Six Things I Have Learned In 2017
So, it's New Years Eve! The final day of 2017. It literally seems like two minutes ago that I was writing this blog post for 2016. Last year we had friends for dinner to welcome in the New Year. When I say friends for dinner, what I mean to say is that we had a total of 21 people staying the night, a vintage caravan in the garden complete with bunting, a leg of lamb bigger than my head and enough Prosecco to fill a bath tub. The kids ate an entire years worth of Celebrations, we danced weepily to Freedom whilst remembering George and two dogs defecated on the upstairs landing when no one was looking. This situation was discovered, rather unfortunately, by our friend Steve who unknowingly stepped in it and walked all over the carpets before anyone realised. I can tell you now that cleaning up dog poo from all four corners of the house is not a job you want to be doing after a 5.00 am finish.
So what's been going on in 2017? Well, quite a lot, if I'm honest. I've tolerated Joe being on garden leave for three months (such a misnomer. He only mowed the lawn once and that was under duress and threat of husband swapping). Buddy escaped from the back garden and managed to make his way 35 miles to Driffield before we realised he was gone (he didn't walk, btw, someone picked him up in their car and took him home). I've been trolled by hundreds of Daily Mail readers after they reposted my Insta Reality blog and forgot to mention it was tongue in cheek. I made myself eligible for the 'Why Middle Aged Women Shouldn't Drink' video by falling over on a concrete floor after drinking Prosecco and ending up in A&E with a ruptured artery above my eye. On the plus side, I managed to go an entire year without driving my car into the driveway wall (a first) or smashing or dropping my phone down the loo. Winning.
In other news, what started as posting pictures of my dodgy styling on Instagram seems to, against all the odds, have turned into an actual career. In September, Marie Claire listed me on their Top 30 Power List of female influencers, possibly the most exciting thing to have happened to me EVER, and equal to the excitement of being named Best Newcomer at the EKBB Influencer Awards. I've posted 470 photos on Instagram, had over 20 million impressions of my posts and have received nearly a million likes on my feed. Move on a year from my last round up post and and a fair few followers later, I'm now working with brands across the board to help them promote their products and services on social media. I write weekly on my own blog, I write for brands, I run workshops, I've provided tailored workshops for international companies. It's madness.
So aside from the fact that I have a low alcohol tolerance and my dog would win an award for the most badly trained animal on the planet, what else have I learned this year? Here's my Top Six from 2017.
1. You Don't Have To Live In London To Be Cool
I'm from Pinner. Which used to be in Middlesex until Middlesex ceased to exist and was incorporated into Greater London, a phrase that only serves to increase house prices. When I met Joe, we moved to Caversham and four years ago, he announced he'd been offered a job in York. I won't beat about the bush, I wasn't happy about it. I knew nothing about the North of England and was a Southerner through and through - I'd spent most of my working life on the Tube and my teenage years were spent in The Limelight and Slap Harry's, drinking Harvey Wallbangers and smoking Silk Cut.
But, as it happens, it turned out to be the best decision we had ever made. Firstly, we sold our Victorian semi detached and bought a Georgian manor house in the country, five miles from the centre of York, reaping the rewards of the North South house price divide. Secondly, we live in the countryside, 40 minutes from the beach and one hour 50 minutes from London via direct train link. And thirdly and most importantly, our standard of living has just soared. But we're not alone in making this break.
London is our capital, a cultural hub, but the UK is full of cultural City hubs. Manchester is home to countless museums and art galleries and has a music and social scene to rival any in London. The same applies to Sheffield, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle and Hull (named UK City Of Culture 2017). Bristol has undergone huge regeneration and with good transport links it's becoming super popular for Londoner's who don't want to spend £800k on a two bedroom flat. Devon, Dorset and Cornwall have long been home to creatives and artists and Sussex and the Norfolk coast are a perfect alternative to London living with gorgeous beaches and countryside spaces.
I travel to London every couple of weeks for work and LOVE the fact that I can pop in and out in a day. I'm invited regularly to London events (interiors remains super London centric) but I pick and choose, often stockpiling meetings into one day. Samuel Johnson said, 'when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life' but let's face it, that was in 1777 and they didn't have the Virgin train network. Nowadays, you can have the best of both worlds. Oh, and back then you wouldn't be paying £1.6m for a family home in Dalston.
2. Leaving Your Comfort Zone Is Good
On 29 January this year, Dee Campling and I ran our first Styling Your Home: Four Steps To No Rules Interior Cool workshop. We'd launched it via Instagram in October and had then tentatively sat back to see if anyone would be in the faintest bit interested in coming to see two mum's of three in their forties talk about how they styled their homes. We had no official interior design experience and made no claim to. What we had to offer was an insight into our way of styling interiors - we weren't telling people what to do or how to decorate, we were talking about how to find your own unique look.
We were totally overwhelmed by the response - both of the dates we had booked in were filled within three weeks. Dee literally didn't sleep for a month prior to that first workshop due to nerves. When she arrived here at my home in York the day prior, we were so excited we drunk nearly two bottles of red wine and could barely speak the next day. But from that point forward, it has been literally non stop.
We've done nine this year, all over the country, both in our own homes and in Instagram 'famous' homes such as Bag & Bones HQ. We've launched a second workshop - How To Win Friends & Influence People On Instagram - in which we talk about how we have grown our social media accounts and how to do the same. We have plans to launch further social media workshops next year talking about brand influencing and growing small business. We've done workshops for Rockett St George and next year are scheduled to do dates for both Houzz and King & McGaw. We do weekly Instagram Live sessions talking about Instagram and how to make it work for you. Dee doesn't get nervous about doing workshops any more. In fact, it's actually physically impossible for her to stop talking (or waving) when she's on a roll. Authentic, Dee, authentic.
3. Have Confidence You Can Make It Work
This September, myself and fave Insta blogger Bianca Hall launched Revamp Restyle Reveal, a social media challenge that hadn't previously been done in the UK. We asked ten interior bloggers to update a room in their home, recruited five sponsors to provide product for the revamps which would take place over the course of one month and rolled it out on Instagram, Twitter, You Tube and on our own dedicated website. And it bloody ROCKED. It was a massive success, with over 28,000 blog hits on Reveal day and more than 5.5k followers on the Instagram feed over the course of four weeks.
When we first discussed doing Revamp Restyle Reveal, we had no idea whether we could pull it off. We contacted potential sponsors and bloggers with our fledgling idea, not knowing whether it would work, hoping it would. And when it all started coming together (we knew we were on to a winner when we confirmed AO.com as our headline sponsor) we were literally over the moon. What we did was to take advantage of the fast growth of social media and merge it with the increasing popularity of interior feeds - the result was a challenge that appealed to everyone who had even the faintest interest in home decor.
It was a whole lot of hard work and a huge amount of organisation, but what it did go to show is that if you put in the effort then you can achieve ANYTHING. Seriously, anything. We jumped in feet first with only an idea of how it could be and it worked. Season 2 is all set for April 2018 and it's going to be even bigger. Bring it on.
4. The Only Style That Matters Is Your Own
Last year on my blog, I talked about how my own style had developed over the last ten years. Over the last twelve months, I've really felt that I am comfortable in, I suppose, my 'style skin'. When you enter an industry that is heavily driven by trends, declarations of what's hot and what's not, it's sometimes hard to see the wood for the trees. Don't get me wrong - I love seeing new trends in interiors, it's exciting, it's interesting and it's inspirational. I love it when new colours come on the scene, new textures, new fabrics. I've been seduced by flamingos, cacti, macrame, neon, disco balls - you name it, I've had it in my home and in most cases, still do. That's the fun of it. Seasonal trends are transient and if you just give a nod to them, it's generally inexpensive to swap in and out.
But your core style will remain, my favourite pieces in my home are never swapped out because I really love them and that's why they are there. That's not to say that Joe agrees with my core pieces. If he had a say in anything furnishings led (which he doesn't, obvs) then the bamboo swivel chair and the Peacock would be on the bonfire quicker than you could say 70's retro. And every time I come home from the Community Furniture Warehouse with another joyous purchase his heart sinks. He dreams of buying a rug from John Lewis instead of me dragging home a dust filled, dodgy smelling Persian (always remedied with some Shake N Vac).
Decorate as you wish and don't be told what's cool and what's not. Your home should make your heart sing when you walk through the door. If you love it, have it. It's your home.
5. I Haven't Pushed My Stop Button Yet
When I started posting photographs of my room updates two years ago, I never dreamt for one moment that within 18 months I would have cast aside my previous, most recent career as a freelance transcriptionist (yep, okay that wasn't a difficult decision - so boring I would literally want to chop off my own hands) and work full time in a job that two years previous, wouldn't even have been A JOB. Seriously.
The huge increase in usage of social media - Instagram, specifically, has grown from 500m to 800m users in a year alone - has created a new role that two years ago would never even have existed in interiors - that of the social media influencer. And it's big business. Sara Tasker of Me & Orla wrote recently about her social media earnings. Her openness and honesty was hugely refreshing as, being British, we never talk about money and that makes this new influencing role really hard to put a price on - there's no benchmark as to what can be achieved. Influencers have an audience that often exceeds that of magazines and certainly that of the reach of regular advertising methods.
But my journey from posting random photographs of my kids eating their dinner to building my own 'business' didn't come easy. I often say to people that I was in the right place at the right time, and I was, but I've also worked my proverbial bollocks off. I post every day, I constantly story (okay, I do REALLY like storying). I now work seven days a week and I'm always online. I work hard on my own blog and never have a week off. For the first time in two years, I took two days off from posting this Christmas and immediately lost 500 followers. Whatever.
Social media never stops, it's 24 hours, it's hardcore and unforgiving. But I would never do anything different. Being in an industry that has no boundaries is constantly inspiring and motivating. And I LOVE it.
6. I Still Don't Give A Fuck
In this very same blog last year, I wrote about how I was advanced in the art of Not Giving A Fuck. A couple of months ago, I wrote about my experience with cancer and how it changed my life. What I have found in recent years is that actually not giving a fuck means that you have the ability to deal with any sort of crisis or stressful situation far better than if you do actually give a fuck. It really is enlightening.
On Christmas Eve, I had words with a stroppy woman in a car park when she shouted at Ella for accidentally knocking her wing mirror when she opened the car door (I know this is annoying - Joe was totally unsympathetic). Four years ago, I would have panicked, said something that I would have regretted later and then got back in my car and started crying. On Christmas Eve, I responded calmly, logically and effectively and left the stronger person. For years I've retaliated, opened my mouth and said the wrong words, then got upset about it. No more.
I actively avoid negativity, both in life and on social media. I'm a regular blocker of what I would call 'drainer' feeds or feeds that don't quite get the fact that Instagram is a creative and positive community or worse, use the kindness of others on the platform for their own benefit and give little back. I'm a massive believer in altruism and fate and, maybe naively, think that what will be, will be. But with this comes far more confidence in myself than I ever previously had in my younger years and I think only because of that have been able to take advantage of the opportunities that have unexpectedly come my way this year.
When something happens to you that makes what you think was a certainty in your life waiver, you look at everything in a different light. Nobody can say anything or react to me in a way that will change my life in the way I thought it was going to be changed five years ago when I was diagnosed. My friend Anita told me the other week that ever since I was ill, I shout a lot less (she used to be my next door neighbour so she was well versed in my shouting at the kids). I don't feel the need to stress. Every day I'm happy that I'm here and have no patience with 'poor me' people or even doing things that I don't want to do. It's totally liberating. I said last year that I wouldn't recommend serious illness to change your life, but I can tell you it certainly helps.
So that's what I've learned throughout 2017. I've posted a blog every single Sunday since June 2016, over 100 in total, and I'm always absolutely gobsmacked that anyone reads them. I still get a massive buzz when I see hits to my website and as a result, I worry more about my Sunday blog posts than I do about any other. The fact that people take the time to click that link in my bio is, for me, a huge responsibility.
As things have progressed this year and my readership has grown, I'm doing more sponsored blog posts but my core Sunday blog is always original and heartfelt content about things that I love. In 2018, I'm still going to focus on interiors but I'm going to expand this out into other stuff that I enjoy too - food, family and travel - and I am SO excited to make this move.
To all of you who have supported me this year - by reading my blog, following me on social media, coming to our workshops - I cannot tell you how grateful and touched I am. I hope you all have the most amazing New Year with your families and may 2018 bring you everything that you want!