A short story of how I came to live independently at eighteen
One of the first questions that I’m asked when I tell people that I live on my own is “don’t you get lonely?” Honestly, if you had asked me this question five years ago my answer would have been yes. Very lonely.
Moving out at eighteen was not a choice that I made. It was made for me. Having been through the care system the inevitable next step is to move out when you turn eighteen. I honestly thought that this meant I would have at least some time to get my shit together before I left, but no. As soon as you reach your eighteenth birthday you are put on a system to bid for the flats you want. If I remember rightly, every Monday evening new council properties were put up on the bidding site. I remember asking my social worker to please wait, as I was bang in the middle of an internship at Morgan Stanley. If you’ve ever dealt with social workers then you will know that their promises mean shit. I was so angry when I was told I need to take days off in order to view properties, I do now understand that maybe it was out of her control, and I’m not the only person in the world waiting to be housed. So whatever, it is what it is. Within two weeks I find myself standing at the bottom of this high rise flat in an estate, I had received a ‘direct offer’.
A direct offer is basically what it says on the tin. Any flats that I had bid for previously were disregarded, they had an empty flat waiting to become occupied and I was the first one on their list. My social worker couldn’t make it of course, but she had briefed me that this would be my new home. I get into the lift with the housing officer up to the fourth floor. The lift stank of urine, and I’m sure there was a bloodstain in the corner (ok, so I could be exaggerating here, it was probably ketchup). She opened the door that was like opening fort knox, so many locks so many keys. The flat was nice. It was ok. It had every room that I would need, it was small but I really didn’t know what to expect. There was no flooring, just ripped wallpaper. It was empty. I walk through the living room out on to the balcony and thought yes, the perfect smoking spot. The officer was doing the most with trying to sell this property to me, it’s like she forgot that this shouldn’t be a sales pitch but more of an ‘its going to be okay’ pitch. I can’t remember what she was talking about; I was too transfixed on the bizzare wire mesh that was covering the balcony, probably to stop people from jumping off. She told me about the debt on the electric meter and ‘not to worry British Gas know and will take it off when you move in’, but that was the reason I have no electric at the moment. Great.
We’re in the kitchen practically breathing in each other’s breath it’s so small. She tells me that if I refuse this flat then I wouldn’t get another one. I’d be put straight to the bottom of the list and could end up waiting years. As much as I liked where I was currently living with my foster mum, I knew it wouldn’t be fair to stay there for longer (especially without her being paid). I also knew I did not want to be homeless again, or have to take more days off work to view these flats. So I took it. I signed the document and took the keys.
The weekend came and I went to visit my new flat. At the entrance of the estate there is about six boys on their bikes mumbling about me. “Oi, oi”, “fresh meat lads” they hollered as I entered the building. Great. This place is full of scumbags. I took the stairs this time and as I’m trying to catch my breath whilst opening the front door I can hear arguing in the flat next to me. Out storms a girl and barges straight past me, running down the stairs. Her mum stands at the door and her angry expression changes into a nice warm smile. “Hey love, you moving in here?” I kid you not as she was talking; about seven kittens were trying to escape past her out of the flat. I stood chatting to her for a while and thought she asked way too many questions. She also offered me one of her cats for when I move in properly. If you know me then you would know that I would have taken them all if I could, so I agreed and could have my pick of the litter when I moved in.
A few days went by and my cousin spent a couple of days stripping the wallpaper for me whilst I was on my internship. I don’t know what it was but something was telling me not to live there. I did not want to live there. It was horrible. Why on earth should I have to live on some shitty estate? I’ve dealt with enough crap in my life to then move into another shitty situation. At work I was surrounded by the wealthiest of people, adults who had no idea why I had to view flats or what this meant for someone like me. I wanted their lives. I wanted to come into work each day wearing a smart suit and Louboutin heels that I would keep under my desk. That’s the life I wanted. I’m pretty certain none of these people live in shitty council estates. This sounds bad I know, but I wanted to get away from any negativity in my life and by moving into a place where the neighbours always argue, where I didn’t feel safe walking home at night, I knew this wasn’t for me. I took a risk. That night I wrote a letter to the housing association stating I would like to withdraw my offer. I told them how awful it was and played on the fact that a fourth floor property wouldn’t be good for my anxiety and how the boys were shouting racist things to my boyfriend at the time (this didn’t happen, but they looked racist so it probably would have). I wrote my letter and handed it in to the office the next day with the keys. That was it. I weren’t going anywhere.
I went to work like normal the next day. Got on with the Excel spreadsheets and liaised with clients as though I didn’t have a million and one things running through my mind. I remember going into the toilets on my lunch break and crying. I wasn’t exactly sure why I was crying, but the unexpected was freaking me out. I prayed so hard in that bathroom. I just wanted the next step of my life to have some form of normality, somewhere closer to my friends and family, somewhere familiar. You can call it luck, a miracle or whatever, but what happened next was unreal. I went home that evening back to my foster placement and found a letter addressed to me on the floor. It was another offer, for a flat, in my area. How on earth can they offer me another flat the day after I handed my keys in? I drove to the address straight away and looked through the windows. It was similar to the other one in the sense it was empty with bare concrete flooring and the wallpaper was terrible. It was smaller, but ground floor and only two stories high. I got back in my car, exited, and told myself that this was my new home.
I honestly believe that if you exert enough energy onto something that you want then you will get it. This just happened to be one of those moments. Although, it was an absolute shit show of a viewing, I have to laugh at what happened next.
The viewing was at 10am and of course I was the first one to arrive. This offer was different. It wasn’t a direct one. This meant that if there was someone who wanted the flat who was in a higher priority band than me then they would get it. The housing officer arrives and she was so lovely. I asked her if there was anyone else coming and she said she was expecting six people that day. All who were disabled so they would have priority. Ten minutes passed and no one else came. I could have wet my pants with excitement. Until, of course a car pulls up. I clock the disability badge straight away and out stumbled this old guy with a Zimmer Frame. As harsh as this sounds, he is probably the most disgusting human I had ever encountered. Straight away he started to complain about the area, about how there were ‘too many blacks and gays for his liking’. He had the first view of the flat and complained about the smell of damp. He also complained that the water stopcock was too high and that if he had to use it and fell no one would save him. This guy was a dick.
Usually I would have jumped at the chance to argue with this guy against his absurd views of the world, however, his negative outlook definitely worked in my favour that day. So I said nothing and hoped for the best. I took a look around the flat; I was already imagining where my bed and wardrobe would go. I wanted a full-length mirror in the hallway and dining room table and chairs to go next to the sofa for when my friends come round for dinner. I wanted a big flat screen TV to go in the living room and a glass coffee table in the centre so I can display the magazines I never read through the glass at the bottom. I wanted Yankee candles, picture frames and ornaments all around the house. It really was my idea of perfect.
If you haven’t guessed already, the guy declined the flat and drove back to his miserable life away from the area. I paid the deposit (the last £5 that I had from my benefit money), took the keys and had moved in within a few weeks. It just so happened that there had been an error in the system. They shouldn’t have offered me this flat, especially where I had already accepted one previously. The computer hadn’t updated itself in time so the letter was sent to me before they knew I had taken and given back another flat. I won’t go into too much detail about that because it’s incredibly boring. But the housing association pretty much tried to take the flat away from me, and with about two weeks of emails, letters and tears they gave in and let me have it.
So in the mist of excitement of having my own place, I didn’t realise how lonely it would be. Now most of you reading this probably still live at home, or if you’ve moved out you probably had time to mentally prepare yourself for when you do. If you’ve had to experience moving out unexpectedly, because you had too, then you will be able to relate to what I’m about to say next. Living independently for the first few months was such a struggle. Rent, gas bills, electricity bills, water bills, council tax, TV licence- my god it’s so expensive. I was on benefits at the time I moved out because I was still in college, not because I didn’t have a job. ‘Income Support Allowance’ was the most annoying thing in the world. Having to live on £48 a week is ridiculous. So I started working part-time in the evening in a dodgy cab firm in Soho (that’s a story for another time), to be able to live and not just survive. Changing over from benefits to student loan, and then to what everyone else does and pays everything from their wages was the biggest stress of all. I just make sure that my rent is the first thing that’s paid, after all, a Louis Vuitton hand bag isn’t going to keep me warm at night.
Being completely on my own was something that I really had to learn to deal with. On reflection, it’s probably the reason why I kept buying so many pets so I didn’t feel as if I was on my own. A rabbit and two cats later, I can tell you now I am so over looking after an animal. At first it was a very odd feeling. I felt as if I was on my own constantly. Friends and family would come and go, boyfriends too. Oh, and on a side note- ladies if you ever end up living on your own watch out for the boys who latch on to this idea & use you to get away from their parents. They’re the ones that never fully move in or pay any rent, but have that ‘one draw’ and a toothbrush that they keep coming back for. I can literally see the spark in a mans eyes when he hears I have my own place, they are what I like to call ‘the help’- stay away & keep your independent living quiet.
It’s coming up to seven years now that I’ve lived on my own. Am I lonely? No. I just live alone.
Having gone on a few trips abroad and lived with other people for a while, I can tell you now how much I love being by myself. Being able to shut the door and not have to listen to anyone talk shit is a blessing. The bills and stuff like that is what anyone would have to deal with at some point in their lives, mine just came a bit quicker that’s all. There is such pressure nowadays for people to move out and be ‘miss independent’ and I tell you what its not fucking easy. There’s an even bigger pressure on men to have had to move out by a certain age, but please ladies its really not that easy. If I could live at home with a normal loving family then I would take it in a heartbeat. I think about how much money I could have saved or would be saving if I didn’t have to pay out for so much stuff, but does this stop me from doing what ever I want? No. I do exactly the same things that my friends do, probably a lot more if we’re taking into account the amount of air miles I’ve racked up over the years. So if you are living at home with your parents, I envy the fact that you can have one salary and stack from it, lap it up while you can. I know I would if I had the chance.