SAN FRANCISCO - I was multitasking the other day, keeping an eye on dinner cooking on the stovetop, loading up the washer with laundry, and folding clean clothes straight out of the dryer. A couple of hours before that, I made a dent on my Christmas shopping, got the mail from the post office box, stocked up on groceries, and took the car to the car wash.
"Looks like you know how to get things done," my mother observed. It was a big deal coming from her, because every time I brought up the subject of moving out before, she'd say it's up to me if I want to get my own place--then follow it up with a long list of the things I'd have to deal with myself. Independence comes at a hefty price, as all parents say.
I know doing the errands and tasks I mentioned above does not even comprise the tip of the iceberg when it comes to surviving on your own--physically, mentally, and financially. But in a lot of ways, I'm glad that when I graduated from college back in 2007, my parents didn't pressure me to go find a job immediately afterwards, even if I was already looking for job openings. I was encouraged to spend a bit of time abroad, and in the half-year I was last here in the States, I got to call my own shots and have a dry run at independent living.
Since I stayed with relatives, I learned how to be more considerate of other people, too, in terms of sharing space and coexisting harmoniously. Traveling from place to place exposed me to many interesting individuals with different norms, points of view, and beliefs--and in some cases, I really had to keep an open mind when I talked to them!
Here are some of the things I've learned from the experience. Some may seem trivial compared to the others, but in living alone, you need every bit of smarts in your arsenal:
1. Keep a detailed list of money inflows and outflows. Microsoft Excel works particularly well for keeping tabs on your income, expenditures, and payments. Keeping money matters accounted for promotes bigger savings and wiser spending.
2. Take advantage of sales, but be careful not to overspend. I usually just shop whenever I need to get something. Here in the States, though, sales are the real deal--unlike the negligible ten-percent-off affairs we have at home. I've learned to snap them up especially for vanity items. Best to leave the credit card home so you don't get too tempted.
3. Forego the microwave. Stovetop-cooking takes more time, but is healthier and more economical. Preparing a batch of basic tomato or white sauce during the weekend to go with pasta, meats, and soups for the coming week is one way of cutting down prep and cooking time
4. Check your mailbox regularly. You may have money to pay the bills, but if you leave them sitting in the mail, it's goodbye to electricity and water until you settle your accounts. Pay bills on time to save yourself from the hassle.
5. DIY as much as possible. If you can wash some of your clothes instead of taking the entire batch of laundry to the cleaners, you'll be able to pocket some cash and avoid the risk of losing prized articles of clothing. The same goes for washing your car--and it's a good workout, to boot.
6. Don't let the mess pile up. Instead of reserving one day for cleanup, straighten up the different areas of your apartment or flat every day--or even every other day. This way, all work you have to do is much more manageable.
7. Put things away when not in or after use, especially if you have a small place. Folded laundry or clean dishes left out can be unsightly when space is limited, for instance. Make sure everything is in the right place.
8. Label items or ingredients that you take out of their original packaging. It may sound silly, but salt is easily mistaken for sugar. Enough said.
9. Learn to be handy with some tools. For someone with poor manual dexterity, I consider installing a pet gate all by myself among my proudest homemaking moments. Basic power tools like hand drills and screwdrivers are pretty easy to work with. And some guys find it sexy when girls know what to do with them (the tools, I mean).
10. When faced with more demanding problems, try solving them on your own first instead of diving for your phone and calling the folks. We complain that our parents take so long before they let loose, but when they do, we have to learn the same as well.
If you have the means to take a bit of time-off after college to figure out how life works before taking on the challenge of becoming part of the work force, it's a good idea to take that opportunity. We all have to make it on our own sooner or later, anyway, so an early break-in is bound to lead to an easier adjustment when the time comes.
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