15 Life Skills Everyone Should Know by Twenty-One

Last week Greg and I had lunch with a friend. She works in a nursery (the kind with plants). She had mentioned she was retiring soon and leaving the day-to-day business to a very enthusiastic 21 year old.

What piqued my curiosity was when she told me this young woman had asked her how to sew on a button that had come off her jacket.

I was floored because I couldn't fathom how anyone could not know how to do such a simple task. My friend (who's around young people a lot) told me it wasn't all that unusual. They know how to change code to a web site, but they don't know how to change a tire. It boggles the imagination.

Every one should have a sewing kit. This would make a good gift for kids going off to college.

I've mentioned before that I have no real skill with needle or thread, but even I have a sewing box. They're cheap insurance. The one shown even has a book for the rank beginner.

If I were to list fifteen things everyone should know by the time they're twenty-one, these would be my top choices.
  1. Sew on a button, or hem a pair of pants.
  2. Be able to change a tire. I've been stuck in areas with no phone service.
  3. Unclog a toilet.
  4. Balance a checkbook.
  5. Bake a cake--even if it's from a mix.
  6. Do your own taxes.
  7. Write a proper thank you card.
  8. Create, and stick to a budget.
  9. Know basic first aid.
  10. Know how to hang a picture.
  11. Learn to read a map.
  12. Know how to jump start a car.
  13. Make a meal from real food (not processed).
  14. Negotiate a deal for a car, furniture, or other big ticket items.
  15. Know how to do a proper load of laundry.
I was on my own by eighteen, but I think most of the skills from the list above were already honed while I was still a child. I didn't learn home maintenance or car repair until I actually had a car and home. We were too poor to hire anyone, so we had to learn to do things ourselves.

Poverty teaches you to be very self-sufficient. :D

What would you add to the list? If you have children, did you teach them any of the skills on the list before they left home?


B.E. Sanderson said…
Gah, I hope I taught all of that to the Kid.

I'd add 'basic first aid'. Things like how to stop minor bleeding and what to do with a minor burn. Perhaps 'how to grow food' would be a good skill for everyone to know. I'd also wish for common critical thinking skills, but so few people seem to have those that it's hard to pass them on. ;o)
Maria Zannini said…
BE: First aid was number 9.
Whenever the dogs get hurt or are sick, Greg turns to me to make the medical decisions. I'm a nervous Nelly because dogs don't talk and you have to assess pain and illness without the patient's help. (All hail veterinarians!)

As long as you can stabilize them long enough to get them to professional help, you've done the right thing.

re: critical thinking
Oh, how I wish more people had that skill. Their mouths start flapping before they think the whole thing out.

re: growing food
200 years ago, EVERYONE knew how to plant a seed, hunt, or raise a critter for the table. Today we're a tiny minority.
LD Masterson said…
How to use an iron. I know a lot of people never iron these days but when you need that one item to look good (think job interview)...

And that's another one - how to handle a job interview.

When my boys were growing up, I taught them basic "girl" skills. I didn't want them to get married just because they needed someone to mend their clothes or cook them a meal. But I don't think that's as much of an issue these days.
Sarah Ahiers said…
I can do all those things!
Except, I'm never sure where to put the jack when changing the tire. But the actual tire changing part, I've got down pat.
Maria Zannini said…
Linda: Yes, ironing!
Granted, we don't use that much, but when we need a crisp shirt, ironing is a must.

I wish my mother had taught my brothers 'girl' jobs, but we were from the old era. One brother expects his wife to do the housework, but my youngest brother, born in the 70s, is very willing to share housekeeping duties with his wife.
Maria Zannini said…
Sarah: I knew you would! From reading your blog for so long, I know you're very hands on.
I can do some, but not all, of those things. (And I am waaaay older than 21!) I often wish I had a better handle on practical and useful stuff. The good thing is that if I really wanted to - and had the oomph - I could, to some degree, teach myself. :)
Rebekah Loper said…
I know how to change a tire, but whether I would be physically able to do so is another matter.

Basic first aid is the only other one I'm iffy on, though I know the bare minimum. I probably couldn't stitch someone up, but I could treat minor scrapes/wounds/illnesses. That's on the to-do list for skill acquisitions this year.

In this day and age, too, I'd add 'be familiar with how firearms work.' Even if one doesn't want to own or carry a gun. That would really reduce a lot of the rampant fear of them that is peddled around, and in the event that someone was stuck in a situation where the wrong guy has the gun, it would at least give them an advantage to know what was going on, and if they could get their hands on the weapon to get it away, it would help keep them safe.
Maria Zannini said…
Madeline: Every time I come across something I don't know how to do myself (like coding a web site), I use Youtube.

The nice thing about learning stuff today is that you can Google anything and find instructions on how to do it.
Maria Zannini said…
Rebekah: When it comes to first aid, as long as you can stabilize someone for transport, you've done your job. I've never stitched anyone either--though the vet I worked for once taught me to do the final stitches to one of his dogs.

I loved that old vet. He taught me so much about medicine and first aid.

re: guns
Great point! I'm not a fan of guns though we own plenty. Greg makes it a point to show me how to shoot each weapon and how to take it apart.
JackieBCentralTexas said…
I personally would add how to put out a fire caused by grease flare up when cooking. Unfortunately most people would throw water on it causing flames to get worse or even spread, same with covering with a dish towel as you are only adding fuel not smothering it out like using a metal lid or salting it with a box of table salt would do.

Maria common sense amongst our young people starts at home and it is sad that so many parents cannot pass that on because they have none themselves nor do they have basic life skills like your list simply because no one was around to teach them the skills in the first place.

I know personally at least 15 people in my husband's family, his nieces and nephews, that were not taught by example as they basically raised themselves in front of the television and later on the computer and their phone screens playing video games. Very sad that is so common thanks to the need for both parents working and not having much time to do much at home with their offspring like my parents and friends parents did 40 or 50 years ago.
Maria Zannini said…
Jackie: Putting out a fire is a great one! It could save your life.

And what you said about parents not passing down this information is true too. I wonder if it was because of television and later the internet. I hadn't considered that.

The only solution is to start limiting distractions like these early in life.

People don't even know how to be polite anymore. Can you imagine if we replied with 'no problem' to an adult after they said thank you? My mother would've knocked me into yesterday for being so rude.
I mix up numbers in my head a lot so anything to do with them takes me forever since I have to check and recheck. Can do it if forced, tho.
Stacy McKitrick said…
I'd add "drive a stick-shift." You never know when you might be forced to drive one (especially in another country). Hubby taught the kids to drive. I taught them how to use a stick shift.

I'd also add "swim." I wasn't taught at an early age, and now I'm scared of water. I made sure my kids got training early so they wouldn't have the same fear as me.
Susan Gourley said…
That's a good list. I don't think my daughter knows how to change a tire, but they all know the rest of them. They have all helped enough around the house to know even more than that. They know how to plant things, grow vegetables, paint and do minor repairs. It is nice, though, when they still call mom on how to do something.
Maria Zannini said…
Barbara: :sigh: I do this more the older I get. I've gotten into a habit of jotting down the last number I had if anyone interrupts me.
Maria Zannini said…
re: stick
I saw that on Facebook. They called it an anti-theft device for Millennial car thieves.

re: swim
That's a good one. I've always regretted not learning how to swim. It's not that I don't want to, I just can't. I tense up as soon as I hit the water.
Maria Zannini said…
Susan: You're a good mom and a good example on how they should raise their kids.

Every time I've had a flat tire, someone has always stopped to help--or I used AAA. Still, it doesn't hurt to know how for those days when it's all up to you. It's not hard--though sometimes taking off the lug bolts are tough.
Jenny Schwartz said…
Great life skills, and I agree with Jackie - knowing how to deal with a grease fire and not make it worse is important.

I'd add how to set up a pantry. Nothing fancy but knowing which spices to buy and staples to add to it. It can provide a bit of breathing space on weeks when money gets tight. But I guess that's part of how to cook.
Maria Zannini said…
Jenny: One of my proudest achievements was setting up my first pantry. Everything was trial and error. As my palate grew so did my spice variety.
Lynn said…
I'd add knowing how to shut off the water in your house, shut off or reset a breaker, actually use a fire extinguisher (everyone has them, but no one seems to know how to use them) and using basic hand tools. Basic home electricity knowledge, too, so you don't electrocute yourself installing a ceiling fan or light fixture. Also the proper way to use a ladder (and the right type of ladder) around the house. I saw way too many people permanently crippled from bad falls from ladders.

Also -- and this is dumb, but it would eliminate a lot of food poisoning cases -- when to throw out unused foods, particularly eggs, mayonnaise and raw meat.
Maria Zannini said…
Lynn: Definitely knowing how to shut off the water (and power) and know where these things are.

You wouldn't think people wouldn't know how to use a ladder, but you're right. I have a friend right now who's husband fell off a ladder and broke both feet.

Electricity might be beyond most people. I know the difference between hot and neutral, but I leave all the electrical work to Greg.

re: bad food
I'm so used to hearing about people throwing out food, but I guess there's always the odd duck who thinks everything is okay to eat. My motto is when in doubt, throw it in the compost. :)
Stephanie Faris said…
As a freelance writer, doing my own taxes is now out of the question, but I rocked the EZ form back in the day! We had a toilet in our old house that would NOT unclog. It was the most stubborn toilet ever. I had to boil hot water and pour dish soap down it. Turned out, we just needed a better plunger! I went to Home Depot and bought one of those super-duper plungers, not the flimsy ones they sell at the grocery store.
Maria Zannini said…
Stephanie: Every once in a while it's a bad toilet design. Other times it could be tree roots.

I'm glad the plunger solved your problem. Never skimp on the plunger. :)
betty said…
I think I can do pretty much everything on your list except change a tire (and that's why I have AAA and never drive, LOL :)

It is so important to teach those basic life skills to kids. You are right, they are computer savvy, but perhaps street poor (does that make sense?)

Maria Zannini said…
Betty: One time poor Greg was stuck in a town with no cell service. He couldn't have picked a worse spot to get stranded. He managed to text me and I directed AAA to his location, only the tow truck kept getting lost. It took him hours to finally get help.
Michael Keyton said…
Don't forget darning socks. My dad was a seaman. He taught me that. Mind you..... :)
Maria Zannini said…
Mike: Greg has been trying to get me to darn his socks for years. He has a million of them and I have no more room. My only recourse is to force him to discard the holey ones so my closet isn't bulging at the seams.