How do I adult?
September 24, 2014 10:28 AM   Subscribe

I would like to adult better. I need to start doing things like eating healthily, actually going to the dentist, having a home that isn't a pit of filth and junk, going to bed early on a a school night, maybe even getting some exercise and having savings. What resources are good for working on this?
posted by curious_yellow to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 136 users marked this as a favorite
For the having a home that isn't a pit of filth, you want Unfuck Your Habitat. Available as a tumblr, a twitter, and an app for iOS and Android.

For eating healthy, I strongly recommend planning your meals, making a list based off your planned meals, and shopping off the list in the early afternoon after you've eaten lunch. It's easier not to eat crap when you don't have any in the house and have no good reason to go to the store.
posted by KathrynT at 10:37 AM on September 24, 2014 [16 favorites]

I haven't used it myself but I've heard from several people that HabitRPG is good for this. Also Fitbit for physical health stuff.
posted by capricorn at 10:46 AM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd suggest not trying to bite off too much at one time. Set small, incremental goals you can succeed at. If you try too much, you're bound to fail and lose your motivation.

Maybe one week your goal is to do the dishes every other evening. The next week up it to every evening. The week after that, include picking up in one room twice a week.

The smaller and easier the goals, the less likely you are to lose steam.

One thing that works for me is timers. I'll set a forty minute timer on my phone, and when it goes off, I'll do five or ten minutes of chores. Then back to my book or whatever and reset the timer.
posted by colin_l at 10:47 AM on September 24, 2014 [18 favorites]

Starting points:
- write a five year plan
- make a budget
- make a weekly schedule
posted by susanvance at 10:47 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Is this stuff you know how to do but don't because of bad habits/procrastination/inertia or do you truly feel like you don't know how to do this stuff? Because I've known both kinds of people. (I kind of am the first kind.)

KathrynT's suggestions are good, though I will make explicit a point that was only implied and say never grocery shop when hungry. It's a recipe for overbuying junk food.

For the dentist- Assuming you have dental, call the insurance provider (or these days usually check their website), find a local provider who is covered, and just make an appointment. Once you've done it once they usually do a good job themselves of sending you little reminder cards to come back.

There are endless strategies and tricks for addressing procrastination, many of which can be boiled down to "make small, achievable step-by-step goals and follow through on them. So don't say "I need to eat healthier" say "I will spend 1 hour Thursday night drafting a meal plan for the next 4 weeks. I will spend 1 hour grocery shopping Friday afternoon. I will cook lasagna for 2 hours next tuesday so I can freeze it and take it bit by bit to work as lunches." Then you have a checklist you can actually check things off of.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:49 AM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

Seconding UFYH. I'm a natural slob and that helped tremendously.

My favorite resource is a paper yearlong planner that you can write in. I get mine from Poppin. Everything I need to do goes in it, and daunting large tasks (dental care) get broken down into smaller ones.

Find Dentist that takes my insurance.
Research local gym/fitness DVDs/etc

Find 2 easy, healthy & inexpensive recipes
Make grocery list

9am - Call dentist and make appointment (write appointment down!)
Spend 20 minutes wiping down bathroom

Grocery shop after class (attach grocery list on sticky note)
Put groceries away!

Buy fitness DVD/visit local gym
Spend 20 minutes tossing accumulated garbage

This is how I get adult things done.
posted by kimberussell at 10:50 AM on September 24, 2014 [11 favorites]

I've had a lot of success over the last six months with a combination of James Clear's identity-based habits/"small wins" approach and HabitRPG.

Clear recommends that you start by achieving the minimal version of your goal, and only move on to pushing yourself once you've established consistency. For instance, two of my goals are to do bodyweight exercises for 15 minutes every day, and to write 1,000 words every day. My minimal version? 30 seconds of bodyweight exercises and 100 words a day. After one month, I increased to 60 seconds of exercises and 200 words a day, then to 90 seconds and 300 words, and I will keep doing so until eventually I reach my original goals. The key here is to take steps so small they're nearly effortless. You might start with "spend 30 seconds decluttering every day", "save $5 each week", "go to bed by 1 a.m." or whatever else is both a positive change yet laughably easy for you.

HabitRPG has been good for easily keeping track of both these goals and other to-do list type items such as going to the dentist. It helps that I've got a bit of savings I can spend on rewards for following through (what wouldn't I do for galaxy sheets).
posted by galaxy rise at 10:56 AM on September 24, 2014 [10 favorites]


Have some of your paycheck automatically transferred to savings every payday.
Set calendar reminders to schedule and keep doctor's appointments.
Set up a reminder alarm to go to bed every night.
Set up a subscription to the foods you buy every week on Amazon.

Do you have a smartphone?
Get a grocery list app so you can add things as you remember and always have your list with you at the store.
If you have Google calendar, you can set SMS reminders so you get text alerts when you need to do things. You can even set it up to get a text reminder to go to bed every night!
Get a checkbook app and set that recurring transfer to savings so it's like you never had that money in the first place.

I love my calendar and enter things that need to happen way far in advance so I don't have to remember them until they need to happen (for instance, my IUD needs to come out in 2016, so I will get a text reminder when I need to make the appointment).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:57 AM on September 24, 2014 [11 favorites]

1. Read the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey for inspiration.
2. Read Getting Things Done by David Allen for technique.
3. Read Poke the Box by Steve Godin for motivation.
4. Use an app or system that records daily progress on very specific incremental habits.
5. Don't beat up on yourself too hard when you regress. Just win more days than you lose.
posted by Slap Factory at 11:09 AM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Making a budget was a big thing for me. I now have some savings and much less debt than I did a year ago. For me, the key to making a budget was making sure I was really budgeting enough for myself to spend without feeling poor (I've been poor for too long, having extra money I "couldn't spend" was too tempting).

For exercise, what helped me was deciding what I really wanted to be better at, which turned out to be running and thus having stronger outer thighs &c. (to take pressure off my knees). I started with small goals through the Couch-to-5k plan so I felt a sense of achievement each week and stuck with it. The only caveat was that once I finished the program I got bored and slacked off, so now I made a new workout plan and signed up for a 15k to stay on track.

The "minimal goals" advice is good advice! Some days when I really don't want to do my pilates/bodyweights/whatever, I remind myself that I can just do it and take as many breaks as I want, do the easy version, whatever. Once I start I'm more likely to tune in.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:11 AM on September 24, 2014

As a general principle, look for pockets of lost time and make sure you're doing something productive during them if you're not otherwise using them for something you really enjoy. For example, while my smoothie is blending in the morning, I can get about half of my dishes done. Then, the realization that it took me all of 90 seconds to make a big dent in the dirty dishes leads me to just finish them up before I sit down to eat breakfast. Making annoying calls, setting up appointments, tidying, quick bursts of exercise, etc, can all be done in those tiny pockets of time that you would otherwise lose just mooching around the house waiting for something.

Also, I agree with automate as much as you can - savings, for sure, just have however much you want to save pulled out of your paycheck automatically. But I'd disagree with starting small on savings. Unless you're really living paycheck to paycheck, save a real chunk of money. If you really need it, you can always pull it back out of your savings (unless you're putting money in a retirement account, in which case starting small could be a better idea if you're not 100% clear on your budget/living expenses).

If you live somewhere with online grocery delivery, you can set up a standing order each week and not have to worry about having basic food in the house. Don't be afraid to buy pre-made/packaged stuff that's a step up in healthiness from what you're eating now but may not be perfectly healthy. Make it as easy for yourself as you can.
posted by snaw at 11:13 AM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Here's a book on this very topic: Adulting.
posted by acm at 11:24 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

There are a lot of tricks and concrete actions you can take, but for me the most important step in going from dumb kid to proper adult was a cognitive shift from wallowing in the present to becoming more future-oriented. I found a lot of my worst habits (procrastinating, dodging bills and responsibilities, crap eating patterns) were rooted in self-indulgence - whatever I NEEDED to do never seemed as rewarding as what I WANTED to do right then - so I tricked myself with another layer of self-indulgence.

I started to think of things like making lunch, freezing batches of food, doing laundry... as favours I'm doing for Future Me. Sure, it sucks taking 5 minutes to arrange leftovers into a tupperware when I'm done with dinner and ready to relax, but it's infinitely more stress and expense to scramble for lunch the next day, and I mentally high-five Past Me every morning for sparing me the grief. Same with bills, dentist... Sucks now, would suck way more later with late fees and aggravated root canals, so do Future You a solid and take care of it.

Before I ever got to Pomodoros or apps or to-do lists, thinking about the future not as an abstract time that will never catch up with me but as a person, a Me I need to look out for, really helped me take those steps.
posted by Freyja at 11:31 AM on September 24, 2014 [27 favorites]

Read Stephanie Culp's Streamlining Your Life. It's short and very no-nonsense.

I like the 60-40 budgeting method. You don't need to figure out all sorts of categories; there only five categories. You could also make it 70-30, with four categories.

But what you really need are long- and short-term goals and a good planner!
posted by jgirl at 11:41 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Find a system that works for you - the books and websites here that have been recommended are a good start.

But most importantly, realize that you're not going to change everything all at once, and to attempt to do so will result in failure. Start slowly! It's really easy to feel like you need to change *everything*, NOW, but it would be like charging up a mountain and getting winded halfway up, instead of taking your time slowly so you can reach the peak without being exhausted.

Take a month and use it to change your eating habits. Once you feel like they've been well established, then take the next month to work on your financials, and so forth. Don't pressure yourself to change your entire life overnight.
posted by sutel at 12:16 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

You doom yourself when you have so many goals all at once.

Try achieving them one at a time within a certain time frame.

I'd do your list in this order:

Savings - use a retirement saving plan to get the tax benefits you are entitled to (and employer match if you have that) and YNAB to track and target your spending and saving goals. Because saving for an IRA can be a payroll deduction you can start this right away and it doesn't eat up your willpower. One big part of adulting is to stop eating out so much.

Exercise - it is maybe the single best thing you can do for yourself - it will improve your mood, help you sleep and make you healthier than anything else you can do. Couch 2 5K and weight training. Give it 3 months of concerted effort as your primary habit changing focus.

Eat Better - this can be a path to un-fulfilling obsession if you fall into the diet fad world or supplement hell. Don't do that. Just start cooking for yourself - Jamie Oliver's 30 minute meals would be my starter cookbook recommendation (take it out from the library before buying)- even if you don't like some of the ingredients eat them anyway - you will eventually like them. Also if you want to lose weight - count your calories (I used livestrong's daily plate) - it works and it is educational about where your weight gain came from - don't fall for magic trick diets - there is no magic - just the math of the cold hard universe. Do this once you have exercise established. Spend a month cooking and counting. See how it goes.

Hire a cleaner whenever you feel out of control filthy (30-50 bucks is not a big deal for a fresh start). Do this anytime you want.

Sell crap you don't use. I look at my stuff and ask myself have I used that this year? If the answer is no it goes on Craigslist or eBay. There is no point in having money tied up in stuff taking up space and losing value. Use the money for savings, debt repayment or retirement plan top-up and feel like a super adult. This is pretty time consuming - you have to list and then deal with the knobs the internet spits at you. Do it when you have the time and energy to deal with both getting rid of your crap and putting up with their crap. I recommend an all at once blitz to just get it over with (you will be stuck staying home for a week or so in order for people to be able to pick stuff up)

Once you have sold your crap your place will be easier to clean (and more sane to live in).
posted by srboisvert at 12:35 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

As others have said, you won't change everything at once. It's a slow ramp-up.

My favorite strategies for getting this day-to-day stuff done go together:

1) Schedule everything, as suggested by Eric Barker. A to-do list is too vague. Put 1 activity - 2 at most - on your calendar each day and do them during that blocked-off time. 7 am is gym time. 9 am is calling dentist time. 6 pm is grocery time.

Even simple things like scheduling a dentist appointment can often take longer or more mental energy than expected, so there's no way to handle them besides just setting aside a half-hour or even a whole hour and just doing it. I prefer to set aside too much time so that when I'm done, I feel like I've been given the gift of free time.

2) Schedule a few things per day rather than trying to do it all at once. I do better when I can hit 1 or 2 tasks hard and then stop worrying for the rest of the day. If you're going to hit the gym today and go grocery shopping, put calling the dentist on your calendar for tomorrow. Your tolerance will vary, but 3 things may be too many. Hyperbole and a Half does a great job of explaining what happens when I ask myself to accomplish 5 things in one day (see "clean ALL the things?". Let's be honest: if you are working a normal schedule, gym + work + groceries is A LOT to do in a single day. Most days I only have energy for gym + work, max. But thanks to my schedule, I can just move things around and trust myself to handle them.

If you don't get something done, just reschedule it! It'll help with the guilt and avoidance: rather than waste time on guilt you can get on with your life and try again to do the task at its new assigned time. If you fail to do something 4 or 5 times, either drop everything and do it immediately, schedule several hours to do it so you sufficient time, or reconsider whether it needs to be done at all.

3) Use 1 and 2 to give yourself time to recuperate. Take a look at your tasks. Put them on your calendar, 1 or 2 per day. Realize that some days will be busy or other things will come up, so you need either buffer time or recuperation time. Clear your schedule for a day or two per week to provide that buffer or recuperation.
posted by Tehhund at 12:55 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

It sounds a little twee, but something that worked for me, in terms of learning to keep my house clean, is making it a place I love to be.


Decorating it with the most beautiful things I can afford

Having people over to enjoy it

Adding little pieces of decor or flowers, and putting them on Instagram

Making it a hobby to peruse Craigslist or Apartment Therapy for shit

Inversely, purging clutter

Buying cleaning supplies that smell amazing (Mrs. Meyer's doesn't cost THAT much more than regular stuff, and increases my willingness to use them by 100%)

Recognizing and internalizing that having a clean, calm, spa-like place makes me feel one hell of a lot better

And in the same vein, across the board, maybe changing your thinking from "I HAVE to be an adult" to "I GET to ENJOY being adult" might be a way to go? I know finding little ways to make "adult stuff" somehow more fun makes me get on board a little more easily.
posted by functionequalsform at 1:04 PM on September 24, 2014 [13 favorites]

I need to start doing things like eating healthily, actually going to the dentist, having a home that isn't a pit of filth and junk, going to bed early on a a school night, maybe even getting some exercise and having savings.

At 9 p.m. tonight, take one hour and...
* Make a shopping list
* Call 1-800-DENTIST and make an appointment
* Clean just one thing in your house (e.g. do all the dishes)
* Find a gym near you (if you spend more than 15 minutes on this part, stop it, you're fucking around).
* Take $20 out of your wallet and put it in a jar.
* Go to bed.

Notice that none of those actions are actually the end state of any of your goals. Rather, they are actionable first steps. For example, tomorrow you'll clean something else, take the $20 out of the jar and put it in a real bank, you'll visit the gym and maybe get a membership, etc.

Now, just keep doing this -- actionable tasks.

Forget the big picture. What's actionable right now that adds up to the big picture when you do it over and over again?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:04 PM on September 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Honestly, the process of becoming an adult and getting through the associated anxiety (for me) all started with Unfuck Your Habitat. I started by making my bed, every goddamn day, no matter what. Sounds like nothing, but it seemed impossible until I just started to do it. Seriously, give UFYH a shot.
posted by samthemander at 2:11 PM on September 24, 2014

Yeah, generally doing stuff for Future You is the way to think about it. You are going to the dentist so Future You doesn't have to get a root canal. You are saving money so Future You will have peace of mind after an unexpected layoff. You are getting your tires rotated every 5,000 miles so Future You doesn't have to buy new tires too soon. You are eating healthy so Future You doesn't have heart problems or diabetes. Etc.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:54 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is something that might not work for everyone, but i recently got a Jawbone Up fitness band, and now that I've worn it for a few weeks, the app cheerfully tells me what to do all the time, and I find myself oddly inspired to obey. For example, a couple of days ago it sent a notification to my phone saying it had detected my bedtimes had been inconsistent this week, and that wasn't good for my health. It had determined based on how long I took to fall asleep, my general getting up time, and how energetic I seemed after different amounts of sleep, that the best bed time for me was 11:11pm, and it would like me to commit to trying that for just one night, please.

It had a yes/no button, and I clicked yes, because why not. And then just before 11 it reminded me, and I obeyed. Then the next morning it told me I was awesome, and why not try again tonight? And now it is telling me that my new bedtime every night is 11:11 and that I need to work on making it an automatic habit.

Now that il have the bedtime under control, it's started harassing me about drinking more water. I feel like I am my fitness band's new project, and somehow the path of least resistance is just to do what I'm told.
posted by lollusc at 5:36 PM on September 24, 2014 [14 favorites]

I've found Lifehacker to be kind of a goldmine for this stuff. If anything, there's just too much advice on there! I'll start reading one article, and then in the middle of that they'll have links to OTHER articles I should be reading.

One of their tips was to think of the future you as a friend, and not as yourself. If you think of yourself in January of 2015, that's an abstraction. If you think of the you of 2015 as a friend who needs your help and depends on you, you'll (hopefully) be less likely to flake on paying that friend's bills and stuff. Think how sad, angry and disappointed that friend will be, if you let them down and don't do the stuff you promised you'd do!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:52 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have said this a couple of times on the green, but I like to repeat it in case you or someone who needs advice on this ends up being in the same situation I was.

I felt really inadequate and immature about not being able to say brush my teeth every day or eat healthily and not procrastinate. And I tried really hard and like a good catholic hated myself for being such a mess.

Until I got tested for ADHD. And my results made the doctor wonder how it had been possible for me to grow well into my 20s before noticing something amiss (but then, I didn't have the concentration to notice I lacked concentration!). He actually asked me how I was able to cope until that moment.

My results were like 5th percentile, which was unexpected since my grades in school were okay but then my non-academic life wasn't. I lost my passport like 3 times. There is actually no important document I haven't lost and replaced at one time or another. To me the concept of changing stuff because it's old was unheard of because I lost everything before it had time to get old.

But anyway, I started taking meds, and now I am an adult! I love it. I am super productive at work, I can manage my time really well. Doing everything perfectly costs me half the work I had to put in to live my life putting out fires before. People tell me I am responsible and organized! That feels so bizarre to me!

I really regret not getting tested sooner because I think I based part of my identity on what a mess I was, and now it turns out I wasn't. I am still getting to know myself, but this time there is no guilt.
posted by Tarumba at 6:28 AM on September 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

THe next time you sit down to think about what you should do to be a better adult, stop thinking, get up and do the first thing you see. Be that vaccuum, dishes, deal with mail, cook something, just get up and do it. YOu can read blogs about habits and whatever for hours but none of it makes a damn difference if you don't just start doing stuff.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:14 AM on September 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am reccomending a technological solution not a psychological solution.

2 things i use: Google Calendar and tasks.
Calendar for generic agenda of things to do( Insurance renewal, cable bills etc)
Google tasks fill in specifics. (Haircut, Schedule dentist appointment). In addition I added reminder tasks Monthly( Financial check on 2nd thursday month, Clean Kitchen on 3rd weekend etc).

Available for any platform including windows and android which keeps me up to task. Have a huge widget in your homepage to show your overdue task.
posted by radsqd at 8:39 AM on September 26, 2014

Chiming in to add:

1.) Nthing Google Calendar and Wunderlist or another task management app with reminders
2.) Plan to Eat, for shopping and meal planning. For eating healthy, Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics.
3.) Invest in financial management software. I recommend YNAB. I love it, especially the "Reports" feature. Totally worth it.
3.) A book recommendation: "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing."

On its face, this is an odd suggestion, but in the same vein as functionequalsform's suggestion, it's much MUCH easier to keep a clean/tidy house when there's no clutter. The gist is simple - go through every single item you own by category, keep anything that fills you with joy, and dump everything that doesn't. If you try this, be prepared to dump a lot - I live in a very small 1-bedroom duplex, and got rid of 10+ trash bags filled with stuff. (And no, I don't miss any of it.) There is a very simple system for this, which she describes in her book. I tackled her approach with enthusiasm and completed all categories in 3 weeks. My house has never been more tidy, and I don't hate cleaning as much because it's So. Much. Easier. Without. So. Much. Stuff.

I went the extra mile and developed a capsule wardrobe, which also frees up time, saves money, and leaves me space in my mind to remember adult-y things that are more important, like that dentist appointment and having time to exercise and eat healthy each day. Less money on clothes means more in my savings account. And I don't wear the same thing every day, as I feared when I started it.

No more cleaning every single day, because everything has a home.
No more rushing around the night before getting ready for work, because my capsule wardrobe ensures that everything matches and I can pick an outfit in 5 minutes or less.
No more resentment because I'm overwhelmed with too many "adult" tasks.
It's all manageable, enjoyable, even; life with less clutter can really have a positive ripple effect into your entire life.

There's a strong psychological component to this - by going through each category item by item, choosing only what brings you joy, you let go of the old, making space (psychological and physical) to usher in the new. A fantastic approach to "adulting" IMHO.

I used to think of being an adult as filled with crap and obligations I didn't want to do. Now I think of it as empowering - having the freedom to prioritize and do what I want to do - travel with Mr. Circle, clean only when I have to, learning how to sew, knitting gifts for my friends, and making my life more about creativity rather than managing all of my stuff.
posted by onecircleaday at 4:26 PM on June 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

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