I’ve Moved 4 Times In 4 Months During A Pandemic & I Nearly Fell Apart

Photographed by Meg O'Donnell.
When you’re a renter, moving house is exhausting any time of year but moving four times in four months during a pandemic nearly broke me. 
I am not alone. Renting has long been a traumatic experience for many but this year the global coronavirus pandemic has really brought home just how much uncertainty and instability we private renters face. According to a survey conducted by the housing charity Shelter in June, nearly a third of renters – that’s 2.7 million adults – said they felt more depressed and anxious about their housing situation than ever, and the same number said they were having sleepless nights. 
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Anyone who has ever viewed properties in London (where I live) knows that it is the eye of the storm. With London being the sixth most expensive city in the world to rent in, not only are you bidding against a sea of interested and equally frantic people, you’re also bidding on an overpriced room that, if you are lucky, has average connections to public transport.  
Housing stress is real at the best of times. It is defined as the experience of unstable or unaffordable housing. The Health Foundation states that "it is important for our health and wellbeing that our homes provide our needs, make us feel safe and allow us to stay connected to our community. Experiencing housing insecurity, including unaffordability, short and unstable tenancies, and overcrowding can also have a negative impact on our health." 
But doing this right in the middle of a global pandemic reached new levels of stress for me. I would look at every surface and fear that the deadly virus could be lingering there. What if I picked it up? Worse still, what if I had no symptoms and infected my vulnerable mother or elderly neighbour? 
On top of that, there’s now so much more to think about. Is there enough room to fit a desk for me to work from home? Will I get on with the housemates if we face another lockdown? Will they abide by the rules and not risk my health by breaking them?
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I would look at every surface and fear that the deadly virus could be lingering there. What if I got it? Worse still, what if I had no symptoms and infected my vulnerable mother or elderly neighbour? 

My first move in June was from somewhere I had been living for a year which was easy to commute to work from. Although the house was gorgeous, the ridiculously high rent coupled with a neighbour who harassed me throughout the first lockdown in March made me want to tear my hair out. As soon as my role changed and I could work from home, I looked at properties that were closer to friends and family. 
I chose a place that was conveniently on the same street as a few of my friends. Sold by its large rooms and cheap rent, I moved in. Despite having only two months left on its original tenancy, I was told by the housemates that we would renew the tenancy once it was up. I moved in and began buying houseplants, putting up pictures and making my room feel as homely as possible. 
It has always been important for me to be able to create my own space; to turn where I am living into a sanctuary so that I can rest in a safe environment. Integrative therapist Abbey Robb tells me that we cannot underestimate the importance of the human need to nest. "The ability to adapt work and living spaces to suit changing demand is an important part of personal autonomy," she explains. "In a year where so many things have been taken out of people’s control, being able to rearrange and reorganise spaces to make them suitable to live and work in gained more importance than normal."
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Sadly, a month into the tenancy, I was told by two of the housemates that they would be leaving in one month when the tenancy was up. Clutching at straws, I began to search for individuals who could replace them and fill their rooms. Two weeks later, 10 viewings had fallen through and my landlord told me I had a fortnight to find somewhere new to live. 
It was now August. I was in a constant state of adrenaline and anxiety. I would wake up at 5am, wide-eyed with stress and surrounded by my life packed up in boxes, searching endlessly on my phone for suitable properties. Notifications from potential flatmates and letting agents would disturb me throughout the day while I was at work. Thinking I needed to reply straightaway to have a chance of moving in, I would be organising new viewings constantly. After work I viewed properties, one after the other. It was a cycle of fake smiles, trying not to touch anything, repeating the same questions over and over again before passing out late at night, exhausted, with a takeaway next to me. 
Soon the 21 viewings merged into one as I tried to fight off an impending breakdown. 

After work I viewed properties, one after the other. It was a cycle of fake smiles, trying not to touch anything, repeating the same questions over and over again before passing out, exhausted. 

I moved into the next property – another house share – just as my old tenancy was up in August. It seemed to be a right fit but as I slowly unpacked my life and days passed, I realised that in my desperate and sleep-deprived state, I hadn’t noticed that one of the walls was missing. Where it should have been was a set of glass doors separating my room from the living room, hidden behind a pair of curtains. This meant I had little privacy. 
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I called the estate agents out. They said I had to leave if I wasn’t planning to sign the contract. I had 12 hours to pack up my life once again. Three car trips and six hours later, I had crammed my possessions (now including a new desk and overgrowing plants) into my mum’s flat. Although she was delighted for me to be home, at the age of 28 I felt I had taken two steps forward and three steps back. I looked out of my bedroom window at the sleepy town I had returned to in the southwest of England and immediately felt claustrophobic. With my mum being a vulnerable person who needed to shield, I isolated myself from her for two weeks. Although living rent-free was wonderful, I felt overwhelmed with concern for her health and the psychological impact of losing the freedom and autonomy I had just weeks ago was taking its toll. 
One negative coronavirus test later, I continued the house hunt, albeit this time predominately virtually. I was able to be more specific in my choices as there was no clock ticking down against me. Eventually, in September, with my mental health hanging by a thread, I found somewhere which had no creepy neighbours, a signed tenancy of at least six months, access to green spaces, and all four walls. 
Now, as I write this on my new desk, surrounded by my overgrowing plants in a house with charming Irish nurses and their sassy cat, looking back I realise how unwell I was. My body was constantly running on adrenaline for an entire four months of 2020. My mental health, my wellbeing and my working life have all benefited from finding stability. For the first time since living in London, I feel like I live in a home rather than a house.  
Some things are worth waiting for but one thing has been made clear to me through this experience: the constant revolving door that is renting has a massive impact on people’s mental health and I wish there were more awareness of that. 

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