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Renting 101

Today’s post is a little later than I prefer because this week has genuinely been so busy I wasn’t able to start drafting it until this afternoon. But as fall and winter are popular seasons for renting/rental leases to start, so I didn’t want to push this topic back any further.

If you currently own a house, good for you. You get to choose whether to keep reading or not, but know that you may be renting again in the future and even if you don’t, people close to you likely will. For emerging adults — especially Millennials and likely the upcoming Gen Z folks — renting is a fact of life. Many of us won’t be able to afford to buy a home until many years in the future, if ever.

There are pros and cons to renting vs. owning, of course. When you own a home, all that responsibility falls on you. But renting means it’s only temporarily yours, and that the money you’re spending on housing isn’t going towards anything that will pay off in the future (the way a mortgage does). It’s not like you’re throwing money away, because a roof over your head is important, but you’ll never get anything back out of it.

On that cheery note, let’s jump in. Full disclosure: I had never had to rent before I moved into the apartment I’m currently living in. I got a lot of advice from friends and family (and the internet), and I’m still figuring things out. But I have been thoroughly acquainted with the process, and it doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it may feel at first.

Looking for a place to rent

I’m gonna be honest, this is a crappy process. When my roommates and I were looking for our place, we scoured websites, had massive email chains, and spent a lot of time looking at various options. But there are a few things that can make it easier:

  • Know your budget — and stick to it. We set a range based on research of average rent in the area, knowing that anything below our range was probably sketchy, and anything above it (which was still a lot of places) was more than we were comfortable paying.
  • Know your “musts” versus “nice-to-haves.” Number of bedrooms and bathrooms, laundry facilities, parking, pet policies, included utilities, kitchen and living room setup, stairs, flooring, etc. There’s a ton of options and you need to know what you are and aren’t willing to be flexible on (do note that more “musts” might up your cost).
  • Don’t consider places that don’t meet your musts. You’re just wasting your time looking at a place you wouldn’t be happy in.
  • Determine how long you want the lease to be. A year is pretty standard, but some places do 3, 6, or 9-month leases, and others are willing to do month-to-month or more flexible arrangements. Make sure you’re willing to commit to the amount of time they’re asking you to sign on for.
  • Search all the websites. com (my favorite), Zillow, Craigslist, etc. Also check out Facebook rentals which can sometimes have gems that aren’t posted on the bigger sites.
  • Be careful. Make sure areas aren’t sketchy and that listings aren’t fake before you go out to see a place. If you aren’t sure, do some more digging, and if you end up going, bring a friend with you (and make sure another person knows where you’re going).
  • Know what documents you’ll need. For most people, this is proof of rental history, a few forms of ID, pay stubs to prove you meet the income requirements (often anywhere from 1.5 to 3 times the rent total), and credit score. Be aware that you shouldn’t be required to show any of this info (besides ID and some contact info) until you’re actually applying to rent — aka not when touring.
  • On that note, make sure you have decent credit. If you have not great credit, you may still be able to rent, but your deposit will likely be a lot higher. I always recommend extreme caution with any kind of debt, but encourage having one credit card that you pay off in full every month to establish a good credit history.
  • Rental history matters. A lot of places won’t rent to you without it. (Though property ownership can count!) For a first place, this may mean your parents need to also put their names on the lease.
  • Try to schedule tours in chunks. Especially if they’re close by, then you have to take less time out of your day (and potentially off of work). Birds, stones, etc.
  • Keep notes on the places you tour. After a while, they will start to blur together. No way around it. I found it helpful to give each place a letter grade (B-, A+, etc.) as well as to take notes on details and things I did or didn’t like about it.
  • Location, location, location. Be absolutely sure to check out how far a potential place is from your work, school, or whatever not just distance-wise, but how long that will actually take you in traffic. Think about how far you’re willing to drive or take public transportation, and how accessible your place is from where you’ll frequently be traveling.

Being a good renter

Woohoo, you found a place to rent! Assuming you got all the finances and paperwork squared away, you should be ready to move in. Here are my biggest tips:

  • Clean everything before you move all your crap in. Honestly, your new space will feel so much better. Trust. (It will also give you a mental picture of what your place should look like when you let too long pass between cleanings.)
  • Take pictures of any damage, also before you move all your crap in. This will help ensure you get your full deposit back and keep any liability off of you. It’s often part of a move-in checklist, but if it isn’t make sure you still do it.
  • Follow the rules, and if you’re not sure if something is allowed, just ask. Some places let you paint, others don’t. Some places let you have pets, others don’t (or charge an additional fee). If you’re not sure about anything — from installing shelving to HOA policies — just reach out to your landlord and check before moving forward.
  • Be nice to your neighbors. I brought cookies to the neighbors we share walls with when we moved in. I’ll probably also bring cookies or cards around the holidays. You don’t have to do that specifically, but simply being respectful in terms of noise/any shared areas and saying hi when you see each other can go a long way.
  • Mail your rent check on time. Or pay it electronically, or whatever. I usually make sure mine is sent a few days before the end of the month (it’s due on the first) to ensure it has plenty of time to arrive. Pro tip: Take a picture of the check and/or you mailing it as proof in case the landlord tries to dispute payment. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but better to be covered.
  • Clean every few weeks at minimum. Human beings are gross. But our living spaces don’t have to be. You’ll feel a lot more relaxed if half the surfaces aren’t sticky.
  • When something breaks, let someone know. My apartment has a property manager who has helped us fix a number of random issues, and ensured that we get reimbursed for parts related to any we fixed ourselves. Stuff breaks. Better to get it fixed in a timely manner than not say anything until you’re moving out and 1) have it come out of your deposit, or 2) be a nuisance for the next renter.
  • Change your mailing address. This goes for both when you move in and when you move out. It’s good to get your own mail, and annoying when randos in your old place get it instead of you. Be sure to change it on all your accounts and let loved ones know in case they send you anything.
  • When it’s finally time to move out, clean everything even more thoroughly than when you moved in. Some people hire a professional cleaning service for this; if you don’t want to do it yourself and that’s in your budget, go for it. If it’s out of the price range, buy a friend or two pizza, blast the music, and get to it.

What are the best tips and lessons you’ve learned when it comes to renting? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because my apartment is not this pretty.)

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Follow the sunbeam back up to the sun

Anyone who’s spent more than a few hours with me has probably heard me quote or reference C.S. Lewis. He has long been my favorite author (though ironically not the author of my favorite book), and portions from his writings have informed my perspectives on the world, life, and myself.

The little lesson I’ve been contemplating on recently is the idea of gratitude. Life has been full of a lot of ups and downs lately, and even the good things can sometimes feel overwhelming. A friend mentioned that one of her favorite ways to stay centered is gratitude, specifically listing things she’s thankful for. I realized that I’ve been doing a poor job of that, and have been working to change it.

Gratitude, at its most basic level, is acknowledging good things that affect you, and crediting the source of the good thing. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis in Letters to Malcolm, to be grateful is to follow the sunbeam back up to the sun. Seeing a sunbeam in a forest or feeling its warmth is the good thing, and tracing it back up to the sun is the act of gratitude.

The most interesting thing about gratitude is that, if you let it, it’s a chain reaction. If I feel the sunbeam and am grateful for it, I can extrapolate that to being grateful for the sun and the earth (and the atmosphere that makes the proximity hospitable), and the sheer improbability of it all existing in just this way, which for me is then a segue to faith. If I keep following the rabbit trail, I would never stop listing all the things I’m thankful for.

Externally it can be the same thing. An attitude of thankfulness and appreciation spreads among people so, so quickly. Part of that is thanks to our ingrained reciprocal, social nature as humans, but we all know that it also just feels good.

Growing up we were all taught to say thank you at the necessary times, but it’s surprising how much extra meaningful it can feel when unprompted. Maybe that means an extra thank you to your server at a restaurant, maybe it means writing a coworker a note to tell them how much you appreciate them. Maybe it means randomly sending a family member or close friend a text about why you’re grateful for them.

It can also be through gestures, not just words. Buying someone a cup of coffee or completing a task that makes things easier on them is an easy way to share your gratitude. I really like to bake, so now and then I bake treats for my office to boost morale after we’ve done a good job on a project.

And sometimes it’s just for you. Being an emerging adult is hard (no matter what anyone tells you), and being grateful is often the best way to shift your perspective if you’re feeling overwhelmed or negative. So here’s a quick list of some tips for practicing gratitude:

  • Write a list of things you’re thankful for — you can also keep a journal for this if you want something you can look back on
  • Tell or show someone why you’re grateful for them
  • Go for a walk or spend time outside with no agenda except to experience some part of nature that you enjoy
  • Look through some pictures or memorabilia that represent good memories
  • Think about things you’re looking forward to
  • Name some things you’re proud of about yourself, and then consider what/who helped you achieve those things

I also want to note that in no way is this intended to be flippant. While I do believe there are always things to be grateful for, it’s important to allow space for other emotions as well, especially in times of pain or crisis. It’s okay to be sad or angry or exhausted. Healthy gratitude will never replace those things, but it can come alongside them and hold you up when the rest of life feels heavy.

At the end of the day, you made it this far, you’ve got people who care about you, and you’ve got it in you to keep going. Sounds like some good things to be grateful for.

What are your favorite ways to practice gratitude? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because somehow I don’t have any of these?)

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Stretched too thin

We’re gonna kick this week’s post off with a very exciting announcement: My boyfriend proposed (and I said yes)! He is wonderful and made the whole experience incredibly special, and I’m very excited for the future.

That being said, the present is *ahem* quite busy. I work full time, try to exercise, have some upcoming plans with friends as well as two large upcoming trips, blog, do general adulting like cleaning the apartment, and now am also wedding planning. I am very used to juggling tasks and priorities, but the last couple of months have been less busy than I’m used to. Which for the most part was really nice.

As someone who’s prone to feeling overwhelmed quickly when here’s a lot on my plate, I was pretty proud of myself for not getting particularly stressed with the things starting to pile up. Until this morning. A big project with a tight deadline came in at work and I momentarily lost my cool.

Most of us, as emerging adults and people in general, have phases where we feel like we’re stretched too thin and we don’t know how or if we can get it all done. I know several people who are in the middle of one of those phases now. And while I’ve talked on here several times about what to do when you’re tired, need to take a day, or burnt out, today I wanted to talk about ways to dig in and get it done. Because sometimes that’s all you can do for a while.

Break it up. I don’t know about you but it’s rare that I can sit down and devote more than an hour or two to a single project before I need a break. So set a timer for 45 minutes, an hour, or some decent chunk of time that works for you and don’t touch anything else until that time is up. Alternately, you can break the work up into smaller, more reasonable goals. You’ll feel like you’re making progress even if it’s just checking off one small thing at a time.

Jam out. Depending on the kind of work you’re doing, listening to music can be a really, really good way to pass the time and keep yourself at a good pace. I have an instrumental playlist just for that, or I’ll throw on some music I know well enough that I don’t have to pay it much attention, and dive into my work.

Have snacks and water nearby. This will keep you from getting distracted every time you get up to get a bite to eat or a drink, and make sure you don’t skip too much sustenance or get dehydrated.

Set rewards. Tell yourself that when you accomplish a given task, you can have a treat of some sort, whether that’s food, a break, or something else. For example, my reward for working my butt off at work today will be no expectation of getting anything productive done at home tonight, and I bought myself a present when I finished my last big freelancing project.

Surround yourself well. My coworkers get all the credit for pulling me out of the totally negative spot I was stressed out in this morning. They’re task-oriented, and acknowledge the challenge while remaining functionally positive (in other words, not necessarily chipper, but optimistic that we’ll get the job done well).

What helps you most when you’ve got a lot on your plate? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because y’all have already seen all my city photos.)

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Tied to your desk

Hi all! This week has been very busy for a number of good reasons, which I’m hoping to make a post on very soon. But in the meantime, I’ve got some helpful advice. Whether you’re a student or full-time employee, classroom and office settings have one thing in common: sitting for a long time and staring at screens.

It can be fatiguing, boring, and even unhealthy to sit at a desk for 8 hours constantly looking at bright screens. So what to do about it?

In school I didn’t have it too bad in this regard. Classes changed every few hours and my campus was one big hillside, so I had a fair amount of walking in-between. I also didn’t bring my computer to class often, and when doing homework would take breaks whenever I needed. But I did intern in a couple of office, and found my eyes in particular getting incredibly fatigued. At my current job, I have a nice desk with a big computer monitor plus a laptop, and usually only have to get up to run to the printer or ask someone a question. In other words, I have a lot of sedentary time in front of screens.

It’s not good for us. Humans need natural light and reasonable amounts of movement throughout the day not just to be healthy, but to be focused and productive. So over time, I’ve found a few things that help:

  • Take 5. Go outside or even somewhere else in the office for a few minutes to resent your concentration, get a change of scenery, use your muscles, and give your eyes a break
  • Look further. When my eyes started getting computer-tired for the first time in college, I learned that you follow this 20-20-20 rule to help. Basically, every 20ish minutes, look at something 20 or more feet away for about 20 seconds. If your eyes are still getting fatigued, you can also look into getting glasses that minimize digital eye strain by blocking glare and combatting blue light (I got some almost a year ago and they make a huge difference).
  • Check your settings. Turn down your brightness, and make sure you’re sitting with your computer screen situated so you’re 20-24 inches from you and not having to crane up or down to see it. You can also adjust the color temperature on your monitor’s display to increase yellow light and decrease blue light. My laptop has an app called Flux that puts a yellowing filter on my display in the evening and keeps it until morning to make night work easier on my eyes and not fend off sleep.
  • Move around. It’s simple, we hear it all the time. But even moving around and stretching your legs while sitting — in addition to getting up and walking now and then — help keep your body in a better spot.
  • Sit up straight. Good posture is a learned habit. I’m not the best at it. But having a chair that ergonomically supports your back can minimize fatigue and aid focus when you’re stuck at your desk. Or sit on a medicine ball if it wouldn’t be too distracting (the reason why I don’t).
  • Let the light in. Make sure that you’re getting natural light if possible, but also that your lights aren’t too dim causing your eyes to strain. Adding pops of color into your desk space — especially with items like plants — can also make things easier on the eyes.

Do you have any helpful tips for sitting in front of the computer all day? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because my office isn’t the most photogrenic.)