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It all comes down to organizing

As I’ve been not-so-subtly hinting at, life has been a little chaotic over here lately. Normally, I’m very on top of my schedule, like to be early to both attending and completing things, and don’t have too much trouble keeping track of most of what needs to be remembered.

Lately, that’s been less the case. But as much as life being busy makes that understandable, it doesn’t make it sustainable. So I’ve had to put in some extra effort on my usual methods of organization. I tend to be a highly organized person, but rarely feel that way.

And of course, not every organization tool works for everyone. Planners worked great for me in high school, but eventually my to-do list became more complex in terms of deadlines and priorities and a planner no longer suited my needs. It’s just a matter of finding what works for you.

For the when and where

  • Paper calendar or planner. I’m still a big advocate for physical calendars or planners whenever possible. In part it’s because I’m a pretty kinesthetic person, and in part because writing this down actually helps with comprehension and memory.
  • Digital calendar. Of course, analog doesn’t work for everyone. If you’re constantly on the go, or just know you’d never look at a paper one, use your phone or computer to input your schedule and any important events and set up reminders so you’re always prepared for them.

For the to-do list

  • A little black book. Seriously, this is what I have kept my to-do list in for the last 5.5 years, and it’s worked great. It’s small enough to travel with me, and provides the memory benefit of actually writing down the thing I need to do.
  • Temporarily, any random scrap of paper. If it’s just a day-of list, I’ll often write my stuff on a post-it note and cross out tasks as I accomplish them. It still provides the ease of writing things down but gives me a little more flexibility and room for detail in day-to-day tasks.
  • There’s always digital. If paper isn’t handy or I’ll be moving around enough that I’m likely to lose track of a piece of paper, then I usually opt for my phone. The Notes app on iPhone actually has a “list” option that puts little bubbles to the left of each line so you can check off things as you do them. This is also my preference for the grocery list because, again, a single piece of paper is harder to keep track of.

For dude, you cannot forget this

  • A reminder or alarm on your phone. I have a few recurring reminders set to water plants and pay my bills, and they just make things easy when I’m busy and might have lost track of time.
  • Ask a friend to help you remember. It doesn’t always work, but even if they don’t remind you, saying it aloud is sometimes all you need to remember on your own.
  • The “item out of place” trick. One of my moms taught me this one a while back: You put something odd in a noticeable place (e.g. a picture frame in the kitchen or a pen on your pillow) and mentally link that thing to whatever you’re supposed to remember. Then when you see it, you get reminded.
  • The “on top of whatever you won’t forget” trick. If all else fails, you can put the thing you’re supposed to remember on top of something you wouldn’t go without, like your wallet, phone, or keys. It’s a pretty tried-and-true method of ensuring you’ve got everything you need.

For you need to know where this is

  • Filing, filing, filing. Y’all, this is not negotiable. Do you know where your most important documents are (birth certificate, ID, tax stuff, medical info)? Because when you need it, chances are you aren’t going to want to go searching for it. Buy a small file box and make a folder for important categories like the ones I mentioned above. Then when the time comes, you know where to find it.
  • A safe. If you’re worried or just want to be extra secure, you can get a small safe to house important papers. Just note that unless you buy one specifically designed for it, many safes aren’t waterproof or fireproof (and those that are usually have time limits that they can sustain that stress).
  • Give stuff a home. I used to be terrible about keeping track of small stuff I use frequently, like my earbuds, until I assigned them a “home.” Now, they are either with me or in a particular pocket of my purse. Once in a while I still stick them in a jacket pocket or somewhere random, but it’s far less often.

What tools have you found to help stay organized? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

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A year at work

This week (yesterday, to be more precise) was my 1-year anniversary at my job. This isn’t my first legit job, or the first one to take up full-time hours, but it is my first legit and full-time job.

I consider myself pretty fortunate. I didn’t have to work in high school other than odd jobs like tutoring and babysitting. I worked in college, but usually only part-time with hours that worked around my classes — and I was compensated in scholarship funds, which made school a lot more affordable (because scholarships aren’t taxed, every penny you earn actually goes toward tuition). After college, I nannied for a wonderful family part-time while I saved up and then hunted for a full-time gig. My first real adulting job is actually in my field. A lot of other folks can only say a couple of those things, if any.

No matter where you’re at on the job/career spectrum, you’ve probably got quite a bit left to learn (I definitely do). And you’ve probably learned quite a bit already (I definitely have).

So in honor of a year at my job, here are some of the things I’ve learned that I’d like to bring with me in my future career path and share with anyone else who might find it helpful:

  • Don’t sell yourself short. Is this my first proper, adult job? Yup. Was I underqualified when I was hired? Absolutely not. I actually exceeded all the requirements (i.e. 7 years of experience instead of the 2 years asked for). A lot of the experience was in an academic setting or not for pay, but it meant I could do the job. I had never officially worked in marketing before, but had still done the tasks in a variety of other contexts. Own your skills, experience, and qualities, and ask for what you deserve.
  • “I don’t know” is a legitimate answer. You want to stand out from the crowd? Admit when you don’t know something, and follow it up with steps you could take to learn whatever it is you don’t know. I spent too much time believing people when they told me “I don’t know” isn’t a real answer, and it messed me up. Be humble, and then grow knowledge where you can.
  • Tact is good. Hedging is not. This is especially prominent among women in the workforce, but happens with men as well. Please, please be thoughtful and intentional about how you interact with coworkers or clients — whether that’s  raising an idea, disagreeing, etc. But don’t undercut your input by over-cushioning anything you say. I talk more about it in this post, and this article has some more advice on that front.
  • Make friends. I have a whole separate post on this, but the gist is that — especially if you moved to a new area for work — your coworkers are going to be your de facto social nexus purely based on the hours you spend working. If you’re willing, strike up conversations at appropriate times or join in on activities outside the workplace. For example, I regularly ask coworkers about things they’ve mentioned in their personal lives, and joined the office softball team for a social opportunity even though it is not my sport.
  • Ask for feedback. In the past year, there have been times I felt like I was totally underperforming, but my colleagues actually thought I was doing great. There have also been times when I thought I had an assignment handled and made big mistakes. The best way to gauge how you’re doing is to literally ask. If you don’t feel comfortable asking your manager/boss right now, ask a coworker who sees the actual work you do.
  • Identify where you want to grow. You don’t have to know where you’ll be in 5 years or 10 years or what your dream job is. But you should know how you want to improve, what you want to learn, and what loose trajectory you want to aim toward. Achievable goals should be able to be measured in some form, and have a method of accountability (that could be a timeline, someone to check up on you, or something else entirely).
  • Remember the basics. Be nice, work hard, listen well, pay attention. General good employee stuff.
  • Your job is not your life. If you live in the U.S. (or another high-productivity focused nation like Japan or the U.K.), we tend to lose sight of this one. If your job is also your passion, that’s awesome. It still shouldn’t be your whole life. I limit this by not having my work email on my phone (I do have Slack), and trying really hard to set clear boundaries between my work life and the rest of my life. Unplug when you get home if you can. Take a vacation when you can. Set time limits for doing or talking about work if you need to. This doesn’t mean not to work hard, but simply a reminder to live outside of work.

I really enjoy my job, but know I likely won’t be doing it forever (as of 2016, Millennials were reported to change career-type jobs an average of 4 times in their first decade after college). But it’s a good fit for now, and I’m looking forward to what I’ll learn in my second year.

What has your first big job taught you? 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 the camera angles at my desk are not prime.)

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Not another notification

Sometimes social media is way too much. Let me preface this with the fact that I am (hopefully obviously) in no way against social media outright. I think it’s useful, I appreciate the benefits, and overall for me the pros outweigh the cons. But some days, the cons loom really, really large.

As emerging adults — and specifically Millennials/Gen Z — we’re young enough to be native to the latest technology, and old enough to be responsible for the ways we engage with them and allow them to affect us. That’s no small ask.

If I’m being completely honest, there are few things that get under my skin more than older generations bagging on younger generations for being plugged in to technology. I’m on my phone a lot. But most of the time I’m using it to stay in touch with people whom I otherwise wouldn’t be able to, whether it’s messaging a friend about a joke I heard or Facetiming my family across the country. Following that, I’m likely using it as a tool; my navigation, calculator, news, to-do list, and more are all contained in that one handy device. And sometimes, it’s pure entertainment. I’m looking at cute animal videos or playing the one game I have and am completely okay with that.

Of course, there are times to put the phone, or other tech, away. It’s never cool to be disruptive or impolite at a show or event. When you’re having more than the most casual of conversations with someone, they deserve your attention. Sometimes it’s just time to go to bed or go outside or read a book. But I want to be clear that the issues arise in when and how technology like phones and social media get used, not the fact that it’s used at all.

Including the ones for this blog, I consistently use six social media accounts on four platforms. I have limits set for all of them to keep any from becoming too much of a rabbit hole — or at least, from letting myself go too far down it. Some of them have time limits or a number of posts I’m allowed to scroll through before moving on, some of them I try to check a limited number of times per day. A couple of them are more of a self-contained “honor system” where I’m honest with myself about when it’s no longer serving a good purpose and I put it away.

But sometimes those don’t work. This morning I opened up my phone and within a few minutes just felt inundated and bogged down by the quantity and content of posts and ads and opinions and so on. I’m pretty introverted, and sometimes forget that even social media takes energy and a mental/emotional toll to engage with. When it starts to feel overwhelming like that, I walk away. Usually I’ll stay off of certain platforms for a while or set stricter limits on the time I do spend. There are no set rules to it, just an acknowledgment and response to knowing that the dopamine we get from scrolling isn’t worth the rest of what it’s costing me right now.

The lesson here is simple, but not always easy. It’s entirely up to us to know when it’s worthwhile to engage with such complicated beasts as social media. To know when it’s too much, when it benefits us or helps build relationships, when more important things are in front of us, and when we could just use a break.

It’s something most of us are still working on, and will hopefully strike a better balance of as time goes on. What are your favorite tips for not letting social media become overwhelming? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

P.S. If you’re looking for a song in this vein, I highly recommend “Look On Up” by Relient K.

(Photo is a free stock photo again because of the whole camera phone conundrum.)

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Taking down jet lag

Hi folks! Sorry it has been so long since my last post — I was sick (still getting over it actually) and then out of town for 11 days, but I’m back! That being said, I only got back yesterday evening, and am therefore very tired.

After flying nearly 7,000 miles yesterday, I am, predictably, a little jet lagged. This was my first international trip in a while (a post on it coming soon), but I travel across time zones a couple times a year. As such, it’s always an adjustment to get back on schedule once home, so that’s what today’s post is on.

Emerging adulthood means we’re responsible for our own sleep schedules and generally making it through the day. That, combined with so many Millennials and young adults wanting to travel, means we have to know how to combat jet lag. Different tips and tricks work better for some people than others, but here are the things I’ve found most helpful:

  • Sleep on the plane. If you can sleep on the flight (or train or whatever) at least a little, this will help you immensely. Traveling itself is way tiring, so give yourself a chance to rest while you’re already stuck in a seat.
  • Keep track of the hours. Know what time your body thinks it is in both the time zone you were in and the one you’re going to, and keep that in mind when planning your sleep schedule.
  • Ease back into your normal routine. I got back from my trip before dinnertime yesterday, and could have gotten to sleep basically right away. But I made myself stay up until 9 to get a little closer to my normal schedule while still leaving extra time to sleep.
  • Use safe, natural, gentle aids. I’m not a big proponent of serious energy or sleep aids — or even gentle ones for constant use — but this is a time that can be well worth it.
    • For energy: snacks with protein and a little sugar (i.e. cheese and fruit), green tea, a little coffee, a cool shower, a quick walk
    • For sleep: melatonin, herbal (non-caffeinated) tea, magnesium, lavender, a warm shower
  • Don’t nap. I love naps. Love them. But when you’re trying to get your body back to normal, they’re counterproductive. Alternatively, go to bed a little earlier or let yourself sleep in a little later, but stay up and active during daytime hours.
  • Don’t push it. Better to have a weird sleep schedule for a little bit than be super cranky or get sick, so if your body really needs sleep, go for it. If it’s the middle of the night and you’ve tried everything but are still wide awake, do a couple of small productive things (ones that don’t involve screens, as the blue light prevents sleep) before trying to go back to bed. The most important thing is nudging your body back to a good routine.

What have you found most effective for fighting jet lag? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

P.S. Happy Halloween! My costume was a lot less involved this year than last year (for the reasons above haha), but per tradition here is my favorite ’80s movie come to life!

take-a-day.jpg

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Better together

I don’t usually talk a lot about romantic relationships on here because every person and every couple is different, and a lot of advice isn’t one-size-fits-all. But as my fiancé and I are planning our wedding, and as a lot of friends and acquaintances are in relationships, engaged, or married, it seemed time to talk about the topic a bit more.

Let’s start with the most important thing: You are under absolutely no obligation to be in a relationship at all, or to remain in an unhealthy one. Your personal health and well-being are way more important than societal pressures. No matter what anyone tells you, if you don’t want to be in a romantic relationship you don’t have to be. Period. If you’re in a relationship and it isn’t healthy, get out.* Period.

But healthy romantic relationships are a common thing to want, and something a lot of us spend most of our lives working toward. Oh look, there’s the first piece of advice! It’s a process, and not something that will ever be fully accomplished. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Before you get into a relationship

  • Ask yourself why you want to be in one. Do you want it because everyone else is in a relationship, because you think it would be good for you, or because you really care about and have feelings for each other? (Hint: Only the last one is a thumbs up.)
  • Ask if this is healthy/logical for the stage you’re at in life. If you’re traveling for months at a time for work or often away from modern methods of communication, it just might not be the right time. If you know you don’t have the time and energy to invest in building a strong relationship, it might be better to save yourself and the other person the hurt.
  • Ask yourself if there’s anything holding you back. Are you still dealing with stuff in other parts of your personal life? Is there a circumstance that’s affecting things? Are you just nervous? Depending on what’s holding you back, determine whether it’s something to push through or to pause for.
  • Make sure you’re friends with the person. Attraction is cool, but it will not sustain a relationship. This is someone you’re looking at spending a lot of time with, and should want to get to know even better. (Side note that if you don’t know this person at all maybe take things slow and just be friends for a bit first.)

Before committing to a long-term relationship

  • Ask if you make each other better people. It doesn’t have to be in every single aspect (when my fiancé and I were in college, our long conversations wrecked my sleep schedule and it never fully recovered). But it does have to be in the areas that matter. Do you help each other be more patient, kind, understanding, thoughtful, forthright, compassionate, persevering?
  • Give it time. This is so important. Ultimately, you gotta do what’s right for both of you and your relationship. But if you haven’t known the person and/or been in the relationship very long, I’d usually advise against making any sort of long-term or lifelong commitments. (The younger you are, the longer it’s usually better to wait.)
  • Go through changes. This is the biggest reason giving it time is important. You’re both going to change over time because human beings aren’t static, nor are our circumstances. See how you both (and your relationship) respond to change, and whether the relationship has strengthened or you’ve grown apart. Life is only going to bring more changes, and it’s so, so important to make sure you’re ready to face them together.
  • Take a trip together. Especially if you’re someone who wants to travel, I can’t understate the importance of this. Take a road trip, a flight, whatever. But see how you both handle stress, small spaces, and being around each other almost constantly for at least a few days.
  • See how you handle being apart. I’m not suggesting everyone do long-distance (because honestly it sucks), but you should make sure that you can both handle being apart/talking less for several days or even a couple weeks, because co-dependency often carries a plethora of issues.
  • Find out what things they do that bother you, and how you react, and vice versa. Everybody has little habits that aren’t your preference, from the way they load the dishwasher to dog-earing book pages instead of using a bookmark. If they’re minor, they’re likely things to figure out how to accommodate. If they really bother you (or your significant other), then have a conversation and see if you can come up with a solution you’re both happy with. If they’re big things, ask yourself whether they affect your commitment to the relationship and handle accordingly. But if you or your significant other jumps to overreacting or lashing out over small things, it’s time to at least reassess that reaction in light of everyone’s well-being, and possibly reassess the relationship.
  • Love languages. It’s not a complete measure of a person, nor a full understanding of personality. But knowing how each of you gives and receives love best can minimize misunderstandings and make it easier to meet your significant other where they’re at in a way that’s meaningful to them.
  • Make sure you’re best friends with the person. I don’t believe that your significant other should be your only best friend; that seems unhealthy more often than not. But before you commit to spending your life with them, make sure they’re someone you really love hanging out with.

General

  • The work’s never done. Healthy relationships can be amazing. I am grateful beyond words for my fiancé, but that doesn’t mean we don’t encounter challenges. A healthy relationship shouldn’t feel like constant work, but it will require effort. And as you each change and grow (and your relationship does), adjusting to those changes will require efforts to shift as well.
  • Outside help is always okay. Reading a book or seeing a counselor to improve your relationship is absolutely never anything to be embarrassed about — but it should be something you’re on the same page about trying before you sign up.
  • That being said, don’t air all the dirty laundry. You don’t need to share every single detail of your relationship with friends or family. It’s still your guys’ business, and there are other aspects of your life you can talk about with loved ones.
  • Give yourselves time alone. Not all of my plans or interests involve my significant other. Nor should they. He is absolutely my favorite person to spend time with, but we’re very intentional to set aside time that isn’t with the other person, whether we’re with other friends or alone.
  • Communicate. I was an Interpersonal Communication major in college, and even with everything I learned, this is an area that constantly requires attention. Talk about how you talk to each other, through what methods, and how often. Talk about your days and your dreams for the future. Talk about silly things and important things. Talk about nothing. Get comfortable with silence. Talk in a way that gives each other space and respects their personhood. Talk about what’s bothering you, and what could be done better next time. Talk about your feelings. Talk about all of it.

What are some of the best things you’ve learned about romantic relationships? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

 

*Some unhealthy relationships may feel too dangerous or risky to get out of. Please, please don’t let yourself remain stuck. Reach out to resources like The National Domestic Violence Hotline (phone number is 1-800-799-7233) or Womenshealth.gov.

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On a jet plane

I just got back from a trip across the country, and have some even bigger travel plans coming up in a few weeks. Which means I am quickly become reacquainted with spending lots and lots of time on planes and in airports.

Chances are you’ve taken a few flights in your lifetime, but if you’re anything like the average emerging adult (particularly Millennials), you’re hoping to travel a lot more in the future — and learning to handle flights and airports like a pro is a necessity.

As always, the disclaimer: I have taken a lot of flights in my life, but I am by no means the expert. I’ve flown tiny 40-minute domestic puddle jumpers, and 19-plus-hour treks halfway across the globe. But I haven’t been to every continent or country, haven’t dealt with every travel challenge, and so on. Even still, I hope you’ll find some of this helpful.

Booking your flights

  • Book early. If at all possible, booking early can save you quite a bit. Adulthood means (usually) paying for your own flights, so this is a big deal.
  • Alternately, book really late. If you’re the kind of person who is cool with last-minute travel plans (note: I am not this person), then waiting until the last minute can offer up some phenomenal deals.
  • Travel sites. Comparing prices on sites like Kayak, or booking flights with a package through a site like Tripmasters can help you find deals you might not otherwise be able to.
  • Know your standards. Budget airlines like Wow Air and Ryanair can be super cost-effective — if you’re willing to deal with the small spaces, weird schedules, and cost of checking luggage. I’m cool to fly budget or coach, but there are certain airlines I simply don’t like, so I won’t book with them even if it means spending more money.
  • Pay attention to what your airline does and doesn’t cover. Know ahead of time if it will cost you extra (and how much) to check a bag, if you choose your seat when you book, or any other details that impact the cost and comfort of your trip.

Packing

  • I am far from the most efficient packer. I tend to over-pack, but I am (slowly) working on it. I have a 10-day trip coming up and am attempting to make everything I’ll need fit in a carryon and a backpack. We’ll see how it goes.
  • Make a list. If I don’t make a packing list, I will forget something important. Just a fact. I try to make the list several hours or even a day before I pack so there’s time for my subconscious to remember things I forgot to put on the list.
  • You only need one extra. I’m not the person who will tell you to only pack clothes for the exact length of time you’ll be gone. Sometimes stuff happens, and you need a spare. But you don’t need that many. A good rule of thumb is 1-2 extra pairs of underwear, 1 extra shirt, and just what you need of basically everything else.
  • Make it versatile. Especially with bottoms and shoes, don’t bring something you’ll only wear once unless it’s for a specific occasion you know you’ll be at. Lots of things (except underwear!) can be worn more than once.
  • Minimize your toiletries. This isn’t a problem for some people, but is one I tend to struggle with. Make sure everything is travel-size (3 ounces or less), and only bring the things you’ll actually need while you’re on the trip — which may mean emptying out your usual toiletry bag and opting not to bring once-in-a-while or half-empty items.
  • Be prepared. On the flipside, under-packing sucks. Like the time I spent a month in England and didn’t bring an umbrella or shoes that were good in the rain. The good news is you can often buy stuff there if you need to (I still use the umbrella I bought there and am wearing the shoes right now), but it’s better to have what you’ll need. Think about weather, what activities you’ll be doing, and any random elements like maps or chargers.
  • Leave room. If you’ll be going somewhere you plan on bringing extra things home from (souvenirs, gifts, etc.) then be sure to leave some extra room in your bag.
  • Roll it up. I tend to fold clothes, but if you’re tight for space, rolling them is without a doubt the most efficient way to pack.
  • Wear the bulk. If you have some larger clothing items that you need to bring (jackets, boots, etc.), try to wear them on the plane. Then there’s more room in your bag and you still get your bigger items without a problem.

The airport

  • Check in ahead of time. If you’re able to check in for your flight online, it will save you time and stress at the airport.
  • Dress comfortably. You’re going to be walking around, sitting around, and then sitting in an even tinier area on your flight. Wear something you’ll be comfortable in for the duration of the trip.
  • Get there early. If it’s a domestic flight, I like to be there about an hour and a half early. It leaves plenty of time to get through security and maybe get a bite to eat without feeling like I’m there forever.
  • If it’s close to a holiday or you’re flying international, get there extra early. The security lines are endlessly long around holidays, and international flights are not something you want to cut close on time around. I’d recommend a minimum of 2 hours before your flight.
  • Have your documents ready. Make sure you know where your ID and boarding pass are, as well as anything else you’ll need handy.
  • Don’t make insensitive jokes. This should go without saying, but please don’t talk about terrorist attacks or guns or explosives. It’s not only rude but dangerous, and could get you in a lot of trouble (same goes for on the plane).
  • Be a nice person. Make room for people who are clearly in a rush, don’t move super slow in the middle of a walkway, general thoughtful travel stuff.

The plane ride

  • If you get to choose your seat, choose it wisely. I fly Southwest a lot, so I usually choose my seat based on my priority. If I want to get off the plane asap when it lands, I’ll take anything that’s close to the front of the plane. If it’s a long flight or I mostly care about bring comfortable, I go for a window. If I just downed a lot of water, the aisle seat is my friend.
  • Entertain yourself. Being bored on a plane sucks. If you’re already asleep before takeoff, good for you. Otherwise, I recommend books, puzzles, music, podcasts, and movies to make all that time stuck in one seat a little more manageable.
  • Bring snacks. Not very many airlines feed you more than tiny bags of snacks (and depending on the flight sometimes don’t do that), so make sure you have food — especially if it’s a longer flight or close to a normal meal time. (Pro tip: TSA restricts liquids, but you can bring all the solid snacks you want.)
  • Stretch your legs. This gets more important the longer the flight is. I don’t like getting up on flights more than absolutely necessary, but doing so helps get the blood moving in your legs. At minimum, it helps keep your ankles from swelling, and can help prevent more serious conditions for some people. You can also do little exercises in your seat.
  • Don’t be a jerk. Aka don’t take both armrests, don’t put your stuff (including legs and feet) into your neighbor’s already limited foot space, don’t be mean to the parents trying to calm an upset baby. Also, be nice to the airline staff, they’re tired too.

What are some of your favorite tips for flying and travel? 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 dang it’s so cool)

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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.)