I Have a Basement

I have a house, and in that house there is a basement.  It is my basement and in dark moments of the soul I sometimes fear that this basement will be the end of me, and it is not only because I often bang my head on the beam that runs through the middle or the heat supply duct that runs beside it.  No, what my basement represents to me, is the fear of unrealized potential and the inability to manage waste.

The non-descript blobbish thing to the left of the person is the hole in my basement floor, with the pile of dirt next to it.

The end of the tour.

We’ll start with the dream.

Our house is relatively small.  In many places in the world there are larger families that live in much smaller spaces.  Here in Canada people with smaller families sometimes live in larger spaces.  I often wonder what our friends and family from the suburbs think of our house and our choice to live in this urban dwelling that costs significantly more than dwellings twice its size outside the city.

But I like our house.  It is a good house and we fit, but there are certainly times when my three children make their presence known in ways that are, shall we say, hard to ignore.  This can be lovely at times.  Other times it is not so lovely.  My children are seen AND heard, and sometimes they are smelled and felt as well.  Our main floor can feel small when the kids are squirrelly and there are things that need to be done.

In these moments it would be nice to send them down to a place where they could be loud and rude and silly where they could do this in their own space.  If we could just get the basement in order, it would be so nice.  If we could get the basement into a state that was liveable and not scary and comfortable then we could send them down there to play and to be wild and it would be great.

But here’s the thing – my basement is a mess.  It is, dare I say it, a disaster.  I have had a plan to fix it up now for almost two years.  I think there have been moments of delusion where I thought I was close to that moment when we could send them down, but now my basement is decidedly not liveable.  It is scary (even to me) and uncomfortable.

Let’s start with the junk.  I could write a whole series of blog posts on junk and I probably will some day, so I’ll try to keep this concise – I hate junk, but not in the way where I will get rid of something as soon as it breaks or stops working.  I hate that things break.  I hate that things stop working and there is a part of me that feels like we should live in a world where things can be fixed and reused.  In fact, I know that many things can be fixed and I have been able to fix many things and prolong their life.

At the same time there are many things that cannot be fixed and need to be thrown away.  I find this frustrating.  Sometimes the thought of ballooning landfills makes me feel anxious.  So,  the breadmaker, the floor fan, the washing machine and the dehumidifier, not to mention all the smaller gadgets are down there waiting for my delusional self to take a moment to take a look at them, to open them up and to realize I have no idea how to make them work again.

So there’s all that stuff.

Then there’s the huge hole that I dug in the middle of my floor.  There’s actually a good reason for this one.  You see at one time there was a makeshift toilet on the mainfloor where my fridge is now.  When we bought the house the main floor had been converted into the living space and the upstairs was hardly used and in order to get this toilet in there a drain pipe was run down from the toilet, along a wall in the basement, into the basement floor and under the concrete slab to the main waste drain.

At the time it was installed it went down along a wall that was dividing the basement into two separate rooms.  It went down that wall but it is probably about three feet away from the foundation wall, so when I moved that dividing wall over four feet it left this waste pipe standing in the middle of the room.

You might wonder why I don’t get rid of it.  That would be nice except that it has found a new use.  The toilet is gone but we changed the layout of our main floor and it was convenient to run the drain for the dishwasher and the sink over to this pipe.  So I can’t just get rid of it.

But I didn’t like it in the middle of my floor so I decided to move it and after some thought and some work I found the place where I could dig up my floor down to the main waste line and connect it down there.

So I did that and I was getting ready to make my connections so that I could finish the job when I realized that there was water running underneath the main waste line and into the hole I dug.  Yes, that’s right, the water is running UNDER the pipe.  I stuck a stick up along the underside of the pipe and the ground was soft and gooey mud and this is in soil that is hard hard clay.  So clearly this water has been running there for a while.

It runs into my hole and fills it up about six inches and then the water must continue on its way somewhere because the water level never goes higher than that and when I scoop it out it always fills back up again before a day goes by.

So there is some kind of underground spring running under my house, or there is a leak further up the pipe at another point in the drain/waste system.  Under the circumstances it seems irresponsible to fill in the hole when there is water flowing into it from an unknown source.  It doesn’t fill up the hole, so I think to myself that it would probably be fine, but when it comes to water, you don’t want to gamble that things will PROBABLY be fine.  So at some point I’ll need to figure out where that water is coming from.  But for now the pipe continues to stand in the middle of the room and there is a hole in my basement floor.

When I discovered that there was water running into my hole, I was in the middle of a work day that would have finished with me running the pipe from my hole and up through the joist spaces in the ceiling over to where the drain from the dishwasher comes down so that I could get rid of that pipe in the middle of the room, clean up the space, lay down some rugs and get that space ready for the kids.  That was in September.  That day didn’t go as planned.

Then other projects took precedence and the mess continued to spread.  It hurts me sometimes.  Before this water thing stopped my progress I had done the work to take down the old dividing wall and put up the new wall.  I had put up new lights throughout the main room to make it brighter and more inviting.  I thought I was close.  I was going to have tables for them where they could leave lego creations.  There is going to be a reading nook under the stairs some day.  The light for it is already there.  But now it’s just a dusty cluttered scene of chaos.

It’s a matter of time really.  My current project is to build a wall consisting of built-in wardrobes and bookshelves to divide our biggest second floor bedroom to make it two bedrooms so that everyone can have their own space upstairs.  In order to do this I’m currently moving junk around in the basement so that I can have space for my new table saw to do the work of building everything that I need to build.  This at least is forcing me to move stuff around and make space.

The next step will be to move out some junk and to figure out what to do with the floor.  There’s places where water finds its way in anyway and that’s not great.  It’s hard to really make an inviting space when you know that water can get in.  Waterproofing needs to be undertaken one way or another.  Sometimes I dream about going all out, and digging out a foot or two, underpinning the foundation, tearing out the functional, but oh so badly-designed, bathroom and making everything look good and work well.

But where can I find the time?  Where can I find the money?  The dream goes on.  It changes and shifts as time goes by and on occasion I’m seized with a sense of panic that I will never finish or that by the time I do my kids will be too old to enjoy it – they’ll be gone.  Sometimes I go down into the basement and I just want to cry.  It’s as if all the junk and mess sitting down there is weighing down my soul sometimes.  Unfinished projects can do that sometimes.

But I’m blessed.  I have hope.  This is a solvable problem.  It’s only a question of time management and planning.  I can do that.  It’s just a matter of taking the feelings and emotions this brings me, accepting them and and looking ahead and believing that this basement doesn’t have to kill me if I don’t let it.


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