When I was about thirteen years old, my parents decided that I needed to learn how to do laundry, so they put me in charge of our family’s laundry for a month. I wasn’t happy with their plan, but I saw its merits a few years ago when, as a college freshman, I didn’t have to think twice about my clothes. Properly sorting whites and darks and not wasting detergent was a familiar routine by that time.
The ten life skills I’ve compiled here are ones you should have under your belt by the time you graduate, so that you’re prepared for all aspects of post-graduate life. I can’t do all of them yet, but they’re on my list (or my parents’ list) for me to learn.
1. Cooking Healthy Meals
You can’t eat ramen for the rest of your life. Fortunately, eating well doesn’t have to mean cooking something fancy or complicated, it just means making sure you eat more vegetables and protein than fatty, starch-saturated snacks (ex: potato chips).
Your lazy side might balk at preparing real food when Easy-Mac only takes five minutes, but the investment of time and effort pays off handsomely. When your food is healthy, you’ll have more energy and (as obvious as it sounds) fewer health problems, and I’ve found that planning my meals makes me appreciate their taste more.
2. Grocery Shopping
Shopping is pretty self-explanatory, but doing it efficiently involves more than simply scouring the aisles for anything you might need.
Having a plan when you go to the grocery usually means preparing a list of what you’ll buy ahead of time, which keeps you from reaching the checkout line and realizing you filled up your cart with nonessentials. It also helps you eat healthier (because you can’t forget your resolution to try more vegetables) and be thriftier, because you’re more likely to avoid impulse buying.
3. Shining Shoes
Rags and shoe polish might seem to be quaint artifacts confined to the dim corners of airports, where you can sometimes find giant La-Z-Boy-style massage chairs next to signs offering a quick shine, but knowing how to use those humble tools is in fact very useful, and not just for business executives or military officers.
Leather shoes look great with both casual and workplace attire, but they need maintenance. Polishing them regularly is an investment in their longevity that keeps them looking nice and protects them from light moisture. Also, once you have the rag and polish, it’s cheaper to shine your own shoes than to hire someone else to do it.
I used to love knit shirts because they’re so soft and low-maintenance. Unfortunately, knit isn’t a very stylish fabric, so I had to buy several new shirts for my office-based internship this summer.
If you also prefer sweaters to suits, be prepared to adapt to a different wardrobe when you start working. Most business-casual clothes require ironing to look tidy, especially if they’re made of linen or cotton. Similar to shining your own shoes, ironing your own clothes makes you look more professional and (if you have the tools) saves you money.
5. Cleaning House
Dorm housekeepers and helpful parents won’t always be around to keep your room tidy. Nor do floors, toilets, sinks and showers clean themselves. Knowing how to wield a vacuum (or broom) and a scrub brush is necessary if you want a clean house; and you should because dirty areas, besides being unpleasant, can attract bugs or worse pests.
You can suffer allergies or even get sick from some of the molds that like to grow in showers. Taking just an hour every Saturday to clean and straighten things up makes a great difference in your surroundings.
6. Washing Dishes
A few years ago, my mom walked into our kitchen and found a puddle of water spreading across the hardwood floor. It was leaking from under the dishwasher, which proved to be broken, so for the next few days we washed all our dishes by hand (and ate at restaurants more than usual).
Hopefully you’ll never deal with this situation, but it’s a good reminder that dishwashers aren’t completely reliable. Even if they don’t break, some things are too fragile to wash in them, so you should know how to do dishes the old-fashioned way.
7. Dining Formally
Traditional rules of etiquette might seem outdated, but there are still plenty of occasions where they’re necessary. Post-graduation life will probably include some of these events, like business lunches or friends’ wedding receptions.
Etiquette rules cover, of course, which fork to use, as well as easy-to-forget things like buttering bread and passing condiments. You might not think you’ll ever have to attend a formal gathering, but it’s far better to have this knowledge and not need it than to be stuck at a party trying to imitate the other guests without being noticed.
8. Balancing a Checkbook
Yes, even if you only use credit cards. It doesn’t have to be a real book—I’ve used Quicken and Microsoft Excel with good results—but noting every purchase and every deposit does wonders for improving your understanding of your own finances.
It makes you more accountable to yourself and less likely to abandon your budget. It also protects you from being cheated because you won’t have to rely on your memory when you’re trying to figure out whether you made a strange purchase or whether someone else hacked your account.
9. Mowing a Lawn
If you live in a city or an apartment, this won’t apply to you. For everyone else, though, having a lawn of some size is almost guaranteed.
Like many of the skills on this list, you can easily hire people to do this for you, but doing it yourself saves money in the long run (and, in this case, is great exercise). Once you’ve mastered the lawnmower, you can move on to secondary yard-maintenance skills like trimming bushes and edging sidewalks.
10. Driving a Stick Shift
Stick shift cars, also known as manual transmission cars, work the same as cars with automatic transmission except when it comes to changing gears. There’s more levers to pull and pedals to push when driving a stick shift (although, fortunately, gas and brakes are still the same).
Knowing how to drive both kinds of cars ensures that you won’t be stranded if your only option is a stick shift; as with dining etiquette, this is a skill that’s better to have just in case than lack in a pinch.