wait, so I’m supposed to do ALL of this now?
August 3, 2022 6:47 AM   Subscribe

I’m new to adulting and feeling overwhelmed with how to balance all of the responsibilities I have now, and I would appreciate advice on 1) how to create balance and 2) how to forgive myself when I mess up.

I recently graduated from college and moved to a new city - yay, very exciting! In this transitional period of my life, there’s so many things I’m trying to balance at once, like…
cooking for myself (so I’m supposed to figure out what to feed myself 3x a day, EVERY day??)
working 9-5 after being on a student schedule and getting very used to that schedule
maintaining my apartment
maintaining my finances
exercising regularly (2-3x a week ideally)
maintaining my hobbies
maintaining existing friendships AND making new friends (while being an introvert where my ideal after work plans are going to the library and reading…)
being kind to myself and developing self-love
planning for my future

A lot of these goals can be really difficult to manage independently and even more complicated together. For example, I want to do well at work - which may require me to work more after hours, which reduces time to hang out with friends or meet new friends. I’m WFH rn but have the option to go into the office and I’d love to do that, to meet new people and possibly be more productive - except commuting tires me and then I have to think about what to make for lunch and that feels stressful. It feels like a n-degree polynomial equation, trying to figure out how to balance all of these things in the limited time that I have. This is just so much. Am I alone in feeling very overwhelmed and under-prepared for all of this? Sometimes it just feels like too much and like my brain is holding so many things at once and it’s just not designed to be thinking about all of these things at once. I’ve been noticing that I’ve been sleeping poorly and I’m starting to think that it may be because my brain’s always whirring around trying to figure out all of these things.

I think I make it worse on myself by being a perfectionist. For example, I feel guilty if I decide to buy lunch instead of making lunch because it feels like I’m failing my goal of being financially responsible. Or I plan to go to a yoga class in the AM to get an early start to the day but don’t end up going because I’m simply too tired. Or I ignore a friend’s message because I just don’t have the energy. I know these are all very normal and forgivable things to do but I still feel guilty, like I should know how to balance all of this at once…

Questions for you:
1. When you were starting out adulting, did you also struggle with this? Any similar anecdotes would help me feel a lot less alone in this experience.
2. Do you have any advice for how I can balance all of these goals/habits that I want to develop? How do I start slow so I can build a sustainable balance? My mom suggested that I start very slow, like setting a goal to have one dinner/hang with a friend a week. But that doesn’t feel like enough - what if that isn’t enough to maintain my friendships?
3. Do you have any advice on how to be flexible with myself when I inevitable fail and don’t adult “well”?

Thank you in advance!
posted by cruel summer to Human Relations (40 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Oh darlin,' EVERYONE struggles with this. Your early 20s are entirely about this "wait I'm supposed to do all this shit now FOREVER, what the hell do I do?" thing. It's like your early 20s are all about you frantically learning how to juggle - and then your late 20s you're finally mastering it and getting the hang of it. Then your 30s are about taking a closer look at the things you're juggling now that you know what you're doing, and you start to make decisions about the things you're juggling. But right now you are still learning how to juggle, and that's what we all go through.

You say that you're worried that one hang-with-a-friend each week may not be enough to maintain friendships; consider that they're also trying to go through this too, so once a week may be all they can handle anyway. And if they're real friends, that'll be fine. One of my very best friends is someone I haven't seen in person in about 8 years and we still are tight.

Something that helped me a lot (and still does to this day) is to offload all the decision-making about "when do I do X and how do I do Y" onto something else - an app, a checklist, something like that. Take housecleaning - there are a gabillion guides to how often you should do different household tasks, like "vacuum one a week" or "clean your drapes twice a year" or whatever. I actually found a guide on the website Unfuck Your Habitat to be the most helpful - they have a section called Unfuck Your Weekend, where they walk you through a decent weekly cleaning plan, with a little on Saturday and a little on Sunday, that still gives you plenty of time to have fun and enjoy yourself on the weekend. That really helped me stay on top of things (and I appreciated that they built in breaks during the cleaning session).

If that doesn't work for you, and you think you might like seeing a checklist to go through, that works too, and there are a billion of them. But I'm talking more about the concept of letting someone else come up with the plan and so all I had to do was follow instructions. I didn't come up with that plan, someone else did and I was just following orders. That helped me retain some brainspace to make my own decisions about other things.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:01 AM on August 3, 2022 [18 favorites]

Best answer: I am 50. And I am still learning how to be a grownup. Here is a secret that I hope makes you feel better about yourself: The learning how to be an adult simply never ends for people who care as much as you seem to - that is, the process of always-becoming the adult you want to be, with your own shifting values, your own shifting priorities, and the real fact that the world is frigging hard, from relationships to lunch. There is no secret club of people who already always have it figured out.
Some of it gets a lot easier with practice.
Every meal is not supposed to be a healthy and taste experience of perfection. A lot of meals are just to quiet your body so you can get on with things. Sometimes that means saving energy and time cheaply (cereal for dinner? Yes no one will take you to dinner jail.) Sometimes it means saving energy and time more expensively (in the big budget of your day and week, buying a lunch makes sense so you can "spend" limited energy and time on something else.)

Others here will probably give you great practical tips: batch cook, etc. (One good tip I have: quickly answer a friend in a line saying something like: I'm exhausted, can't wait to catch up when we both can.) My advice is to remind yourself that everything is a process of becoming who you want to be, and that is how it is supposed to be.
posted by ojocaliente at 7:04 AM on August 3, 2022 [46 favorites]

Yes, this is totally normal! And remember, too, that until fairly recently (at least in America), only men had jobs and the entire system was set up based on the idea that they had a woman at home who was doing most of the things that you've outlined here.

I'm in my mid-thirties and figuring out how to do as many of these things as possible in a successful and not-soul crushing way is still mostly trial and error. You will go through phases where you're good at some of these things and not others. You'll go through phases where you're bad at all of them at once and you feel like a complete loser. It's all part of being an adult.
posted by anotheraccount at 7:22 AM on August 3, 2022 [12 favorites]

The way people learn to do this is by determining a minimal acceptable level for each thing that you can live with that won't actively make you feel worse. For instance I feel okay with the level of cleanliness in my apartment if I do the dishes and wipe the counters every day or two, vacuum once a week or two, wash the sheets every week or so, clean the toilet, tub and sink once a week, and don't dust or do other kinds of more intensive cleaning more often than once every few months. For someone else that might be unacceptably slovenly but unless they're coming over to my house, it literally doesn't matter. Cleaning is morally neutral, as KC Davis says. On the other hand I feel terrible if I eat takeout for dinner more than occasionally and will find a way to batch cook most of my meals for a week or buy ingredients for simple go-to meals I can throw together. (A bowl of instant noodles like Korean kimchi ramen is a totally acceptable work lunch for me, though.)

The balance between these things will change over time and that's fine. But there are only 24 hours a day and there are no wrong answers. You are not bad if you don't go to the gym or clean or cook. You're doing your best.
posted by derrinyet at 7:26 AM on August 3, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: My advice, as someone who started doing these things four or five years ago and struggles with this a lot, is to focus on setting up your life in a way where things go basically fine even if you don't put much energy in for a while, and generally to lower your standards about the stuff that doesn't really matter.

The really important thing is that you feed yourself (and take care of any acute medical conditions that you have/etc). That means having food around that is easy and you know that you will eat. Don't worry too much if it's snack food or if it's being eaten at the "wrong" meal. I find that keeping around nut mixes is good, since they're pretty healthy, require zero prep, and will give you good sustainable energy, which is useful if you're like me and sometimes get distracted and forget to eat for half the day. Granola (either just on its own or with yogurt/etc) is also a good option. Find things that you like that are really easy, but still at least somewhat filling.

The next most important thing is that you make rent. It sounds like you have a salaried position, so congrats, all you need to do is not get fired :)

If you're doing those two things, then congrats, you are succeeding! You can scale up and do more things when you have more energy for it, but if you don't, ... that's ok. Just feed yourself, pay rent, and wait until you have more energy to do the other stuff. Your experience may vary, but I find that energy comes and goes, and it's better to work with that than to try to do everything all the time.
For example, I feel guilty if I decide to buy lunch instead of making lunch because it feels like I’m failing my goal of being financially responsible.
Once your rent and expenses are tallied up, is that less than or equal to the amount than you're making? If so, then congratulations, you are doing a.) just fine and b.) better than a whole lot of people. If eating out sometimes isn't putting your balance sheet net-negative I really wouldn't worry about it at this point, you can worry about cooking for yourself more once you're feeling more settled in and stable, or you can decide that it's not worth worrying about and keep doing it.
Or I ignore a friend’s message because I just don’t have the energy.
It's probably a good idea to text your friend and let them know that you're really busy with your new job and new city but you still do care about them and want to maintain the connection (assuming that's true). Then don't worry too much about it for 6 months or so, they know what's going on and it's very normal for people to be busy and bad at replying when they're moving to a new city and starting a new job — I wouldn't want to be friends with someone who didn't get that, personally.
I plan to go to a yoga class in the AM to get an early start to the day but don’t end up going because I’m simply too tired.
Sleep is really important. If you're too tired to go to a yoga class, then sleeping was a more valuable use of your time. You shouldn't feel bad because you changed your plans to do something that was more valuable than what you originally planned to do.
what if that isn’t enough to maintain my friendships?
You may be different than me, but the friendships that I cherish the most are ones where we can not talk for a few months, and then have things feel totally fine and normal and good when we do catch up.

Remember that you'll get better at all of this stuff over time. You just moved to a new city and started a new job, it's normal for things to be a bit of a mess for a while (even a year or so!).
posted by wesleyac at 7:36 AM on August 3, 2022 [12 favorites]

Sleeping and keeping your job are #1. Everything else is #2. I have an array of sleep aids, including melatonin and when needed, perscription sleep aids I don't take often, as well as aromatherapy, sheet spray, weighted blanket, etc. Everything I can do to sleep, I do.

I don't cook and I outsource cleaning and more recently, outsourced laundry. It's expensive, so if you're not making a high enough salary I probably wouldn't recommend it, but it saved my sanity to have cleaners come every two weeks.

I would also recommend boxed meal kits, they're cheaper than getting takeout or DoorDash every day. But if I buy groceries I never end up cooking and it goes to waste. Weekly meal kits were a good compromise.

All bills on autopay.
posted by stockpuppet at 7:36 AM on August 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm also 50 + will say this: everybody - EVERYBODY - just gets out there and does the best that they can, no matter what they may be claiming (or selectively broadcasting on social media) about their lives. Compassion w/yourself and others is the best starting point as a result.

There are plenty of days now, and have been plenty along the way, where I felt like I just barely had things in control, or that I was making a lot of compromises to get to the end of a day w/some some reserve sanity and energy to do it again tomorrow.

Practical advice: What has made the most difference for me isn't consistently succeeding or having no human frailties, but having a basic framework of sound long-term goals and just doggedly working toward them as much as I was able. For example, I've been gradually saving money for around ~30 years - I'm not always great about it (sometimes I just want to blow $50 on books or get the more expensive hotel room where the kids have a pool to play in or buy the not cheap beer, etc., etc.), but three decades of consistently trying have gotten me to a better place than I would otherwise be.

It sounds like you've already identified that framework (kudos to you, since I didn't even really think clearly in these terms until I was in my 30s and about to become a parent). Just keep plugging away, allowing yourself to take breaks and bend as needed, but with your bigger goals and values in mind. You're obviously smart and thoughtful, and can definitely do this.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:37 AM on August 3, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: My fellow introvert! My best tip for preserving the gentle sweetness of your gooey introverted core is to set aside one evening a week that is solely for you. Mine was Friday nights, because once I started working full time after college I realized that pushing myself to do Fridays out late with the whole Friday extrovert vibe and the Friday night expectations after a whole week of being ON for work absolutely wrecked me for the rest of the weekend and well into the following Monday. I'd get really grumpy and tired and hate everyone for days.

So I started reserving my Friday evenings religiously for recuperation purposes from the week itself. No exceptions. I even called it Church of [Mochapickle]. I'd get something lovely for dinner, grab a novel, get a movie, put out votives, and just stay in and relax. Selected guests are welcome but only if they understand the mandate and you feel fully at ease with them. One of my oldest/dearest friends from school moved to the same city and understood the whole thing, so on Fridays she'd come over and sit on the fire escape and smoke pretentious imported cigarettes and we'd sit quietly and comfortably for a long time.

When you're deeply and desperately introverted, you have to care for the introvert first so you're better able to enjoy your time with others throughout the week.
posted by mochapickle at 7:37 AM on August 3, 2022 [23 favorites]

Your list seems pretty comprehensive and gives off the accurate vibe that adulting is a lot of juggling and choices.

Just remember that you'll change a lot as you go through life. The actual things you do with your time will change, and being an adult is figuring out just how close you can get to doing the things that matter to you as much as you can.

I'll use myself for an example... when I was closer to your age, I probably weighted friendships and hobbies the most, and I was a pretty committed activist. For "making meals 3x a day" I kind just ate cereal and dabbled in making food once in a while, and often ate out. By the time I hit 30, I had a child, so my space and finances felt like priorities; my career was really important to me then, too. The things I care about most now are reflective of having an older child who is independent, not feeling overly invested in work, and some new interests I've developed, like paddling and other outdoorsy stuff.

Anyway, point is: you can't do it all, but you can choose to do what you do, and what you choose to do will (and should!) change over time.
posted by RajahKing at 7:39 AM on August 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

Sleeping and keeping your job are #1. Everything else is #2.

Sleeping #1 in your early 20s? Screw that, take advantage of the fact that you can survive on less than 8 hours. Your 30s will hit soon enough....

Also work lunch is when you hang out with your work friends (deepen relationships) or your other friends who work close by. Don't frugal that - it's valuable time before you have work/lunch responsibilities because you got a few promotions.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:42 AM on August 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

I’m not new to adulting and feeling overwhelmed with how to balance all of the responsibilities I have now.

To your point 2: You're very much not alone.

(I'm twice your age and can't answer your point 1)
posted by pompomtom at 7:43 AM on August 3, 2022

Also cooking for yourself sucks when you are single - again eat a solid work lunch and minor dinner. Dinner can also mean time to meet friends so you knock out multiple things all at once, of course depending on your budget.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:44 AM on August 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Agreed that your 20s is supposed to be a time of figuring out how to do all this stuff, but it never really becomes easy. Most of us have too much to do and too little time to do it all. Even people who seem to have it all together don't necessarily... everyone puts their best foot forward for the public and are mostly not posting pictures of their dirty bathroom or credit card bills on social media.

There are a few tricks that can help. I HATE thinking about what to eat three times every day, so I made a list for myself of 14 dinners that I like, are reasonably healthy and are relatively easy to cook. I also have about three breakfast meals I eat regularly, and about three lunches. I also keep cans of hearty soups on hand in case I ever feel REALLY lazy and don't want to fix anything at all.

Multi-tasking is another trick. For example, meeting a friend at the gym (or making a friend of someone who goes to your gym) means that you can work out together and that totally counts as a hang. Or talk to family/friends on the phone while you walk for exercise. Or listen to audiobooks on the treadmill, so you're getting some reading done at the same time. Choose fiction to entertain your brain, or books on self-development since that is an interest of yours. Listen to podcasts while you cook or clean. See if there are groups/clubs for people who do your same hobbies.

Streamline and simplify where you can. Some people adore having lots and lots of clothes and accessories, but if that isn't a hobby of yours it is totally ok to have a modest number of nice-looking outfits and wear them over and over so you're not spending a lot of time trying to put together some amazing outfit every day. Keep your apartment decor simple if you can... the more knicknacks you have sitting around on shelves, tables and on the wall, the harder it is to dust. If you don't care about manicures, don't get them. If fancy makeup isn't a hobby, but you feel you need some, you can do a five-minute look with tinted moisturizer, mascara and tinted lip balm. Bonus: you don't have a ton of makeup to worry about keeping organized.

It's nearly impossible to do everything to perfection while also getting enough sleep and taking care of your mental health, but if you set yourself up to be efficient where you can, it can help you accomplish more in the time you have.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:47 AM on August 3, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Yup, adulting is exhausting (but it doesn't always have to be). You're already much farther along than I was at your age by being able to even recognize/articulate the struggle, instead of just drowning in it. I feel for you, too, because the pandemic has also made everything more complicated and energy-sucking than it used to be.
Two things that really helped me when I was in my 20's and learning how to balance things were:
1. A routine, and
2. The "3 things" rule.

The routine is basically you creating structure for yourself in the absence of someone else creating for you. So, pick a few activities a week that you will consider non-optional (for instance, Tuesday night is yoga, Thursday night is a game night with friends, Mon/Wed/Fri evenings are for staying home, cooking/cleaning and vegging out, Saturdays are for socializing, Sundays are for grocery shopping and laundry). I'd also recommend picking 3 days a week that are your "go to work in person" days and consider those "mandatory." If everything is optional, it is easy to opt out, so you also have to get into the mindset of "on Mondays I work in person, no exceptions." The routine may vary once in a while (i.e. for a weekend out of town or a night when you're too tired or come down with something and just need to stay home), but the key is to have things planned out and, ideally, have some standing commitments on your calendar. One thing that helped me with this was pre-paying for things like dance or yoga classes (and I also got a discount for signing up for 10 classes), so once a week I knew I had a commitment on the calendar to go exercise/be social. Again, think about these things as non-optional.

The "3 things" rule is my favorite. I created this rule because I had a tendency to either way over-commit (trying to cram 15 things into a day), or crash and burn and then be unable to do anything for weeks on end. So, here's the rule: each day you have to do 3 things, and only 3 things. Those 3 things can be big (go to work, go for a run, cook dinner), or little (watch a movie, call my mom, run an errand). For over-committers, the "3 things" rule will help you pace yourself and not try to cram too much into a day, and for under-committers, the "3 things" rule will help you hold yourself accountable to getting things done. I love the "3 things" rule because it makes me feel productive/on top of things without burning myself out.

Good luck!
posted by sleepingwithcats at 7:50 AM on August 3, 2022 [5 favorites]

I think everyone struggles with this stuff their whole lives, at least to some degree (especially those with executive function problems like me). It does get easier with practice, though. Also, a lot of people just don't do all that stuff well, or even at all. After 15 years of living on my own, I can handle the job and food and financial stuff ok now, and the exercise too with a lot of effort, but I really struggle to keep up with the rest of your list.

Figure out what on your list is most important to you, or bare minimum to keep your life from collapsing, and prioritize that at first. Skipping all your workouts and eating takeout for a week straight isn't going to affect your life in 5 years from now. On the other hand, doing that for 5 years straight, or building up a big credit card debt, or getting repeatedly fired, probably will. So try not to form excessively bad habits but if you need to temporarily drop some small things to focus on the bigger things, do that, and try not to feel guilty about it.

Forming good habits will help a lot for decreasing the mental effort, so for example, you don't have to think about when to go work out, you just automatically go to the gym or to dance class or jogging or etc because it's Monday night and that's just what you do on Monday nights. Ideally you can multitask too, like hiking every weekend or X sport every Thursday night with friend Y, to combine exercise and hobbies and friendships.

Another thing that helps a lot for food is discovering instant meals you're happy to eat whenever you don't have time or energy for cooking, and thinking of that when grocery-shopping to ensure you always have those options (e.g. I always have cheerios and instant oatmeal in the pantry, and usually fruit/cheese/yogurt in the fridge, among other things). Similar concept for packing lunches for work - once you get in the habit of it and figure out some meals you like, it gets a lot easier. It's totally fine to buy lunch sometimes too even if that's not your ideal goal - some days, throwing 10$ at one of the day's problems is just worth it.
posted by randomnity at 7:53 AM on August 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Am I alone in feeling very overwhelmed and under-prepared for all of this?

Nope! In fact you’ll find pretty much all of "adult" culture contains this theme. Anything that doesn’t is escapist.

1. When you were starting out adulting, did you also struggle with this?

Starting out? I’m retired and I still juggle most of those questions.

2. Do you have any advice for how I can balance all of these goals/habits that I want to develop? How do I start slow so I can build a sustainable balance?

Pick what is most important to you and make sure that happens. It’s way too easy to get caught up trying to do everything. Adult life is a series of compromises, so keeping your priorities in mind is constantly important.

What if [meeting once a week] isn’t enough to maintain my friendships?

Remember that everyone is in the same boat now. Nobody has time and energy. Wanting to hang out with people every day is unrealistic for both you and them. Keep online chats going to touch base, but don’t expect much more than once a week — especially when people start having kids.

3. Do you have any advice on how to be flexible with myself when I inevitable fail and don’t adult “well”?

Financial and emotional resilience are at the core of functioning as an adult. Accepting failures and moving along anyway *is* adulting.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:57 AM on August 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

Your easiest/best hope for some balance in your life is earning enough money to outsource some chores as mentioned above. It helps so much.

Having a partner (or even reliable housemates) introduces extra headaches, but gives you someone else who is also thinking about doing the laundry, when to prune the roses, what’s for dinner and is there enough bread for lunch tomorrow, how do I fix the toilet, planning fun with friends, saving, etc… It helps a lot, at least until you also add in kids if you’re so inclined. (Single parenthood is hard mode, for sure. Respect to anyone in that position.)

Routine is also invaluable.

For most of us, exercise counts as one of your hobbies now. You have a limited number of hobby slots, so have to make hard choices. Many of us choose to get doughy.

Certainly makes me appreciate how hard even mediocre parents had to work for us!
posted by breakfast burrito at 7:58 AM on August 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

In your position, I would prioritize:

(1) Going into the office at least once a week, because that helps fulfill several goals, and I think it's easier to get into a new job if you're there in person. On those days, get takeout for lunch to help make up for the commuting/ social exhaustion; maybe get extra to have for dinner too.

(2) Maintaining friendships with the people you really care about. As you get used to the job and routine, you'll have more time in your life for meeting new people. Right now you just DON'T. So fulfill your social needs with old friends, and in a few months you'll be able to explore your new city and new relationships more. (Long distance acquaintances you can let fall to the wayside.)

(3) Avoid spending more than you earn, but otherwise don't stress too much finances. You can work on saving when you have a little more mental energy.

Everything else can wait. None of it is an emergency, and you'll be in a better space to start up additional healthy habits in a few months.
posted by metasarah at 8:05 AM on August 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also, from a practical standpoint there actually is One Simple Trick to adulting: Have savings. Divert something from your paycheck into a separate account each month. I guarantee you that it will make a enormous difference in your ability to adult.

From an emotional standpoint friends and family are very important in this life … and you owe it to them NOT to borrow money.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:14 AM on August 3, 2022 [11 favorites]

Housing and food.

the cool thing about being in an apartment at this time of life, when you're absolutely supposed to be in an apartment, is that you don't have to think so much about maintenance. That's the thing I'd put bottom of the list. Because if it gets ruint, a. it's the landlord's problem and b. you can just move, abandoning all of your bunkum possessions and floating away completely carefree with nothing but the clothes on your back and your passport! wheeee! (Can you tell I have a house, now. An enormous, leaky, flammable, delicious-to-every animal-with-mandibles-or-teeth but also deeply dearly beloved to me brick millstone around my neck for the rest of my life--and it's packed full of other, smaller millstones of various composition, also all vulnerable in various ways, either delicious, leaky, flammable, or something else, all deeply, dearly beloved, and alllllll myyyyyyyyy respoooooonsibiiiiiiiiiility.) (You don't have to think about this now, but tuck it away for later: remember not to listen to people who say you'll be "priced out" and don't go into debt acquiring some wad of real estate until it makes sense to. You'll know when it makes sense. When you know you're settled in the area where you intend to be for the next decade and--based on rents and housing prices mostly but also people in your immediate environs--the idea of being in the apartment becomes more scary than the idea of being in a house. That's when you go for it and not before. Right now? Apartment definitely vastly safer and more sensible: you are doing exactly right. Pay the rent on time and don't set it on fire deliberately and you're good.)

Food, part one:
You need to eat decently every day without feeling trapped in the kitchen or spending a ton of money on take-out, restaurants, or convenience food.

There are two basic food precepts.
ONE: Try to eat more vegetables than anything else.
TWO: Try not to spend a lot of money. If there's anything you're eating out a lot to get (like coffee or work lunch), learn to make it yourself. You do this most easily at first by learning a few basic routines for what they call bachelor chow. Dispense with the notion that you must eat certain things at certain times of day. (You can have a salad at breakfast if you want to. You can have cereal for dinner. [But do not do that too often because cereal is ruinously expensive nonsense and the cereal shrinkflation started I swear in the 90s and gets more hilarious every year.]) You do not have to invest a ton of time or money.

Things to eat:
Get a decent small ceramic pan and learn to make omelets. Put vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, onions) in the omelets.

A can of beans plus salsa plus cheese plus veggies plus spices = perfectly acceptable and filling meal.

A cabbage + a Benriner + dressings you make yourself (scoop of peanut butter, glug of soy sauce, glug of ginger juice, glug of vinegar, toasted sesame oil, mix with fork--try to recreate the dressings in those bagged salad mixes, but don't actually buy a given bagged salad mix more than once: ENORMOUS PRICE GOUGING just because they shredded the cabbage and mixed the dressing for you) + mix-ins (craisins, pepitos, slivered almonds, yadda) = salad for a week.

Pasta + broccoli + garlic + lemon + parm (splurge on good cheese) + olive oil (splurge on good olive oil), all thrown in same pot (pasta first, throw in broccoli when pasta's nearly done--more broccoli than pasta because you're trying to eat more vegetables than anything else, drain when broccoli bright green, glug on oil, shred cheese over, press a clove of garlic, mixmixmix , eat out of pot with fork while reading your fave book).

Rice + tuna + crumbled up toasted nori + sesame oil + soy sauce.

Creamy coconut cauliflower surprise: cook in like a 12-inch cast-iron pan, coconut oil, cut up a head of cauliflower, cook a minute, throw in chopped up onion, salt, curry powder, throw in a bunch of other stuff--frozen peas, raisins, whatever, at the last minute the juice of any citrus fruit and stir in Greek yogurt. Et voila: it's idiot curry. (The "surprise" is whatever you tossed in that you found in the 'fridge.) These are all things that I learned that I like from trial and error; over time you'll learn what you like that's not too crazy expensive or hard to make or bad for you.

Food part two: Explore new things. Try all the things. And who knows, maybe you actually like to cook? Try actual recipes and see which are fun and which taste okay. I like Serious Eats to learn how to do stuff. Maybe you like to make pizza. Pretty much nothing is more delicious, easier, or more fun--though it is time-consuming. Maybe you like to make soup. Pretty much nothing is cheaper, particularly if you like beans.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:21 AM on August 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Bear in mind that anything that’s new, will take way more brain effort than stuff that you’re used to. So while you’re new to working 9-5, you can happily jettison all the other stuff apart from keeping yourself fed and sleeping. That doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to do them. In a few months’ time when work and commuting have become familiar parts of life, you’ll suddenly find you have space in your mind to add in an evening activity one evening a week or whatever. Dealing with new things every minute of the day just burns up so much processing power, you have to ration it.

Also - eating the same breakfast and lunch every day is totally normal and fine throughout life unless you have a burning desire to change it up. I often do that, and also cook 4 portions of the same thing for dinner and eat it 4 days in a row (but maybe I have a higher food boredom threshold than many!). Again, one day when things have settled down, you might just find you’re itching to try something new and have the excitement and energy to do it.
posted by penguin pie at 8:25 AM on August 3, 2022 [16 favorites]

(Also, the small ceramic pan doesn't actually need to be decent. And the omelets don't actually have to be omelets. Scrambles are fine.)
posted by Don Pepino at 8:28 AM on August 3, 2022

I do something like the "three things rule", but on a bigger time scale. When I'm super busy I pick three areas for a week and focus on those. So, this week I have a big presentation at work (extra attention to work, that's 1), I'm feeling kind of meh and want to set up better exercise habits (so I spend some time in the evenings calling friends and trying to make recurring plans for a hike or seeing if a coworker wants to make our 1:1 be a walk around the neighborhood, exercise is 2), and since I'm calling friends already I want to try and reconnect a bit, friends is 3.

This means I am: not spending a lot of effort on food or cooking fancy things (I have dumplings in the freezer and a clamshell of prewashed salad, it's fine). Not spending a lot of time with family. Not trying to do OKCupid seriously. Not diving in to volunteering or doing future planning.
But all those things are still on the list, and next week I can backburner work and stick with my scheduled exercise and not see friends for a bit and I can focus on some of the other things. And I'll know that I won't look up in 6 months and realize, hey, didn't I used to have friends? Because every couple of weeks I'm touching base with my friends.
posted by Lady Li at 8:42 AM on August 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh, yeah, lots of adults don't eat breakfast or eat like, an apple. Or cereal. If you're not hungry you don't have to eat! Breakfast is "the most important meal" because if you're hungry it's hard to focus in school. If you get hungry at work you can probably grab a granola bar on break. (When I was your age I kept a Costco box of granola bars in the trunk of my car.)
posted by Lady Li at 8:45 AM on August 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I spent my teenage years saying to myself, "Self, when I get on my own I am going to do this or that my way." My mother who was actually pretty lenient, while I was a teen living under her roof made me do things such as do my own laundry, schedule my own appointments (Dr, haircut, etc.), and generally practice at running my own life. She knew I would make mistakes. I sure did. (Some she will never know about too!) She taught me how to cook, how to clean, and how to balance a checkbook. While I chaffed under her tutelage back then, ever since I was 22 and on my own, I have appreciated her.

Adulting is hard. Maturity sucks. It takes practice and patience. My 3 children, now in their 20s went through the same thing I did. They are now all launched and living on their own, and from the outside looking in, doing it well.

This is all about learning, making mistakes and setting priorities. I would be more concerned if you weren't struggling. If that was the case, I would say you did not understand the question.

I also have this theory that everyone has a maximum level of discipline and a maximum number of things they can focus their discipline on at any one time. Try and change 5 habits at once, fail. Change one or two at a time, success. Ask yourself this, are you just trying to do it like you think you should or is there a reason why you want to do it that way.

I am old. Think near 60. I still make mistakes. I also still make conscience decisions that I know are not the proper way to adult. If you make those decisions in advance and knowing they are one off, they can be considered an aberration not a habit. For example, I woke up the other day and saw an unopened Hershey bar on the table. I made the decision to eat it for breakfast. Get it over with instead of spending the day with temptation and finally giving in that night. I know candy for breakfast is not proper adulting. One off, it made the most sense for me.

Don't worry what is right or wrong in the global sense. Worry about what is right or wrong for you. If you are a slob, but it affects no one but you, so be it. Remember too, one day at a time. Every morning is a fresh beginning.

As for worrying about failing and not adulting well, who is tracking this? Your mom? Likely, it is only you. Don't be hard on yourself. No one else is being hard on you. Both of my parents passed away several years ago. I am near 60 and I still ask myself how would my mom (or my dad) do this?

This is all about perspective. From my reading of your question, you are actually doing well. Keep up the good work. In about 60 years you will have the hang of it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:02 AM on August 3, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: 1. Yes. I count 9 items on your list, and even now in my mid-30s, there's at least 1 or 2 of those that I don't really get to each week, or not to the extent I'd like. In my early 20s, there were only 1 or 2 of those that I managed to get to each week - usually "go to work" and sorta "financial planning," but only in the sense of "pay my bills on time and don't run myself into overdrafting." Everything else was sporadic and very hit-or-miss from week to week.

2. The general attitude your mom is encouraging, "take it slowly," is the way to go. Adapting to the demands of adulting is mostly a matter of cultivating habits, and habits take time to form and solidify. By way of analogy, if you start weightlifting at the gym, you need to give your body time to build up its muscles over time if you want to lift more weight or lift more often. There is an understandable impatience about wanting to make progress, but rushing it will lead to either overtaxing yourself, which will just feel demoralizing and make it harder to keep up the habit; or worse, to injuring yourself, which will definitely make it harder to keep up the habit.

3. It may be helpful to understand that perfectionism is a very subtle combination of grandiosity and cruelty. Grandiose, because of the impossibly expansive and often unrealistic expectations for what is achievable; and cruel, because of the severity of psychological (self-)punishment that is meted out when impossible expectations are--somehow--not met. So next time you don't meet some "adulting" standard, slow down and ask whether the expectation is in the direction grandiosity, and whether the impulse of your reaction is towards self-cruelty.
posted by obliterati at 9:32 AM on August 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

An idea for maintaining/cultivating friendships, with other folks who are presumably struggling to keep it all together like you are: get together to meal prep on Sunday afternoon.

Make a shit ton of enchiladas/salads/chili/baked chicken breast and veg/zucchini bread/whatever. Everyone brings their reusable containers from last week and takes home five or seven meals for the week ahead. Have dinner from what's left over. Play a lot of good music. Gossip. Drink a little wine. Clean up together.
posted by Sublimity at 9:33 AM on August 3, 2022

Best answer: I feel like the big secret to adulting that is hard to understand until you do it is that everyone is just making stuff up as they go.

For now, make very simple routines and ruthlessly prioritize. I remember cooking 2-3 meals a week and mostly living on leftovers to reduce the cognitive load of food, and likewise let housekeeping and hobbies and friendships slide until I got bored/lonely, by which point I had routines settled enough in other areas to cope with more complexity in those spheres.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:46 AM on August 3, 2022 [6 favorites]

Just make sure you enjoy your days. Enjoy your life. What's the point of money, other than to provide yourself with the basics? Get takeout if you want. Give a gift to a friend. Spend your money responsibly, but leave room for fun and pleasure. And it doesn't sound like you have expensive tastes or unsustainable habits--spend as much time at the library as you want! Chores aren't mandatory.
posted by knotty knots at 9:52 AM on August 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

You mention a student schedule. For perspective, I think we ask young people as students to do a lot more than most of us do as older adults. The only people who work as hard as students are people who are experiencing poverty and people who are raising children.

As an adult, I never sit in two hour lectures multiple times a day. I never force myself to stay up all night two days in a row to write multiple essays and papers and take tests that evaluate my short-term memory. I never overshoot my understanding of how much alcohol I can drink without consequences, while also studying for said tests and papers.

I also don't: do all my dishes every day; clean my apartment every week beyond basic tidying; spend considerable time maintaining finances now that I make a livable salary; exercise frequently, until recently.

I think the key to being an adult is learning to simplify your life from the insane demands of an ill society. One way to do that is to maybe incorporate multiple things together. I bike to work, so I've never worried too hard about doing other cardio. I have started working out with my friends, and so I don't worry about seeing them all the time in other contexts. I've also started to try to focus on my most meaningful friendships rather than all of my friendships. I don't think very much about self-care and self-love, but I think if I were to do so, I'd find for myself that it's in maintaining the biking commute and the meaningful interpersonal relationships.

Honestly the best thing you can do for yourself is make sure you're sleeping well. As you get further into adulthood you'll learn that most other things can wait, and are negatively impacted by insufficient sleep.
posted by kensington314 at 10:16 AM on August 3, 2022

Best answer: ... everyone is just making stuff up as they go.

And it doesn't SEEM like it. It SEEMS like everyone else has their shit together. Most don't, as you may have already gathered by the answers here. I am a few decades older than you and still have to remind myself of this.

Lots of related, good information in AskMe history. For instance:
What would you tell 20-year-old you?
what do you wish you did in your thirties?
Don't know how to food
Which moderately expensive thing has most radically improved your life?

More at the Wiki here.
posted by Glinn at 10:46 AM on August 3, 2022 [5 favorites]

I am in my forties. Based on my experience so far, adulting is one long game of whack-a-mole.

Most of my successes have been temporary, because either something external happens to upset the balance, or my priorities change. But objectively, my life is better now than it was twenty years ago - it's been a slow process of failing upwards.

I strongly second Unfuck Your Habitat as a resource for cleaning. Also, I read the book Your Money Or Your Life early on, and that influenced my approach to finances a lot.
posted by mersen at 11:00 AM on August 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I’m in my late 40s and remember the transition from college to early post-college. In college, even working part time, I had a lot of unstructured time and was essentially living with and near friends and peers, but there was always some homework assignment hanging over my head. It was easy to see friends and meals were often in the cafeteria or in a shared roommate situation but most of us were in the same boat.

It changes after college. You’re more independent and a full time job fills your time. But post-work time is your own.

I’d definitely encourage you to get into a routine with work, going to work as much as possible, and then see where exercise and socializing fit. Getting up early once a week for yoga can be tough, but maybe getting up at that same time everyday and going to yoga once or twice a week feels okay. Or maybe it’s better to go on Saturday now. Go east on yourself during this transition.

I also discourage you from working extra hours unless it’s completely necessary. Try not to fill your hours with more work. Start now having good boundaries around the end of the work day. You’ve got decades of work ahead and it’s not healthy to hustle for work through all of that.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:05 AM on August 3, 2022

Best answer: Yes, definitely, most of us are making it up as we go, and you should be a lot easier on yourself. Like, I just turned 40, and I've been really intending to go to the gym for *checks calendar* a month and a half now. Still hasn't happened.

But don't let that make you despair - it does get easier. Do you know how to drive? Do remember when you were first learning, and driving was a bunch of discrete tasks that you had to juggle all at once? Watch the road, keep the car straight, control your speed, remember traffic laws, think about where you're going, check your mirrors, etc. But then later that stuff all gets integrated into a thing that just driving. A lot of this stuff is like that.

But seriously, just buy a sandwich for lunch, it's fine.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:19 AM on August 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: One hint: don’t take others’ carefully curated social media as an indicative that they have it together. My life got significantly less frustrating when I blocked a few acquaintances who were clearly invested in showing off on e.g.: Facebook. I’m glad they’re happy and like showing off in such a curated way, but being bombarded with the “Look At How Perfect The [Foo] Family Is” social media flow wasn’t adding anything to my life.
posted by Alterscape at 11:34 AM on August 3, 2022 [6 favorites]

Oh god yes I am so grateful that social media didn't exist when I was in my 20s. Life was simpler in so many ways without it.

I suggest setting a time in the evening when you sop looking at your phone. My daughter (22) implemented a phone-free period during the day and her mental health has improved tremendously.
posted by cooker girl at 4:04 PM on August 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think I can give you any practical advice, but if it helps to hear from someone else:

I absolutely struggle with this. I'm in my mid 30s now, and I still don't feel like I have the hang of this. I'm constantly triaging, I tend to neglect relationships b/c I prioritize my work and it feels like all I can manage. I'm always behind on getting the car oil changed, getting a hair cut, seeing a dentist, whatever. A lot of times I feel like I can barely keep my head above water.

But somehow, I manage. The important stuff gets done...eventually. A lot of my close relationships are through work which I've learned to be okay with.

You'll manage. It will get easier in some ways, and in other ways, I think this is just what adulting is.

I kept thinking one day I would wake up and feel like An Adult who knows how to manage all of this. It hasn't happened yet. Maybe in my forties...or maybe never.

Who knows. But you'll be okay. We all find our way through this mess, somehow.
posted by litera scripta manet at 4:11 PM on August 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

Sometimes it just feels like too much and like my brain is holding so many things at once and it’s just not designed to be thinking about all of these things at once

Looking at human evolutionary biology it seems likely that it wasn’t. Do the best you can with what you’ve got. And that is adulting in a nutshell.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:39 PM on August 3, 2022

Best answer: Here is a secret that most people don't talk about. Not sure what country you are in, but in the US, 60% of adults are partnered or married, and in most of those cases some or all of the things that you list out are taken care of by another person. For example, one partner might do the bills while the other cooks the meals. Not that this happens in all relationships, but wanted to just point out that the idea that we are all solo adulting is sort of media generated. For those that aren't partnered, they may have roommates who split the cleaning, or a parent who cooks them meals every Sunday, or a child who organizes their bills. Basically what I'm saying is that people need people and care for each other in a variety of ways, and one big myth that is thrown on people as they enter adulthood is that they must do all these things solo. Sure, you should definitely know HOW to do all these things, but it is a rare person (and I'm sure that person is here on Metafilter and will chime in that they are indeed not rare) that does it completely solo.
posted by Toddles at 9:10 PM on August 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

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