Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Reclaiming Our Real Dining Room

It looks like a real dining room, doesn't it?

It didn't two weeks ago.

We moved into this house 22 years ago, a busy home schooling family with four kids. At our peak there were 10 kids living here. 

That wall there in the picture? You couldn't even see much of it because it was lined with three full size bookcases and a blue plastic organizer thingy. Not so beautiful. Oh, the hundreds of books weren't so bad. That's a status symbol for home school moms, you know? After all, I had kids from preschool up through college. 

But then all of the other stuff gets set on the shelves "just for now" - band aids, hair brushes, Happy Meal toys from yard sales, school papers, last season's decorations, and who knows what else. Another humongous bookcase across the room was filled from floor to ceiling with bins of school supplies, art supplies, yarn, games, puzzles, and miscellany. Add in two other half-height bookcases, a sewing machine tucked in the corner on the floor, all of the laundry baskets with clean clothes spilling out, and a bunch of other junk laying around. Perpetual mess is an understatement. I just took it as par for the course.

But life changes. Now I'm down to 5 kids and a dog at home. I am only home schooling my youngest (fourth grade) and only for another two years. I don't need early grade, middle school, or high school books. Every year I try to purge at least a hundred books. Last year I gave away or sold two or three hundred. 

I mentioned this to one of my adult daughters a few weeks ago, and she gently suggested that if I was going to go through the books again, I might consider getting radical and removing all of the bookcases to make it a real dining room. "It will be so relaxing, Mom! I promise!"

Something clicked. I could do that. It was time, especially since school was starting the following week. I tackled it a few days later, pretty much a 10 hour marathon to get that one room cleared out and in order. I got brutal with the books. "Do I NEED this for home schooling in the next two years? Or is it something I personally love so much that I want to keep it anyway?" No? Out it goes! Someone else will appreciate them more than I will! I had several boxes and bins with hundreds of books. I made $150 in store credit at the local used bookstore. I gave a huge pile to a friend, and donated boxes of them to Salvation Army and to our old home school co-op. I still have a big bin to sell or give somewhere or other. Yowza. I was a mom on a mission and I did it. (Let me mention here - ironically - that I had been planning to sleep that particular day away. I had just come home from a medical test for which I was under full anesthesia. I managed to stay in bed only about 20 minutes. But hey, I was alert and motivated and not allowed to drive that day, so why not? Just saying.) Never mind that there is still an air hockey table in our computer room full of bins of assorted odds and ends that I need to put away. I'll get to it. Or not.

In the end, I cleared out three full size bookcases and a large wall unit in the computer room. I gave away two of the bookcases to daughters in college. I still have one in my front hallway waiting to go somewhere. (Do you live in my area and need one? Come get it!) I moved the humongous supply shelf to our computer room and filled it with all of the remaining school books except for what we're using this semester. Those I kept in the small bookcase next to my little girl's desk in the picture below. She keeps her own school and art supplies in her drawers and in the white cabinet on top. There is also another small bookcase behind the table with my cook books, some art books, and a few decorative items.

See the light green container on top of the shelf in the picture above? That is the easily accessible family supply of sharpened pencils, pens, tape, and scissors. They are organized into three flower pots that I bought especially to fit into the green container. (IKEA, baby!) There are more supplies in a file cabinet in our storage room.

Here is the room as seen from right next to my daughter's desk. I like to have her work in the dining room so I can putter in the kitchen or use my laptop at the table. She is still transitioning into more independent assignments and likes me nearby.

OK, so I purged and organized. Then I decorated with what I had on hand.

The large waterfall painting, a wedding gift nearly 30 years ago, came in from the front hallway. The long side table with the flower arrangements and white porcelain potpourri containers came from my bedroom.

After we returned from North Carolina last month, I created and ordered six photo collage posters on the Walmart web site and framed them. I chose to hang them on a newly empty wall next to the kitchen. What a warm reminder of our mountain adventures! The collages with frames cost me about $50 total. They go nicely with the mountain waterfall theme in the big painting. You can see most of these photos in my NC trip blog series.

Side note: We had the wood-look ceramic tile installed over 10 years ago, and I have to say it was the best flooring investment we ever made. So durable, attractive, and comfortable for my bare feet! We've had the huge conference table since we moved in, but even seating 10, it's not big enough if everyone in the family comes over. We already have several grandchildren, so I set up a card table and chairs as necessary. 

I loved the opportunity to invite our family over for a dinner party last week. The table is all set with a crystal bread bowl, candles, and the beautiful blue stoneware plates I've been collecting from the dollar store.


The cloth napkins (lacy ones by Laura Ashley) belonged to a sweet friend who passed away last year, and I inherited the garden place mats from my late mother.

The trick now is keeping this room clean and tidy. I'm being vigilant against people leaving junk on the shelves and floor, but I confess the table was pretty messy there for several days. I cleared and cleaned it this morning for one last picture of it. And now, after dinner, I need to go finish it up again. That's life, isn't it?

My final photo - a chalkboard inspiration to adorn the entry to the dining room from the front hallway. 

This dining room transformation signals a shift in my thinking and approach to home life. I don't want extra chaos or complication. I want simple and soothing. I know I have a long way to go, but I so want to make my home a haven for my family and a place for hospitality toward others.

I love the new light, airy, and streamlined look in our dining room. I wish I had done this years ago.

If you would like to see what I have done in our other rooms, you can visit these posts:

God bless!



  1. What a beautiful room. I love the big window. It will be so nice to have your family enjoying the company of one another around the table.

  2. Our dining room tends to be the drop off spot. You have inspired me to take back over my room! Thank you!

    Please consider sharing this with our reader..I can bet I am not the only one that has lost my dining room!