pitched ceilings. In my daydream, I scurry up a ladder, tuck myself between a window and some recessed shelving, and arrange my books by spine color. Up there, I am a little closer to heaven.

“So when do we get started on the attic?” I ask my husband innocently one afternoon mid-renovation.

“Have you been up there yet? It’s disgusting!” he says, looking at me askance. When I do finally hoist myself up, I see what he means. The air is stale and hot and the floor a quilted, powdery mess of insulation and discarded junk. I am consoled only by the old Parker BrothersOuija board I find amidst the debris. When I ask it what will come of my beloved garret, I get a resounding “No.” Standing at the top of the house, my spirits sink. I never go back.

At once, I turn my attention to the cellar, a more accessible, though equally unwelcoming space. It houses a crumbling brick beehive oven that is rumored to have supplied goods when the house was a commercial bakery. I store things down there at my own risk as asbestos wraps the pipes and mold is going steady with my prom dress.

After we settle into the house, my father ships two dozen boxes of my things from public storage in Chicago, where I grew up. I set aside an entire weekend to relish in the task of going through them. I have a method of eradication involving a purgatory pile that I revisit several times for evaluation. While I am delighted to reunite with some items, I toss much of the stuff straight away. You can’t exactly have a yard sale for baby teeth.

At my husband’s insistence, I keep my postcard and sticker collections, as well as a bucket of buttons and pins that say things like, “I [heart] Mom…Dad…E.T.” But most cherished are what I consider the nucleus of childhood nostalgiayearbooks, scrapbooks and photo albums, perfectly curated during rainy days as a preteen, when I used my dad’s label maker to spit out colored rectangular stickers imprinted with bas-relief white type. Currently, all 40 albums live in an oversized trunk in our living room, ready to be shown to guests at a moment’s notice. (“Did you ever see those shots from Kuala Lumpur in 1991? Hilarious…let me grab them!) The other day my husband and I tried to slide over the hefty trunk to accommodate our now climbing toddler son. But even with our collective strength and my husband’s power cursing, it wouldn’t budge.

“Sorry,” I said, disingenuously. “These memories aren’t going anywhere.”

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