We have been living in a perpetual construction site for the last three years. The house is being remodeled and added onto as we have time and money...and that is a slow process. Since the construction began, Ellie has been living in a partially completed bedroom in the basement. Most of the walls are finished, but there is no flooring, just the original cement. The built-in dresser drawers under the stairs have not been put in, so her clothes have been stuffed into shelves in the closet--which is also not done. Her other belongings have been primarily housed in cardboard boxes and milk crates on the floor and the room has been a chaotic mess most of the time, partly her fault and partly ours, for not giving her a workable situation that can be kept tidy. It's not been a pleasant place.
Last week, it all came to a head--her room, our room, our son's room, the kitchen and dining room, the bathrooms, everything. We've been basically camping out with no system of organization and no possibilities even to create one. Closets have been removed and not replaced. Other closets have been built, but not given shelves or racks yet. To make matters even more difficult, when Andy's dad moved in with us, he brought all of his stuff, of course, and it took over much of our space, including one of the two finished bedrooms in the home and every bit of the only finished bathroom. We love having him around, and aren't complaining at all about his presence, but we did lose a lot of storage and living space that has never been replaced. It's been a little difficult.
I've traveled in poverty-stricken countries. I've seen how most of the world lives and so I can't complain. I just can't. I know we are rich. I know our home is large and luxurious. I know it. At the same time, we are living the lifestyle of the typical American middle-class family but our home is not set up for that. We keep having garage sales to trim down, but it's not enough. We have more stuff than our home is able to support in its current condition, and we are tired of the chaos.
Until last Thursday afternoon.
We sat at the dining room table as a family and came up with workable solutions to our storage and organization crisis. Bookcases, dressers, a lamp for the dark corner that is currently underutilized--it wouldn't be difficult to make major improvements--and if we weren't picky about having brand new matching furniture, it wouldn't be expensive, either. We would create the infrastructure necessary to drastically improve our situation, regardless of the progress of the construction project.
The goal was obvious to all of us: Hospitality. We love to entertain. We love to make our home the place that people want to be. We love to have family and friends over and feed them with good food and great conversation. For the last three years, we have done pathetically little of this and we miss it. We have had a home we are embarrassed of and we need that to change.
We've been hard at work since that talk around the table last Thursday. I've made the downstairs bathroom a pleasant, well-organized place, regardless of the fact that it still has a cheap plastic utility sink in place of a permanent fixture. The upstairs coat closet no longer also houses the vacuum, miscellaneous boxes of junk, a mop and several brooms and dustpans. The DVDs and videos in the living room are neatly contained on shelves instead of spilling out of a big basket on the floor. The upstairs bathroom has been consolidated and now contains a whole drawer for my son's toiletries, clearing the clutter off the countertop. But the most dramatic changes so far have come in my daughter's room.
She took everything out of her room. Everything. Her furniture, her toys, her clothes, her books--it all came out and made the basement nearly impossible to walk through for two days. She swept her dusty cement floor, which had been impossible to even find because of all the piles of stuff, let alone keep clean, for...a long time. It was bad, folks.
When the room was totally emptied out and clean, Andy installed carpet. CARPET! He glued down the tack strips, put down a really nice pad he'd found at a good price and used the skills he'd learned as a very short-term carpet layer as a young man to install a remnant of beautiful beige wall-to-wall carpeting. Wow.
It was after ten o'clock Sunday night when we finished moving her furniture back into her room, including the new (old) cedar chest, dresser and bookshelf. We remade her bed and tucked her in by the glow of her new pink lamp. Her smile glowed brightly in the dimly lit room.
After a late night Sunday, she got up two hours early Monday morning so she could move her belongings back in, folding clothes neatly into the dresser drawers, organizing her books on their new shelves and filling her cedar chest with her stuffed animals and toys. She glowed the whole day and took all of her school subjects downstairs to do in her room. When her school work was done, she invited me to come and play card games with her in there, which we both thoroughly enjoyed.
She loves that room. Her simple basement room--really still very simple by American standards--makes her feel like a princess and a movie star and an Extreme Home Makeover show candidate, all rolled into one.
Monday night, Andy and I found notes on our respective pillows. They were party invitations, meticulously created by Ellie. The event was to be held in her bedroom. There would be food and music and fun, all for a great cause: 'to celebrate carpet.' It would be held at 7:45 AM Tuesday morning.
At 7:45 sharp, we knocked politely on Ellie's door and were ushered into the party. She had plates of cut-up fruit, cheese and bagels, beautifully arranged, and a pitcher of orange juice. We sat and chatted while we munched our breakfast, admiring her beautiful room. It was spotlessly clean and she had made decorations. For lack of real balloons, she cut out balloon shapes from colored paper, attached ribbons to them and taped them to the walls of her room. She wrote out the Bible verse, "This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it," and taped it to her mirror. She had thought about confetti, but confessed that she didn't want to get bits of paper in her carpeting that would have to be cleaned up. She loves that carpet. After gazing and munching a few moments, Ellie turned on her cassette player and Dean Martin crooned, "When the moon hits the sky like a big pizza pie, that's amore'..." Her daddy's eyes twinkled, and he extended his hand to the beaming little girl. They waltzed and twirled around her new carpet.
The whole event only lasted twenty minutes before school and the rest of our very busy day had to begin, but it was one of the best parties I've ever attended.