Buy a Hamper and Use It: Advice for New Graduates

Simple advice for former adolescents living on their own for the first time.

Posted Jun 25, 2018

One of the truisms of developmental psychology is that times of transition are both exciting and stressful. You can see this when children enter adolescence, beginning puberty and entering new schools and social scenes at the same time. 

Graduation, looking for or starting a new job, and moving out on your own marks another major transition. Even if you have moved back with family, your new schedule will cause a major shift in your responsibilities. Here are a few (mostly) non-scientifically based suggestions to help this transition go more smoothly. Although the specific suggestions are small, the principles reflect basic research on anxiety and positive psychology. You may be doing all these things already.  But if not, some suggestions. Yes, they sound like things a parent might say. Maybe because they've learned these things too.

  • Make your bed. Establishing a routine improves people's mood and staves off depression.  Making your bed in the morning is associated with greater happiness. Even if it were not, it's a good habit: made beds just feel better when you slide between the sheets at night. While you're at it, sniff your sheets and pillow case. It it’s iffy, into the wash. If it’s been a week, into the wash. This is a decision you won’t regret.
  • Buy a hamper. Use it. Yes, you can pile dirty clothes on a chair until it's ready to wash, but that's one less chair to sit in or one less thing to step around when you're walking across the floor. Clothes are expensive. Take care of them. And if you forget, when you walk through your apartment and see a piece of clothing somewhere it doesn't belong, toss it in. It makes life easier.
  • Throw away trash. This sounds obvious, but it is something many people neglect to do right away. You open the mail, read it, and leave the envelope on the table. You peel an orange, then get distracted and the peel sits on the table next to the cherry pits. It takes a second to drop it in the trash and you will never have to think about it again. It's easier if you have several small trashcans placed where you'll need them. The kitchen, obviously.  But also next to the chair you usually sit in and the bathroom.  

You'll notice a pattern here that is common to most advice about decluttering and de-stressing your life: take care of small things immediately so they don't take up mental space and you don't have to think about them again. Cleaning as you go makes your living space more pleasant, makes it easier to have friends drop by, and provides you with the mental space you need to think about more important things. 

"Take care of small things immediately" is also good advice for several other small tasks that, if ignored, can cause a lot more harm than a disorderly apartment.  

  • Collect and OPEN your mail every morning. Yes, that mail: snail mail. While in college, you may be used to all important documents being sent to you via email. Post graduation, that may not longer be the case (though open your email too). Notices about taxes, about speeding tickets, and about late payments will all be sent to you by physical mail. If it looks official, it is CRITICAL you open and deal with it in a timely fashion. But look at all of your mail. Sort it into trash (to be immediately filed) and that which should be stored or needs to be acted on (see below). Please note that the phone is often the most efficient way to deal with problems that arrive via mail. As a new graduate, I was pleased to find that companies and banks are often surprisingly helpful when you call them and tell them a payment is coming. That's true today too. Ignoring and avoiding the issue will make things worse. Helpful hint: if they put you on hold and don't offer you the option of a call-back, put the phone on speaker so you don't have to listen until you hear a human voice.

Notice the recurring pattern: taking care of things immediately, before things snowball out of control, minimizes problems.

The final two bits of advice aren't about timeliness, they're about orderliness.

  • Put your important papers in the same place.  You can make yourself crazy sorting papers and creating complicated filing systems. Some people really enjoy creating those kind of systems. However, a minimal system can work pretty well. Put them all together so they are easy to find. In fact, as soon as you identify them as important, put them where they belong so they don't get mixed in with the other newsletters, ads, requests for alumni donations, and miscellaneous kinds of important papers that tend to pile up.

There are at least three basic kinds of important papers. You have critical documents you need to keep track of: your social security card, birth certificate, immunization records, car title, loan forms, and similar documents. Put these documents together in something easy to carry if you need to find them or if you need to quickly evacuate your apartment. (Seem unlikely? My apartment burnt down my first year in graduate school. We had maybe two minutes to evacuate. The only thing we took with us besides our pet was the bag with our key documents and checkbook. Not having to replace them saved us hours of hassle.) 

You have documents you need to take care of soon. Bills and notifications from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles fall in that category. Put them in a pile so they're all together when you need them. They don't have to be in perfect order, they just have to be in an easy to locate place so that when you sit down to take care of them, you won't waste time looking for them. If you are feeling efficient (see my article on Reducing Anxiety or A Pretty Good Organizing System for Non-Linear Thinkers), add a note on your to-do list so you remember to look.

  • Eat and sleep on a reasonable schedule. Finally, bodies are conservative: they function best when you have regular times for eating and sleeping. Why? Hormones that control sleepiness and digestion are diurnal. If you work with them, it will be easier to sleep and your digestion will work better. In addition, a great deal of research shows that having a regular pattern to your day — starting with making your bed, eating regular meals, and sleeping at about the same time every day — reduces stress. Stress and temporal regularity are also associated with better immune functioning.

They say that adulting is hard. There are things about it that are. But there are also simple habits that can smooth the way so you can worry about bigger things: getting and keeping a job and finding friends and people you care about. Establishing yourself. Don't let the small things get in your way.

Have advice you wish you had followed? Something you've learned? Put it in the comments below.

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