In theory most of us know we should be prepared for anything, but in reality we can all sometimes feel woefully unequipped to handle all the curveballs life throws our way. Let’s face it–sometimes it is HARD to be a grownup! And some of the time we are so focused on ensuring our children learn their own life skills that we forget to make sure we are learning the right life skills of our own.
So what is a life skill? According to the dictionary….
life skill (noun)
plural noun: life skills
A skill that is necessary or desirable for full participation in everyday life. “Sharing with a sibling can help children learn important life skills.”
Could you earn all your merit badges for life skills? I’ve compiled a list of the basics but I’d love to hear what all of you see as THE vital life-skills everyone should know. From sewing on a button to basic budgeting, what are the things you need to be a fully functional grownup? Here are mine…
1. Basic Housekeeping Skills + How to Clean
From making your bed to laundry basics, we all need basic housekeeping skills. This means everyone! Men and women, from college students to grandparents: keeping a tidy house is a life skill that ensures the health of your family, keeps you organized and able to find what you need, and saves you money so you can keep living the Good Life. If you aren’t sure where to start, try our Beginner’s Guide to Cleaning. If you need help with maintenance, try creating a cleaning schedule or start speed cleaning.
2. How to Cook…Something
Not all of us are gourmet chefs. I happen to love minimal-effort freezer meals. They allow me to get the “chore” of cooking out of the way, while still providing nutritional dinners for my family. If you’re not a big fan of the kitchen, have a few low-effort dishes in your repertoire you feel confident whipping up. Even if it’s just macaroni and cheese, the ability to cook a meal and eat it is a necessary life skill—it’ll save you when your takeout restaurant gets snowed in (or closes for a holiday).
3. Basic Sewing
There’s a movement among the blogosphere that dictates everyone should be a skilled seamstress, able to fashion a wardrobe for their families. I do not fit this profile. However, I do enjoy making creative crafts and occasionally I’m willing to break out my sewing machine for a quick, easy and fun project. Don’t have a machine? Being able to sew on a button or fix a hem by hand are simple skills that can extend the life of your clothes and they take just seconds to learn. It doesn’t have to be perfect!
4. Home Repairs 101
We all know DIY can help you save big time on home repair. You don’t have to shoot for pro-level electrician or plumber here, but when you’re able to refrain from forking over cash every time you have a minor household issue, it really does help your bottom line. Home Depot, Lowes and other home improvement chains offer classes and workshops to help you tackle your next home repair. Plus, there’s something really satisfying about re-caulking a shower or fixing a leaky faucet yourself!
5. How to Unclog a Toilet or Sink
Yes, it’s the “life skill” no one wants to have, but let me tell you: if you’ve ever clogged a toilet at a party or walked into an overflowing bathroom when someone’s flushed a washcloth (or their sister’s dress) down the toilet, you’ll be grateful you know how to wield a plunger. There are a surprising number of tutorials and YouTube videos on how to creatively unclog a toilet, but when in doubt, go with the old standby—the plunger.
6. How to Use Kitchen Appliances
From knowing how to deep clean your fridge and maintain its efficiency to understanding how to really use all the settings on your bread maker, kitchen appliances are sometimes mysterious and not often thought about. If you have anything in your kitchen you don’t use or that’s too complicated to use, ask yourself if it’s taking up space or if it’s valuable enough to invest 10 minutes of your time learning how to take advantage of the full functionality of the appliance. A surprising number of appliances are one-trick ponies that eat up space, but really understanding the settings on your food processor or your countertop grill can eliminate the need for a bunch of counter-clutter.
7. How to Use a Calendar & Schedule
The ability to use a clock and a calendar is at the foundation of time management—which is a life skill in itself. A calendar simplifies your life and helps you get everything done, every day. You don’t have to live and die by your calendar, but learning how to block off time for activities and schedule events will make your life SO much easier.
8. How to Write
Now, I’m not saying everyone needs to be able to blog or that you need to be able to write a masterpiece at the drop of a hat, but having a basic understanding of sentence structure and written expression can take you far in life. Some people HATE writing with the fire of a thousand suns, while others feel it’s the only way they truly express their inner thoughts. If you’re of the former school, consider taking a basic creative writing class or finding a writing course online that can help you brush up on those skills
9. Public Speaking
Similar to writing, speaking—especially public speaking—can cause some of us to cower in the corner while others take to it like fishes in water. Public speaking is not my favorite thing, but everyone can learn some helpful tips for speaking better, like remembering to breathe, being prepared and connecting with your mission and expressing it to your audience. If you’re brave, take the plunge and sign yourself up for a speaking opportunity, a talk in church, or the open forum at your PTO meeting. The more you practice, the better you’ll become.
10. Effective Communication
Whether we’re talking about writing or speaking, communication is a vital life skill that encompasses both. No one makes it through this world alone, so learning to communicate with others will help you get where you need to be in life—and it’s definitely a learned skill. It’s about expressing your needs and desires, while understanding and relating to others’ needs and desires. Communicating with your spouse, your children and your friends can help you learn, grow and become stronger. It’s through communication that we form relationships and friendships, so being good at it means you’ll be successful in your interactions with others.
11. Technology 101
Okay, I still can’t always do everything on my phone to “untap its full potential” but basic computer skills are necessary in life today. At minimum, you should be able to email and use the internet for basic searches. Technology can be a powerful and useful tool that can truly simplify your life. So let go of the fear that you’ll “break” something or click on something that you can’t undo. It’s worth it.
12. How to Back Up Files
Speaking of mistakes you can’t undo, let’s hope you haven’t learned this one the hard way. All of us have been working on something only to watch it crash or disappear, leading to fear and panic. Save. Save your files and save them often. Learn to back up your phone and computer to the cloud or to an external hard drive. Nothing is more devastating than losing hours and hours of work because you didn’t back it up.
13. How to Protect Passwords
While it may seem like a minor detail, all too often I hear, “I just use the same password for everything.” ….DANGER! Passwords are like keys. Can you imagine using the same key for your car, house and office, then making copies of that key and stashing it all over town? That would be ridiculous! Well, using the same, unprotected password for everything is the equivalent. Try a password management tool like 1Password to help you simplify, keep track and protect your data.
14. How to Research (Using Something Other than Google and Wikipedia)
Googling an answer is the solution to almost everything these days, but everyone should understand that the results you get from a basic search often do not come from scholarly (or even reputable) sources. Wikipedia is an open source forum where anyone can add his or her own “spin” on information. WebMD, as helpful as it is, doesn’t answer every medical question. Rather than just Googling something, learn how to do real research when you need more in-depth information.
15. How to Keep Yourself Safe
It’s natural human instinct to WANT to stay safe and avoid unsafe situations, but we see on the news and in our own lives, many people who go against that logic and put themselves in unsafe situations. This can be anything from driving home after that third glass of wine to walking in an unfamiliar neighborhood at night. Not to say you shouldn’t take risks, but you should learn to take precautions in all situations, from phoning a friend to being aware of your surroundings to just saying no.
16. Emergency Preparedness
If a disaster hit today, would you know what to do? What if your house burned down or you were in an accident? Emergency preparedness can sometimes seem extreme or scary, but having basic emergency skills and knowing what to do if a catastrophe strikes can help you gain peace of mind and keep you and your family safe from harm.
17. Basic First Aid
Do you know what to do if someone has a deep cut or a broken bone? Do you know the signs of a heart attack, a stroke or a concussion? As moms, we often have to be many things, but when we have to bring out the doctor’s bag, it can be our most critical role. Pick up a basic first aid book if you feel like your skills are rusty. It’s common to panic in emergency situations, but if you’re well versed in first aid, you’ll be able to rely on your instincts and knowledge and you’ll come to the rescue with a cooler head.
18. How to Survive Without Electricity
Like emergency preparedness, the prospect of going without electricity can be a little daunting and scary. How many of us go camping? (Or backyard camping?) Being able to unplug and entertain yourself without technology or even without the use of lights, television sets, and the stove is a skill, which at the very least will get you and your family through the next power outage, and at best, will help you communicate better and get away from your cell phones once in a while.
19. How to Read a Map
With GPS available on nearly every smartphone, I know map reading is rapidly becoming an obsolete skill. But aside from having to learn this skill for the occasional digital detox, map reading is vital, even if it’s just so you can gain a basic understanding of geography and route yourself accordingly. Anyone who’s tried to navigate a subway system or spent time in a rural area with spotty data service quickly realizes the merits of being able to read a good ol’ fashioned map. Brush up on your map skills and learn to take inventory of your location wherever you are. It’s a safe practice and it just may help you find your car in that mall parking garage someday.
20. Car Repair 101, including How to Fix a Flat Tire
There are lots of reasons NOT to learn how to fix a flat: it’s NO fun, you have AAA or another type of roadside assistance, or maybe you don’t have a car and use public transportation. That’s all great, and if it works for your lifestyle, by all means skip on to the next life skill. However, if you have a car, you should understand basic maintenance, even if it’s purely to keep you from getting ripped off at the repair shop. Brush up on your skills at DMV.org. Depending on where you grew up, pumping your own gas might seem laughable or may present a real challenge. If you’re from New Jersey or Oregon, you may be surprised when you travel to other states and can’t find a full-service station. Brush up on your basic car skills so you feel comfortable when you’re behind the wheel.
21. How to Write a Resume & Cover Letter
Even if you work from home or if you’re a fulltime homemaker, understanding how to write a basic resume and cover letter is a vital life skill, if you find yourself in need of employment. Getting a part-time job can help you provide for your family or bridge a gap in times of need. Having a creative, well-crafted resume and cover letter will help you get your foot in the door. Many employment firms, colleges and community education centers offer resume classes and many have staff who are happy to look over your resume and give you tips.
Money Management Skills
22. How to Budget
The ability to budget and be financially responsible is absolutely vital to your life skillset. Whether you’re just starting out on getting a handle on your finances or you’re an experienced, coupon-clipping, money-saving guru, understanding your budget is the first step to achieving financial peace and security. It’s a skill we can learn from a very young age and one we should build on throughout our lives. Get started with a spending freeze or go through our Budget 101 resources.
23. How to Avoid/Get Out of Debt
Oh, debt…we talk a lot about financial peace and getting yourself out of debt. Being debt-free is a freedom like none other—but it takes a lot of work to get there. Learning to live within your means is definitely a learned skill. Learning to slay your debt is about keeping your spending in check and managing a plan to pay off your debt quickly and efficiently. We refer to it as a war, slaying, tackling and fighting because it’s truly challenging! …but the amazing thing is, with a little practice, avoiding debt is a war you can win.
24. How to Make a Major Purchase
Maybe you’re about to buy a home or a car—or maybe just your first washing machine. Whatever it is, you should understand how to compare prices, how to do research via Consumer Reports, and how to make a smart purchase.
25. How to Write a Check + Balance a Checkbook
This one seems so silly I almost didn’t put it in here, but then I thought about it. How many of us just use our debit card without writing things down in a checkbook? How many of us write checks and then sort of forget until they show up in our online banking? Being able to physically write a check and record it in your checkbook is a skill that will keep you in touch with your finances. It keeps you immediately accountable for what you’re spending. If you need to get a jumpstart on balancing your checkbook, try committing to write things down for a month and see if you notice a different in your spending patterns.
26. How to Use Coupons
Coupons will save you so much money! Yes, it’s a skill and it can seem a little daunting, but it’s really easy to get started. Go through our Beginner’s Guide to Coupons to get going. With a little organization and some practice, you’ll become a couponing queen (and you’ll rarely catch yourself paying full price for ANYTHING).
27. How to Organize Financial Records
Many of us would love to just toss receipts and forget about it, but a key component of being able to save, spend less and be fiscally savvy is getting your financial records organized and clear. This means tracking your expenses and writing down your budget. At any given time, you should be able to quickly ascertain where you are with your budget, what you have in your accounts, anything you owe, and your credit score. It will help you be honest with yourself about where you are financially.
28. Money Management/Investing
Once you have your debt paid off, understanding how to invest your money wisely is a huge learning experience. Even people who have money to spare have trouble with investments and making that money grow. Really, there are very few ways to “get rich quick” short of winning the lottery, and most investing and money management attempts have to be carefully vetted and researched, and completed with the assistance of a professional who understands your willingness and risk aversion so they can guide you to the best investments.
29. How to Select a Tax Professional
We all think about getting a great tax refund and what we might owe come tax time. While saving on taxes by doing them on your own can seem like a good idea, a tax professional can pay for themselves in spades. These people go to school to carefully study tax law. They’re up on the latest IRS changes and they can protect you and help you make the right choices. Find a proven professional by looking for an Endorsed Local Provider. This will ensure you find someone who is screened and comes highly recommended.
30. Effective Negotiation
Bargaining, bartering, negotiating—it’s a learned life skill many of us shy (or run) away from. Learning how to trade, make an offer, and be comfortable with asking for a better deal can save you money. It can also be a valuable skill when you’re faced with a tricky money situation (like asking for a raise) where negotiating is essential and expected. Don’t shy away from making a bargain. Challenge yourself to practice until you feel comfortable. Whether that means saying, “Is that the best you can offer?” over your next big purchase, or setting up a swap with a friend, practicing negotiating will help you learn to stop cringing whenever a negotiating opportunity presents itself.
31. Calculate a Tip
Many service industry professionals rely on tips to supplement their income and bring home a livable wage. I think most of us want to be generous tippers, especially for good service, but sometimes doing a quick calculation can be embarrassing when it takes more than a few moments to figure. Plus, there’s always that question of, “How much do I tip?” for things like the valet, at the nail salon, or in the powder room. Understanding tipping and learning easy ways to calculate a tip are pretty simple life skills to learn, but they make all the difference in assuring you’re reflecting the right appreciation and acknowledgment for a job well done.
32. Understanding Your Calling, Purpose & Mission
Understanding your higher purpose, your “calling” and what drives you helps set a foundation for everything you do. Crafting not only a family mission statement but a personal mission statement can help you keep your focus on your most important life goals.
33. How to Prioritize and What Your Priorities Are
We all have to learn how to prioritize the most important things each day, so we can take care of the most necessary (and often the toughest) tasks first. In the ER, doctors and nurses call it triage. It’s being able to assess a situation, size it up and figure out what needs to be tackled first. We’ve talked about it as “Eating the Frog.” Do the big, bad, tough things first and get them under control so you can move forward.
34. Understanding Your Values
Similar to understanding your mission, understanding your values (and refusing to compromise on them) will give you guidance through any decision. If honesty is one of your values, then next time you’re put in a compromising position you’ll never be tempted to lie—because you know honesty is so important to you. If family communication and connectedness is a top value, then you’ll use that to guide your decisions that affect your kids. Write out your values and refer to them whenever you’re facing a tough choice.
35. How to Focus
This is twofold: first, how to focus on a task when you’re facing a deadline or when you need to get something done; and second, how to focus your direction, your actions and your goals so you’re always in line with your values and holding true to your personal mission.
36. How to Have a Sense of Humor
Parents of tweens are aware of the time in their development when kids start to “get it.” Suddenly they can detect subtle tones in conversation, they learn to be sarcastic and yes, funny. Some adults still struggle with this, but finding the humor in any situation (and even the joy in the toughest ones) will get you far. Humor can help us deal with pain, stress and problems in life, and can help us find the silver lining.
37. Basic Etiquette
Gone are the days of Emily Post and worrying about being judged for failing to use the proper fork at the dinner table (unless your family is VERY formal). Understanding basic etiquette, however, is still relevant and vital in today’s society. Politeness is about consideration for the feelings of others and making sure you don’t do something that offends or frankly, grosses people out. (Like chewing with your mouth closed. And, for gosh sakes, clip your fingernails at home, not on the bus!)
38. Basic Civics/How to Vote
Say what you will about politics (and I know, many of us loathe talking about them and we don’t want to be “that guy” or “that gal” at dinner parties), but it’s part of the fabric of our American society—and it’s part of our civic duty to vote. If there’s a problem you see in the world or in your own neighborhood, voting gives you a voice and the ability to express your opinions toward change. You can’t complain about those in office if you refuse to vote. Plus, it’s good practice as an American Citizen to understand how the basic systems of government are structured and how they work.
39. Listening & Communication in a Partnership
Communication in a marriage or relationship (and even with your children) is very different than general communication skills. It’s about listening, being unselfish and empathetic and tackling the difficult conversations without prejudice. Words matter: they can be hurtful or beautiful. They can bring us closer to each other and closer to God, or they can rip us apart. Learning to think before you speak and listen more than you talk are communication tools that will serve you throughout your life and in all your close relationships.
40. Valuing & Expressing Respect
At the heart of every successful marriage, there’s mutual respect. I don’t believe any of us have the perfect marriage (I know I don’t!) but respecting our spouse and our differences can help your marriage become stronger and happier. Learn to view your spouse through the lens of another human being with feelings, desires and wants that yes, may not always match your own. Understanding the underlying motivations and emotions underneath it all and respecting them as valid will strengthen your marriage.
41. Valuing & Expressing Love
Love is about buying gifts and spoiling your children and spouse, right? WRONG. Love is about quality time, affection, expression and understanding. We all know what Hollywood and Hallmark say love is, but we also know love is about so much more. To love and to be loved is truly a life skill and something that takes work. After all: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” —1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
42. How to Accept Compliments & Criticism
Accepting both compliments and constructive criticism isn’t easy! Oftentimes we fail to accept compliments with grace or downplay them and get embarrassed, and yet, we’re sometimes crushed by criticisms (even if they’re valid) and we take them personally and to heart. Learning to simply say, “thank you” when you get a compliment and learning to view criticism as feedback (assess it, then apply it or throw it away) can serve you well.
43. Emotional Intelligence
Today’s moms have likely heard all the buzz about social-emotional learning. If you’re in the business world, you’ve probably also read a lot about how social and emotional intelligence are important in the workplace. Why is this? Well, because people are finding that being emotionally intelligent can be just as important as understanding the nuances of engineering or physics. As the human population grows and we become more global in our interactions, being sensitive to others, understanding emotions and learning to harness them in a positive way can be a make or break life skill. Fortunately, you can work on your emotional intelligence throughout your life and apply it throughout.
44. How to Write Thank You Messages
Thank you cards are a bit of a lost art, but they really brighten the day of those who receive them. They’re a great way to express gratitude and appreciation to others. Writing a thank you note is simple: say thank you for x, y, z and tell the person how you plan to use their gift or the result of their help. Reiterate what it means to you personally and then close. It’s a skill that takes very little time and means so much.
Wellness & Mental Health Skills
45. Critical Thinking + Problem Solving
If you took a logic class in college or you’ve experienced an “If this, than that” question on a test, then you’re familiar with logic. Unfortunately, it’s not a skill everyone has. Yes, this life skill is about your ability to prioritize, but it’s also about your ability to break a situation down and make choices. It’s about measuring possible outcomes and building your thinking skills to tackle life’s little bumps. To improve your problem solving skills, try brain-training programs like Lumosity or Fit Brains. When it comes to problem solving skills, if you don’t use ‘em, ya lose ‘em. That’s why it’s important that we’re constantly learning.
A critical thinking skill, synthesizing is the ability to combine parts of a whole in a new and unique way. This learned skill boosts your adaptability and the way you “roll with the punches.” It’s part of the analysis and evaluation of any given situation. Think of it like a chef—you can take different components of a meal, break them down, and then put them together in a new and delicious way. In life, it’s a critical thinking skill that’s considered “higher level thinking”… something we often slack on after college.
47. Self-Discipline: Exercise & Nutrition
The ability to discipline yourself enough to make healthy choices about your food and exercise is a learned skill. It’s part of “bigger picture” thinking: achieving the understanding that if you eat something now, you might pay for it later. It’s about making a healthy meal for your family or taking a walk rather than hauling the kids through the McDonald’s drive-thru. No one can be perfect all the time, but when you view exercise and nutrition as self-care, rather than punishment, it helps to reframe. Start with small steps, like taking a walk or adding a vegetable to every meal, and build on the positive.
48. Self Care: Sleep & Hygiene
We get so wrapped up in caring for others we forget about the importance of taking care of ourselves. This means yes, sleep and rest, which is simply critical to our health. It also means taking time for yourself—showering, dressing in clean clothing, putting on makeup, styling your hair, or doing what you need to do to feel clean, confident and at your best. It’s funny because, as moms, even though we get after our kids to wash their hands, take a bath and brush their teeth, we sometimes get so busy we forget to care for ourselves. (Well, hopefully we at least brush our teeth.) Give yourself a spa day or treat yourself to a luxury at home. Learn to pamper yourself a little. Catch up on all those things that can fall by the wayside when we’re busy, like dying our hair, whipping up a facial mask, or getting a pedicure. You deserve to feel good. Learn about proper sleep patterns and ways to streamline your beauty routine so you can get the most out of your “me time.”
+1 Life Skill: How to Find Happiness
The Good Life is about finding your happiness. It’s about simplifying and focusing on the genuine and true things in life that really make us happy, including the most important: family, friends, and our relationship with both God and ourselves. So often we forget our way to happiness. We get bogged down with negative feelings and the idea that life isn’t fair. (Newsflash—it’s not.) Happiness can literally make you live longer and can certainly improve your health and quality of life. It’s my wish for each and every one of us to find our happiness today and live our lives free from the baggage that weighs us down.