MANILA, Philippines – I need a new basement. A big, big one comparable in size to the total floor area of our house, if that is not too much to ask. I need it badly, and immediately. As a matter of fact, I think it was already essential about seven years ago, at about the same time we needed and wanted baby number two.
I know, I know; I’m with you there. I, too, have moments when I seriously question the soundness of it all, how (in)appropriate it is for me, really, to even think along the lines of a seemingly useless expense such as the construction/expansion of a basement given how hard times are. But those moments of uncertainty are few and far between.
If you see our home, and the way life flows through it, you will understand my wish. I often say that if it were a woman our house would be, at first glance, trim and slim, and perhaps just the right size. Upon closer inspection though, you will find that she is more than just a little chubby, and that she actually has to wear a girdle to keep her silhouette neat.
I am the girdle in our home. The area I work in/focus on during any given afternoon or free day will end up smooth, neat, with everything properly in its designated place. It will be easy on the eyes. But that neatness, regrettably, is just an illusion, or at the very most, and for now at least, a temporary thing. Like the chubby woman, our house will be smooth and tidy only in that area where the girdle (me) begins and ends. Just there. Somewhere beyond those two points, like it or not, she will be spilling out all the excess in measured amounts, like a muffin top, or the cream that squishes out lazily from a cream puff when you bite into it.
Because we really lack space, the bulges are just hidden from sweeping sight, as they are pushed and shifted from area to area. Yes, the spillover, the squatter that it is, just transfers from corner to corner, depending on the activity for the day, or the week. Not always fitting into a drawer, a closet, if at all very sorely in the den or guest room, the spillover just sighs and settles obediently where I park and try to hide it. Poor things. At any rate they are just there, as sure as sugar is sweet and rain is wet.
Our home does not look or feel like a showroom although it initially started out that way. As a bachelor my husband built a minimalist structure with wide, open spaces. And then boom, marriage comes along and the baby follows soon after. Nothing is ever the same again.
Collectively as a family we live and lead a simple, if busy, life. We each have our set of activities, my husband’s and daughter’s requiring different kinds of equipment and gear (I always say that between the two of them and all their sports we will need a new house!). We often have friends and family over and a lot of life and activity goes on in our place. But we are low maintenance in the sense that we do not keep anything utterly useless lounging around, just gathering dust. Nothing is ever off-limits, and neither is anything for “special occasion” only. True, given the nature of both our jobs, we have more clothes, shoes and accessories than the next person but even that we control and streamline. We prune our closets regularly and those we cannot and will not part with we put in storage. But generally, we use what we have on a daily basis — nice plates and glasses alongside ordinary ones (they work well together in a maskipaps kind of way mainly because they are predominantly white and clear), linens and sheets, slipcovers, furniture — we use them all unapologetically, practically delay. I share that with you if only to point out that nothing we have is patapon or for show only. Most, if not all, items that you find in the house are smart, multi-tasking items, decorative and functional at the same time and in equal degrees.
But I really feel that I have been working up a quiet storm in terms of organizing for far too long and still, my effort is not enough. I don’t know why but stuff just piles up and if I do not address that weekly at the very least I will have a monster to contend with in no time.
My organized thoughts still have not trickled down into a seamless, organized space and that, I dare say, is not for lack of trying. Which brings me back to what my wise mother always tells me: How can I find a place for everything when not everything has a place?
Building a third floor is not an alternative either, because the village association prohibits it. Digging a basement under our garden frightens me a little, although initially I found hope in that idea. On second thought, though, it gave me dire images of Anne Frank during the Holocaust, aside from the fact that digging so deep might shake up the foundation of the house. Richard says the latter is a very valid concern. Plus there is the garden, still a work in progress with plants that now actually already thrive more than they die, and heaven knows how I would find it in my conscience to shake up their fragrant green world.
So I’m convinced that a new basement is the answer to my woes. It is the only resort, actually, short of buying the lot beside or behind us (which is not possible also because there are homes there). Besides, that is an even more expensive dream than the basement I now want, so I’m really not going there. For now, this is a fair and bright spot, and when it is fulfilled I can stop functioning like a girdle and just spend all my free days at home being a wife, a mother, a friend, a not-frazzled hostess.
When I was growing up Mommy’s biggest frustration was that I did not care enough about keeping my things neat and tidy. When my sister left for college a year ahead of me and I had our room all to myself, her bed became an extension of my desk. Mommy always wondered out loud when I would ever learn, even as she simultaneously predicted that I would find time and maybe desire to do just that, someday. Well, what do you know? That time did find me; it crept up on me seven or so years ago. I do not know what changed, or how, but here I am. I think I just woke up one day as a relatively new bride and a very new mother and all of a sudden keeping the house neat was a priority. I know my husband and daughter don’t really mind but the thing is, I do. It is my love language, if you can call it that, a service that I want to do for them because I love them and I want them to come home to a house that is not only cozy, clean and comfortable but very neat as well.
So help me God. More than diamonds and pearls — but not more than a second baby — a bigger basement is what I really want. And need. Now. It has to be that drastic a move because all the tidying up I am doing just isn’t enough.
They say nothing comes from nothing, and whatever pushes you into action must have already been brewing silently inside you, in a place you knew somewhat existed but were not conscious about. Maybe I’ve always liked things neat, and I just blossomed into it much later than my sister did. Or maybe Mommy prayed about that, because she was always kind of worried that whoever my husband would be would return me to them because I would not know how to keep things tidy. Thankfully, my husband still just smiles through the messiest mess, even when my materials and crafting supplies eat up his side of the bed (sometimes) and says the thought has never crossed his mind. He doesn’t mind even when there are piles of something with no permanent homes here and there every now and then. I really love this sweet man.
One day, I will get my big, big basement. And it will be so organized that walking into it will be a pleasure in itself. It will happily absorb all the excess stuff, the way butter cake does when I drench it with a more than just a little milk. It will keep the rest of the house neat and tidy.
Until then I will dream and draw up plans, taking comfort in the fact that, challenged as I already am now, by the time that happens I will have honed my organizing skills to perfection. I can fit most things neatly into any given closet or drawer; it is a gift born out of necessity; in fact, I’m so good at maximizing space I can already make a career out of it.
By the time I get my new basement, everything else on the homekeeping front should come as easy as pie.