I’m 32 years old. Even typing that feels really weird. My twenties are, thank all the Goddesses, just far enough behind me now that I can laugh about most of it (MOST of it). And if I could tell you just one thing to get you through this decade, it would be this: You don’t have to own anything by 30.
You don’t have to own nice candles or a car. You don’t need to own sheets besides the ones your parents bought for you in college, or a TV, or any particular make-up, facial products, or sweaters. You don’t need to own a pair of heels. 30 will come anyway and it won’t make a bit of difference what you own. Your 30s will happen to you no matter what you do.
What you can do is use your twenties to figure out what you need and what your money can do to help you get it. If you live in an area without public transportation, you might want to focus on a car that won’t break down, and don’t sweat matching towels. If you live around the corner from a coffee shop and you like to take up space there with a computer or a pile of books or just feel fancy with a nice latte, don’t worry about what kind of coffee pot you keep at home, and also, maybe take a hard look at your clothing budget and adjust to accommodate. If having your friends over is really important to you, put some money into “entertaining” accoutrements; if you like to go out, spend your money on cabs and shoes. Until you have the kinds of responsibilities that truly can’t be ignored, like kids, it’s your money. Pay your bills, try and save a little, be kind, and figure it out from there.
I moved 1000 miles away from my friends and family on the East Coast, and I now live in Louisville, Kentucky with my partner. We have exactly one million times more space than my friends back home, and it is the joy of my life when my loved ones come here to visit. I bought a really expensive air mattress, but we aren’t in a position to buy a new bed yet. I’m still using the same towels I’ve had since college. I have a nice, new car, because that was a practical and unavoidable expense, and it allows me to go home. I know what’s important to me and my partner, and we try to spend our money accordingly. And here we are, in our weird little life, and there isn’t a thing we “need” to own to be happy and in love and responsible adults who take care of one another and pay our bills on time. Your thirties will only be as different as your twenties as you make them; you’ll only grow and change as fast as experience allows.
Creating and reading lists like this truly makes sense. The amount of stuff we need to juggle and keep straight in our minds as we try to find the path we want to walk and then actually do the travelling along it is obscene. Lists give us a place to start and compass points by which we might navigate if we so choose. Sometimes it makes us feel crappy about ourselves because we’re “behind;” sometimes we feel pumped because we’re “keeping up” or “ahead” of the arbitrary notions about where we should be, what we should be doing, and what we should own. We’re all unsure of where we are and where we’re supposed to be. A fixed point — a map with “You Should Be Here” clearly marked — can give us something to orient towards, and that isn’t a bad thing.
And it’s important to keep in mind that we’re all presently navigating a world that wasn’t built for us. No woman, queer person, or person of color in the U.S. is living in a world designed to help us succeed. Many of us are actively fighting structures built to prevent us from succeeding. Few of us have the privilege of a road map for success to follow; we’re making it up for ourselves as we go along. Watching someone else make it up, and the call and response of “I tried this and it worked for me,” and “I tried it, too, and it didn’t” is part of building a different kind of world and new kinds of structures with our needs, and goals, embedded in their very creation. This can seem silly and self-centered, but it isn’t. When people tell you it is, take a long hard moment to think about the privilege that insulates them from the need for communities and conversations like this one.
Use your twenties to test out what makes sense to you financially, and how those things relate to your values, morals, and goals. Try things. Fail at those things and try some new things. Buy some things you don’t need, and try to remember not to buy those things again. Cheap out on some things where you shouldn’t, and try not to do that next time. But always remember that those choices are and should be specific to you — to what matters to you and to the kind of life you want to build.
Maybe you want your friends to be able to visit comfortably, so you spend more on a two bedroom apartment and AirBnB that extra room when you can. Maybe you need privacy to grow into yourself, so you move to a tiny studio on the cheap and spend a lot of time every day commuting. Maybe your hair looks great because you’re 23 and it doesn’t matter what you do to it so you never spend a dime on hair care; maybe you’ve always had problem skin and it sucks so you splurge on face products and can never afford a taxi. Make your choices, and use those conscious decisions to remember that you’re empowered.
There’s nothing more badass than knowing what you want and need, and coming into your own — and no list or map is ever going to save you the glorious trouble of figuring out how to get there.
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