How to Disagree

In Ag47, we often play a warm-up game called “Everybody’s Fault.” It’s your basic game of keeping a ball aloft as a group. Everybody counts together each time anyone hits the ball, and when it falls down to the floor, the whole group chants “Everybody’s fault! Everybody’s fault!” No one who dropped the ball is blamed. Everybody wins the game.

I think about this game most times I’m in an argument with someone. With some caveats that I’ll cover at the end here, most times when two people disagree, it’s everybody’s fault. And it’s everybody’s job to fix it. So let’s talk about arguing, and how to get through it without throwing things or punching people.

Start from Respect

Take a deep breath and a step back from the dumb stuff your friend/roommate/lover/sibling/partner just said or did. Remind yourself that you care about them and they care about you, and the most logical root of your disagreement is a mutual misunderstanding or mismatch in priorities. Take their perspective: what do you know about them that led them to have this opinion or behave this way? Are they taking their bad day out on you?

Get to the Source

Why is it worth having this argument in the first place? If it’s true that you care about each other, it’s probably because you want the other person to be better, for whatever definition of “better” fits your purpose. Maybe you want them to learn something. Maybe you want them to act differently. People, however, have to get better on their own. The most pro grownup maneuver in life is having realistic knowledge of what you can and can’t control, and caring for yourself and those around you accordingly. Staying aware of what you control and what you care about is super crucial to getting out of an argument without feeling like you just lost a boxing match of feelings. This previous post on how to deal with manipulative people is a good primer and companion piece. It can be hard to be sure you’re understood when you’re also angry and sad. Make sure what you’re saying and what the other person is hearing match up. Avoid name-calling/ad-hominem attacks (helpfully, Wikipedia has this weirdly amusing graphic about types of arguments, prominently featuring the phrase “ass hat”). Avoid derailing from the original point, especially in any of the ways discussed in that link. Stay focused and stay kind. And, if you need to, get the heck out of there. I am a lifelong emotional doofus and am only now learning to say “I can’t keep having this argument right now” before I burst into tears.

Define a Resolution

How will you get to the end of this disagreement? Maybe you’ll change the subject and just let it go. Maybe you’ll agree to disagree. Maybe you’ll hash out a compromise. As long as you don’t let your differences fester into resentment, all of these are good solutions.

Get Offline

In a recent Twitter chat about hate-reading, fellow grownup-of-this-blog Leah said “Pro tip: remind yourself you are going to die before reading all the good things.” This also applies to having internet arguments, or IRL arguments that extend online. You are going to die before you have every rich and fulfilling friendship that you possibly could. You are going to die before you read every book and see every movie and play every game that you want to see or do. Probably don’t spend your finite life hours raging futilely against the haters. You’re not going to change their minds, and they might ruin your day. Meditate upon this little guy and let it go.

Another crucial step in getting offline is to avoid subtweeting your friends. I get all Obi-Wan-sensing-a-disturbance-in-the-force bummed when I see subtweeting going on. Venting to one or two trusted folks in person/on the phone/in a gchat is preferable to putting your bummers out there in the public internet. I try to go take a walk or read a comic or something when I feel the urge to complain about people behind their backs. This is not to say that I always succeed, but it’s a strategy.

The Caveat Section: A Brief Guide to Calling Your Loved Ones Out on Their Occasional Bullshit

Here are the big caveats I mentioned above: it’s not your fault if someone else is racist, sexist, cissexist, classist, ableist, homophobic, fatphobic, etc. Verbal/emotional abuse is most definitely not the fault of the person to whom it’s directed and I am sure the Tumblr Social Justice Police would rightly revoke my license to put words on a blog if I ever suggested otherwise.

That said, everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes, and a very occasional use of oppressive language doesn’t make someone a devil-scourge that you should excise from your life. It’s helpful to call your friends and loved ones out on their oppressive shit so they learn that words have consequences — and eventually, one person at a time, the world gets a little kinder and less bogus.

A good technique for this is the compliment sandwich, or yes/no/yes. Start out by reminding the person that you care about them and think they are rad, then get in there with your criticism of the language they used. People are naturally a little defensive when they’re called out on being wrong, so have this conversation privately if you can. Point them to some topical resources they can learn from, like this site on anti-racist allyship, or this glossary on gender identity and the language that goes along with it. Finally, top off your compliment sandwich with more nice stuff. You care about this person, and you are confident they’re awesome enough to take into consideration your cool tips on how they can be more thoughtful with their speech.

Because in the shortness of our lives together, do we really have time not to be as kind as possible to the people we’re here with? I don’t think so.

miranda-pfeiffer said: Hi, I recently grew up and became a grown up. A month ago, a two alarm fire destroyed my art exhibition, which was in a building along with twenty of my now displaced friends. It's been hard work to not only manage difficult emotions of loss, but also to 'do the right thing.' The way I see it, there are different needs in the short term, than the long term for something like a fire, but I was wondering if you could write a post on disaster for our emerging youth. Also, I'm Fred's little sister.

Hi, Miranda! This is the first time I (Erin) am answering a question from someone I have met, and this is such an important question that it is actually a few questions that I’m breaking out into subheaders below. First off, though, I am so sorry for your loss: I can’t even imagine losing something you’ve put so much of yourself into. (And I apologize if I’ve waited so long to post that you’ve figured all of this out on your own.)

Managing the emotions of loss
Know yourself and ask for what you need. As you’ve probably figured out, this is harder than it sounds: you’re coping with your own feelings while supporting your friends as they cope with theirs. Everything goes all weird and pear-shaped when people navigate tragedy together; there isn’t really any perfect framework for how to behave. If you know what you need in general to feel better when you’re experiencing stress, you can apply it as needed: do you need silly distractions? Sad songs? Yoga? Lots of hugs? Take the things that have helped you in the past and make sure you give yourself the time and space for them. It seems to me that this post you made is already a good step towards processing a tragedy (and it’s just beautifully written, everybody go read that). Know that you don’t have to fix everything for everyone, even for yourself.

"Doing the right thing"

I’m interpreting this to mean “how do I behave with the best interests of my community at heart.” Even to ask this question when you’re suffering yourself means you’re well on your way to accomplishing it. You’ve acknowledged that this affects you deeply in addition to posing some pretty tough practical problems for your now displaced friends. I’ve found this “ring theory” to be helpful towards knowing how to do right by people who are coping with tragedy. It’s written with chronic/terminal illness in mind, but is more broadly applicable. Essentially the idea is that your outlets for letting out your stress should be people who are less affected by the tragedy than you: “dump out.”

Disaster for our emerging youth

So if you’re coping well enough emotionally, if you’re supporting and being supported by your friends and family in ways that suit you, how do you cope practically? There are some resources specific to artists: maybe you’ve already found Studio Protector, which looks super helpful. There are probably resources specific to your community: tenants’ organizations, local arts boosters, neighborhood associations, etc. College alumni associations, too, love opportunities to support their own. I will admit I don’t know a dang thing about Baltimore other than it is apparently a wonderful place to make art and music, so I’m not going to presume too much here. Make sure that you and your friends are safe, and tell everyone you know how they can help.

The only upside to tragedy is: it reminds us we’re all human together, that terrible things are equally possible no matter who and where you are. I believe that, given an opportunity to be kind, people generally do the best they can. Sometimes all it takes is asking people to help with money, time, or knowledge.

You said in your post I linked above: “More than ever, I feel compelled to use art-making to be most human.” In the end, this is what you can do. Growing up and being a grownup has taught me that we can all give something of ourselves in our short time of being alive here together. Sometimes that something is art and sometimes it is love and sometimes it’s hard work. The best I can hope for is that those all align, sometimes.

How to Finish Projects

On Monday I offered to write a post about how to finish projects that you start. This is after I already agreed to write a review of a new pizza joint, interview Chicagoans about ketchup, prepare a feature on a friends’ failings, design a book layout for another friend, start playing tennis, learn how to ride a motorcycle and play softball in a league.  And that’s in addition to working at my full-time job, finishing freelance work, spending time with my boyfriend, taking care of my dog, exercising, cleaning my apartment, showering, eating and sleeping. 

… I’m sure I forgot something.

I take on a lot and finish most of it. I used to take on even more and finish less. Sometimes I would take on very little and still struggle to meet my obligations. 

Like everything else, I learned time management the hard way. I used to hear about an exciting project and say yes without knowing all the details. If a friend would tell me about a fun new activity, I would commit without checking my calendar. I used to agree to proposals that I wasn’t sure I have the skills to complete. I would say yes to so many things and overwhelm myself with projects I didn’t have time for, I didn’t have skills for, and didn’t want to do.

After too many all-nighters and subpar performances, I have learned what projects I should say yes to. 

It’s good to be busy. It’s not good to be overwhelmed. There are so many exciting and enriching activities to do and not enough time do all of them. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to do everything. So, let’s figure out what you should say yes to.

Before you say yes to a new project, make sure you can do it. You can’t say yes until you know the details. How much time will it take? Do you have the time available? When does it start and end? Do you have the necessary skills? 

Once you know you can do the project, do you still want to do it? Is it exciting? Will it make you happy? Will you learn something? Will you be proud of your work? 

You need to have the time available and the excitement to get started. You need the skills and the desire to complete it. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to finish a project otherwise.

The projects that you can do and the projects that you want to do are the projects you should do. Say yes! 

Now that you’ve committed, you need to finish. Really, you need to finish. It’s important that you meet deadlines, fulfill obligations and live up to your responsibilities. If hurdles pop up, you need to conquer them. Difficulties along the way don’t excuse you from keeping commitments you made to others or to yourself. If you need more time, be clear about how long it will take and say so immediately. If you need help, ask the right person for it (and be understanding if they don’t have time to help). If you feel like a project is too hard, keep trying. A lot of things will get easier if you keep trying.

I recently decided to learn how to ride a motorcycle. I had the desire, tools, and time, but I needed to work on skill so I took a class, I asked for advice, and I practiced. I have wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle since I was 22, and just four days after getting my license, I am shifting gears with ease. I still have more to learn, but I have dedicated myself to learning it, no matter how terrifying and impossible it can seem. I am making great progress with this project and I’ll consider it a success when I feel comfortable riding on a highway. 

And sometimes you’ll need to back-out of a project. Out of my really long to-do list above, I recently had to back-out of the softball league. I was super excited to do it so I said yes without really considering the obligation I was making. After updating my calendar and trying to toss a ball, I realized that I didn’t have time to meet twice a week for the rest of the summer and I didn’t have any aim. Softball isn’t something that I can do and, as fun as it would be, it wasn’t something I really wanted to do. Other things were more important to me, like a new freelance client that I couldn’t turn down. As soon as I realized I couldn’t keep my commitment, I let the organizer know. I felt like a turd for backing out, and I said so.

Now, it’s time to say yes to some projects, no to some others, and “maybe next time” to the rest. Along the way, you’ll learn the following:

  • How much time projects really take. I am horrible at time estimates. I frequently think something will only take an hour but it ends up taking eight. This completely distorts how much time I have available. I am learning how long it really takes me to do something and how many small tasks add up to a big project. 
  • What you really want to do. There’s a difference between a fun project and a fulfilling project, and you’ll learn what you find enriching along the way. 
  • How to stay focused. You’ll learn to eliminate distractions, stay on-task and get done even faster.
  • When to quit a project. Just because you decided to run a marathon doesn’t mean you have to train for it forever. You can run it once and then go back to a less intense exercise. And just because you volunteer for an organization doesn’t mean you have to do it for the rest of your life. It’s ok to move on to something else, but be sure to leave on good terms. 
  • How to fail. There are going to be some projects that are too much, too hard, too far outside of your skillset. You will fail. It’ll suck, but it’ll be ok. You’ll learn what your boundaries are and you’ll find opportunities to challenge yourself to do more. That’s great.

I learned all of this by trying and you will too. The more projects you start, the more projects you’ll finish and the better you’ll get at getting things done. More advice on picking projects:

  • If you wouldn’t do something while you were on vacation, there’s no good reason to do it when you’re not.” — 14 Simple Ways to Get Considerably More Done
  • "But if I want to get better, I can’t afford to get swallowed by [criticism] anymore." — on receiving feedback on projects you start (and finish).
  • "Perhaps one day you’ll wonder how you ever got around without a bicycle." — the Small Steps of learning a new skill (not just biking).

How to literally Europe.

My fiancée and I just went on a ten-day trip to London, Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam, and it was completely awesome. We learned a lot along the way, though, so for anybody else looking to do the same, here are some pointers.

Stuff you need.

  • A passport. Duh and obviously. A passport card won’t suffice; you need an actual booklet. Give this about six weeks lead time, although in practice it should take much less. Global Entry isn’t necessary unless you have three months of your time and $100 to waste on a completely invasive background check.
  • A Chip & PIN card. Most of Europe’s credit and debit cards have microchips built in, requiring you to type in a PIN even for credit transactions. This adds another layer of security. Most American cards do not have this. You will absolutely need a Chip & PIN card if you ever plan on using public transit, going to convenience stores, or doing pretty much anything else. We used USAA for our Chip & PIN card, and it took about four weeks to set up. You have to apply for their credit card, then you need to convert it to Chip & PIN, then you get the Chip & PIN card, and then you have to request a PIN for it. Here’s a list of Chip & PIN cards from NerdWallet, many of which are “luxury-tier” with annual fees and significant rewards from airlines and hotels.
  • A no-foreign-transaction-fee card. Unfortunately, the only American Chip & PIN card that also doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees is the Amex Platinum, which has a $450 annual fee. So we used a separate card from Capital One for the purpose. In every situation where you can use a signature card, use this. It will save you a lot of money, and this particular card has generous cash back rewards. (We got thrice more back in cash rewards than we paid in foreign transaction fees on our USAA Chip & PIN card.)
  • Ungodly amounts of cash. Most of Europe hasn’t fully embraced using credit cards yet, and if you want to patronize awesome, independent establishments, you will probably need to do it with cash. Many card-accepting places require high minimum spending limits, so you should expect to spend cash everywhere. For reference, about half of our transactions were in cash. Your American ATM card should work fine in Europe, but you might pay a lot in withdrawal fees.
  • A travel adapter. I used this one from Conair and it did just fine. You can get a little three-outlet adapter to charge your laptop and phones; all you need is the one outlet.
  • A plan. You’re in Europe, for crying out loud; very few people are privileged enough to make it out there at all, much less more than once in their entire lives.

Which brings me to this point: you will do Europe well if you are overprepared but flexible.

How to prepare.

  • Save up a lot of money. Many European cities have high costs of living, and you’ll be eating out pretty much all of the time. Stay in hostels – or, ideally, with friends – if you can swing it.
  • Research good restaurants, museums, and parks with friends who have been there. Set out an itinerary.
  • For the love of god, don’t roam on your cell phone when you are abroad. Having access to data on the go is crucial for shifting plans, mapping unfamiliar streets, and understanding the local metro system. Even the most generous roaming terms from Verizon are heinously predatory when compared to the local pay-as-you-go systems. Learn who carries the iPhone abroad, go to their websites, and buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card for your phone. You will need a different SIM for each country that you go to, and you shouldn’t expect to pay more than $30 for enough data that you’ll need. (I went through about 100MB per day, but your mileage may vary.) You will need an Micro SIM for an iPhone 4; a Nano SIM for an iPhone 5. Some carriers only sell Micro SIMs, which sucks, but they can safely be cut down to Nano SIM size with this handy $3 gadget. And pack a paperclip to eject the SIM when you get there!
  • Buy train tickets in advance. Different train companies support different countries; check your local Lonely Planet guide for what sites to use.
  • Make PDFs of all of your plane, train, and accommodation receipts and store them locally, not on Dropbox. You don’t want to rely on spotty internet or foreign roaming when you need the right barcode to get on your plane. I used GoodReader to save mine.
  • Biking around European towns is generally easy and safe. Sign up for the city’s bike-sharing program in advance, so you have an account when you approach a kiosk.
  • If the city has an RFID transit pass that you can buy and have sent across the pond, do it – it will make your life much easier when you’ve landed.
  • If possible, buy museum tickets in advance and have them mailed to your house. (This is, for reference, the only way to do the Louvre right.)
  • Call every single restaurant to make a reservation, even if they claim not to take them – phone reservations are extremely common in all of Western Europe, and we were punked more than once by restaurants who were booked up for the day.
  • It will take most people two days to fully overcome jetlag. Build this into your trip itinerary, and take two extra days off after you’ve landed if at all possible. Valerian pills and melatonin are your sleepy, terrible friends.
  • If you go someplace that doesn’t speak English natively, take the time to learn basic phrases and customs. Don’t be an inconsiderate traveler.

And that’s it. Preparing for this was a lot of work, but it was honestly one of the best times of my life. I hope it all helps!

Anonymous said: I know a lot of the contributors to this blog do freelance work. How do you get clients? What are some tips for business development, staying on track with projects and avoiding or minimizing procrastination, working from home without distraction, etc?

How to Freelance Without Dying

Hi, nickd here. I run a small interaction design consultancy. I quit my full-time job in February 2012. I manage to feed myself (sort of), pay my rent (barely), kill off my student loans (with great alacrity), and see good people and do good things (pretty much always).

Here are some scattered tips for you, in the style of the time:

  • Build a network. 95% of your work should come through referral. This means you will spend a lot of your time building intangible things like a solid reputation. Get out of the house and go to meetups. Hand people your business card. Join your local chamber of commerce and hob-knob with small businesses. Your goal is to have people remember you when they think about who to hire for your skills.
  • Get your name out there. You should take the time and effort to publicly establish yourself as an expert in whatever you do. For example, I run a weekly-ish newsletter where I talk about interaction design issues. I write this to build client relations. People read my emails and spread them to others; eventually, one of them has a good project and is willing to pay me to do it.
  • Bill daily, weekly, or per-project. Your goal is to maximize your utilization rate: namely, the fraction of time you’re spending on billable work. Most freelancers bill per hour, but that results in a bunch of projects where you work three hours, and spend the other five on administrivia; or people will nitpick the time that you’re spending on something, haranguing you when you go to lunch or have to see a doctor. Daily and weekly billing also keeps you focused on single clients and larger projects, both of which maximize your utilization rate and solve many problems with staying on track. I wrote more about billing structures on my blog.
  • Projects should have a rigorous timeline with solid deadlines. In short, you should know what you’re going to get done when you arrive at work every day. I spend the end of every work day figuring out what I’m going to do tomorrow; then I write it on a post-it note and leave it in the middle of my desk. A little upfront planning goes a very long way.
  • By proxy, you should establish business hours, and convey those to your clients. You should be completely available during those hours, and you should cease to exist the rest of the time. Did you get a shrill, five-alarm insane client email at 4 in the morning? Most of those can wait five hours. Get used to blowing it off until 9:01am, and then addressing it promptly – matched with a polite reminder that you begin work at 9. Nobody will stand up for your time but you, and your time is all you have.
  • Aggressively filter clients. You should love your clients. Don’t take work you don’t want, with clients that you’re negotiating with in bad faith. Ask a lot of questions upfront and recognize that you might not be a good fit for most people. I ask about budgets at the first contact; those with budgets under a certain amount simply aren’t worth pursuing. If clients don’t know what they want to build, or they don’t have the capability to build it, I tend to walk from those as well. Same with those who don’t conduct themselves professionally, or they email me at 4am with pitched requests: if that happens before a contract is signed, nothing keeps it from happening during the project.
  • Get a lawyer and an accountant. I could write a whole separate post about how to retain financial and legal counsel, but it suffices to say that these are essential, and they will make you money. My monthly income doubled after I got a lawyer and accountant on my side; I’ve made more in the first three months of 2013 than in all of 2012 – and it wasn’t because I magically became good at what I do. Good contracts keep everyone on task, improve your respect in the eyes of clients, and provide an actionable framework in case anything goes wrong. Lawyers help you write good contracts. Accountants help you not get screwed at tax time. Find them.
  • Don’t go freelance straight out of college. In web design and graphic design, it helps tremendously to apprentice with people who are more experienced than you. Spend time understanding the industry, so you can put more of your effort into getting and retaining work – and building relationships with future clients.
  • Work from coffee shops and coworking spaces. I have no tips about working from home; I solved it by getting out of the house. Freelance work can be very isolating and lonely sometimes, and I find I work best in noisy environments around many friends. I work out of an office and coffee shops all the time. If you’re having troubles finding awesome coworking spaces in your town, you should use Desktime to narrow your search.
  • And finally, the sour grapes part: if you are unwilling to do the job of selling, pitching, and patiently filtering clients, you should seek a full-time job. Selling in work, and handling administrative tasks, is not something you do in order to get the work you want; it is the work. It’s so thrilling to land the clients that you want, and I personally wouldn’t trade it for the world right now, but getting to a signed contract and paid invoice takes a lot of effort.

Finally, I know you asked anon but do tweet or email me (nickd at nickd dot org) if you have any more questions about freelance life. I might answer privately or as an installment of my newsletter, if I think the answer will help a lot of people. In the meantime, here are some additional resources that will probably help you a bit, if you’re in something close to my line of work:

The first year is always the hardest. Keep fighting the good fight and don’t give up.

Anonymous said: How do you judge if your feelings and desires are legitimate/actionable, or illegitimate/fleeting, especially in the context of a relationship?

Anonymous friend, I have thought about this a lot, and I will tell you what I have arrived at for myself in my own relationship where I am about to marry some dude.

For the purposes of this response, I’m gonna assume that “a relationship” equals a long-term monogamous one. I recognize that other kinds of relationships can also be wonderful and healthy and fulfilling, I just don’t feel qualified to advise on them.

Your feelings are always legitimate. Feel the way you feel! You don’t have to justify it to anybody. But if your feelings and desires are obstacles for your long-term happiness (and/or your relationship, although I’m going to focus more on your happiness here), spend some time figuring out where that’s coming from.

The easiest way to judge whether your desires are fleeting is to give them time and see if they subside. Everyone has moments where they envision making massive, irreversible changes to their life. (There’s a really good poem about this feeling that I once wrote about over here.) Usually, those moments pass by pretty quickly. When they don’t, come up with a plan for how you’re going to get to where you want to be, and do it.

In the context of a relationship, it’s helpful to articulate what you need out of it as specifically as possible. That way, you can tell if you’re actually unhappy because your needs aren’t being met in the relationship, or because of other circumstances. What are your priorities in life? How does your relationship support them? These are big questions, but if you can answer them for yourself, you can feel a lot more secure in the choices you make.

For example, my priorities are: make stuff, write, and get better at empathy and feminism every day. To feel like I’m accomplishing this, I need to be in a relationship that gives me space and time for creative work, with someone who’s also trying to do the empathy and feminism parts right alongside me. Ask your partner for what you need out of the relationship, and be specific and realistic: “I need one night to myself a week to work on writing without having to text you back” is better than “I need some space.”

Knowing what you have to do yourself – versus what you can do together in a relationship – takes a lot of learning, compassion, and probably some stubbornness. We got there by making a list of what we need from each other and reviewing it with brutal, teary honesty every week for the past three years.

If there are things you’re not getting out of your relationship that your partner just can’t provide through honest effort, then you’re not the right partners for each other. That’s OK. Go do things you care about and kick ass at them, and the rest will sort itself out.

How To Be A Good Overnight Host

(Hi, my name is Mica @micaRBMA/@micada. Technically, I’ve only been an adult for about two years, which is when I finished grad school. But I’ve been working in my field for ten and in that time, become a kick-ass overnight host and profesh entertainer of out-of-towners.)

Hola, all. So I have this job where I end up having a lot of out of town guests in my house, many of them international with no prior knowledge of Chicago other than pizza and specific types of music. Sometimes they have business to attend to or friends to meet/hang out with or things they absolutely need to do while in town, but I find preparing for the fact that you just got a relative stranger (this happens to me a lot) dropped into your abode who is looking to you to be a tour guide, host and friend rolled into one is the best way to deal with all overnight guests. Being an adult means we might be past “I have a couch you can crash on, bro” and more interested in making sure we are a font of local knowledge and have the ability to show a lovely time by sharing our lives with anyone in our home.

1) Go shopping. Go through your house a week before they show up and check that you have the following things. If not, go buy them:

- Toilet Paper
- Soap/Shampoo (Nothing too girly or dudely)
- Detergent/dishwasher soap/409/sponges (You will be doing some cleaning, don’t lie to yourself)
- Paper towels/napkins (Or if you use cloth, more power to you)
- Trash bags
- Toothpaste, hand soap
- Beer (Liquor/mixers optional)
- Coffee/tea/juice/pop
- Brunch fixings (eggs, bacon, bread, etc.)
- Snack items (Fruit, chips, etc.)
- If you have pets, lint rollers, litter.

2) Clean. 

- Do the dishes. Have clean silverware and drinkware. 
- Sweep. You do not sweep enough. 
- Throw things out that clutter up common areas and then throw out the trash. 
- Wash all bedsheets, pillowcases and blankets. 
- Have a supply of clean towels.
- Clean the shower, and the bathroom in general. 
- If you have a pet, defur things/furniture as best you can. Switch the litter out.

3) Figure out where they’ll be sleeping. Maybe it will be a couch or futon or a bed, but regardless make sure they have a spare pillow and a spare blanket. Give them some room in a dresser, move some clothes and have spare hangers in the closet or give them a surface to lay clothes on so they can try to unwrinkle them from their luggage. Have an iron handy. When I had a coin washer/dryer, I left a load’s worth in quarters, but my guests were usually away from home for a longer time and liked being able to do laundry. If guests are staying in roommate’s rooms, offer your room and you stay in your roomie’s so it’s not a stranger in their bed. And try to keep your pets away/locked out of any area a guest is sleeping, lest they get fur on everything again, or try to wake the opposable-tumb-having-creature that is your guest up because food now. I’ve had to basically lock my cat in my room with a litter box before because of multiple guests, but it’s better than him going from person to person on a knead-frenzy at 5am.

4) Make sure you know your guests’ arrival and departure times, so you can coordinate a pickup or getting them to your house, and then dropping them off/getting them to the airport or train station or out of the city again. At least make sure they know where they’re going. This is a source of stress for everyone traveling, so picking them up or helping them avoid local traffic or make it to a surface they can lay down on after a long fight is much appreciated.

5) Make a spare key. I have out of towners so often, I have a spare key in my house that is labeled “Crasher Key.” This is invaluable to allowing your guests to come and go as they need to and feeling like they aren’t depending on you to take them everywhere or be home when they need to get in. Also, smokers can go outside without being worried they’ll lock themselves out (it’s happened.) Make one for the house for the first guest you have and you won’t need to do it again.

6) Get on your brunch game. Either making it or having a plan on where to go that’s great and local. As a general rule, I like making brunch for anyone who stays in my house overnight, usually because we’re all hungover and we need it and making breakfast for two-three isn’t much more work than making it for one. But I also murder at making a smoked cheddar, bacon and apple omelette with toast, sausage and hash browns in under 15 minutes. I’ve also brought people to a nearly-90 year old dIner near the start of Route 66 (historical!), and to a place I go with my parents on my birthday every year. A homecooked meal or meaningful places with good stories make great travel memories to start a day. No matter what you do for foodings, make coffee in the morning. It will be crazy helpful to getting everyone going, unless your guests don’t drink coffee. In which case, kick them and all of their things out onto the street and drink all of the coffee. 

7) Make a plan, but keep it general. A lot of times, travelers will already have things they want to do or people they need to see. But have an idea of places you want to and can take them. In my case, plans for out of towners usually involve going to record stores, but that probably has something to do with what they do for a living. Have places to go for dinner (discuss with them before anything that would require a reservation,) sights to see, and ways to travel. Public transit is a great option if you plan it right, as this is insight into your everyday. But don’t adhere to these plans like a hard-and-fast itinerary. Keep it loose and see how everyone feels about where the day takes them. It’s best to come up with a couple of ideas for every neighborhood you think you might find yourself in. Try to make evening plans as well, to take them out on the town. This allows them to come along for the ride, without pressure. Entertaining someone for whom your city is both new and exciting should also be a good time for you to have fun being able to see it through their eyes.

8) If you’re busy, find friends to help. Obviously, making the day plans is getting a little ahead of ourselves. This is, in fact, your home where you live and have adult, responsible things to do, like go to work, or go to class, or have a fancy dinner for your mom’s/BFF’s birthday, or a doctor’s appointment or whatever. Once, no lie, I had a funeral, and not someone I distantly knew either. But these things occur; your guests are here to visit and have a great time. In the event that you can’t have large swaths of empty, free time this is where you do one of two things. 
8a) Find someone to pawn them off on. A significant other or mutual friend is your best bet. Have them take your visitor to a show or out to lunch or drive them around. Even letting your guest know that this would be a good time for them to go find their other friends in town to hang out with is usually met with understanding. Sometimes we can’t drop everything, but hopefully you have other people to help.
8b) Let them fend for themselves. Let’s assume that as an adult, you acquaint yourself with fellow adults. As such, prepare them with ideas, transit cards, addresses and travel apps to have a day on their own. They have a key (step #5). Tell them about a lunch spot they can’t miss, or how to get to a tourist attraction. Ask what it is they want to do in town and help them figure out how to get there and come up with places to eat or get coffee where you can meet them later. Our internet phones can keep us in contact but also can make navigating any city a breeze. Once while traveling, I got lost on purpose. It was fun, I recommend it. Check in on them during the day, and encourage them to strike out even just in your neighborhood, rather than sit on your wifi (sometimes that’s inevitable, at least you tried and they’re relaxing, right?), but even if they do have some downtime in your place, you bought beer and snacks, remember (step #1)? 

9) Don’t stress. Seriously, once you’ve done this a couple times, it becomes second nature. I know a good place to get coffee, hop on wifi, grab a bite, buy a book, sift through records, see some sights and watch the locals in almost any neighborhood in town and that’s from experiencing my city both as a native and through someone who’d never ever been to the states before. Generally, I find that putting even an iota of thought/effort into someone else’s visit, makes their impression of your city ten times better and them crazy appreciative. 

mikalhvi said: Got any information on budget planning/balancing a checkbook/learning to do taxes for yourself? That's essentially my #1 concern - having a stable budget with a little savings I can build on. I grew up poor and I've found now I spend FAR too much of my day trying to stretch a dollar/putting off purchases of things I might actually need (new shoes, ect) because I 'can still get some use out of' the old item or 'it's too expensive now, I'll wait 'till it's on sale'.

(Editor’s note: Kaitlyn wrote this response last week, then I procrastinated on posting it. In the meantime, Eliza wrote a great post about living in a city on a small budget that has some more general advice. I’d really recommend reading ‘em both. This one addresses checkbook-balancing and budgeting in much more detail; doing your taxes probably deserves a separate post in the future.)

First of all, good for you for being frugal and trying to stretch your dollars as far as you can. Honestly, frugality is the part of budgeting that is the hardest to learn. If you learned it young because you grew up poor, that’s awesome and will make this whole process much easier for you.

Budget planning is totally different than balancing a checkbook, and both of those are only loosely related to doing your own taxes. You should start with balancing your checkbook. It’s impossible to come up with a sensible budget until you know how much money you have, how much money you spend, and what you spend it on. That’s where balancing your checkbook comes in. I learned how to balance a checkbook when I got my first checking account at age 16, but it took me a long time to be any good at it. I spend hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees over several years because I was young and poor and trying really hard to be an adult, but kept forgetting to write something down in my check ledger and having the charge hit me a week or a month later, when I didn’t have the money in my account anymore because I’d spent it on something else.

If your checking account balance is low enough that overdraft is a risk for you, I’d recommend you start with a paper ledger (or a computer file) where you record every transaction. Save receipts for everything and keep good records on what you’ve spent and when so you don’t lose track. If you’ve got a little bit of leeway in your checking account, that’ll make things much easier because you won’t worry about overdrafting while you wait a couple of days for charges to clear and show up on your account. There isn’t really a “trick” to balancing a checkbook; it just requires consistency. Add every transaction as a line item and subtract it from the previous balance. Cross-check that against your actual account balance and posted transactions on a weekly or monthly basis. I don’t even balance my checkbook anymore because I hardly use my checking account for anything, but that’s a situation that wouldn’t work for everyone and requires a bit of cushion in your checking account first.

You should use Mint, or another online tool to keep track of your finances. (Kaitlyn uses Mint; another member of our grownup crew recommends You Need A Budget. - Ed.) Take the time to accurately categorize every transaction that Mint imports, and tag things or add notes so you will remember later exactly what that charge was for. There are a lot of little hacks you can use to make Mint work best for you, but just start with the basics and try to get a good idea of where your money goes each month. You should also know how much you make each month. This is way easier if you get a fixed paycheck, but if you’re an hourly employee and your paycheck varies, take the low end of your average paycheck and use that as your base income estimate.

Your budget starts with your base income. Add line items for your fixed monthly expenses: rent or mortgage, gas bill, electric bill, Netflix bill, student loan payment, internet, cell phone bill, health insurance, gym membership, transit card, whatever you pay for each month. Once you subtract each of those from your monthly income, what’s left? That has to cover your food, entertainment, shopping, and anything else you need, plus your savings goals. Hopefully it’s enough. If it’s not enough, you need to figure out how to cut down your fixed expenses by cutting any optional services, moving into a cheaper place, eliminating home internet, or whatever. There are a lot of ways to cut monthly expenses, but it’s very dependent on your particular situation.

Break the remainder of your budget up into further categories.
I’d suggest setting a grocery budget, based on how much you’ve spent on groceries in previous months. Making sure you get enough to eat and eating well is really important for your health and well-being, so you don’t want to scrimp too much on that. Other budget categories you want will totally depend on your lifestyle— some friends have a separate budget category for beer, or for cookies, because those are important to them. I break mine down into food, personal care, health & fitness, entertainment, shopping, and a catch-all “everything else” category. Health & fitness covers medical bills and exercise clothes, bike repairs, things like that. Personal care covers toiletries, haircuts, crap like that. Entertainment is tickets to see movies, go to shows, go out to bars. Shopping is a category I use mostly for clothing but also covers gifts for people. I throw my grocery budget and dining out budget into one Food & Dining budget because I find that it usually evens out month-to-month, and I spend an equal amount on groceries and eating out, and trying to restrict eating out in favor of cooking at home because of arbitrary budget categories wasn’t working for our social life.

You’ll have to play around with these categories to figure out what works for you. Whatever is left goes into a “savings” category. If you don’t have anything left after setting your budget categories, shave a bit off each of your variable budget categories and put that into a savings category. Cut each of your variable budgets by 10% and put all of that into savings. It’ll make it a bit harder to stay on budget, but it guarantees that you’re able to save each month, and that’s crucial to leading a stable grown-up existence. Once you’ve stayed on budget for a couple of months you’ll build up a cushion in your checking account, and then you can start moving money into a savings account to build up an emergency fund. If you haven’t been able to stay on budget the first couple of months, your budget is broken and you need to figure out where the money is going and how to fix it (spoiler alert: you’ll probably just need to change the budget; you can’t force round spending habits into a square hole that easily).

On payday each month, set up an auto-transfer to move the amount of your savings category into your savings account. You’ve already met your savings goals for the month, so you can spend to the limit of each of your budget categories without feeling bad about it. It sounds like you should definitely have a shopping category so you can buy yourself new shoes when the old ones wear out without feeling guilty. I’m not going to tell you to silence that inner voice that says, “wait ‘till it’s on sale” because you should always wait until it’s on sale. Seriously, never buy clothes or home goods or cookware full price. There are very few things for sale in the world worth paying full price for. Always buy stuff on sale, always buy stuff second-hand. Your patience will pay off.

However, being a grown-up is all about being able to prioritize. Trying to stretch a dollar is great, but re-patching the same worn-out shoes you’ve already patched twice isn’t great. Fix anything once, but when it comes time to repair or replace for a second time, make sure you’re factoring your own time and morale into the repair cost you’re calculating and assess whether it makes more sense to replace an item. Your time and energy are valuable, so it’s totally OK just to buy a new thing when you need it and not worry too much about whether you could’ve gotten it cheaper.

How to Live in a Big City on a Small Budget

As a freelance classical musician my income isn’t huge, so I’ve learned a thing or two about living in the city on a budget. Even if you make a lot more money than me, I think some of these things could be helpful if you’re trying to aggressively save for a down payment or retirement (things that I dream of being able to do one day!).

(Disclaimer: Many people in this city make less money than me and have many more responsibilities than I do, such as children. I feel lucky to be in the position I’m in.)

1. Keep a detailed budget

My income can vary widely from month to month, so for me it doesn’t work to give myself strict monthly spending limits (but it might work for you!). Instead, I keep a spreadsheet where I track every dollar and cent that I earn and spend. This helps me make sure that I’m not spending more than I’m making, and also allows me to know how much money I can tuck away in savings. I use this template:, but there are others out there.

An added bonus: this helps a lot at tax time when I have to gather up all my W2s, 1099s, and receipts.

2. Make stuff yourself

Plan your home-cooked meals so you don’t end up spending too much money at restaurants because there’s nothing in your fridge. (Also, eat meat sparingly - eating vegetarian can be much cheaper.) Take your lunch to work every day. If you drink coffee or tea, invest in a nice travel mug that won’t leak, and make your own (I love this tea mug: The nice people at Starbucks will fill it with hot water for free when you’re on the go, so just carry some tea bags with you).  PLEASE stop buying bottled water and just carry a bottle you can refill.

You can clean most everything in your house using vinegar, water, and baking soda. For recipes, just ask the internet ( You can also start saving your old t-shirts and socks to reuse as rags so you don’t have to buy paper towels. All of this is better for you and the environment anyway!

3. Get thrifty

Locate the nice thrift stores in your area (check out the Thrift Store Directory here: and visit them regularly. If you find something you like but it doesn’t quite fit, just have it altered! It’s still cheaper than buying it new. My two pairs of concert black pants were each $3, and all I had to do was have them hemmed. The next step is learning to sew so you can take care of this yourself (I’m working on this!).

Gather some friends and have a clothing swap. You can get rid of the stuff that doesn’t work in your wardrobe while getting some awesome new clothes for free. Whatever’s left over goes to the thrift store.

I also like to check out the nicer consignment shops (Crossroads, Buffalo Exchange) and the vintage section on Etsy, and basically only buy things from boutiques or department stores if they are way on sale. Then I generally wear things until they are beyond repair or are completely out of fashion.

3. Live with other people

Live with as many roommates you can for as long as you can stand it. You’ll save a ton of money on rent and utilities, and you’ll probably be able to live in a nicer neighborhood than you could afford on your own.

4. Get a cheaper cell phone plan

If you’re on a family plan, that’s great - you should probably stay on it. If not, I’ve discovered that the no-contract services are way cheaper and work just as well. I personally use Virgin Mobile, and pay only $40/month for unlimited data and texting with 300 minutes of talking (which I rarely use up). I was paying more than that for talk/text only with Verizon.

5. Walk, bike, and take public transit when possible

This is obviously a huge benefit of living in a city. Try to live in a neighborhood that has a high walk score ( Bike to work if you can, otherwise take the train or bus. Cars are expensive!

6. Prioritize your entertainment budget

For me, live music is one thing I’m really willing to spend money on. I rarely go to the movies, and I also rarely buy books anymore. I’ve got Netflix, Hulu, the library, and the internet to take care of my watching and reading needs. I don’t download stuff illegally because, as an artist myself, I don’t think that’s okay. I do buy albums by my favorite bands and I also receive a lot of books and albums as gifts.

Most cities also have tons of free entertainment options. There’s free music happening all the time, and most museums have free days or months. There are also plenty of ways to hang out with friends without spending a ton of money -  throw a board game party or a potluck dinner, for example.

Usually when I go out I’ll just have one drink, because it’s easy to blow a ton of money on alcohol if you’re not careful.

7. Get a credit card with a good rewards program, but pay it off every month

You can rack up lots of free stuff if you use your credit card for all of your major purchases. But you have to be really careful about this - don’t use your credit card to buy things you can’t afford to pay off right away. Also, if you do have credit card debt, you should pay it off before you put money towards anything else.

8. Try Couchsurfing when you travel

You can save a ton of money when traveling by using And if you decide to host surfers in your own city, you’ll meet a ton of interesting people and experience your city in new ways that you wouldn’t think about if you were just following your normal routine. It can be really fun to show new people around your neighborhood and city. Couchsurfers are generally people on a budget as well, so they’ll probably be interested in all of the free and cheap entertainment options that you’ve discovered.

Good luck! Living in a big city is awesome and you can totally still take advantage of everything it has to offer without spending all of your money.

How do you deal with manipulative and petty people that just refuse to go away?

(submitted anonymously)

Leah Beingagrownup here. I’m going to tackle this one, though I’d also love to hear what another contributor has to say to this, since (1) I’m notoriously blunt to the point of being slightly scary; (2) I am so busy that I barely have time to spend with people I actually like, never mind anyone I don’t; and (3) I probably don’t even agree with the premise of the question (and find it a bit broad).

But answering this question allows me to bring up what I think is one of the key concepts of being an adult, something that I always try to remember: You cannot control how other people act or feel, you can only control how you react to other people’s actions and feelings.

Moving on, I’m going to split this question up in two, and take the easier part first. 

How do you deal with people who just refuse to go away? 

First off, read the “How do you deal with manipulative and petty people?” section below. If you approach the situation with more empathy, can you understand that they’re not really manipulative and petty? Have you talked with them and explained how their actions make you feel? How did they react? If they really, truly are manipulative and petty, have you stopped reacting to their attempts to prod you? 

If you really, truly feel that your need to limit your time with someone, well then, you can’t make them go away. You can only control your presence in a situation. 

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