Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d be renting a three-bed flat in London Fields on my own. I’ve always accepted I probably won’t own a home for a very long time, if ever. And you don’t need me to explain how outrageously bad the renting crisis is in London. So I always thought I’d be living in a house share, or with a partner, well into my 30s if I want to stay put in the big smoke.
But here I am. The walls are freshly painted and the new carpet is fluffy beneath my feet – a real luxury right now, considering how much time I spend pacing around. I’ve spent much of the last couple of months making small home improvements: hanging a framed print here, moving a desk with a new plant on it there. You could call it a dream come true.
The truth is: it is still just a dream, because it’s all a lie.
I don’t really rent this place on my own. My two flat mates have continued to pay their share while they spend lockdown at their family homes in Ireland. One of them expects to return in autumn, while the other has decided she’s not coming back at all. I still have a landlord who could kick me out at any time, which, considering the uncertain economic crisis, feels like a bigger possibility each day. And, just like everyone, the worry about my future income is real.
However, through these terrifying times, this flat has been my safe space – my lockdown oasis. It’s been an emotional roller coaster: I’ve been terrified with thoughts of getting sick while living on my own, then elated with the freedom of turning up my music while having a three-hour bath. But after two months of these highs and lows, I’ve settled into this new way of living. It also massively helps that I can now leave the flat and break up the day with walks, cycles or meeting a friend in the park.
That’s why I’ve been investing in it more, emotionally and financially, with little pick-me-ups for the place. What used to feel like a room in a flatshare now feels like a home, one that I’m proud of.
You can see why it’s been so easy for me to run with my own lie, but it’s time to face reality: I’m still a tenant in a flatshare. I need to find a flatmate to fill the empty room – a daunting prospect considering it will have to be done while sticking to social distancing rules. I then need to readjust to living in lockdown with this new person – who will likely be someone I don’t even know the name of yet. And when my other flatmate finally returns, it will be back to having a full house.
I’ll have to go back to working, eating and sleeping in my bedroom again, rather than doing those things separately in different rooms in the flat. I’ll feel the judgement of leaving my dirty plates on the side for any longer than three hours. I’ll get annoyed at the buzzer going off at 2am on a Sunday morning. I’ll have to bite my lip if someone puts up a wall hanging I despise.
Look, I know I’m in a much more privileged position than most. And I should point out that my flatmates are very lovely. “What are you moaning about?” I hear some people cry. But it’s made me realise that, after 13 years of flat sharing, I’ve had enough.
As a 31-year-old who can’t afford to live alone in London and whose ISA account couldn’t cover the deposit for a Lego house in Zone 50, it’s made me question my next move. Perhaps I should move back up north for its cheaper rents? Maybe the next few years is actually going to be a good time for first-time buyers? What are my help-to-buy options outside of London? Does the future of flexible working mean that it doesn’t really matter where I live?
After speaking with friends and colleagues, it turns out I’m not the only one thinking about my living arrangements after lockdown.
Alyss, who lives with one friend in east London, has used this time to seriously think about taking the plunge: “Lockdown has definitely made me think about how much money I could be saving if I moved slightly further out of London. Also, if working from home is a reality I would rather do that in a space that felt entirely mine. It’s the first time I’ve really been able to explore this possibility.”
Jaz loves living in her south London flatshare but also relates: “It’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable saying I want to live alone. It almost feels like a bit of a betrayal of my incredible flatmates but I know it’s really high up there on my list of aspirations. Surprisingly, it’s become even more important to me since lockdown. I’ve really come to understand the importance of being able to be in command of my own space.”
And Leanne*, currently in a west London house share, is craving her own space more than ever: “I’m living with three housemates who I get along with really well, and I love having their company after work and at weekends, but after 10 + years of living in houseshares, I think I’m ready to take the leap and try being by myself. Lockdown has shown me that I can chat with friends and family virtually whenever I feel lonely, and while it might not be the same as having a physical presence in the house, I think I’d be OK.”
Regardless of your situation, we’re all asking ourselves a lot of big questions about how to continue life after lockdown. If anything, the pandemic is a stark reminder that life is short and precious. Is fulfilling the dream of living in London really worth the sacrifice of living alone? I’ve decided that, for now, the answer is yes. But I know the time to move on is on the horizon, so my present solution is to save, save, save. And in the meantime, I’ll try work out how the hell to organise a virtual flat viewing.
*name changed at contributor’s request