The Handbook
The Handbook

I’m meant to be an adult. I’m 31. I’ve been through childhood and the gawky teenage years, and thankfully ditched the braces and bad outfits. But that’s where my adulthood achievements end.

I don’t have a mortgage. Or a partner. Or children. I don’t wear smart office outfits or know which motorway gets me home. I don’t know how to invest my money and I’ve never filled out a tax return. Turns out there are a lot of things school doesn’t teach you. I know everyone always feels imposter syndrome, but until a few months ago I was still living in a four-bed house-share squabbling over who bought which spatula. Surely I should have grown out of that by now?

Sometime between lockdowns 1 and 2, I found myself in a lovely new flat with a lovely new housemate. And with this move came her introduction to the way I should be living. My antique floral bedroom wallpaper was replaced with clean off-white walls. The grubby, curiously-stained, Freecycle sofa was swapped out for three chic cabriole-style loungers. Everything is tidy, neat and homely. And that’s just the start. I’ve learnt that there are lots of small things I can do to make life feel, well, just a little bit more grown up.

1. Put Pictures Up Straight Away

When I turned the key in the door to my new flat, I didn’t know what to expect. Piles of boxes and my housemate pulling her hair out, most probably. To my amazement, every piece of furniture had been laid out, every picture (in frames!) neatly hung on the wall, and scented candles dotted around the house like welcoming wedding confetti.

I'm straight in with hammer and nail...

And what a difference it makes. No pictures piled on the floor (or at best leant up against the skirting board), but real, homely art waiting to be admired. Life changing.

So now, I no longer put things off. I’m straight in with hammer and nail when things need putting up – or at least straight onto asking my dad to come around with his toolbox.

Pin up this Picasso from John Lewis.

2. Build An Eclectic Taste In Books… And Read Them

A Little Life, Ai WeiWei’s Greatest Works, I Am Pilgrim, The Portrait of A Lady, Wolf Hall, Black Beauty, The Best of David Bowie. The bookshelf in our house could not be more diverse if it tried.

Eloquent children’s books, intellectual essays, humorous short stories, engaging fiction, coffee-table tomes of art and music. Every person who enters the house always finds at least five books they want to take home and read. And the books always make a great talking point for dinner. Except that I can’t contribute to the conversation because I haven’t read any of them. I guess that’s what this second lockdown is for.

Support independent bookshops and get hand-picked deliveries to your tastes from Lutyens & Rubinstein. 

3. Invest In Your Pyjamas

The first time I realised I needed to update my nighttime wardrobe was when I came out one morning wearing Bermuda shorts and an over-sized grubby T-shirt that I got given at a nightclub. Meanwhile, my housemate was wearing a matching set of silky soft co-ords.

It was like coming to a dinner party having interpreted smart casual as a 'wife-beater' vest and ripped jeans...

It was like coming to a dinner party having interpreted smart casual as a ‘wife-beater’ vest and ripped jeans. It’s not like my pyjamas can even use the excuse of being comfy. They itch and don’t fit properly. Now, I’m ready to channel my inner Audrey Hepburn. Maybe I’ll even buy a cigarette holder to match.

Buying these matchy, matchy PJs immediately.

4. Install A Wall Hanging

Following on from the pictures thing, if you have a wall hanging – then hang it. The amount of zoom compliments I’ve received for my housemate’s wall hanging is embarrassing.

I’ve started to pretend it’s mine. Now everyone thinks I’m the next Martin Brudzinski. It’s marvellous. Whoever said lying was a bad thing never had a wall hanging.

Loving this abstract number from Naken.

Now everyone thinks I’m the next Martin Brudzinski...

5. Don’t Watch Too Much TV

My job involves a lot of screen time. And when I’m not on my laptop, I’m on my phone. And when I’m not on my phone, I’m watching TV. I’ve literally turned into Mike Teavee from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (one book I have actually read…. who am I kidding, I watched the film).

Some nights, my housemate and I just talk. We sit on the sofa and just talk about stuff like they must have done in the good old days. We find out about each other’s history and relationships, sensibility and humour. It’s fascinating and fun and feels good for the brain. And it doesn’t make my eyes hurt.

If we’re not doing that, my housemate bakes. Which works well for me because I get an endless supply of decadent chocolate muffins and 10-tier honey cakes that I can eat in front of the TV…

Stuck on things to say? Try these conversation starters to get into some really gritty topics.

6. Tidy Up After Yourself

I know this seems basic, and you can judge me for it. But I have a tendency to leave a mug out at the end of the night, or forget to wash up a bowl.

But when you live in an adult’s house, you just don’t feel like being a slut anymore (NB: slut in this context doesn’t mean whore).

You just don’t feel like being a slut anymore...

I want to keep everything tidy, re-organise cushions at the end of the day and wipe down surfaces. It’s like when you get new trainers and you never want to wear them outside – tidyness feels fantastic.

Here are some lovely boxes to keep stuff hidden away.

7. Make Morning Smoothies

When my housemate started making smoothies on the occasional morning, I felt quite jealous. This is the sort of behaviour I’d read about in magazines and on trusty websites like The Handbook. But I never made them myself. I just rolled my eyes and smirked, secretly wishing I had the foresight to buy fruit and freeze it.

Why was I not treating my body with the respect it deserved? It needs nutrients and encouragement. An invigorating elixir of fruit and a few veggies can transform the day much more than a coffee and a chocolate digestive.

And so I now have a smoothie every weekday morning. A sizeable amount of blueberries, raspberries and bananas to make it sweet, porridge oats for substance, and then a few less-appealing green things like spinach for the vitamins. It’s a winner. And God I feel smug.

Desperate for a Nutribullet.

8. Own Decent Furniture

I’ve always gone for the quick fix when I’ve needed a sofa, a bed or shelves. But aren’t we all just a bit done with flatpack furniture and trips to IKEA? We all see the same shelving units and coffee tables in everyone’s house.

My housemate has the smartest sofas I’ve ever seen (I’m almost intimated by being in the same room as them) and the best tables in the warmest-coloured wood that are perfect for entertaining. Why have I never thought to hunt around for seriously good furniture and, instead, gone with the cheapest? They can become family heirlooms that I can pass down to the children I probably won’t have.

Endless sofa scrolling begins here. 

9. Plan A Weekly Shop

I’ve always been a last minute pop-to-the-shops sort of a girl. I’m constantly running out of ingredients half way through a recipe, or not having any ingredients at all and turning to instant noodles. Or my absolute favourite, spending a million pounds on wine and those snacks by the till and then realising you have nothing to eat for dinner.

But following in my housemate’s footsteps, all of that business is a thing of the past. I think through what I’ll be doing in the five evenings ahead (nothing), plan accordingly, and then shop for it. It’s the most simple, life-changing way to shop. Except weekends. Weekends are for bad life decisions, takeaway and gin and tonics.

You could also cheat and do your weekly planning with Mindful Chef. 

10. Freeze All Your Food

Following on from the step above, if you have any leftover food of any sort – freeze it. That’s what my housemate does.

It turns out you can freeze anything. Freeze almost mouldy vegetables for soup, freeze fruit for smoothies, freeze cooked dishes for back-up dinners. It’s an Aladdin’s Cave of microwavable meals that taste really rather good.

It turns out you can freeze anything...

How much do you want this ridiculously over-priced Dolce & Gabbana Smeg fridge?

11. Buy Posh Pots And Pans

A recent purchase for our household has been Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course cookbook of 450 recipes. In the giant tome, Delia spends a good quarter of it talking about the types of pots and pans a healthy kitchen needs.

I looked around ours and we have all of them (no thanks to me, obviously). The sharpest knives, the least sticky non-stick frying pans, and trays and pans of every size. Sometimes they don’t deliver the desired results I thought they might, but I think that’s down to my cooking skills rather than the equipment.

Buy Delia’s cookbook and your life will change forever.

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