How to Person: Everything I Wish I’d Known About Becoming a Grown-Ass Adult

I was 23 when I graduated from college and launched myself into adulthood. At 23, I knew how to do a few cool things. For example:

  • How to write a 25-page research paper on one line of Biblical text,
  • How to carry on a basic conversation on Hebrew or German, and
  • How to pack an entire room into two 50-gallon storage containers.

But there were some gaps in my knowledge of How to Person. For example, I didn’t know:

  • How to balance a checkbook, make an adult budget and stick to it, or save money responsibly,
  • How to meal-plan for myself, a human adult in need of vegetables, every day for the rest of my life, or,
  • How to make my life fun and meaningful when I no longer lived on a college campus.

So, guess whose first year out of college was super freaking hard? Mine! I wasted money on things I didn’t really need (or even want), stressed about finding work and keeping friendships, and once made myself nothing but a mushy rice soup for dinner (it was supposed to be risotto, and this happened last Saturday).

I’m not telling you this so I can sell you a book or an e-course or a phone consultation on how to adult. I’m telling you this because I know that tons of other recent graduates and new adults struggle with the same things. I hear people grumble all the time about how college never taught them to balance a checkbook, but I think that problem extends beyond college. I never learned to balance a checkbook in high school either, or from my parents. Information about how to sew on a button, boil an egg, or do laundry without discoloring your favorite shirt, seems to have been taught to previous generations in a way that it wasn’t to ours. And those things, at least, are easy to teach yourself via Google. What about the more complicated stuff?

I don’t have all the answers, but if I look at how far I’ve come in the years since graduation, I think I have at least four and a half of them. So here’s a list of all the little adult-ish things that I’ve learned in the last few years. They may not all work for you, because (after all) we’re all different (and also, so you don’t sue me: all of this is my own anecdotal experience and shouldn’t be taken as medical, legal, or financial advice. When it comes to making big life decisions, always consult a professional and not a stranger on the internet). That said, I hope some of them will make your life simpler, less stressful, or more fun. Let’s go.

Basic Tips for How to Be a Grown-Ass Adult:

How to keep track of all your due dates and appointments: Create a Google calendar account and add a few calendars for different parts of your life: your job, your appointments, your social life, or other major areas that need to be scheduled. Choose colors for each calendar — I like to use cool colors for work and warm colors for personal, because it helps me see if I’m spending too much time on one or the other. Next, add all the major deadlines, appointments, and dates that you need to remember as all-day events, so they show up as a colored bar at the top of the day no matter what view of the calendar you have. You can create notifications or get email reminders, too. This is a really easy system to set up and follow, because you can access it on your phone and computer (and even print it out, if that helps you).

How to proportion a healthy meal: Remember the food pyramid we all grew up with? That’s not in fashion anymore! Hard to believe, but remembering a multi-block, multi-layered pyramid didn’t help a lot of people make great day-to-day decisions. The government now recommends a system called MyPlate, which is a little easier to remember in your daily life. Easier still is this basic rule of thumb my nutritionist gave me a few years ago, which is basically the same. Try to make each plate 50% fruits and vegetables, 25% protein, and 25% whole grains and fibers. Here’s how it would look on a plate.

Basic Meal: 50% veggies, 25% protein, 25% grains.

How to give a thoughtful gift: Think of your loved one’s interests and hobbies. Are there accessories or tools you could give that would encourage them? Maybe an avid cook would love a cute apron, or a hiker would like a high-quality water bottle. If that doesn’t help, look at their Pinterest and Instagram accounts to see what sorts of items they like, and what style the have in their house. A friend recently gave us a beautiful tea towel that matched our kitchen because of this trick, and we love it! Once you have an item, attach a hand-written card. Tell the person why they’re special to you and what you wish for them going forward.

How to maintain long-distance friendships: Figure out which means of communication works best with your friend. Some people like emailing, others love texting or sending memes, and others like FaceTiming most. Choose something that suits you both and make a commitment to do it at least once a week. Plan visits to see each other when you can, and be sure to reach out for special holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries.

How often to do laundry: Most “laundry experts” (…mom?) say to wash your:

  • Bath towels: once a week
  • Hand towels: every three days
  • Face towels: after each use (to prevent you from rubbing old bacteria on your face)
  • Sheets: every 1-2 weeks
  • Clothes: 3-5 wears per item
  • Underwear: after each use, ya filthy animal!

How to meal plan on a budget: First, check your fridge. Write down 3-5 items that will go bad this week if you don’t use them. That’s the basis for your meal plan. Next, go on the website of your grocery store and see what’s on sale. Write down 3-5 items (preferably staples, like produce or grains) that are on sale that you like. Now, Google search recipes using these ingredients. For example, if salmon is on sale and we have oranges that are about to go bad, I only need rosemary to make orange-glazed rosemary salmon! And if broccoli is on sale and we still have rice, I can make veggies and whole grains for two nights of that salmon dish, meaning I only need to buy rosemary, salmon, and broccoli to have two nights’ worth of meals.

Use this method to come up with enough dinners between now and your next grocery trip. Next, plan lunches (sandwiches, salads, etc) and breakfasts (oatmeals, cereals, fruit). Try to focus on using up what you already have, and buying the things that will help you get the most out of your existing pantry. Finally, add some fresh fruit, and then any junky snacks. Your week is planned!

How to save money (in small ways):

  • Keep a bucket in the bathroom to collect water while the shower warms. Use this water to water your plants, to save on your water bill.
  • Always turn off the lights of any room you’re not in to save money on electricity (and be an eco warrior princess).
  • Find which grocery store near you is the cheapest. For us, it’s Aldi. Shop there for everything you can, and get any things they don’t have at another store. You’ll save so much money, and the food is just as good.
  • Buy generic as often as you can.
  • If the benefits of organic produce aren’t a priority for you, always buy normal produce. It’s much cheaper.
  • Dry your laundry on a rack or heater rather than using the dryer, if you’d like to save money on power.
  • Always search for discount codes or coupons before any online purchase or shopping trip. More often than not, there’s a sale.
  • Learn more about minimalism, and set your own standards for when you can afford to go without. No matter how cheap something is, you always save more money by not buying it in the first place.
  • Go to the library rather than a bookstore to find new things to read. Many libraries have online ebook collections, too, so you don’t need to buy new ebooks either.
  • Make coffee at home, rather than buying a latte at your local coffee shop. Bring it to work in a thermos, if you have to.
  • Eat at home rather than going out for dinner.

How to keep learning after (or instead of) college: There are tons of incredible resources to learn online. Coursera, EdX, MIT Open Courseware, and other university-specific sites have free courses available. I’m usually always enrolled in one or two classes.

How to keep a relationship happy and healthy after you move in together: Have a weekly family chat. Yes, really — even if you’re roommates or “just dating.” Each Saturday morning, check in with each other about what went well, what went badly, and what you’d like to do better this coming week. Try to be patient when you listen, and kind when you speak. If you fight, try not to fight each other. Instead, fight together against the problem.

How to learn to cook: If you’re broke: Google search for easy recipes, and then search for a YouTube tutorial of every term you don’t know (how to dice, how to grill, or how to broil, for example). If you have some funds, try CookSmarts. They do meal planning for you, and teach you how to cook at the same time.

What you need in your house: aka, little things I couldn’t have lived without in my first year after college.

  • Band-aids and disinfectant (preferably a whole first aid kit, if you can)
  • A can opener
  • A plunger and toilet brush
  • Bleach (for cleaning the toilet brush…)
  • A rice cooker (makes dinners twice as easy)
  • Oven mitts (If I’d bought these when I moved in, Ken’s hands would be burn-free)
  • Coasters, if you don’t hate your furniture

How to clean your house: If no one ever taught you how to clean a stove, toilet, or floor, Clean My Space is your new best friend. She’s taught me so much about how to make and keep a home clean.

How to boil an egg: Since I mentioned it earlier — hard-boiled eggs are a great source of protein, and they’re so easy to make. Put your eggs in a saucepan with water and cover it. Bring the water to a boil and, once the water is at a bubbling boil, turn the heat off. Wait eight minutes, then rinse the eggs under cold water. You’re good to go.

How to make friends in a new city: Basically, you’ll never meet new people at your own house. Go to new places, like the gym, library, or a house of worship. Meetup.com is a great resource for events, too.

And, finally, the principles I wish I’d known before I moved out and started living on my own:

Plants are the cheapest, cheeriest way to add life to an empty room.

Some days will be hard. That doesn’t mean things will always be that hard.

Don’t sweat it if you don’t know something. The easy stuff can be Googled, and the hard stuff can only be learned with time.

Treat yourself like you would a good friend. If you wouldn’t tell your best friend she’s stupid, don’t tell yourself that, either. Do your best to see the good qualities that others point out in you.

Not everyone will like you. That’s the price you pay for being unique and having something to say. Don’t let their opinions stifle you — it’s better to be yourself and be vulnerable, than to life a half life in fear of being hurt.

That’s all I’ve got for tonight. If you liked this post and would like to see more like it, or if you’d like me to expand on one of these points in a future, please let me know in the comments below!

Author: Sara Laughed

I'm Sara, a blogger, programmer, and American abroad. I live in the Netherlands my boyfriend and our 11 plants, and in this space blog about my life, discoveries, and mistakes. Follow along here or on social media!

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  • This is an amazing post Sara! As someone who is in their last year of undergrad, this is something that I have been thinking more and more about. The last year of undergrad has provided its own existential stresses in many ways, and some of them definitely relate to worries about life after college. I will definitely be bookmarking this post for future use and also sharing it! 🙂