How to become a grown-up in 468 easy(ish) steps.

Step 224: Call or visit close friends on their birthday

A suggestion from wise reader Sarah:

I’m not ashamed to admit that Facebook helps me remember everyone’s birthdays. However, everyone has a few friends who deserve special and personal recognition when they turn a year older.

Writing “happy bday!” on someone’s Facebook wall is neither of those things. Call them, video chat with them, or do something that tells them that even though you have a sub-par memory, you still care in a selfless manner. 

Yes indeed. There is no shame in the FB wall post for less-close friends, but at least write something beyond just those two words. A short sentence or so expressing why you find them awesome is so, so much better.
6th Jun 2012 85 notes , Comments

Step 223: When you are writing an email, type in the address last

Compose, edit and read the entire thing before you type in the To: line. This is less critical on computers than on phones, when a clumsy slipped finger can ruin everything. Also, if there is any part of you that thinks, “Hmmm, should I send this (angry/sexually charged/flippant/etc.) missive?” then sleep on that shit. Or at least give it an hour’s worth of mulling. 

Finally, for anyone using GMail, I *highly* recommend enabling the Unsend feature. At least 65 percent of my emails get unsent and edited.

4th Jun 2012 187 notes , Comments

Step 222: Do not say ‘yes’ if you mean ‘no’

I have a hard time saying no when the other person wants a yes. This is, I think, a very female trait, though I’m sure males do it too. But a resentful, insincere yes is no good.

Prime example: I am so happy to loan out about 60 percent of my clothes, wary but ultimately OK with 35 percent, and dead set on never letting 5 percent out of my sight. While, in the past, I’d give out anything (and then be secretly angry in a way that I totally brought upon myself) now I can just say, “You know, that is actually really special to me and I don’t feel comfortable lending it out. What about this [similar, less-special thing]?”

Anticipating, caring about and hopefully meeting other people’s needs is a legitimate and wonderful thing to do. But so is recognizing your own limits and setting boundaries. It doesn’t have to be a big, confrontational deal:

Q: Do you want to hang out even though you hate me but I don’t know it?
A: You know, I’d love to but I’m afraid I can’t that night.

Q: Can you volunteer for extremely unappealing task for a cause you don’t particularly care about?
A: I’m so sorry, but my plate is pretty full right now.


An explanation is good, but not always necessary, particularly if what the other person is asking of you is unreasonable. If they press you, just stick to the non-confrontational no. “I wish I could, but I’m afraid I can’t.” They don’t need to know that the reason you can’t is because you’ve made a commitment to not being pressed into things you don’t want because of social pressure.

28th May 2012 284 notes , Comments

Step 221: Carry at least $10 cash on you

You never know when you’ll need it. Bus fare, the Lebanese restaurant that unexpectedly only accepts cash, the $2 tip obligation that springs out at you — it’s just a good, solid strategy. Don’t spend it unless there’s no way to use your debit card.

International readers: Apologies for this entry’s USA-centrism. I think the guiding principle is to carry enough cash to pay for a cheap lunch.

27th May 2012 225 notes , Comments
24th May 2012 169 notes , Comments

Step 219: Take proper care of your clothes

A couple weeks ago, I put out the call for guest entries and the mysterious Heather replied. She commented anonymously, just that first name and a billion (well, nine) excellent clothing care suggestions. Wherever you are, Heather, I salute you and your fly-by-night informative way. Pay attention to her words, that you, too, may have nice things. Heather?

1. If it says “dry clean only” and you don’t know what it’s made of, or it’s made of wool or silk, do not put it in the washing machine. If it’s cotton or rayon or some blend of something, you can probably wash it on delicate but do not under any circumstances put it in the dryer. When in doubt, go ask the dry cleaning professional what they think. If they say dry clean it, do not assume they are trying to take your money.

2. Buy the nicest steamer you can afford. If you use an iron, do not, under any circumstances, iron at a higher temperature than listed on the iron for the type of fabric you are ironing. If you are ironing satin, silk, or blends, iron inside out. If the iron seems to ‘stick’ to the fabric, remove it immediately - the iron is too hot, or the plate is too dirty.

3. Do not put those clothes “with 3% spandex” in the dryer. The heat will break down the spandex, and your garment will soon look like a rag. Not the first time, but the 15th time, you will wonder why you bought it.

4. Do not use Tide. Tide keeps colors bright by eating off the ends of the threads in your garment. Keep your colors bright by washing like colors together and in cold water. Use liquid detergent, powder leaves streaks in cold water, especially noticeable on dark colors.

5. Let your deodorant completely dry before you get dressed. Do not put it on after your shirt is on, it will get all over your clothes and leave those horrible pit stains. When you remove your shirt at the end of the day and it is all sweaty, put some stain lifter (like oxyclean stick) in the pits before you toss it in the hamper. Do this to all the stains on your clothes before you toss them in - you will not remember later, and the stain will have set.

6. Speaking of stains, look up a product called Carbona. Buy the right one, it matters. Be cautious on dry clean only clothes - it is best to let the cleaner handle the stain. Don’t wait a month to take it in.

7. Unless you send your shirts to the cleaners and they come back folded, hang them up. Hang up slacks, skirts and jackets. Fold t-shirts, sweaters, and undergarments. Fold your underwear, socks (do not wad them up and fold them over, they stretch out) slips, and gym clothes.

8. Polish your shoes at least twice a year. Look up how to do this by type.

9. Ladies (and gentlemen if you swing this way) do not put your bras and panties in the dryer. Put these things, and tights and stockings, in a little mesh zipper bag before you wash these on delicate. Better yet, do not put bras in the washer at all. Go to Nordstroms, buy the soap the lingerie lady recommends. You know how much you paid for them, and if you wash and dry them, they will fall apart much faster.

Thank you, Heather … wherever you are.

23rd May 2012 515 notes , Comments

Step 218: Be nice to new people

This is a great step originally suggested by Alert Reader Rachel. Being new to a place or job is like being really sick in that when people show you a small amount of kindness, it feels like a great deal of kindness, because you’re so nervous/stressed/anxious/lonely (or, in the case of sickness, feverish/tired/unable to climb the Everest that is going to the grocery store for yourself).

You don’t need to go over the top, but stopping by to introduce yourself and issue a kind invitation can go a long way. If they’re new at work, invite them to grab a cup of coffee that afternoon. If they’re new in the building, let them know that you’d love to answer any questions about the neighborhood — where the best pizza is, which scary neighbors to avoid, and so on. You can even, as Rachel suggested, pull the old-fashioned, still-awesome move of bringing the new neighbor a pie.

Because if you’ve ever been new in a non-friendly place, you know how awful it is. All of us, sooner or later, will be new somewhere, hoping there are decent people around. Be those decent people.

22nd May 2012 145 notes , Comments

Step 217: Do not make excuses for your own fuck-ups

I find, in general, this is the breakdown for blame when something bad has happened to me, like getting a $175 ticket for riding one stop outside the fareless square on the MAX because I’m a confused country mouse, or being late to work because a schedule change was not checked up on:

As you can see, a plurality but not majority of the time it is, in fact, my fault. If I played enough mental gymnastics, it could be not my fault all of the time, and indeed, for most of my teen years I was, in my mind, completely blameless for the mayhem around me. 

But something that had to happen is the realization that every time I deflect blame from myself after a big (or medium) mistake has been made, I am also excusing myself from taking whatever lesson forward that will prevent this mistake from repeating in the future:

Obviously, I still immediately try to figure out why it wasn’t actually my fault, but then I have to stop myself. Focusing on whatever mistakes other people have made or the basic unfairness of life will get you little to nowhere, and consign you to a life of feeling powerless rage. Yes, that initial bit of self-anger that you feel sucks and is not nearly as satisfying as directing it outward. But it’s better and healthier to take a minute and admit to yourself what you’ve done, and what you can do in the future to prevent this from happening again. 

P.S. I take full responsibility for the ugliness and not-matchingness of those pie charts. Seriously, I spent way, way too long on them and eventually decided to forgive myself, if not Microsoft Charts.

21st May 2012 104 notes , Comments

Step 216: Have some spare toiletries on-hand for guests

Every time I am staying at my mom’s house and forget something, she just pulls out a little basket of things (razors, toothbrushes, etc.) and I am struck by what a grown-up thing to do that is. So now, a great suggestion from one Ms. K. Eva?

Have a new, cheap toothbrush on hand (like the ones they give out at the dentist) for unexpected overnight guests to use.  Also nice: a spare set of sheets and a pillow, even if they are just crashing on the couch.

I’d add a travel-size unopened deodorant to that list. I have no problem contracting and sharing whatever dread armpit diseases may be spread through borrowing a friend’s deodorant (note: if these actually exist, PLEASE do not tell me) but lots of people do. I think you’d probably have it around for years, then one day pull it out with a flourish and feel great.

20th May 2012 136 notes , Comments

Step 215: If you are going to wear white, you must* commit to it

… this also goes for baby blue, baby pink, spring green — basically, any color that would be at home for an Easter service.

Before you put on that white garment in the morning, ask yourself if you can refrain from the following until that item is safely back in your closet:

• Eating any sort of tomato-based broth? Especially the kind with that deadly orange grease floating on the top?
• Painting?
• Using Sharpies in any but the most subdued and careful manner?
• Consuming any food that isn’t Nilla Wafers while driving?
• Any sort of interaction with your car other than delicately pumping gas? (think tire and oil changing, or nearly anything that requires you to pop the hood)
• Acknowledging the existence of mustard? Seriously, don’t even look at it.
• Leaning against any outdoor surface?
• Sitting on the ground?
• Chili-cheese anything?
• Carnivals? I think carnivals actually combine everything above, plus face-painting, into one dangerous brew.

Also, if you manage to vigilantly protect your white garment from harm, take it off when you get home. Your house is safe for you, yes, but 37 percent** of indelible stains happen in the home.

* You don’t have to commit, as every single white garment I’ve ever owned will attest, but you should.
** I made that up but it seems right.

15th May 2012 107 notes , Comments