8 Things I Learned Living with 8 Strangers

In 2018 basically everything in my life changed. A very long term relationship ended, I closed my small business, I changed my job and I moved into a house share with 8 strangers. You could say it was a lot to handle, but with my positive mindset I pushed heartbreak aside and threw myself into the new adventures.

I’m not going to lie, moving into a house share in my mid-30s did kind of feel like taking a backwards step in life. I had lived with a partner for almost 15 years and built a nice home together in a rental. It look me a while to rid my anxieties about ‘life stages’ and social expectations for someone my age. Financially it was pretty much the only option I had if I wanted to stay in the city centre. Cambridge is basically London prices for housing, eating out and drinking now. I’ve paid £10 for a gin & tonic and almost £7 a pint before!

Cottages-in-Cambridge
Some expensive Cambridge houses that are not my home

I digress. In the summer of 2018 I packed up a 3 bed house, shoved a ton of stuff in storage, and agreed to rent an overpriced en-suite room in a converted B&B on a main road. It had been newly renovated and everyone was moving in at the same time. Advertised to professionals only (the Spaced reference there pleased me!) I thought it would be a good call. I felt I needed lots of company at that moment in time and saw having 8 new people around me as a positive to keep me going through heartbreak.

It was a surprising 18 months with a lot of laughter, frustration, stress and ridiculousness. There are people I will keep in touch with and people I won’t. In the last 6 months the turnover was pretty high with the letting agent relaxing his professionals only rule. It was more like a student house with lots of temporary 3 month lets and it became exhausting to keep welcoming new housemates only to have them leave again and be replaced. Here’s what I learned along the way…..

  1. Just because someone is an adult, doesn’t mean they know how to adult.

I lived with 8 people between the ages of 22-35. In some cases, the younger people were the ones who had more life skills and knowledge for taking care of themselves. We had one lovely Romanian girl who was the most awesome cook and her mother would send HUGE care packages full of cookies, wine, cheese and home made pastries for us all. There were younger lads who had their shit together and had impressive careers for their age.

With housemates from all over the world, we learned that in Greece and Hong Kong it is common for people to live with their parents well into their 30s, being cared for in every way. Because of this, some were more independent than others. I showed people how to use a washing machine and some helped others turn on the oven. There was a big stretch of life skills.

We also learned that some people are just incredibly lazy! We had a group chat with the letting agent to report issues and get news of new housemates. In this group one male housemate asked for a robotic vacuum. When I replied to tell him there was a Henry on the first floor he said “but that isn’t robotic”. He added that he wanted a robotic hoover because he was lazy. And that it was better if someone else paid for it…..he also asked us if we wanted to “pay a lady to do our ironing” because apparently that’s a woman’s job. *sigh*

Even the contractors employed to do repairs were incredibly lazy and incompetent. We nicknamed them the cowboy builders as so many incidents happened and so many things malfunctioned. Too many to list and so many hilarious conversations with the letting agent. Who mostly replied with eye roll emojis and grumbles!

The concept of putting the bins out and retrieving them was lost on most of the household and don’t get me started on people ordering takeaways and then not answering the door. Weird. If I’ve got a Deliveroo on the way I’m stalking the driver on the map as soon as it is on the way.

String-of-Hearts-Plant

2. Cleanliness is not important to a lot of people.

Even though we had a cleaner once a week you can imagine what a kitchen looked like at times with 9 residents. We were lucky enough to have a huge island to prepare food on, but this often became one guy’s cooking experiment area where he would bake bread and explode the flour, cook elaborate dishes and guarantee to burn everything every time. He caught the oven gloves on fire, melted a spatula by leaving it on the hob and once burned batches of sesame seeds. 5.times.in.a.row.

We had incidents of noodles and food left in the sink for days, meat blood dripped on the floor and sink (GROSS), unflushed communal toilets and daily paper napkins left on the dining table after being wiped on mouths. Luckily I had my room as a sanctuary and cleaned the kitchen as much as I could to prepare my meals. At one point there was a ‘mystery smell’ which no one could identify, even after I cleaned all the fridges out and searched high and low for the source.

Our breakfast bar had a small area where we would leave some treats to share with each other. If someone traveled they added chocolates or sometimes nice things they had baked. At first it was great and people respected the area. Eventually it became a dumping ground with rotten apples, weird items people didn’t want to eat and generally just grossness.

You could suggest that I cleaned up after these people, but I lost my patience in the end and checked out! After all I was not there to look after them. In the end I chose meals that were minimal to prepare so that I could spend as little time in the kitchen as possible.

3. Common sense is a completely mislabeled phrase. It isn’t common.

Funnily enough there are too many incidents to illustrate the lack of common sense, but I was baffled by some situations. One housemate admitted they never cycled with lights on and one would park his car across the main road onto the pavement in front of the house in a diagonal fashion. No surprises when he received parking tickets for obstructing the bus lane!

The amount of times our front door was left open overnight was utterly ridiculous. It didn’t even stop when there was an armed drug raid a few doors down or when there were incidents outside on a weekly basis (it wasn’t a great street to be on). I was baffled how many people struggled to close a door properly.

Thatched-Cottage-Bourn-Cambridgeshire
A Cambridgeshire home I wish was mine

4. Some people will literally consume anything.

3 day old chicken hearts, octopus from a tin, fish that has been cooked and then recooked for days, questionable meat that other housemates advise is off, mouldy vegetables, burnt food and I once found a pint of open milk (in a fridge I didn’t use) that was 3 MONTHS OUT OF DATE.

One housemate would use the oven as storage for whole cooked chickens. Then proceed to reheat day after day in a vat of oil. Sometimes you could smell the oil on the 3rd floor of the house at 11pm. Yes people cooked at 11pm. Goodness knows why.

Oh and throughout the 1.5 years and many housemates, we were always living with at least 2 Huel dickheads at any one time. It is a common diet for Cambridge tech guys – I see it at work all the time! One of them even made Huel pancakes and tried to share them…..we passed!

5. Group Whats App chats are worth muting for your mental health.

I think we probably all have that Whats App group chat that makes us feel a bit stressed. Mute it and only check it when you want to. It honestly helped me get through the last 6 months of living there.

Annoyingly, one house mate refused to join the group chat as he didn’t use Whats App, but I think he was onto something.

6. Self awareness is a spectrum.

Door slamming, stomping, shouting, some people just weren’t aware of the noises they made or how their behaviour affected others. Some were considerate and checked in to make sure their activities weren’t disturbing others, super nice! I did hear things I would rather not have heard and one person liked to iron in the corridors at midnight every week, slamming the iron down in between pressing.

I know I’m not perfect and there were times I could have been more self aware, but I think I naively assumed most people would be considerate towards others.

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My joyful bedroom

7. There will be some good times.

Some of the original housemates that were there for the first year were a lot of fun. We had nights out, nights in, shared dating stories, cooked group dinners, watched movies, went on holiday together and laughed a lot at some of the things we experienced – a Home Alone drinking game at Christmas was a highlight and watching the house fall apart around us and the letting agent’s attempt to assist was entertaining if nothing else.

I actually enjoyed living with guy mates again and also found a great friend in Emily who I now share a cosy 2 bed flat with. I made my room as homely as I could make it and it was so nice to have a space that was just mine. I think I hadn’t had that since my uni halls back in 2002, so it was a bit of a novelty that didn’t really wear off. No one to judge my houseplants or pink cushions or excessive toiletries and face creams in the bathroom! It was a good place to start single life again.

Dogs are better than boys

8. Living with strangers will teach you a lot about yourself.

I discovered I’m really an extroverted introvert (Ambivert?!). I really valued my time alone every day and also some time to chat with others. Even though we were a household of 9, it often didn’t feel that way. I remember when Jack used to visit he would comment on how empty the communal spaces were on some days. People were coming and going a lot.

Living on a main road was challenging. My anxiety levels definitely got worse and the constant super loud traffic noise and house/street disturbances contributed to my insomnia. Which in turn contributed to my lack of patience toward others. The relief I felt when Em and I moved into the new flat was immeasurable. A new environment was just what we needed. I know that I need a quiet home where I have control over my surroundings and where I can retreat for some calm.

I know that living in a clean and tidy home helps me feel better. I decluttered when I moved and purged a lot of belongings. It felt good. ‘Stuff’ just felt overwhelming and I have carried that tidy and more organised me into my new home with Em too. One of the guys that I lived with couldn’t believe my Marie Kondo folded t-shirt and sock drawers. A week after he moved out he texted me a picture of his neatly folded t-shirt drawer and it made me smile.

So to end this long ranty blog post, I can summarise by saying the house share was AN EXPERIENCE. Living with just one friend now is way less stressful and I couldn’t be happier with our flat! We have a nice view of the local church, the river close by and a lovely colleague is our upstairs neighbour.

Have you ever lived in a house share? I would love to hear your stories.

Year of Claire – August & September Update

It’s a bumper post for Year of Claire this month as I haven’t posted an update since July. Summer felt short lived in Cambridge, but I guess that was a side effect of being quite busy and filling my time up with lots of things.

In August I was house and dog sitting for a colleague, which was a welcome break from the house share. Cleo the Labradooodle was the perfect company for making sure I got outside every day and cuddled up a lot. We even had a pooch play date with Hannah and Ian’s Cockapoo Leo. Such a good week for clearing my head – doggy therapy was just what I needed. Just look at that face!

I also spent a lot of time with friends in August, making sure to enjoy as much of summer as I could. Georgina came to Cambridge for the day and we found the latest yarn bombs in the city.

I ventured to London for the day to catch up with a friend and enjoy the Greatest Showman sing-a-long at the cinema. We had a great time!

The Festival of Cycling started in Cambridge with lots of bike events popping up around Cambridge. BrewDog also opened in the city and I enjoyed an evening out with workmates to sample the beers and food.

Continuing the food and drink theme, I spent time enjoying many a sunset and gin at Othersyde along the river, frequented Jack’s Gelato and indulged in meze from Wandering Yak.

On the bank holiday weekend, we were lucky enough to enjoy a heatwave! I took the opportunity to join what felt like the whole of Cambridge at the Lido. Plenty of hammock and ice cream time too. It was scorching!

September brought some beautiful evenings to venture out and meet friends for Columbian food on a bus and pub quizzes with burgers.

The Lush Halloween collections launched and I spent the evening sniffing pumpkin stuff and making bath bombs. So much fun!

I enjoyed paddleboarding with some blogger pals at Milton Country Park – possibly the last warm paddle of the year…..

The lovely folk at Enchanted Cinema invited me back again for the closing weekend at the Gonville Hotel gardens (gifted). We saw Bohemian Rhapsody and got excited about the Christmas season they have planned!

More doggy fun in September when I stayed with Hannah, Ian and Leo the cockapoo. Of course there was more hammock time too when the sun came out.

The month ended on a high with Jo and I enjoying a Saturday cheese toastie and drinks tour of Cambridge. Honestly one of the best weekend days I have had in a while. Watch this space for a food review of all the cheesy fun we had.

Writing all this down made me realise how much I have eaten and drunk these last two months, oops! On a health note, I have struggled with migraines as usual, BUT I have managed to keep exercising as consistently as I possibly can. I take a weekly spin class and have started weight training workouts too. Taking the time for fitness has been challenging with my head, but the trainer at my gym is so encouraging and just keeps me feeling positive about it all.  I feel way stronger, even if I can’t quite do a pull up just yet!

I’m still working on my anxiety and have seen an improvement there which I’m not sure is down to the therapy or because I  finally found a new flat. My home life was getting a little stressful with people in my house share changing a lot, but I’m starting to pack for a move in a month’s time. I won’t go on about how expensive it is to rent in Cambridge, but I’m grateful to be sharing the flat with my friend Emily who wants a nice quiet tidy home too.

I have also been working on some creative projects in my spare time. I finished a big one last week, so I’ll be sharing that here soon as well as my attempts to sew some new clothes instead of buying new.

Thanks for sticking with me for this bumper post for Year of Claire!

Year Of Claire – July Update

July was a bit of a rollercoaster. I had some new experiences, and I had some familiar experiences. Keeping positive for the ‘Year of Claire’ project was a bit tough at times, but I know things could have been a lot worse! So what have I been up to?

I started the month with a fun work trip to Duxford Imperial War Museum to fly over Cambridge in a 1930s Rapide. So random! Flying in a plane that was so vintage was actually a little scary and noisy, but it was awesome to see the city from up high and to look over my office too.

Even though I haven’t been blogging as much as the good old days(!) I was invited to an event at Molton Brown Cambridge to enjoy a little pamper and to catch up with other local bloggers. It was a super event trying out all their fragrances (Rhubarb and Rose was a favourite) and to catch up with Lizzie from Farm Flowers too.

I also had a chance to try out Flit which is a new folding e-bike from a Cambridge start up. They have smashed their Kickstarter already!

July was the month where things came to an end with Jack which I felt super sad about. Seeing as I had shared a little about him here it feels right to mention it briefly. That familiar feeling of a relationship ending has been hard, but we had a lot of great memories and it was a whirlwind 4 months, so I’m grateful for the time I had with him.

Spending time outside has been really therapeutic for me, so I have made the most of Cambridge summer. I didn’t feel like eating much for a while, but the cliche of ice cream during a break up actually really helped.

Keeping as busy as possible has been my strategy this month, so I’ve spent time with family, work mates and friends enjoying drinks, cinema and evenings out. We saw the new Lion King film which I loved, and my work colleagues formed a band and performed at our annual BBQ. I also had lunch at Parker’s Tavern in Cambridge which was delicious, Definitely want to go back again soon!

The heatwave hit and Cambridge was the hottest place in the UK at 38.7 degrees. Of course, that was the day I had planned an after work paddle on the river with some friends! We sweated it out for a few miles up to the riverside pub and enjoyed a storm and some welcome rain at the end.

I spent 2 days in London for a work project visiting furniture showrooms to select pieces for our new office which our company is moving to later this year. Swooning over interiors was really good, although it was pretty exhausting to travel in and have a jam packed schedule. Reminded me that I don’t ever want to go back to commuting like I did almost 10 years ago!

So a mixed bag for the month and a bit of a struggle as ever with the migraines and anxiety. I try my very hardest to enjoy the well days and not dwell or write about the difficult times too much. I also started flat hunting again as I am growing tired of living in a houseshare with 8 other people. It has become quite stressful at times, but I now have some horror stories of places I’ve viewed which keeps me laughing about it.

How we are already into August I do not know! I will be spending more time with friends and doing some house/dog sitting this month so there might be some cute content coming this way.

Year of Claire – June Update

I’m planning to write these Year of Claire updates on a monthly basis going forward – hopefully I’ll have enough to add to each one! Now that summer has officially begun, there were plenty of opportunities to get outside and enjoy the good weather. Although it’s typically raining outside as I type this….We started the month enjoying Strawberry Fair on a suuuuper hot day. It was the perfect people watching day. We also went back to the Bingo night at Thirsty and Jack won this time!My office had their annual summer party which I had planned along with my colleagues. It was a big event with over 200 people, lots of food and drinks, mini golf, ice cream, music and all the fun.Hannah and I spent a lovely day at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge making flower crowns with Anna from Anna’s Flower Farm. I was kindly gifted the workshop and it couldn’t have been a more perfect weekend activity. A separate post on this coming soon because I just want to share all the flower snaps! The same weekend was Cambridge’s first Pride which we popped to in the afternoon, although we had missed the parade (which was on punts on the river in the pouring rain!).Jack and I were lucky enough to dog sit for Hannah and Ian whilst they went off to a wedding in London one weekend. Leo is a 1 year old cockapoo who is so well behaved! We took him out to the Gog Magog Hills just outside of Cambridge so he could run around in the fields. Conveniently they also had a cheese festival on at their farm shop, so we picked up some tasty cheddar and stopped for a scotch egg too.My friend Jess messaged to say she had some spare tickets to the King’s Men choir at the University, so my housemate and I joined her for this wonderful concert on the river banks of King’s College. The singers performed from punts on the river and the acoustics were just amazing! It felt very Cambridge and a little bit special.June was a bit of a stressful month for my family, as my Grandad was in hospital. I spent some time supporting family and visiting him before he moved into his new care home this week. In contrast, I met Jack’s entire family at his Dad’s birthday party and we also went to watch his Baseball team play a home game in Cambridge.We enjoyed a gifted trip to the Foodies Festival (first one in Cambridge, but they are National events) on the hottest day of the year. We did beer tasting, enjoyed duck wraps and live music, and had a pint on a bus bar!On the final day of June, we cycled out of town to Angelsea Abbey to spend the day with my Mum and her husband. There is so much more to see there since I last went – specifically the inside of the the house and the rose garden.We ended the month (which satisfyingly ended on a Sunday) enjoying a pint at Other Syde in Cambridge; a riverside bar at the Museum of Technology which has so many fun things happening over the summer.Writing all that down made me realise I actually had a really busy month! I tried hard to stay well, but migraines did get the better of me mid-month meaning my spin class and workout schedule was thrown off for a couple of weeks. I’ve learnt to accept I won’t always be well and to just do what I can on the well days. July is already shaping up to be another fun one……until next time!

The Year Of Claire – Mid Year Update

It’s been a minute since I sat down to write a blog post. In fact, it’s almost 3 months! After closing the shop at the end of March, I took some time out to switch off from business life and to focus on the Year of Claire.

2019 has been a great year so far. I’ve been taking time for new hobbies and challenges and generally having a lot of fun.  Here’s a recap of the first 5 months.

January

I announced my shop closure and began making plans to sell off stock. It was a scary announcement to make after 7 years!

I got promoted in my day job, started elevator notes and went for loads of lunchtime walks, 14 in total. I did yoga every single day at home, 12 hours across the month. I also knitted a scarf – first creative project in a long while that was just for me.

Year-Of-Claire-January

February

I sent out over 100 glitter heart pins in February, which confirmed they were a best seller. What a cheery product to mark the end of all my orders!

I also started paddle boarding lessons which was a challenge in the winter weather, but it was so satisfying to get the hang of it.

My insomnia was getting me down so I did a sleep therapy course, started reading before bedtime and finished a book.

Year-Of-Claire-February-Fun

March

At the beginning of the month I went on a fun first date at a local bar where we ended up playing unplanned Bingo. I won the Jackpot and it’s been going well ever since…..

I signed up for a Fun Colour Rush run and began training using the Couch to 5K running app. I carried on reading to finish another book and also taught a crochet class at a local haberdashery.

March was pretty busy because it was also the month I closed my shop! I packed up tons of pink boxes and received some lovely messages from customers. It was definitely bittersweet, but it felt right and the start of a new chapter.

Closing Down Claireabellemakes

A few days after the shop closed, I went on holiday to Amsterdam with Jo and some of my housemates. We stayed in an amazing Air bnb near Vondelpark and explored for 4 days. I love visiting Amsterdam in the Spring time and even more so with people who love food and drink as much as I do.  I slept so well and had a ton of fun.

Year-Of-Claire-March

April

I reignited my love for spin classes in April and cycled a lot of ‘static’ miles. I also tried out a tandem bike with Jack which had me cry laughing. I carried on with the 5K running training and we went to the driving range.

I went to my first ever football match (Cambridge United), watched Jack play Baseball in the sun and visited family over Easter weekend.

Year-Of-Claire-April

May

May was more time with family as my sister came to visit with her family and we went punting on the river.

I took 5 days off work and did more paddle boarding, once for Jo’s birthday and then again in a bigger social group which I was nervous about! We had a great time and the weather was just perfect to paddle up to Grantchester.

My workmates and I went to the Beer Festival and I may have had a sore head the next day…..

Year-Of-Claire-May

Jack and I went to the outdoor cinema hosted by Enchanted Cinema (gifted visit) and I tried not to cry watching A Star Is Born.

Jo and I hosted an In Colourful Company colour walk in Cambridge and also completed our 5K Fun Colour Rush run in about 30 minutes.

Year-Of-Claire-May-Fun

So life is a little different now! Working 9-5 and having my evenings and weekend again has been SO GOOD.  I had definitely forgotten what it was like to have time just for myself and to explore new hobbies without feeling guilty that I should be spending time on the business.

I have had some tricky days with migraine, insomnia and anxiety so it hasn’t all been cheery.  Sometimes I forget that I can’t do everything and I need a reminder to pace myself from time to time.

This time has also allowed me think about where I want to take my blog going forward. I plan to use this space as a personal journal to share more Year Of Claire posts and all the things I’m interested in. If there is anything you’d like to hear about, just shout! I’m always open to ideas and to hear what you want to see from my relaunched blog.