There’s nothing like the feeling of freedom living in your own place.
Over the years, I yearned for a space to call my own. In April 2018, after spending nearly a decade moving between different house shares across Edinburgh, I rented my first ever one-bedroom flat at the age of 31.
I didn’t anticipate that just three years later I would be craving housemates and a return to the more ‘immature’ flatshare.
As someone who has always felt somewhat young for their age, moving into my own place was a definite milestone as I ascended into what I considered official ‘adulthood’.
I felt I was long overdue the challenges living independently would bring. The prospect of being solely responsible for all the bills was daunting, and I feared getting locked out of my flat with no one to let me back in, but I was more than ready.
Although the flat was small, it was all mine and, for the first few months, I relished my weekends browsing the home departments of TK Maxx and John Lewis and spending hours looking for inessential items such as spice racks and mandala wall hangings in an attempt to make the place my own.
I took delight in having full control of the television, being able to keep my make-up in the bathroom and having friends over for dinner without having to check with housemates for permission.
Standing on my own two feet for the first time gave me more confidence; I finally had somewhere I could be completely myself and coming home to my own sacred space after a busy day did wonders for my well-being.
During this time, I made another life change when I left my job as a primary school teacher to study a Masters in Journalism and had been lucky enough to gain work in the industry after graduating.
Life was busy and full of texture and I had never once associated living alone with loneliness – but that was before I spent months in lockdown with limited social interaction.
At the end of March 2020, like thousands of other freelancers, I lost all my work and found myself heading into the national lockdown unemployed and alone. Having the rug lifted from beneath my feet in such an abrupt way was a shock to the system but I tried to make the best of the situation.
I baked sourdough bread and I ordered a cross stitch set online. I joined several Zoom quizzes, made Dalgona coffee, and joined a weekly baking challenge group on Whatsapp. I also tried online yoga and ballet classes and became addicted to buying house plants.
But, by the end of May, I realised that it had been several weeks since I had physically spent time with another human being. I scrolled enviously through my coupled-up friends’ seemingly blissful lockdown posts on social media and cursed myself for not prioritising dating.
According to a survey released last June by the Office for National Statistics, 57 per cent of adults living alone reported suffering from ‘lockdown loneliness’. This figure didn’t surprise me. My extroverted self suited living alone under certain conditions but living under lockdown wasn’t one of them.
Within a few weeks I was lucky enough to find new employment working remotely and was grateful to have some sense of purpose again, but I still battled with the feeling of loneliness that permeated every inch of my once beloved flat.
So, in September, when my friend, who is an assistant headteacher at a school in London asked if I was interested in a job I jumped at the chance. I found the idea of teaching children and working with people again a lot more appealing than staring at a screen all day.
Leaving Edinburgh, a place that had been my home for almost a decade was tough, but spending lockdown alone had taken its toll and I was ready to embrace the adventure of moving to a new city.
When preparing for my move I was aware I would not be able to afford the luxury of living alone in London but I was thrilled – I had had enough of my own company and getting to know new flatmates felt exciting again. It would be a welcome distraction from my own meandering thoughts.
With a new job secured, at the age of 34, I moved into a house in Tooting with three other lovely girls who I met through Spare Room. It was difficult at first to share a kitchen and living space but I adjusted pretty quickly.
Although the rent is, alarmingly, the same price as my one bedroom flat in Edinburgh, after spending most of the year alone I am thrilled to now be part of a ‘household’.
Flat-sharing in my early-mid thirties had never been part of any of my five-year life plans but neither was living through a pandemic.
While I didn’t choose the best time to move to London, it has been rewarding to physically go to work every day and spend evenings talking with my flatmates and playing board games and enjoying wine with them at weekends.
Although I do often compare myself to my friends who are homeowners and married with children, I have accepted that this is the stage of life I am currently at, and it is what’s right for me. Sometimes I consider my move to be a step backwards but deep down I know that it was a necessary survival strategy.
2020 was an incredibly challenging year for everyone and I am highly aware that I am one of the lucky ones. My resilience has been tested and I am proud to have been able to bounce back.
The new ‘mutant strain’ of coronavirus was not something I had anticipated before moving down to London, or the country going into another national lockdown, but I’m still grateful to at least have a sense of belonging again.
It’s said that misery loves company but since living with new friends I’m feeling more positive. Here’s hoping 2021 will end better than it has begun!
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