A lesson on buying your first home

Her Lessons

This time last year was pretty much the worst time ever. After a flurry of emotionally traumatic events, I suddenly found myself living back at my mum’s, away from London, with most of my former world dumped in the garden shed. It all happened so quickly that it feels like the memory of a film rather than an episode from my actual life.

The little boat that constitutes my existence was well and truly rocked. Inside, I was about to sink and drown at any moment. It was a common, incredibly shit thing to go through, but the way everything unfolded was far from normal. It was fucked up. I fucked up. And then I compromised my mental and physical stability. Being scared of losing love will do that to you.

I guess one of the main things I’ve learned is that real love and friendship will survive the biggest shit storm.  That and the fact that one of the best things you can do for yourself is to guarantee your own stable foundations.

So I decided to put everything into just that. Stability. I needed to buy a flat.

Being from a very small town just outside of Brighton, London has always felt like the epitome of opportunity, excitement and success. It’s not for everyone, but I bloody LOVE living in London. I worked so hard to get there, to be able to afford city life (and, of course, city rent).

Finding myself living back home after so many years felt like a huge backwards step. Thank God for my amazing mum for going on that horrendous journey with me. Looking for a flat of my own started off as a sort of half-dream to keep my mind focussed on the future. I populated my ‘Interiors’ Pinterest board and thought it wouldn’t extend much beyond that.

And then I thought fuck it. I’ll speak to a free financial advisor – at Torc24 – to see whether there’s a hope in hell of me ever qualifying for a mortgage by myself. Turns out, I did.

Motivated by this, I dared myself to dream a little more and scroll through Rightmove and Zoopla to see if any property actually existed at the price range I’d been told I could afford. Again, to my amazement, there was. And not just in outer Scotland, with the Help to Buy London scheme, I could afford to buy a flat within the M25. In a London borough (just).

In case you’re interested (and feel free to skip ahead if you’re not), qualifying for the Help to Buy London scheme means that you only have to pay a 5% deposit of a new build property of up to £500,000 (depending on what price bracket your salary qualifies for). The government gives you a whopping 40% loan to that you don’t have to start paying for 5 years. Mortgage rates are also pretty low at the moment. My mortgage is with Halifax and it’s fixed at 1.64% for 2 years.

Which, in a nutshell, means that my current monthly mortgage repayments are just £515. Which is cheaper than any rent I’ve ever paid, even when I was on half the salary I’m on now. Say whaaat.

I started my search for affordable new-build flats in Croydon. Not the prettiest of places, but set to evolve fairly quickly thanks to the new Boxpark and coming Westfield. As it turns out, there are loads of new builds available on Help to Buy, but the ones I could afford were really, really small. Like, really small.

I widened my search ever so slightly and came across Wallington (which I’d never heard of before) and which turned out to be a quiet, green part of Sutton with a handful of pretty parks, a lake and some decent pubs. I’m already a regular at The Wallington Arms.

I came across a one-bed flat in a renovated Victorian building, and, in a rather nice turn of events, my offer was accepted on my 28th birthday – a birthday I was dreading, I might add. And from that moment I started to realise that all the bad things that happened in the months before might well have been paving the way for unimaginably better things. For me, this flat was a physical representation of everything there is to gain from everything you’ve ever lost. I still have to pinch myself that it’s mine.

I had a sort of epiphany in the shower the other day.

I’ve moved house 10 times in the last 10 years, and I’ve have had some pretty horrendous bathrooms. There’s the one at uni that had brown carpet, mould in every crevice of the shower tiles, and a toilet that flooded during a particularly messy house party; and the one I shared with boys with constant remnants of muddy rugby training rimmed around the bath; and the one that was supposed to be a ‘wet room’ but which caused the ceiling to leak and eventually explode in the room below; and the one in a Brixton basement with prison bars on the window; and the one that was pretty much inside a cupboard in the kitchen with silverfish and no room to move.

And there I was, showering under a giant, ridiculously powerful, vintage-style showerhead, in a pristine grey-tiled wet room with a beautifully clean, heated ecru floor and plush new towels hanging on the warm towel rail. I suddenly realised how far I’d come. Not to mention the fact I’d got a mortgage by myself. A wave of peaceful relief passed over me. This is my very own bathroom. I own this. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so safe (and clean).

So here’s a message from me to you if you’re sick of renting, are going through a horrible breakup, or have a god-awful bathroom – keep looking forward and find the thing that centres you. It might feel bleak at the moment, but it’s all temporary. Keeping focusing your energy in the right direction and you’ll get there. Have faith.

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Why you should still be proud to be British

Her Lessons

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I managed to refrain from writing a post about my decision to #voteremain in the EU referendum. In all honesty, no matter how many articles I read, or how much I believed it was the right way forward, I never felt properly equipped or qualified to offer advice to others.

I became deeply concerned about mass xenophobia, Nazi-influenced propaganda, isolationist reasoning and the racist undertones of ‘make Britain great again’, but the arguments surrounding economic security went round and round in circles, and I am no economist. How is anyone supposed to fight against the history of racial and social prejudice without facts they truly believe and understand?

I know immigration and the threat of terrorism weren’t the only influences. There were (and still are) plenty of reasonable arguments for leaving the EU, but, unfortunately, the leave campaign knew they wouldn’t have to highlight these in the same way to successfully scare recruit enough people. Fear is incredibly powerful.

I also didn’t want to provoke a debate on a blog that serves to unite people.

Either way, as a divided nation we were facing an obvious stride into the unknown. There was no possible way of guaranteeing a positive outcome either way. I believed in my vote, but I never believed much of the ‘evidence’. I voted remain on principle, not practicality. After all, it’s our morals that give warmth and depth to flat, cold facts.

As a compassionate, hopeful, forward-thinking 26-year-old who voted in London and works in creative circles, I woke up to devastating news on Friday 24th June. As a life-advice blogger, I’m always looking for ways to offer doses of written comfort.

I wanted to write a post that would ease the pain so many of us have shared on social media, because when anything goes wrong for anyone, as it always has and always will, it’s essential to focus on the good things. It might not currently feel like it, but we are still incredibly lucky to be British in 2016.

Here’s why.

We were actually allowed to vote

It’s tempting to wish David Cameron never agreed to a referendum, and for many people the outcome was completely unexpected, but it is far, far better to live in a country that involves its inhabitants shaping its destiny. It should never be down to a small group of socially distanced leaders. Democracy has its flaws, but the alternative is much worse.

We have access to world-class education

Many, many people do not. More than 20 countries still prevent girls from getting the same education as boys. According to www.gov.uk, ‘31 million girls of primary school age around the world have never been to school.’

We have London

Which is, without a doubt, the best city in the world.

We have a healing sense of humour

In years to come, future generations will be laughing about the referendum and all the grizzly consequences, going to fancy dress parties as Boris and Nigel.  Actually, this is probably already happening.

We have same sex marriage

And a thriving LGBT community that helps set an example and inspire other communities around the world.

We have great style

And so many amazing brands to chose from. The British High Street is a wonderful blessing, and our liberal, inspiring, much-copied dress sense is something to be proud of.

We have constant access to clean, running water

Just, for a second, imagine a life where you do not. Water Aid says that 1/3 of the world’s population do not have access to adequate sanitation, and ‘650 million people live without safe running water’.

We have a brilliant music scene

And there is nothing like a British music festival. Give me mud, live music and hundreds of happy Brits and that’s enough to lift the spirits.

We have pubs

Otherwise known as cosy, inviting, microcosmic societies everyone is welcome to join. Nowhere else on the planet has quite nailed the fine art of our favourite drinking establishment and the way it appeals to all walks of life. When I was travelling, I mostly missed going to the pub.

 We are gloriously and irrevocably multicultural

And our national dish is Chicken Tikka Masala. My best friends are British. They are also Mauritian, Turkish-Cypriot, Indian, Irish, Jewish, and Iranian. Leaving the EU might instil racist thoughts in a narrow-minded minority, but the rest of us will unite in our love of Britain’s inspiring, well-established multiculturalism, appreciating and upholding it’s importance more now than ever.

Hold onto the fact that it was not a vast majority that wanted out, and it is not a vast majority of leave voters that are an embarrassment to humanity. Most had valid, positive, game-changing reasons for leaving (I urge you to come forward with words of comfort). It was just a few miserable leavers (that the media has decided to focus on) that have showcased racial prejudice, and who are hopefully, slowly coming to terms with just how brainwashed they’ve been.

 

 

A lesson on feeling nervous

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Why you should never let feeling nervous impact your life in a negative way, no matter how great the fear, or how real the threat.

Nervousness, like hunger or happiness, is something I feel quite naturally throughout the day. It’s ingrained not only in my personality, but in the fabric of my instinctive bodily reactions, and has been since I can remember. Speaking to somebody new, answering the phone, leading a meeting, public speaking, getting on the tube, preparing for a night out, hearing a loud noise etc, etc. I am jumpy, a worrier, a worst-case-scenario thinker. It’s an endless, annoying disposition, and one I’ve wholeheartedly come to terms with. It’s an irrational, unreasonable feeling I’ve learnt to mask and ignore. I counter my nervousness with a very distracting kind of faux confidence, a performance of the character I’d rather have that’s so much a part of my everyday life its 99% real. Hand me a glass of wine and you can make it 100%. I have learnt to combat nervous feelings by acting as though they aren’t there. And it works. If I were to submit myself to every worried thought, every increased heart rate, every quivering hand, I simply would not be able to do the things I love, or be the person I want to be. We are bigger and more powerful than the confines of our own negativity.

In light of recent events in Paris and around the world, it’s fair to say that nervousness is currently a trending theme. I am writing this simply because I want to urge people never to let nervousness creep up and steel your personality, your identity or your life, no matter what. After Friday night’s terrorist attack in Paris, I was in awe of the people standing triumphantly in the streets the following day, from near victims to news reporters. Their strong defiance and bravery in the face of true threat echoes the strength we should always ensure to apply when faced with any demon, metaphorical or not. Saying you aren’t scared and acting as though you aren’t scared is enough to prove you aren’t, no matter what the little voice in the back of your head is telling you.

Much of my personal nervousness stems from an irrational fear of the unknown. But what happens when we have a legitimate reason to feel afraid? When we’re forced to picture ourselves trying to flee London’s equivalent of The Bataclan? What happens when suddenly it seems very sensible to avoid certain things, just in case? In my opinion, the most important thing anyone can do, is to live your life as normal. Terrorism can only ever win if we act terrified. To remain calm, optimistic, peaceful and brave is to counter terrorism itself.

 Last week, prior to Friday’s events, I found myself in a couple of situations that were interesting in terms of observing other people’s nervousness. Everyday things a lot of us are familiar with – a group presentation at work and two interviews (of which I was doing the interviewing, thank god). Clear and classic signs of nervousness were obvious in all cases: shaky hands, rattled speach, talking too quickly etc. These instances really dramatised how nervous feelings often equate to how much you want something to be good. I have OCD, and therefore want everything to be perfect all the time, which is probably why I end up feeling unnecessarily nervous. It’s fair to say, therefore, that any unified feeling of nervousness around terrorism on a national scale is nothing but a universal prayer for goodness over evil. Nervous feelings, if treated properly, can provide a useful energy, like performing under pressure in a test.

My advice? Never feel ashamed to be nervous, and never translate nervousness as a fear you can’t control. Meme pas peur.

Lesson 30: quitting your job to travel the world

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Being Joe’s birthday, 13th October was already on my list of important dates. As it happens, 13th October 2015 also turned out to be the day I quit my job to travel the world. I didn’t exactly shout ‘I QUIT!’ and storm out the office (as much as I’ve fantasised about doing precisely this). I have an 8 week notice period, which makes it slightly less dramatic. But still, I made the decision to pack up my lovely life in London and say a big fat YES to the slightly more terrifying option instead. I decided I would pursue my dreams after all. And best of all? The love of my life is in the exact same frame of mind as me, so we’re off around the world together.

As you can probably guess, I’m going to document the whole experience. I want to write about travelling from the point of view of someone who, in reality, isn’t particularly carefree. Someone who struggles with change, who feels anxious without a plan and who wears a full face of makeup every day. Someone who over-thinks everything, is a massive perfectionist, and often likes to be alone. Someone who recently went through a phase of feeling constantly scared and worried about quite literally everything.

Not your typical criteria for a free-spirit backpacker, and not at all how I come across to other people (I hope). These are all things that I generally keep to myself, but have started to confront in various ways. Being open about these incredibly common challenges over the last few months has taught me one major thing: you can change the way you think. What better opportunity to push yourself to the limit than to expose yourself to completely different beliefs, attitudes, cultures, histories, societies, weather… And what better opportunity for a writer?

I often feel like the reason I’ve become preoccupied with what’s going on inside my head is because I’ve forgotten how to utilize my time. Doing the same old job and having the same routine every day can leave big gaps in your mental capacity, gaps I seem to have filled with worrying about unimportant things, like how many Instagram followers I have, or what colour shellac I want next. In a nutshell, I want to care less about superficial rubbish, and much, much more about what’s important. These ‘important’ things, I hope and pray, will materialise somewhere along the way. And if go away to realise that I just want my old life back, that’s totally fine too.

Aside from doing a stereotypical bit of soul searching, I also hate how ignorant I am of how other people live. The only times I’ve travelled outside of Europe I’ve stayed in super-luxurious resorts, which I find quite embarrassing. I want to be able to read the news and associate and empathise more deeply with what’s going on. Another huge factor is that I’m wary of how incredibly dependent I’ve become on material things. Living out of a single bag for 6 months ought to teach me a thing or two about what I actually need in life. I’m already 99% it won’t be the Smashbox primer I wouldn’t dream of foregoing right now. It costs £25. I wonder what £25 will buy me in Cambodia.

Aside from all of this, I just want to have fun. Like, constant fun. With my boyfriend. For 6 months. Who the hell wouldn’t? And then when I get home, I promise to put the whole experience to good use. That’s fair, right? I know how privileged I am to be able to up and leave my life for a bit. I’ve worked hard and saved to be able to do this, so I’m determined to make it count in a way that I probably wouldn’t have a few years ago. Plus, I still want to be a writer, and I’ll be doing much more of that in my own time, instead writing about the same boring crap at work every day. Right now, I would rather write about Japanese culture for free than get paid to write about dressing gowns. And I can say that because a) I’m still young and stupid enough not to care and b) I have zero responsibilities.

I will always have an uncontrollable urge to write and tell stories, and I think travel goes hand in hand with that. That doesn’t mean I’m not completely TERRIFIED. If you have ANY tips, suggestions or words of advice for a first-time traveller, please, please, please comment below because I’d love to hear them.

But for now… WOOHOOOO!

 

Lesson 24: buying cheap makeup that works

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Are you spending a small fortune on your face? Here’s how I dramatically reduced my average spend on beauty products without changing my makeup routine.

When I first moved to London three years ago, I was spending over half of my salary on rent, living off £450 a month. Every pound mattered. I walked 10 minutes extra each morning to get a cheaper train, I stalked the reduced section in Sainsbury every night after work, I lived off 99p bags of stir-fry vegetables and the £3.99 bottles of wine from the corner shop down the road – I don’t think it was actually wine but it worked. I saved the MAC makeup I was gifted for reviewing fashion shows for special occasions and thanked my lucky stars that my house mate worked for Estée Lauder.

Day-to-day life was a bit of a mini challenge but somehow more satisfying. Everything had a value and I quickly worked out what I needed and what I didn’t. Charity shops, Wowcher and Forever 21 became my best friends. I would have reeled in shock at future me spending £5 a day on lunch and £100 a month in Boots. But future me got new job with a healthy pay rise and then moved into her boyfriend’s parent’s house, shelling out a tiny £150 a month on rent. It was like winning the lottery. I saved a few grand, which is pretty good going when you’re living in London, love makeup and clothes and temptation is everywhere.

However, just before Christmas, Joe and I started renting in Brixton. Even a one-bed basement flat doesn’t come cheap in SW4. I’m desperately still trying to save, so I had to re-evaluate the amount of money I was spending on makeup, hair products and beauty essentials. I quickly remembered that some makeup is expensive for a reason, but a lot of cheaper brands aren’t too dissimilar in quality. So, here’s my edit of cheap makeup that actually works:

1.     Collection 2000 Extreme 24 Hour Felt Tip Liner – £2.99

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I can’t actually express just how great this eyeliner is in terms of value for money. Easy to apply feline flicks, it lasts for ages and from sunny festivals to sweaty dance floors. It doesn’t smudge!

Previously used: Eyeko Skinny Liquid Liner – £12

2.    No. 7 Natural Blush Tint – £8

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You know when you get a £3 off No.7 makeup in Boots and you don’t know what to buy? Well, try this in cool pink. The colour suits most skin types, is buildable, and has great staying power.

Previously used: Estee Lauder Pure Colour Blush – £27

3.    Natural Collection Bronzer – £1.99

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Even when I’m not trying to save, I use this bronzer. It is so cheap and such a nice colour – an absolute no brainer. The bronzer has a really subtle shimmer for an understated year-round glow.

Previously used: Benefit Hula Bronzing Powder – £23.50

4.   17 Va Va Voom Waterproof Mascara – £6.29

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I wouldn’t recommend this for its ‘waterproof’ properties if you’re swimming, but it makes a really good everyday mascara that builds nicely and won’t melt in the sun.

Previously used: Benefit They’re Real! Mascara – £19.50

5.    Rimmel Lasting Finish By Kate Lipstick – £5.49

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For a natural daytime look, the pale shades of the lipstick work really well. They go on nicely and won’t dry out your lips. If you want a high-impact look however, the darker shades will need a lot of retouching.

Previously used: Bare Minerals Modern Pop Marvellous Moxie Lipstick – £18

6.   Rimmel Professional Eyebrow Pencil – £2.99

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With loads of natural shades to choose from, the Rimmel eyebrow pencils work brilliantly from light shading to full-on reshaping. They also have a little blending brush on the lid. I finish mine with a brow set from MAC to ensure it stays put.

Previously used: MAC Eyebrows – £14

7.    Max Factor Crème Pressed Powder – £6.99

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I have used this powder on and off since I was 15. It’s the ultimate Summer holiday swap when you want to give your skin break from heavy foundation – great coverage and no need for regular retouching.

Previously used: Estee Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Powder – £33

New average spend: £34.74

Old average spend: £129

Which is quite amazing, really.

I don’t usually blog about beauty, so I’d love to know whether you found this post useful!