12 “Adulting” Skills That Everyone Should Master (But Many People Don’t)

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‘Adulting’ can feel intimidating when you’re looking ahead at life as a young person who is beginning to fend for yourself for the first time.

Parents are supposed to be the ones to help you learn how to navigate life healthily. But not everyone is lucky enough to have decent parents.

Some people don’t have good role models in their life. The adults in their life that should love and help guide them may not even be capable of taking good care of themselves.

A person who sees those negative role models may develop a fear of adulting because of how difficult life appears to be for them.

The good news is that you don’t have to suffer the same pitfalls as your parents.

Similarly, if you are a sheltered person who has not been exposed to the realities of life and the basic duties of keeping that life in order, you’ll need to learn them.

Let’s look at some tips to help you master adulting in no time!

1. Learn basic cooking and meal planning.

An adult needs to know how to prepare meals for themselves. Not only is it significantly healthier than eating fast or pre-made foods from the store, but you’ll also save money.

For example, suppose you buy fast food for lunch at work five days a week. You spend $10 a day on a combo meal at your favorite fast-food restaurant, coming to about $200 a month.

Alternatively, you could meal prep or even just bring a sandwich and a small bag of chips for lunch instead. If you can lower your lunch cost to $5 a day, you can half that expense and save $100 a month.

And for the main meal of your day, get yourself a slow cooker—you can thank me later.

Delicious meals are just a matter of throwing in all your ingredients and leaving them to cook for several hours. What’s more, it’s easy to batch cook many portions that can then be frozen for another time.

2. Buy a toolbox and some basic tools.

Everyone should own a small toolbox with some basic tools: a claw hammer, a set of wrenches, a crescent wrench, a basic socket set, a level, and screwdrivers (flat head and Philips) at a minimum.

That way, you can perform basic repairs and maintenance around your house without having to call a handyman.

You don’t need expensive tools. A good rule of thumb is to buy yourself the cheap version first. It’ll do the job for you on basic repairs and maintenance.

Get a more expensive version if you break the tool or use it enough to find it doesn’t work well for you.

3. Learn where to splurge and where to save.

There’s an old adage about splurging and saving that still holds true today: never cheap out on anything between you and the ground.

You want to ensure you are buying a quality mattress, shoes, and tires at a minimum. If you’re working from home or at a computer, you can also extend that to a computer chair.

Why? Well, if you spend 8 hours in bed or 8+ hours on your feet at work, you want to be as comfortable as possible to make the most of it.

Likewise, a good computer chair can help reduce overall fatigue and exhaustion while working.

And tires, well, tires keep you where you’re supposed to be on the road. So that’s a pretty important part of driving.

Speaking of driving, do yourself a favor and don’t just buy the most basic liability insurance if you can afford it. Instead, try to get as close to full coverage as possible.

And choose the option that provides a courtesy rental car, especially if you need your car to get to work. If your car gets totaled, it could be weeks or months before it all gets settled, and you could be without a vehicle for that entire time.

Do spend a few extra dollars to pay for quality items you will use regularly. You can get a superior butcher’s knife for about $100 that will last the rest of your life with proper maintenance. The same with cast-iron cookware or well-made pans.

4. Keep your living spaces clean and organized.

A clean living space is good for your mental and physical health. It can even help reduce depression and anxiety.

When you live in a cluttered space, your brain needs to constantly process everything, even when you’re not actively looking at it. When you sweep your eyes across a pile of clutter, your brain subconsciously interprets that.

Consider the amount of time you’re in your living space and how often you’re looking over mounds of clutter, a pile of laundry, or a stack of dirty dishes.

You’re not giving your brain adequate time to relax because of it, which increases anxiety and depression.

Plus, you have the stress of needing to do housework hanging over you. “Well, I really should be doing my laundry instead…” And instead of just doing it once a week so it’s done, you have to agonize and think about it repeatedly.

Thankfully, keeping your space neat and clean is not that difficult. Once you get that initial cleaning done, you only need to dedicate a little time every week to it.

Do your dishes every evening. Do your laundry once a week. Wipe down your sinks every day. Clean your bathroom every couple of weeks or sooner if it gets gross. A few minutes of maintenance here and there will save you hours of work later.

5. Improve your financial literacy.

Improving and developing your financial literacy early on will save you a lot of grief and money as you start building your life.

What are some things you should know?

  • How to file your taxes for free. Suppose your income and finances are not complicated. In that case, you can typically do your own taxes for free without needing expensive software or tax professionals.

    We recommend Googling “file taxes for free” and checking results from your national government website for the most up-to-date, accurate information.

  • Learn how to budget and stick with it. Budgeting is essential if you want to make the most out of the money you earn.

    It can be difficult to save the money you make. The best way to keep more of what you make is to understand where, when, and how you’re spending your money so that you can control your expenses.

    Consider the earlier example of spending $200 a month on lunches. That’s a lot of money for just one meal a day! You may not realize you’re spending that much until you examine your spending habits.

  • Look into retirement accounts with compounding interest. One of the best things you can do for your future self is to get a compounding retirement account rolling as soon as possible.

    Even just sticking $1000 per year into a retirement account from ages 18 through 21 can land you a significant amount of money when retirement age rolls around.

    Also, if an employer offers retirement matching, take full advantage of it. That’s free money you leave on the table if you don’t.

6. Learn to work hard and develop your professional skills.

Listen, there are many eye-roll-inducing pithy sayings about hard work, particularly from people with a survivorship bias…

“I worked hard, and I succeeded, so if you work hard, you should be able to succeed too.” Yeah, sometimes. What people often don’t consider are all the random, lucky events that allowed them to succeed.

You were able to finish college and land a great job in your desired career? Rock on. But what if it hadn’t worked out that way?

You don’t have to look far to see someone preaching the importance of hard work. The truth is more complicated than that.

Hard work is valuable, but so is smart work. Donkeys work hard; where does that get them?

Hard work in the right direction increases your chances of succeeding and thriving. So, work hard at developing your professional skills and learning your job well.

Work hard to pursue what you want out of life.

And you should definitely work hard at your job, but understand that your hard work may not be valued or respected.

In many jobs, hard work will only get more work and responsibility shoveled onto your shoulders with no increase in pay. So, you have to keep your best interests in mind when deciding where to focus your efforts.

And the best place to do that is by improving your professional and personal skills.

Hard work isn’t always rewarded, but it certainly improves the chances of success in the long run.

7. Practice good hygiene and grooming habits.

Proper hygiene and grooming are important habits to develop. Now you may think everyone understands the importance of good hygiene and grooming, but that’s just not the case.

We often learn these things as children and teenagers from the adults in our lives. But what happens if you didn’t have functional adults in your life back then?

Well, things fall through the cracks. People miss important, basic life skills like proper hygiene and grooming. If you happen to be one of those people, that’s okay.

The good news is these are skills you can learn. We’ll give you some basics, but it is a topic worth exploring more in-depth to find what works for you.

  • Take a shower at least every other day unless you’re really dirty. In which case, you should take one more often.
  • Wash your hair regularly. Experiment a bit. Not everyone benefits from washing their hair every time they shower. In fact, washing your hair too often can damage and dry it out, along with your skin.
  • Do your laundry and change your clothes regularly. Aim to do your laundry at least once a week. If they aren’t too dirty, there’s nothing wrong with wearing the same clothes a couple of times a week. Otherwise, you should change your clothes every day.
  • Brush your teeth twice daily—when you wake up and before bed. Also, floss and use mouthwash to maintain good oral and dental health.
  • Check and groom your facial hair (if applicable) every few days. And don’t put off getting a haircut until it’s out of control—get one when it’s starting to become harder to keep neat and tidy.

8. Develop your emotional intelligence and communication skills.

Do you want to have healthy, loving relationships? Of course, you do! Who doesn’t?

Well, healthy relationships are founded on trust and communication.

And the only way you can foster trust is by being emotionally intelligent enough to understand yourself and confident enough to accept when you’re wrong. It’s critical to communicate meaningfully when problems arise.

You can never know too much about social intelligence and socialization. Even if you aren’t the social type, you will want to work on these skills because they matter in your personal and professional life.

You don’t need to be a social butterfly, but you do need to be socially competent to have a smoother time with these things.

9. Audit your social circles for unhealthy people.

There’s a saying: “We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” And that statement means so much more than what it directly says.

The first part is the obvious part. It states that the people you surround yourself with will dramatically affect how you interact with the world.

For example, suppose you hang out with mostly unmotivated people who don’t care to accomplish anything. In that case, it will be harder for you to pursue your goals. An unmotivated person will find any reason not to work, often convincing you that work isn’t worthwhile.

However, suppose you’re surrounded by motivated people. In that case, you may find yourself with cheerleaders and people to cheer for, which is motivating.

The second part is that the people you associate with will affect how others perceive you. For example, let’s say you hang out with sketchy people because they’re your friends. You may not be a sketchy person, but other people will think you are because you’re willing to tolerate hanging out with people who do sketchy things.

Now, we can sit here and discuss that it’s wrong to judge people until we’re blue in the face, but the truth is that people do and will judge you for that sort of thing.

You cannot surround yourself with unhealthy, questionable people and live a healthy life. You just can’t. Sooner or later, you will get pulled into whatever BS they’re into.

Letting go of these people is an important factor in growing up mentally and emotionally.

10. Moderate unhealthy behaviors and coping mechanisms.

No one would engage in unhealthy behaviors and coping mechanisms in an ideal world. But we don’t live in an ideal world.

Every day, people turn to alcohol, drugs, self-harm, and self-destructive practices to get by.

No judgment. Many of us have done it. I’ve done it.

Still, taking these unhealthy behaviors and coping mechanisms into your adult life can turn it inside out.

Everything is fine until it’s not. Substance abuse is under control until it’s not. Self-harm isn’t that bad until it is. Unsafe promiscuity is fine until you wind up with an STD or pregnancy.

If you don’t want to be a straight edge, don’t. Just make sure you’re not doing these things because they’re how you deal with your life, trauma, or whatever may be going on in your head.

So first, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Then, drill down until you can find a concrete answer. And if you can’t, talk to a therapist who can help you get to that honest answer.

Sometimes it’s hard to be honest with yourself…

Who wants to admit they jump into bed with random people because they think it’ll earn them love?

Who wants to admit that they drink themselves asleep every night because of PTSD nightmares?

Who wants to admit that they cut themselves to deal with the absence of emotion from depression, or because they feel like they deserve to suffer?

It’s hard. It’s so hard. But there is help if you’re willing to work on becoming a healthier, better version of yourself.

11. Take care of your mental health.

Your ability to care for your mental health will affect many other aspects of your life.

Taking care of your mental health is not only about dealing with trauma or addressing mental illness; it’s also about learning things like stress management and self-care.

You can’t pour from an empty cup. If you constantly give to others and do for others, you’ll have nothing left for yourself.

You must learn to prioritize your mental health as best you can. Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, and perfect self-care is not realistic. However, the more of it you can do, the better off you will be.

Some simple stress-relief activities are meditation, exercise, and quality sleep. Eating well and avoiding stimulants like coffee and energy drinks will also help.

12. Learn to set goals and pursue what you want out of life.

You only get one life. Just one. You will want to make the most of it as much as possible.

You need to sit down and get some idea of a goal you want to work toward and start taking steps toward reaching it.

That could be a career, travel, a family, or whatever else you want to pursue.

There is no right or wrong answer here. All that matters is that it sparks something in you—what you want out of life—and aligns with the direction you wish to go.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll always want the same thing you do now. Things change as you get older, and you will find that you have different priorities. That’s okay.

If you feel like you aren’t ready, or you don’t want to grow up yet, you may find yourself stuck for a while. But, sooner or later, you’ll get there.

Frankly, it sucks to be a helpless adult that relies on others for their peace, happiness, and well-being. People have a hard enough time working on those things themselves, let alone having to be a crutch for others to lean on.

Goal-setting and striving will provide you with something to work toward, and it will get you closer to the life you want.

About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.