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Hamptons Life

Sep 6, 2010 2:40 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

The joys of shack living

Sep 6, 2010 2:40 PM

When I first moved out to the Springs in 2000, I would rent my house out for part of the summer and live on my sailboat in one of the Three Mile Harbor marinas. There, I would spend some of the time working from the boat and some of the time cruising the eastern seaboard.

This tradition lasted a couple of summers until the novelty of moving out of the house wore off and the lure of living full-time in the Hamptons, without the nuisance of packing up every summer, beckoned. Since then, I have often felt bad for all of my friends who picked up every summer from their gorgeous homes, cleaned them immaculately and then turned them over to summer tenants while they themselves moved to a smaller house, somewhere out of their daily routine, and everyday life, simply to make an extra few bucks and cash in on the summer wave.

I felt bad for them all, that is, until this summer.

Having just finished the amazing house I wrote about recently in this column, my wife and I were absolutely exhausted from several years of obsessing over how to make our home perfect, so we decided to rent out the masterpiece and move out to Montauk for the summer.

The first house Melissa looked at was a 600-square-foot cabin perched high on the hills above the Montaukett, with a beautiful view over Fort Pond Bay. It had two bedrooms—one with a full-size bed, one with bunk beds—a tiny living room, an extremely user-friendly kitchen, a washer and dryer and an outdoor shower. Needless to say, she took it without looking at any others.

While the house was far from it, we nicknamed it “The Shack.” Little did we realize, but “The Shack” was about to give us a valuable lesson in life—a sort of master’s degree in necessity and space.

The most valuable lesson we learned from living in the shack was that our general happiness and well-being, despite what we all think, has very little to do with the amount of space we live in, or the type of furniture we have in our home, the tiles in our shower, or whether we are north or south of the highway. What is most valuable is the quality of our everyday moments: the quality of the time we spend between waking and going to sleep and the quality of our everyday thoughts.

Our little family of four was happier living in our 600-square-foot shack than we had been in a real, real long time. Because life was simple. There were no video games for the boys to play, no Wii, no DVD player. Instead we had a simple tether ball pole in the backyard and lots of little adventures to be had everywhere.

The shack taught us that what really makes us happy is very simple and basic stuff. For example, the taste of the fish grilling on the barbecue has a lot more to do with the experience of catching the fish, rather than the quality of an expensive stainless steel grill. Sand on the living room floor was actually a good thing, because it was a sign that everyone went to the beach that day and dragged themselves to bed exhausted without rinsing off. Towels stretched across the deck rail from one end to the other was not a sign that someone needed to do laundry, but a sign that everyone had taken their outdoor shower and was ready to sit down to some local corn, tomatoes and striped bass. And neighboring houses close by didn’t mean that our privacy would be invaded, it meant that wonderful people were right next door.

Once my family and I stopped focusing on our home, all these things became blatantly apparent. My advice: Remove yourself from the worry of having to look after and maintain a home and you will be amazed at what you discover. Erase your expectations and you can’t help but be fulfilled. Try and let go of the obsession we all have with our amazing homes and you’ll be amazed at how wonderful the Hamptons really are. Summer is amazing! Summer is fun!

What I discovered when I rented out my house this summer and moved to Montauk was that I am now jealous of all the people that rent out here every summer. How wonderful to be in such an unbelievably gorgeous place without the responsibility of looking after a house. Sure, I may change my mind in a month or two after I am back in my gorgeous home, but for now I am living the lessons.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, the shack has already been booked for next summer.

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I love when I feel someone digesting a slice of real truth. I make it my goal each day to do as much of that as I can. I am so pleased for you and your family. What a blessing.
By Barbarajean (1), Water mill on Sep 10, 10 10:16 AM
Happiness comes from living with high hopes and low expectations.
By pch50 (6), Hampton Bays on Nov 19, 10 11:30 AM
I'm so lucky. My home is a shack. And my second home is also a shack.
No TV. Lots of books and art supplies.

I'm sure my childhood memories of Montauk are so vivid because there was no TV, no electronic distractions at all. Summer seemed to be twice as long as winter. I loved listening to the adults' conversations by the fire as I fell asleep after a long day of rambles and fishing and swimming.
By Montaukette (46), Waterland on Dec 30, 10 5:09 PM