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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.)

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Parting ways with the clutter

I’m not the tidiest person you’ll ever meet. Some areas of my life are incredibly tidy, probably to the point of being annoying to other people. Some are, um, not. For example, I have to have the bed made every day, but am not allowed to have a desk anymore because I will cover any “spare” horizontal surface with piles of crap. The inside of my car is usually pretty free of trash and clutter, but until last weekend the outside looked like Pigpen’s 16th birthday present.

The point here is that there’s (sort of) a balance. Part of me would love to boast about fully embracing the Marie Kondo* lifestyle, with the kind of aesthetic minimalism that makes people feel both peaceful and impressed as soon as they walk in the room. In other words, part of me would love for my possessions to give you the impression that I have my whole life together.

But another part of me wants everything cushy with a ton of healthy houseplants and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with an honest-to-God rolling ladder because that is the dream. However, neither of these acknowledges the part of me that sometimes mentally just can’t deal and needs to put all those papers in a pile until I can handle them later.

So we compromise. I, as a typical American, have too much stuff. To be fair, I’ve been progressively whittling down my stuff over the past 5+ years. Growing up with two houses, I did not have two of everything, but I did have too much. Moving a lot, certain boxes just got moved around and never gone through. And if I could find some little corner to tuck stuff in (which I am very good at), then I never had to deal with it because I couldn’t see it. But that shouldn’t be the norm. So began the rounds of purging.

The first big one was when I left for college. I spent days — and utilized the help of several people — to go through literally every item I owned and get rid of as much as possible. The nice thing is I had the time to be fun and nostalgic about it, and I really did get rid of a ton.

I tried to do at least a medium purge at the end of every school year, because I had to singlehandedly pack up everything I had brought to school and either store it or fit it in my car and drive it to the other end of the state. (Side note: This improved my already very efficient car-packing skills. It’s real-life Tetris.)

I did another sort-of purge during the months after college. With personal belongings, it was more like sorting because a lot was stuff I’d need again as soon as I moved out. But I did the most thorough purge of old school stuff I had ever completed and it felt amazing. I had saved so many papers and books and general crap because “I might need to go back and find it one day.” Let me tell you: The only things from college that I have gone back to were a very short list of books, notes and assignments from like four classes, and some concepts that were an easy find on Google. What stuff have I gone back to from high school and grade school? Absolutely. Nothing.*

When I moved out was the latest big purge. It mattered to me that I feel fully moved out, and I didn’t want to make my parents deal with a bunch of my stuff in my old room. It wasn’t a flawless execution — as much as I got rid of, they’re still storing a number of boxes for me that my shared apartment simply doesn’t have room for. But those boxes contain almost solely childhood mementos and books. And when I have a bigger space, they’ll come with me and be whittled down again.

But I still have too much stuff. So rather than doing one massive purge, I’ve been going through things in small bursts. And for a lot of us emerging adults, it’s a lot more feasible to tackle our crap that way than attempting to do it all at once. So here is everything I’ve learned in my effort to declutter my space:

  • Would you be sad if it were gone? This is my version of the “Does it bring you joy?” trick. If I would be disappointed not keeping a piece of art or old stuffed animal and regret it later, it matters enough that I can hold onto it — at least for now.
  • Do you need it? This serves a dual purpose: Some stuff is lame but necessary. I’m not sentimentally attached to my cleaning supplies, but I do need them. Some stuff is convenient, but not necessary. I don’t need as many sweaters as I own, so I figure out how many I “need” and get rid of the rest.
  • Do you use it? Also a good one for clothes, but excellent for random clutter and knickknacks. If I haven’t worn a pair of everyday shoes in more than a year, probably not worth keeping. If I avoid using that one blanket because I like the other ones better, I can let it go.
  • File things. Y’all. It can feel like an annoying adult thing, but having a file box is the best. I know where all my important papers are — and if they don’t belong in there, I probably don’t need them.
  • Find things a home. My boyfriend laughs that I phrase it like this, but this is where Marie Kondo and I agree: Treat your stuff like it lives there, and you want its home to be nice. If there isn’t a space where it can belong, it might be time to get rid of it.
  • Ditch duplicates. My current apartment is not the best at this because eventually we won’t all be living together and will want our own stuff when we leave, i.e. we have way more dishes than we need. But if you have multiple of something without a very good justification, pick your favorite and ditch the others.
  • Throw away your trash. I really can’t emphasize this one enough; it’s the only one I’m consistent about even in the more cluttered corners of my life. Trash is not worth the space it takes up. Throw it out (and recycle what you can).
  • It doesn’t have to be clutter-free, but it does have to be clean. A lot of us need at least a little space where we can be messy — it’s often an important part of psychological well-being. But don’t let it get gross, and turn into a health hazard and a source of stress. If you clean regularly, you’ll probably get rid of some unnecessary stuff at the same time. This is why I make the bed every morning and clean off my desk before leaving work.
  • Digital isn’t infinite. Unfortunately, computers and phones also run out of space, but most of the same principles apply as when decluttering tangible spaces: toss what you don’t need, organize what you do need so you can actually find it when you want it. Bonus tips: Keep items off your desktop in documents and other folders (or put your apps in folders for mobile) for some digital breathing room; emptying your trash, deleting old downloads, and restarting your device can all free up storage space.
  • It’s okay to have exceptions. I hate getting rid of pictures. Because especially the older they are, the less likely it is you can get it back. I also own a ton of books, and allow myself to keep more than I need in that category. That being said, the pictures still have to be organized and the books can’t exceed the shelves (even if they are full to the brim).

I know that was a lot, but I hope it proves helpful in making your space feel a little more manageable.

What are your best tips for decluttering? (Seriously, I’m still in the process and could use the help.) Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

 

*Marie Kondo is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, aka the first thing most people will bring up when you mention decluttering.

**This isn’t to say you shouldn’t save anything. My mom has a manila folder with the “best of the best” of my brother’s and my schoolwork from each grade, including the spelling test I got a 0% on in 2nd grade, which she occasionally pulls out for a life lesson that it’s okay to fail. I’ve kept some small items that friends gave me or we made. The point is just that the memories are more important than the paper.

(Photo is a free stock photo because this type of space is my goal.)

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It’s okay to set heavy things down

There’s a lot of heavy in the world right now. There always is, but in recent years it’s been paraded and pushed at us with greater speed and numbers than in times past. One of the downsides of our technology. I firmly believe that we have an obligation and a responsibility not just as adults (emerging or otherwise) but as human beings to be aware of and engage with the heavy things happening around us. It’s important. It’s how we protect, heal, learn, and grow.

But I’ll be the first person to say that I find myself feeling bogged down and disheartened increasingly quickly these days. Part of that is my personality and where I’m at in life; I know everyone’s circumstances are different. But part of it comes from the heaviness of the topics I’ve been engaging with. Natural disasters, violence, hatred, war, famine, inequality, illness, injustice, deceit, ignorance. None of the moths from Pandora’s box are new.

They’re realities we have to grapple with, but it’s frankly unrealistic and unhealthy for us to expect ourselves or anyone else to face all or most of them all or even most of the time. I learned a long time ago not to watch scary movies in the evening, or I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep well. Now I’m realizing I also have to be able to disengage from the heavy things and allow myself to engage with lighter things not only right before bed, but throughout my day.

A lot of the media I’ve been consuming lately has been really serious, covering a number of the topics mentioned above. I’ve had conversations, read articles and books, watched films. But there has to be a balance there, which might mean watching videos of cute animals or sitcom reruns, reading one of the happier poetry books I own, or just sending memes to friends.

And it’s not just broad or global heavy things that have to be set down sometimes. One day last week was awful on pretty much all fronts — the worst day I’ve had in months. So I baked 4 dozen cupcakes for my coworkers and roommates (and me obviously). Did it fix the other stuff? Not even close. But it did add some light in when I’d nearly been convinced the heavy stuff would never let me up.

Some heavy stuff should really be set down permanently, especially feelings like guilt, shame, or even grief. They can be a useful initial catalyst to point out an area that needs to be addressed, but clinging to them will do you no good. Then you have room to pick up things like grace and hope.

All of that is much easier said than done, especially if the issue is close to your heart. But if it’s a balance we strive for consistently, it’s one we’ll get much closer to achieving.

What’s your favorite way to add some lightness in when life feels heavy? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

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Eternally in-between

I’m not someone who’s super comfortable with unknowns or feeling in-between. Which is funny in this stage of life. It’s even funnier when you think about the fact I switched between parents houses a couple times a week until I was 16, and had lived in 17 different houses by the time I turned 17. Still, experience with unknowns and change doesn’t do much to make it more comfortable — it just makes us better equipped to handle it.

Emerging adulthood is the endless in-between. In-between being a teen and being a grownup, in-between being dependent and being full independent, in-between major life stages, in-between school and a steady career, in-between social circles, and so on.

But in knowing that there is often nothing I can do about these in-betweens — at least yet — I’m trying to become better about embracing the middle. Honestly I’m not entirely sure yet what that will look like. Part of it will mean trying not to stress about things outside of my control. And part of it will mean just learning to live in the tension.

There isn’t a call to action here, just a reminder that it’s okay to feel in-between. It’s okay to not love that feeling. It may not go away for a while, and when things settle in one area they’ll probably become more tumultuous in another. But you’ve made it this far, and you’ll keep making it through whatever in-between you might feel stuck in today.

As always, questions and comments welcome below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!