Path to Adulthood
January 19, 2012 7:26 PM   Subscribe

What are important things that every adult should have? What are important things that adults should be able to do? In other words: what should I do, what do I need to have, and what life skills should I learn in order to become more of an adult?

I moved out of my parent's place for university at the age of 17 and knew that I would not be returning once I moved out, so I brought all of my personal belongings and important pieces of identification with me.

I am now 21 years old and completely provide for myself when it comes to all of my expenses including rent, tuition, various bills, and anything else that I want or need. But, I realize that there are a lot of things that most adults have that I personally don't have/thought of getting such as tenant's insurance. But, I do have other things like a health card, SIN card (social identification card), driver's license, and birth certificate.

There are also other adult-like things that many adults do that I may not have started yet. For instance, one of my coworkers talked about how she plans her meals in advance in order to cut costs. I do not do this, but I do keep a budget (very simple and amateur style budget) in order to figure out what payments I need to make and what leftover money I can spend.

I never really had anyone teach me these things in my teens, so I'm kind of trying to navigate certain things on my own. It would be great if you can help me figure out the following things:

-What are important things that every adult should have?
-What are important things that adults should be able to do?
-In other words: what should I do, what do I need to have, and what life skills should I learn in order to become more of an adult?
posted by livinglearning to Human Relations (55 answers total) 115 users marked this as a favorite
I felt pretty damn adult when I bought my first filing cabinet.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:31 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Adults learn not to worry about whether they're adult enough.
posted by cmoj at 7:33 PM on January 19, 2012 [19 favorites]

Even if you don't have a car, learn how to use jumper cables and change a tire.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:37 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't think anyone is ever "taught" things, we're all just figuring it out as we find a need for this or that. A list of everything everyone needs to do would be huge and probably not particularly helpful.

Look around and identify what's not working in your life (are you meeting all or most of your physical, mental, emotional needs?), then research and try a couple of solutions till something works.
posted by bleep at 7:41 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

you sound like you're doing pretty damn well by yourself, i don't think you need advice.
posted by facetious at 7:45 PM on January 19, 2012

Seconding cmoj... you learn stuff as you go.

Somethings matter to some people more to others, for example over the last two years I've had to wear a tie to work every day. Because of that, I've learned how to dress well, keep my clothes clean, iron, and buy cheap dress clothes that fit me well. One of my coworkers is 32, never learned those lessons, and looked like a college student until his fiance started buying clothes and doing laundry for him this year. That's pretty superficial for most people, but it was important to me.

The biggest 'adult' thing I've learned since becoming independent all relates to maintaining adult relationships, choosing friends, recognizing the importance of social support, communicating what you need from your friends to ensure you all stay friends.
posted by midmarch snowman at 7:46 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi! I am a semi-failure as an adult even though I can technically support myself just fine. Let me tell you why and how not to be like me:

Be able to drive a car. Hell, you really do need to own a car, unless you live in a huge city with amazing public transport. My life has been massively limited because I didn't get a driver's license until a year ago. You're not an adult if you can't get yourself places, and public transport doesn't cover a whole lot if you don't live in certain big cities. Sounds like you've got this one down, I'm just mentioning it for other people who might not.

Renter's insurance is a very good idea. I speak as someone who had 2 apartment floods: one without insurance and one with. At the very least, the insurance paid for 2 weeks of me at a motel, which would have been most of my monthly paycheck to pay for by myself. And the second time I had a flood, I didn't have a friend with the space to take me for 2 months in the way I did the first time.

ACQUIRE A CREDIT CARD WHILE YOU ARE IN COLLEGE. Even if you hate credit and will fuck it up, get it while they will give it to you easily. I didn't do this and I may have fucked myself for life trying to acquire credit after the age of 30, in the Great Recession. Do what everyone tells you about using it to pay off one bill and then leave the card in the freezer or something rather than using it for recreational spending.

Adults usually do buy a house at some point. This one may be going out of favor in the Great Recession, though. Not saying you need a house at 21, but my mom threw a shit fit when I said I don't ever plan on buying a house. I gather it is some kind of Adult Fail :P I don't think this one is mandatory, but hey, you asked about adult things and the people who have bought houses, unlike myself, do kinda lord it over my loser ass.

Adults are able to take care of themselves without help. And take care of dependents if necessary. I suspect Real Adulthood is taking care of people who can't take care of themselves-- or at least, that's when people actually give you respect for being one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:47 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

You might want to review this epic thread wherein we all discuss all the ways we did things wrong throughout our lives.

Otherwise, one of the simplest yet most overlooked (imao) things about acting like a fucking grown up is showing up for things on time.
posted by elizardbits at 7:48 PM on January 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

It's nice to know how to repair minor things:

- car maintenance - how to change a tire, maybe change your oil, certainly check your oil and tire pressure and how to inflate tires to proper pressure, how to replace your windshield wiper blades.

- toilet problems, clogged drains - buy a plunger.

- hem your pants; make simple curtains - buy a sewing machine and learn to use it for the basics. (optional but fun and a nice skill to have)
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:49 PM on January 19, 2012

As has been said, 99% OJT. I do think figuring out all the damn insurance you actually need is an adult rite of passage. Budgeting and money management is a big thing - I don't agree about needing a credit card, necessarily, and while traditionally buying a house is a thing, it's not necessarily the wisest move. Unless you're where you're pretty sure you're going to stay, buying is not necessarily better than renting these days.

RETIREMENT PLANNING. When you're young, you can save a modest amount, say $100 or so, and be able to get there without ever breaking a sweat. Don't let anyone depress you with enormous sums you'll supposedly need. You adjust for inflation on that as you go. Save the amount that in TODAY'S DOLLARS would give you a living in 30 years or so.

The mental adjustment to being an adult is a gradual thing. I married and moved out of my parent's house at age 23. In those years between 18 and 23, I gradually began to realize that I had rights and responsibilities as a full-blown person, not a dependent. I remember the first time someone referred to me as a man, not a kid or a "young man" I don't know that there's a skill or milestone that does it for you.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:55 PM on January 19, 2012

Figure out what negative ways of being you learned as a child from your parents and decide if you want to keep those things as a part of your life as an adult.
posted by kdern at 8:03 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Know how and when to pay your taxes. Keep your financial records for at least seven years. Obviously you are young and probably only have a few years right now, but just remember to hang onto them.

Know how much your utility bills should be. I once discovered a gas leak not from the smell but when a monthly bill was off.

Remember to budget for large unexpected expenses. Shoot for six months' worth of living expenses if you can, or three at a minimum. Open a separate savings account for this so you don't accidentally dip into this fund.

Budget for travel and fun things.

Start saving for retirement now.

Buy stocks. Mutual funds are usually a safe bet.

Get a credit card. Use it for small expenses only and pay it off every month to avoid paying interest. This will build your credit.

Try to get to the dentist as regularly as you can. Floss and brush your teeth daily (if you don't already).

Get in the habit of cleaning your space and keeping it tidy (if you don't already).

I don't think you have to worry about buying a house, but if that's something you'd like to eventually do, start saving for it now. Even with financing, the upfront expenses involve more zeroes than you would think.

Write a will.
posted by elizeh at 8:03 PM on January 19, 2012 [13 favorites]

The one thing you need to learn as an adult is that you are always going to be learning. Always. The world is full of cool skills, and you are never going to know all of them, or even all of the essential ones. So keep trying.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:05 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Something I found out ten years ago and re-learned today: photocopy the front and back of all your various IDs and credit cards. If you lose your wallet, it's really helpful. Oh, and keep $200 in cash hidden somewhere in your apartment.

Know CPR. And not like, 'oh, I think I could do CPR in a pinch' - know it. Get comfortable with a defibrillator, too.

If you have neighbors, introduce yourself to them. They come in handy, and it's nice to feel like you have a real home.

One of the things I did right immediately out of college was to get into a saving habit. Knowing that you could drop out of work for a year and not change your lifestyle a bit gives you a lot of freedom.

It took me five post-college years to figure out a car maintenance schedule, remember to put all birthdays on my calendar, how to pre-plan meals, save throughout the year for car insurance and other regular bills, etc. I'm grateful I didn't fuck things up too bad, and that the mistakes I made contributed to learning some much needed skills. So, just try not to totally ruin your future, and you'll learn the rest along the way.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:08 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oh, and adults don't let themselves get cranky because they didn't eat enough.

I still haven't quite got my head around that one yet.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:10 PM on January 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

The main thing adults need to learn is how to take care of themselves and theirs (kids, loved ones). Adults do not depend on others to take care of them. This means that all you need to have as an adult is what you need to take care of you and yours.

Everything else is superfluous.

That, of course, is my humble opinion. Spoken as one cleverly disguised as a responsible adult (I'm never growing up, and they can't make me).
posted by patheral at 8:11 PM on January 19, 2012

Learn to take responsibility for your mistakes.

Learn to let your mistakes go, do what is necessary to fix them and avoid repeating them, and move on.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:17 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Being an adult means being self-sufficient and responsible, and I think you're already that. In terms of actual things, I'd also like to add:

Health: dentist, doctor's check-ups, optometrist's visits (every 2 years, I think?)

Sexual health: gyn appts (women), figuring out what birth control method you want to use, using it properly and getting STD screens

Finances: live within your means, budget, save, know how to do your taxes, insurance, retirement planning, write a will

Self-care: budget to buy more expensive stuff you want (fancy bike/tv/computer/whatever), cook for yourself (doesn't mean you have to do meal-planning), follow your interests

In sum, being an adult means knowing that you can figure it out if you don't know something, whether it be home repair, car maintenance, paying taxes, how to sew buttons on a coat, ironing, have tough conversations with bosses/co-workers/friends/partners, etc. At the end of the day, we're all learning from each other.
posted by foxjacket at 8:22 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the answers so far! I've really enjoyed reading them and appreciate the responses and great advice too.

Question though: are there any other items that adults should have besides a credit card, important documents like a health card, SIN card, birth certificate, driver's license, and tenant's insurance?
posted by livinglearning at 8:25 PM on January 19, 2012

Personal: Do what you say you will do. Turn up on time, don't shirk, keep promises, etc. Know what you will not do, and therefore know what you are saying when you say you will do something.

Practical: Keep tracking stuff. As a youth/kid, records are done for you - school results track how well you did, parents sorted money for you or got you to the dentist every year, photos went into books to record events, etc. Lots of people seem to lose their 20's and not progress themselves or have a narrative to all the facets of their lives because without the structure of school years and parents and such they stop tracking. Your records of the past help prepare you for the future in all sorts of ways.
posted by jjderooy at 8:25 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

know how to drive a standard/manual transmission automobile.
posted by radiosilents at 8:25 PM on January 19, 2012

nthing everyones advice on putting health and finances onto a schedule and following it. Care for yourself financially and physically.

But also, be able to take care of yourself and those you love emotionally. To this end: Listen to people, actually listen and absorb information about them and how they process the world. The greatest way to show someone you care about them is to be able to show them you listened. Even if it's just bringing them gummy bears because you know that's their favorite candy. I've found the smaller the detail, the more touched the person is that you remembered it.

Ok done with rant.

things to have on person:
-a list of medications or supplements you are on in your wallet or in something you carry regularly about your person
-some sort of kith or kin contact info in the same place.

In terms of documents you should have a living will and an advanced directive. In other words you should have written down in actionable legalese what you want done with your stuff and what you want done with your body should death/serious injury come unexpectedly. Tell someone you have permanently in your life about what these documents outline and where they are.

If you have responsibilities that will outlive you, find people you trust and ask them if you could entrust those responsibilities to them. ASK before you make arrangements.

PS the rest of us are trying to figure out all of this too.
posted by FatRabbit at 8:37 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't say it's a "need," but it's much easier to cook at home if you have some pots and pans, baking trays and casserole pans, spatulas, a whisk, mixing bowls, spices, staples like flour, sugar and butter, etc. And measuring cups. A set of plates, bowls and glasses, although they don't have to match by any means. Enough silverware that you don't find yourself using your spoons sparingly. (Uh, not that I've ever done that.)

Similarly: tools like a hammer, couple screwdrivers, maybe a simple power drill, spare lightbulbs, duct tape, rock salt and a snow shovel.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:39 PM on January 19, 2012

Oh, and a slow cooker!
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:39 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have a car, get a AAA membership. The cost is well worth the peace of mind and getting a tire changed when it's snowing.

Adults keep emergency kits in their cars.

I have a little card with all my emergency numbers - doctors' numbers, my emergency contacts - in my wallet. I put the same in my phone, under very obvious names like "DOCTOR" and "EMERGENCY CONTACT." I put them all at the top of my contact list. When someone finds your unconscious body in the park, this is useful.

I'm on the phone with my brother, and he says that adults keep at least one bottle of wine in their trunk (weather permitting) for surprise BYO restaurants.

Have a digital copy of everything. I scan every receipt I get, and it's saved me a lot of money and headaches.

I never feel more adulty than when I get to pull out my awesome swiss army knife. So far, the tiny little scissors, the pen, and the eyeglass screwdriver have proven the most useful.

I guess the most useful thing I have as an adult is my sickness kit. It lives in my pantry, and it has soup, gatorade, gatorade powder, aspirin, various other medicines, benadryl, more soup, some chocolate, a thermometer, and a few magazines and DVDs. When I get sick, I pull it out, because when you're adult, sometimes there's no one to take care of you when you're sick, and there is nothing worse than having to walk to the grocery store for gatorade in the middle of winter when you have the flu and you're too proud to ask a friend for help.

Adults aren't too proud to ask their friends for help.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:41 PM on January 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

Question though: are there any other items that adults should have besides a credit card, important documents like a health card, SIN card, birth certificate, driver's license, and tenant's insurance?

Basic toolkit at home.

First aid kit at home.

Real clothes (i.e., beyond a tshirt and jeans) - learn to dress well. Be able to spruce up for a nice dinner out, or for a wedding.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:54 PM on January 19, 2012

I'd suggest getting a passport. If you suddenly get the chance to go abroad, you'll just put your passport in your pocket and happily walk out the door, rather than rushing around trying to arrange for one at the last minute.

Also seconding the sickness kit.
posted by ceiba at 9:03 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I might be repeating people here, but anyway...

What are important things that every adult should have?

-a passport
-a retirement savings plan (include this in your list of "payments you need to make" each month)
-proper shoes (i.e. not just flip flops)

What are important things that adults should be able to do?

-use public transportation/read a map
-sew (you'll save a lot of money on clothing repairs by learning a few basic "moves")
-perform first aid & CPR
-swim fairly proficiently
-cook healthy meals
-file taxes
-get to bed at a decent hour
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:25 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

"If you have a car, get a AAA membership. "

Actually, you might consider NOT doing this and seek out other local alternatives. Your membership in the AAA (and CAA) directly funds lobbying efforts that generally push state and provincial governments to build more expressways.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:51 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Off the top of my head, a really great "adult" skill to have is learning how to write letters (or, increasingly, emails) to government departments & companies, in a way that will maximise your chances of getting the result you want.

I'm sure there are plenty of guides online for how to do this, but basically keep it simple, professional & even-toned, state clearly the facts & what you would like as an outcome (as a request, not a demand), do NOT threaten anything, and above all remember that the person at the other end is just a regular Joe, sitting in a cubicle somewhere, who is probably good natured & wants nothing less than somebody getting up in their face & ranting angrily.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:06 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

A lot of good advice already. Somebody already mentioned dentist, and sun screen I'm too lazy to write more. See Checklist for Life Practicalities for more "adult" skills.

Read this advice, this and comment.
posted by Carius at 11:07 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is the Adulting blog, for more ideas.
posted by SillyShepherd at 1:06 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think money management is key to being an adult. I would advise taking a look at Dave Ramsey's basic financial steps to get started. Having 6 months of expenses saved up in case of emergencies, investing in IRA's, etc. etc.

He is a boon to people who are struggling under crushing debt. May you never get to that situation in the first place. You may find his investing too simplistic after you make a certain amount of money, but for people starting out and having very few guidelines on how to manage their finances, he'll get you going.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 1:46 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

My humble contribution: read the 5 things poor people do thread. Some of those things, in some circumstances, are examples of being non-adults about money. Watch "Parks and Recreation" and the behavior of Andy and April. Do the opposite. (Mostly.)

Being responsible for your own transportation.

Being in control of your emotions. (Or even knowing that you should strive to try to do that.) I'm not great at it, but I knew I was an adult when I realized that it was childish to dump on other people when I was pissed off about something.

Don't whine or gossip.

Don't be intellectually passive. Look stuff up, research issues, get second opinions. If some service provider says "this is what you have to do and it will cost this much", don't take them at their word just because they are the expert. They might be right, but they might also not be giving you all the options. (This seems to happen with doctors all the time, where patients just go happily along with every recommendation because they never think to ask what the other options are, or what the consequences of different actions are.)
posted by gjc at 5:41 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Learn to blow off snide remarks and don't take them personally. The world is full of assholes and you will be constantly running into them.
posted by sybarite09 at 5:48 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

In terms of the baby allergy story, because I have 4 brothers with anaphylactic allergies and this actually happened in a church nursery (nursery worker tiptoes into the service to whisper in my mother's ear, "I think C isn't breathing." Gah.) - Whenever you come across something that resembles a medical emergency, don't stand around in shock, SOMEONE CALL FREAKING 911. Okay. Off my soapbox right now.

I like the passport on the ready idea. When my passport was up to date, I was bajillions of times more likely to jump at the chance of a trip somewhere.

On the same lines as the illness kit, Ive always had a little blizzard box for myself. If you live someplace where you might lose power from any type of weather conditions, have a generator/lamps/canned and dry food/etc. I live in Massachusetts and have all my life, and every year some storm rolls through and every year there are a bunch of poor saps who are freezing and, under great duress, are putting their name on a waiting list to get an overpriced generator and waiting in absurdly long lines at the pizza joint because they have nothing to eat besides a fridge full of food gone bad. Obviously, if you don't have your own house it may not be pertinent, but your needs are different depending on your climate and weather and such anyhow.

It's also always nice to have all your super important documents in some sort of portable form. I have those little plastic file holders with a handle on top so if I ever need to take off in a hurry from my home, at least my docs like my SS card, Insurance info, financial documents and such.
posted by takoukla at 5:57 AM on January 20, 2012

I have always really like Robert Heinlein's take. He says:

""A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
posted by machinecraig at 6:15 AM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

And they should be able to type a post without grammatical errors... :-)
posted by machinecraig at 6:17 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

(UbuRoivas--not to get too off-topic, but at my son's daycare, about 20% of the kids start at 6 or 8 weeks, over half are there by 12 weeks. Not at all unusual in the US.)

I think knowing how to do basic maintenance on the things you own, and (relatedly) learning to recognize quality in basic items is an important grownup thing that is easy to miss. For clothing: Fixing a snag in a sweater, fixing a seam in cloth, sewing a button, hemming pants, properly washing clothes. In the kitchen: cleaning pots and pans however they should be (no soap on cast iron!), sharpening a knife, basic knife skills, how to cook your favorite meal/dessert. In the house: Clearing a sink drain, fixing a running toilet, painting a wall, repairing nail holes, some house maintanance schedule stuff if you're planning to own a home. For a car: filling with gas, checking oil, washing it, checking tire pressure and fixing it if it's low, knowing times to do preventative maintenance.

A thing I've been working on recently that makes me feel like a grownup is setting up emergency supplies.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:30 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

- Buy a fire extinguisher for your home.

- Know how to do basic home maintenance (e.g. patch walls, fix toilet, unclog drains), basic home cleaning and basic first aid.

- Have an emergency kit tucked away (canned goods, bottled water, candles, flashlights, etc.)

- Write thank-you notes and mail them - hand written and on basic cardstock.

- Basic clothing alterations - hemming pants, sewing buttons

- Pay your damn bills on time.

- Keep a file in a fireproof safe/box with photocopies of all your important documents - passport, driver's license, credit cards, birth certificate, etc. Make extra copies of your housekeys.

- Know the difference between friends and acquaintances

- Call your parents regularly. No, seriously, just do it.

- Even if you're crummy in the kitchen, know how to make at least one decent meal and know how to pick out a proper beer or wine to go with said meal and put it in a proper glass.

- Have one nice set of plates/dishes/flatware for guests. Know the right way to set a table.
posted by floweredfish at 6:44 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also: A cross-cut paper shredder. That thing has saved my life.
posted by floweredfish at 7:15 AM on January 20, 2012

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I'm so excited about going through everyone's answers and compiling a list or two.
posted by livinglearning at 9:27 AM on January 20, 2012

Phis may be superficial but when I see photos or videos taken in someone's home, I draw an immediate conclusion about the occupant's level of adultness based on how bare their walls are.
Hang up a few things in a real adult frame. It adds warmth, color, and interest.

Many of the suggestions in this thread are examples of the general rule: Prepare for the Future. The preparation should cover your financial future, your future health, your future sick day, your future automotive/weather disaster, etc.

Another general rule is Take Control of Your Life. This can take the form of being responsible and accountable for your words and actions, but in practice, this can also mean (1) organizing your important docs, (2) filing away (electronically of otherwise) docs you should keep for reference, (3) storing things away based on their frequency of use, (4) learning what to keep and what to toss, (5) being able to repair and maintain your environment, car, and accoutrements, (6) performing activities that engage and stimulate you (progressive activities) as opposed to only activities that simply occupy you (digressive, maybe regressive), and (7) actively aiming to be better: expanding your knowledge, gaining strength, controlling impulses and emotions, discovering your interests/talents, relating to others more authentically, etc.

Values shape your beliefs, which shape your attitudes, which shape your behaviors, which shape your actions, which shapes your habits and then, I believe, the saying is that habits become your character and your character becomes your destiny.
Whether true or not, know what you believe and why you believe it. (It helps also, to borrow from Robert Anton Wilson's lesson about Belief Systems (or, "BS"): never buy into someone else's BS and never totally buy into yours.)

But definitely know what you hold dear and learn how that shapes who you are

On the other end, identify your habits. Eliminate the bad ones. Develop good ones.

Have a great life!
posted by Jezebella at 9:36 AM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

You should have a suit, shirt and tie, coat if you live in a cold climate, and a nice pair of shoes, that you could wear to a job interview, wedding, funeral, or other important event.
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:46 AM on January 20, 2012

(Sorry, not sure why I assumed you're a man. If you're a woman, a dress, stockings, nice shoes and jewelry -- one entire nice outfit that you can wear to an important event on short notice.)

Also, in general, to be an "adult" means to have your shit together. To take care of yourself and the people around you, to be prepared for foreseeable situations, and to handle whatever comes up. It sounds like you are very much an adult, especially for your age.
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:49 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Random additions to the above:

* Remember to say "thanks" or "thank you" to those who have helped you. If it was a big help, call or write specifically for that purpose; they will remember. From one of your responses above, looks like you already know to do this.

* Exhibit extreme reliability. As a subcategory, don't make promises or suggest that you can do something unless you really mean it and can carry it out.

* Try to (sincerely) smile when you greet people

* Carry a small or very small flashlight on your person. You don't want to be stuck on, say, a capsized ship with no way to see down the darkened corridor.

* Keep backup copies (electronic or hardcopy) of critical documents in more than one place to protect against fire, theft, etc.

* Know how to use a map, compass & sun for on-foot or in-car navigation.
posted by Kevin S at 2:23 PM on January 20, 2012

I finally felt grown up when I finally stopped worrying whether I was doing things 'adult' enough. You're 21 and you have a lot of "firsts" to experience, don't be ashamed. The "firsts" will never go away, you just learn not to be so scared of it.

-What are important things that every adult should have?
Toilet paper in the bathroom, bedsheets, and more than one towel.
Learning conversation skills with people of multiple ages
Basic skills of cooking (from fresh produce / meat... not a poptart in the toaster)
Various kinds of friends: younger crazy ones, couples, old high school ones, older neighbors, work buddies (as you become 'adult' friends play sometimes a more critical role than family)

*Anecdotal: I felt really adult over many a series of understanding borders set up between people, I feel that's the best lesson in life to learn. Life gets weirder as you grow up, people close to you have children, start bands, become part of a cray-cray religion. I can't *always* go out past 12 on a Wednesday night, I have to work the next day. I don't care for church, don't drag me to it. I feel like getting plastered on a Saturday afternoon, it's cool if you join me and cool if you don't. I don't like your parents. I actually kind of dig your ex. SoAndSo blew me off AGAIN, oh well I understand and will keep calling.

Go forth, Adult.
posted by hillabeans at 2:32 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Learn to say "I was wrong."

Learn to say "I'm sorry I did what I did."

Learn to say "I'm sorry I said what I said."

Learn to say "Please forgive me."

Learn to say "I forgive you."

Learn to mean it.

Learn to not take it back.

Learn to leave if it's that bad.

Learn to stay.

Learn to say "I love you."

Learn to mean it, with all your heart on the line.

Learn to ask for help — you're going to need it — and to accept help with grace.

Learn to walk towards people and with them when they are in crisis, learn to stand with your friend—or someone you've never seen before—and to comfort them when life has them by the throat.

Clean underpants.
posted by dancestoblue at 6:50 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Learn to be punctual. Factor in traffic time, and then add some, never blame a traffic snarl or the weather for lateness. Mobile phones allow you to call if you're running late, but don't let that stop you setting out at a realistic time.

Have a proper haircut. Regularly. Whether you're a boy or a girl. Have a regular hairdresser who gets to know you.

If you're a girl, wear your skirts long enough and cover your shoulders at work.

Polish your shoes.

Look after your property in general.

At social occasions, take your turn talking to the dull/lost/elderly.

Never get drunk except among very close friends.

Intervene: call it out when you witness rudeness, racism. catch the hand of a small child that doesn't seem to have a parent nearby, and wait til someone comes.

You sound great. Very aware and smart and independent.
posted by JulieR at 7:48 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

These ones might not apply to you, but they are just about the most important things I am learning as an adult.

It is ok to ask for help when you need it. Really.
Being perfect is not very important.
posted by arha at 11:13 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

"You think grown-ups have it all figured out? That's just a hustle, kid. Grown-ups are making it up as they go along, just like you. You remember that, and you'll do fine." --John Goodman's character in "Matinee" (1993).
posted by kimota at 9:38 AM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everything said above is great advice. Nthing flossing and sunscreen (including your hands), basic repairs, and basic sociability. Oh, and get a cordless drill and some drill bits. The drill will come with driver bits. Cordless is better for young-adult small spaces. Find a You Tube video explaining basic knife skills or get someone to show you. Learning to dance a bit is nice for weddings.

Some good (mostly short) books along the lines of the answers are listed below. Most are older and can be had at used book venues or for practically nothing if they're used on Amazon. The Culp, Winston, and Jackson books listed below benefited me greatly in my 20s and beyond.

- Clean Like a Man (regardless of your gender). Short, basic, and an easy and fun read. There's also, which I have not checked out.

- Streamlining Your Life, by Stephanie Culp. I try to hit this every few months.

- Color Me Beautiful, by Carole Jackson, if you are a female (ignore the dated clothing styles in the photos and mention of "Qiana", but note the color impact in the photos and take the color and "what-to-have" advice). Also, IMO for both genders, Color for Men, also by Jackson.

- Getting Organized, by Stephanie Winston, is older, but very concise and basic. I read it when I was a bit younger than you and still use her principles for filing and paper. (I'm old enough to be your mother.) There are boatloads of this sort of book, and I've read most of them, but this one does not go deeply into pantries and kids' rooms and some things you likely won't need to worry about for a few years. It's more about the basic tasks and needs discussed upthread.

- A Reader's Digest home fix-it sort of book will see you through many years. You won't need a lot of it right now, but do check the basic plumbing section and also basic electrical stuff like replacing a socket. I guarantee you'll need to do that stuff.

- Perhaps a concise etiquette book or Web site. This can be handy for work/business concerns.
posted by jgirl at 10:35 AM on January 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Adults hang up curtains or custom wall coverings instead of leaving the cheap blinds that came with the windows up bare.

Adults have programmable thermostats.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:03 PM on January 22, 2012

Being an adult isn't at all defined by what you own, or how you budget money; those might be signals, but they're not actually what makes anyone an adult.

You should be able to care for yourself, care for others, and not be a burden to your friends. Adults are temporarily allowed to fail at all of these, and most of us *do* fail at these from time to time. But your default state should be one that's self-sustaining and pleasant to know.

Your life should be stable enough that if something changed suddenly, you'd still be alright. If your job went away, your apartment burned down, or your mom died, it'd hurt a lot, but a week later, you'd be on your feet.

You might have debt, you might not, but if you have significant debt, you've either spent it on something useful (college?), or learned your lesson on how not to spend money.

In a nutshell: You Have Your Shit Together, and over time, your friends notice that.
posted by talldean at 10:31 AM on January 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I had to come back because I ran into something that I forget EVERY YEAR: Budget for annual/semiannual expenses like car registration and taxes. Also, and this could be part of your rainy day fund, make sure you have enough money to get you home and back in case of a family emergency.
posted by elizeh at 6:51 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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