It’s True: A Flooded Basement Changed My Life

While others have certainly endured far worse, one mom learned four lessons from a wet and wild experience

No lives were lost. Nothing valuable was destroyed. For this I am forever grateful.

And others have certainly endured far worse than what we did, so perspective is key. But here’s what I learned when our basement flooded recently after a pipe burst — which set off a chain reaction, the likes of which no one ever tells you when you buy a house, move in, and get settled.

Everything was wet. Soaked. Drenched. Flooded. And water was still gushing.

Lesson Number One: When you’re woken up in the middle of the night by the sounds of loud, gushing water, do not assume it’s a nightmare. Don’t just plump up the pillows and settle back down, hoping it will all go away. Get up. Fast.

At 1 a.m., the strange, angry sounds of rushing water made me think, at first, that a faucet had been left on — but no such luck.

The basement. The water is coming from the basement. My eyes flew open, and I sat straight up.

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I ran down the flight of stairs to the basement (our bedroom is on the main floor). And as I turned the corner into our tiny hallway there, which leads past the heating and water systems to a small bathroom — I suddenly felt like a fly fisherman.

Everything was wet. Drenched. And water was still gushing.

The four nearby rooms — a bathroom, laundry room, and two bedrooms — were the unfortunate recipients.

I finally found — and froze before — the huge torrent of water spewing from a gaping hole in a pipe. I’m a calm, rational person, but I started screaming — and it lasted a few seconds. Water where it doesn’t belong can do this to a person. I zoomed back upstairs to wake up my husband, and together we ran down, turned off the water (thankfully, we knew how), and began to survey the hole in the pipe. Mostly, we looked at the water.

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Objects floated around our feet. Doors had been breached. Walls were wet. Tiles were soaked. The bathroom was unusable. Clothes, papers, books, and dozens of small household objects were either sopping wet — or gently bobbing, like buoys.

“Quick, call Kevin,” we said in unison, referring to a close friend who also happens to be our plumber and heating and air conditioning expert.

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With Kevin summoned at this insane time of night and our three pets startled — they thought it was morning, so they were ready for breakfast — I checked the rooms for damage. The first things I grabbed: the high school diplomas of my two college-attending sons. Sorry, water, you cannot have those! I ran upstairs and put them in a safe place.

From there, we made more phone calls, including to the insurance company. And as a steady stream of people arrived, including a remediation team to assess the damage as they sloshed around, I got busy. We cleared out an array of wet items we couldn’t keep or no longer needed. We threw out things like pillows, blankets, jackets, all saturated and damaged. Other things that weren’t ruined, we moved to a safe place until we could get to them later.

Which brings me to…

Lesson Number Two: You don’t need half the things you think you do. Clutter can hold people back. It can box them in and attract dust, spiders, and other despicable things no one wants. Little by little, we have begun paring back.

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How freeing was it to get rid of an old set of encyclopedias? Toys my boys hadn’t played with for years? Two chipped bookshelves we’d tried to tuck away in the basement? (Hint: When you try tucking away something in the basement, maybe it belongs in the trash.)

I’m not talking about sentimental or important items. Those are in good shape and saved properly. It’s this other stuff, the excess nonsense — what you think you’ll go through someday and organize in grand fashion when you have a free moment. That free moment rarely arrives. And when it does, you do not want to spend it trying to become the world’s most organized person.

Which brings me to …

Lesson Number Three: Know what you cherish in your life — and whom you cherish. Before tragedy ever strikes, understand what matters most. And take good care of it, whether it’s a prized collection of something or your best friends in the world. Sure, you know all this in your heart. But reach out to these people on a regular basis. Share a thought, a kind word, a question. Through a note, a call, a message, a text, a letter — whatever it is or however you do it — to let your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues know you care.

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And then, if something lousy happens — you hope and pray it doesn’t — you’ll be there for them and they for you.

We called a few friends when the waters abated, and I still cherish their words, their offers of help, their other kindnesses. Just hearing that meant a lot. And that brings me to …

Lesson Number Four: Find the silver lining — and laugh a little. You need that for your sanity. “Look at it this way,” said my husband a few days later, while everything was being fixed — with still no running water. “We have a great excuse to clean up down there. It’s called decluttering under duress.”


“Agreed. But the next time around, let’s not do it this way.”


meet the author

Maureen Mackey served as editor-in-chief and managing editor of LifeZette for nearly five years. Before that, she held senior editorial positions at major publications, helping The Fiscal Times win a MIN Award for Best New Site as managing editor and Reader's Digest win an American Society of Magazine Editors Award for General Excellence as book editor. Her work has appeared in Real Clear Politics, CNBC, A Fine Line, AARP Magazine, Yahoo Finance, MSN, Business Insider, and The Week, among other outlets. She is a member of the Newswomen's Club of New York and the American Legion Auxiliary.

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