Tour of our Super Awesome Kids Inspired Basement

Elise: In 1989, we purchased our first home! It was a modest 1100 square foot bungalow with a full, partially finished basement. We were delighted to finally have a little nest to call our own. With 5 children at the time, it was cozy and the 7 of us fit snuggly in.

Over the next 8 years, 4 more children were added to our family and we had to be very creative to make the space we had work for the growing masses. With 6 boys in the family, we really needed a space where they could blow off steam and work off the boundless energy they seemed to always have in abundance.

Fortunately, we had a reasonable sized (not huge) back yard and we lived on Vancouver Island where temperatures tended to be very moderate. With that in mind, we decided to make our yard a fun place for the kids to play, be creative and most of all, be active.

The yard was flat and mostly grass with large cedar trees that formed a hedge almost all the way around. One corner had a large maple tree and a small concrete patio was at the base of the stairs from the house.

Our first step in making it a working play area was to splurge on a high quality, large trampoline. Best. Investment. Ever!! We got a discount on it because it had been used for demonstrations. It was still pricy by our standards but worth every penny.

We also added a pole with a basketball hoop at the end of the patio, creating a great space for our very own “court”. Children of a family friend had outgrown their swing set so that got hauled home to our house and given a facelift. It was starting to come together.

The next project was a tree fort in the old maple tree. It was indeed a fort (just a platform with railings), rather than a fancy house but was in almost constant use. We had a rope ladder going up to it so the little tykes couldn’t quite do it but it was always a great day, usually when they were 4 or 5 years old, that they finally made it up into the fort!

My husband managed to get an old net from a fish farm and we hung it around the tree under the fort. The kids LOVED climbing around in it and it did manage to save a falling child on quite a few occasions.

One of our sons loved tetherball so a pole for that was added in one of the back corners.

Also, an unplanned addition happened when we purchased two 45 gallon plastic drums to use for water storage in case of emergency. Before we could fill the drums with water, the kids had commandeered them and were using them to practise their log rolling skills and a host of other creative activities around the yard. We finally surrendered and purchased two more drums that did end up getting used for water storage.

Various other pieces of ‘equipment’ came and went. At one point we got rid of our waterbed and the kids decided the mattress was just what they needed. They filled it up with air and had hours of fun using it to bounce onto and from. We finally had to get rid of it as they couldn’t resist jumping onto it from the trampoline and launching a child perched on the mattress frighteningly high into the air and across the yard. It was all great fun but we were concerned there was the inevitable horrible accident in the offing. I do have to confess that I did try it out and ended up with a mild case of whiplash. I haven’t admitted that to many people.

In the summertime, there were always great activities involving water. We had a small pool for the younger kids and everyone loved water fights and the sprinkler under the trampoline.

The downside of all these activities in the yard was that it made it hard for the grass to grow. I always wanted a nice, weedless, manicured lawn but that was definitely sacrificed for the greater good. The lawn really struggled as it became the “go to” place for most of the kids in the neighbourhood. It was not uncommon to look out my window and see 10 -15 kids playing out there.

One day, as I stood at my kitchen window, I counted out 13 children. On looking closer, I realized that NONE of them were my children. I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback and went outside and politely invited them all to leave, assuring them they were welcome to come again when they were playing with my kids. I know – what a crabby Mom!

With the exception of the trampoline, our backyard play area did not cost much money and was loved and used by everyone from our toddlers to our teenagers as well as their friends. We didn’t have a huge yard, but what we had was definitely put to good use.

 

Robyn: A little over two years ago I saw an ad for a rental. It was a run down duplex with an overgrown yard and, from the pictures, it was obvious that it hadn't been updated since the beginning of time. Well, at least since the beginning of its time. BUT, it was in the neighbourhood we wanted - close to downtown, bike riding/walking distance to the kid's school, the university, and just two blocks from one of the most beautiful parks in Calgary. I likely still wouldn't have called about it, except the price was the lowest I'd seen since... ever, so I figured I should at least take a look. 

I set up a time and our family drove over. Matt waited in the van with the kids, and I told him I'd only be a couple of minutes because I was 99% positive this wasn't going to be the right place for us.
When I walked into the house I saw the dirty, aged yellow walls with wood paneling in the living room, old dark wood trim, the worn hardwood floor, and the old 60's style dishwasher-less kitchen.
But I also saw the potential. My mind immediately started seeing it with fresh paint, different light fixtures, some elbow grease in the kitchen and some inexpensive ikea kitchen countertops. My mind was also calculating the $ we could be saving EVERY SINGLE MONTH if we put in a little into fixing it up at first, and then sat back and enjoyed the crazy low rent.
By the time I saw the nearly empty, mostly unfinished basement, I was 99% positive this was the place for us. I went out to the van and told my husband, "you should go take a look. I think I love it."
 
He came back out and said, "yeah, let's do it."
I spoke with the rental agency and they gave us mostly free reign to do whatever we wanted with it. The only stipulation was that we couldn't paint the old mahogony kitchen cabinets, because the owner loves them, but we could give them a facelift. Done! They also agreed they would refinish the hardwood floors.
 
It's been a fair bit of work, but we're finally finished renovating our rental. New paint, second hand lighting fixtures that were basically being given away, flooring, refinished kitchen cabinets, countertops, and after a very long year, a dishwasher! (thanks to an amazing friend).
We cleaned up the yard and put in the garden, and a new fence for the backyard. My husband has been AMAZING and I'm so grateful that he was able and willing to figure this all out with me. People often don't understand why we would ever put money into a rental property, but over the last 2 years we've spent substantially less than we would have if we had gotten a place "in our budget."
We're now spending very little, if anything, every month on it. It's allowing us to save, faster than we were able to before, and our hope is to move directly from this awesome little rental that we've loved, into our forever dream home, in just a few more years.
So that's the story of our little rental.
One of the spots that we've changed a fair bit is the basement. After removing all the disintegrating, patchwork of carpet down there, and taking a few van-loads of old renter's unwanted belongings to the dump, we turned half of it into a place for the kids. It's where they can go to jump and play around without ruining our furniture. They can be loud and wild, and not be told to stop. They can use their imagination and just be left alone to do what they do best... be kids.
  
Now, I know that not everyone has a basement to work with. I say in my video a couple of times that it's a small space, but I realize that it's more than what some people have. It's more than what we have ever had since being married. But, we hope that this tour of what we've done to our basement will give you ideas of how you can make the most of whatever extra space you might have.
 

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