In early 2009 I finally put an end to my marriage. Fear of being alone and ‘starting again’ had paralysed me for months, but the time had come, and I remember sitting in the estate agent’s office crying tears of relief and fear, clutching a mug of tea and listening to her soothing assurances.
Now I don’t need to tell you that ending a marriage (or any relationship) is a frightening and difficult time. Here I was, suddenly alone, terrified and facing a future I simply hadn’t planned for myself. I was racked with feelings of self-doubt, insecurity, distrust and loneliness.
At that point, hauling myself out of bed every the morning was difficult enough, let alone contemplating new relationships, career aspirations or social jaunts. But one thing was certain: I needed a roof over my head, and desperation forced me into the estate agent’s that morning.
It soon became apparent though that moving home and setting up alone would be my saving grace. There’s nothing like a project to keep you busy and distracted, and the process of packing up my stuff, shedding the ‘dead wood’ of shared possessions and cleansing my own belongings was deeply cathartic.
In this new chapter of my life, my first home was a one-bedroom flat in Westcliff, 2 minutes from the seafront in a Victorian conversion. Finding myself in a space that I could put my mark on, that was MINE, was a revelation. With no one to answer to or negotiate purchases with, I could express myself truly and honestly, building a sanctuary around me where I felt comfortable, safe and content. I grew herbs on the kitchen window ledge, bought a pretty shower curtain and treated myself to fresh flowers every week. It was perfection.
In 2010 I upped sticks once more and moved to London. My flat was a turn of the century property in Forest Hill, with beautiful stained glass windows, original fireplaces and huge windows that flooded the rooms with light. It was here that I came into my own, decorating my space with bits and bobs that made me happy. In the bedroom I opted for calming whites and floral sheets, while the lounge was doused in colour. Finds from my travels, including pottery, embroidery, paintings and handicrafts were scattered on the surfaces, interspersed with vintage teacups, scented candles and potted plants.
Over that three-year period when I lived alone, I built up quite a collection of nick-nacks, many of which I still treasure. The likelihood is I’ll never live alone again, and that’s a good thing, but a little part of me still wrenches at the memory of setting up alone – the fear and excitement, the freedom and exhilaration.
So if I were to climb into my time machine and go back to 2009, give myself a little budget and a bare and beautiful flat, what would I fill it with? If I picture myself as a 26-year-old girl with two cats and a broken heart to mend, here’s a little selection of things I might buy from Oldrids and Downtown and Bents to brighten up my day.