Five Things I Have Learned In 2018
Tomorrow is New Years Eve and once again, the year has flown by quicker than a change to the Instagram algorithm. As I get older, my urge to party like it’s 1999 diminishes. Mostly because I was actually there partying at The Griffin in Caversham in 1999 and tbh, it wasn’t that great, despite a buffet large enough to feed most of Berkshire. When I was a teenager, I always spent New Years Eve in pubs. Back in the late eighties, our local was The Case Is Altered in Eastcote, handy mostly because its location was on the way home from school. The radical concept of requiring ID was unheard of back then and for the princely admission fee of £15, you could spend the last night of the year taking advantage of the All Drinks Included ticket, in my case a long procession of vodka and orange. My Mum and Dad were very good at socialising and always had a party to go to on New Years Eve, so the only possible venues for celebrating were walkable pubs. I blame my parents entirely for my own rather hectic teenage social life - they’d spend most Saturday evenings at dinner parties (we lived in Pinner, it was very Abigail’s Party) and it wasn’t unknown for me to invite friends over in their absence for a small gathering. This is obviously a misnomer - these gatherings were rarely small and regularly transformed our thirties semi into a smoke filled cavern to the dulcet tones of Howard Jones. On one such night, events culminated in my parents returning from a social evening to find a large piece of tandoori chicken stuck to the ceiling of the hallway and fag burns in the dining room carpet. Despite my party ways, my sister was the outright winner of the gathering antics, after my parents awoke the morning after her sixteenth birthday to find a canoe in the front garden. We knew how to party in Middlesex.
I was also very good at partying in other peoples houses, although this was sometimes to their detriment. My friends and myself would arrive party ready, complete with backcombed hair sprayed into submission, stiletto heels, jumper dresses, twenty Silk Cut and the obligatory bottle of Liebfraumilch. On one occasion, a local friends parents had allowed them, after much convincing, to have a house party. Struggling with period pain, I’d made the fatal error of taking two Feminax prior to arrival without reading the packet properly, meaning that I was wholly unaware that combining this particular pain killer with alcohol could result in mood changes. I hold the small print fully responsible for the hosts wallpaper being permanently streaked with Rimmel electric blue mascara as I sobbed hysterically on the stairs. Those poor parents.
Anyway, as we wave goodbye to 2018, I have to admit that it’s been a fairly busy one. I’ve lived it large (ish) in Ibiza, although I didn’t manage to see the sun come up as I was ready for bed by 2.00 am. I’ve managed to drive my car into the front wall twice and smashed my iPhone three times. I’ve redecorated seven rooms in my house and caused untold stress to both my family and the animals. I’ve allowed my children to have a total of five garage parties, only two of which were vomit free and I managed to forget my own wedding anniversary. On the work side, I’ve presented workshops, spoken on panels, hosted events and appeared in videos filmed by men on Swegways. I’ve done an Instagram takeover for the biggest interiors magazine in the USA and been awarded Best Interior Influencer in the Northern Blog Awards. I’ve achieved a personal goal by writing my own monthly column, Home Truths, in Real Homes magazine. I’ve posted to Instagram over 500 times to over 1.5m likes, done more Instagram stories than I’ve had hot dinners, written over 70 blog posts and worked with countless amazing brands. Yep, it’s been fairly busy.
But what have I actually learned this year? Aside from how to get vomit mould out of the garage room carpet. Here’s my top five.
I’m Happy With My Style
Over the last three years, my style has moved and developed but the core basics of how I decorate remain. Ten years ago, my walls were painted in the whitest of whites, with the colour being injected through art and possessions and the odd wallpapered wall. Fast forward and I’m still in this zone, despite veering off course a couple of times. I’ve tried out most routes, it has to be said. The implementation of dark walls (made me miserable) and trend led wall colours (big mistake involving mass repainting and family arguments) eventually led me down the correct path and I now know where my happiness lies. This is my own, personal happiness, just to say - I see plenty of homes with dark walls and trend led wall colours which are completely stunning, but for me, I’m alright with white and it suits me fine.
I’m still obsessed with trawling the charity shops for recycled treasure but in the interest of less is more, I’m trying to be a little bit more selective in what I’m bringing into my home. I’m thinking much more about sustainable interiors - I’ve recently recycled my kitchen cupboards, replacing the doors with plywood and using natural materials throughout the room. I’m in the process of bringing an old wooden table from my garage back to life by sanding it and I’m going to team it with chairs that are made from recycled plastic. One of my most recent updates was my living room which, it has to be said, has brought an air of calm to my home that even my kids are down with. Decorated in neutral shades with a seventies vibe, plenty of texture and lots of greenery, it’s super laid back and a good contrast to the rest of the house. I’ve gone with my gut instinct in both of these rooms and it feels GOOD. Vintage and modern is a mix that works for me. I’ve said it before (quite a lot) - it’s hard when you are bombarded with ideas but try to go with your heart when you’re decorating your home. If it makes you smile, then it deserves to be there. Follow your heart and make it sing.
Social Media Is SOCIAL
There’s been much talk about Instagram and the algorithms that govern it this year. Actually, scrap talk. There’s been a fair amount of complaining on my feed about drops in engagement and follower growth. Actually, scrap fair. Replace with a lot. But really, it’s a pretty logical situation for us to be in. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, there’s absolutely bloody LOADS of people using it. Like, really loads. In January 2017, there were 150m daily users. Now, there are 1bn daily users. That means there are loads more things to look at. You can curate your feed to only follow people whom you really find inspiring. Other people will be doing this too. Therefore, your content has to be shit hot - from the hashtags to the picture quality to the caption. If it’s not shit hot, then it won’t cut it. Even if it is shit hot, because your feed is no longer in chronological order then there’s no guarantee your post will be seen. The traditional ways of growing your account aren’t quite as straight forward as they used to be.
When I first started posting interiors on my feed in January 2016, I didn’t post for the likes or the followers. It didn’t even occur to me that at some point I would be able to make a living on the platform. I did it for the engagement, the opportunity to ‘talk’ online with people who loved the same thing as I did. Back then, this was a total revelation to me - prior to Instagram, the most common comment upon people entering my home was that their Grandparents had the same sideboard. I can stand in a room full of people and not one of them will be interested in the same thing as I. But on Instagram? EVERYONE loves the same thing as I. I never, ever stop feeling happy that it’s brought me together with similarly minded people whom otherwise I would never have met. Likes and follows aren’t the be all and end all. Although they are great, obvs. For me, it’s more about the enjoyment I feel in creating and about the friendships I’ve made through this process. It’s a bonus that it’s now my actual job, but that isn't the reason that the platform exists - it’s a creative, social environment and there’s far more to be taken from it than solely commercial benefit.
Family Is The Most Important Thing
It’s safe to say that this year, my workload has increased beyond what I would ever have imagined. I’m not complaining, not one bit. There is literally nothing better than working in an industry that you are passionate about and the enjoyment that is taken from constantly learning new things. No two days are the same - I can be scouring the charity shops, getting the paintbrush out, talking at an event in London or even dashing across to Paris for the day on the Eurostar. It’s madness but I wouldn’t change it. Sometimes I’m so busy that I can’t see the end of it. But even though I’ve tried to maintain my family time despite work commitments, my failure to do so came charging home to me when my son asked my daughter, ‘when does Mum actually eat?’. Be assured that he wasn’t commenting because I was Yorkshire’s answer to Twiggy. Nope. He simply meant that we weren’t eating together as a family because I was a) away with work, or b) too busy working to sit down with them for an evening meal.
Argh. I’d totally messed up the whole work/life balance thing. I took a step back, calmed down and reassessed the whole situation. I’m now far more strict with my timelines. I’m trying to take every Friday off and plan my schedule better so that I can do fun stuff on a Saturday rather than doing last minute blog writing. I’m planning in advance so that I don’t have to stop at the petrol station to get lunch box provisions for Leo five minutes before school starts. I am leaving my phone downstairs when I go to bed so that I’m not scrolling before I go to sleep and I’m only using it for an hour every evening unless it’s a formal work job so that I can concentrate on quality Netflix time with my husband. Not Netflix and chill, just Netflix. Let’s not go too far. Anyway, it’s working and I’m winning, although now they are complaining about my cooking rather than my absence. Never happy.
Elitism Is Alive & Well
With the massive move towards digital and online marketing and the slow but steady reduction of print, it’s interesting to think about where we will be in a few years time. I’ve been obsessed with magazines for years - I’ve got over a decade of interior tomes in my hallway - and I can’t imagine a time when I won’t enjoy the pleasure of picking up one of my favourites. I truly believe that there will always be a place for a quality magazine. When Real Homes asked me to be part of their relaunch as a monthly columnist, I couldn’t believe my luck. As someone whose content was, to this point, purely online, I was delighted with the idea of being involved in both print and digital media. I started writing my blog as I was always being asked questions about how I pulled things together, where I shopped, how I planned my rooms. I had never thought of writing before - my career as a PA and latterly a freelance transcriptionist meant I was a complete grammar freak - but once I started, I realised that I loved it. I never get bored of pulling together a story and getting it down on my blog, despite the difficulties of overgrown acrylics.
However, it’s an absolute fact that even as recently as five years ago, there would have been more likelihood of Theresa May having a fling with Jeremy Corbyn than of me being offered a role as a columnist in a glossy interior magazine. The traditional route to a career in journalism would have been an appropriate University degree, followed by several years of unpaid work experience, culminating in a lengthy climb up the ladder. The advent of well written blogs and creative social media has meant that it is possible for this route to now, effectively, be partially or fully bypassed and even more pertinently, that writers and creatives who hadn’t previously been able to follow this traditional route (either due to financial or social circumstance) are able to be recognised on talent and ability and forge a career in this area.
This is cause for celebration, surely? Unfortunately, it’s an area in which insular and historic elitism rises to the fore and the comments that I’ve read on social media from detractors criticising the qualifications and merits of the blogging and social media community are as outdated as the First Referendum. We are entering an era in which creative talent is respected and valued and this is something to be welcomed, not scorned. Get with the programme, people.
I Still Don’t Have a Stop Button
Since I wrote this blog post last year, things have moved on a bit on the digital media side. Let’s say A LOT. Content creation and influencing is a big part of our lives and there are new careers being created on social media platforms all the time. These are exciting times and they’re moving quickly - who knows where we will be this time next year? Well, I’ll definitely be in York and I’ll still be shouting at the dog and burning pizzas for the kids, but you get the gist. Next year, I’m kicking off with Revamp Restyle Reveal, the social media challenge I founded with Bianca Hall a few years ago and which is going from strength to strength. I’m launching Season 2 of the Inside & Out podcast with Dee Campling and we’ve got plans for some exciting guests with lots of say (even more than Dee and I, though that’s hard to believe). I’m continuing with my role as columnist for Real Homes and am looking forward to working with lots of cool brands that fit both my ethos and demographic. I’m even going to be a guest lecturer at a University, talking to a group of interior design students.
Oh and of course, I’m going to be decorating, revamping and trying out new ideas on my Instagram feed and stories on a daily basis. I’ve learned that I need to prioritise the important stuff (see point above) but I’ll still be trying out new and fun things that fit within my role. I feel lucky every day that I was in the right place at the right time to be able to be doing the job that I do and I never take it for granted. Social media is the BEST place to be. Consider my stop button well and truly unpushed.
So that’s my top five things that I’ve learned during 2018. Tomorrow, we’re really pushing the boat out when it comes to celebrations. We’ve invited friends over from 4.00 pm to 7.00 pm for a glass of fizz and a reduced price canapé, after which we will be kicking them all out so we can treat ourselves with an M&S meal deal and a film. And if you thought things couldn't get much more exciting, we’ll be flipping over to bring in the New Year with Jools Holland before going to bed at 12.01 am. Living the dream.