What are the life skills I wish I'd picked up before leaving home? Read on…
I grew up with a helper in our family, which is pretty common when you live in Singapore. With her doing most of the housework, I was raised in what many kids would consider the lap of luxury. Dirty clothes would reappear in my wardrobe washed and folded, there was always food in the kitchen, and the surfaces of the house stayed mystically clean. Then I started boarding school overseas at age 17 (with catered meals), and two years later, still overseas and living alone, I started uni. I definitely did not know how to cook… or clean… or, let’s face it, look after myself. Here are some skills I wish I’d picked up before leaving the Singapore bubble…
Useful life skills that every kid should have
1. How to make a bed (so you can lie in it)
The first thing you notice when you move into a new home, minus parents and helpers, is that the bed isn’t made. If, like me, you didn’t vacuum pack your own bedclothes and duvet (don’t laugh, I know people who did this), you definitely need to buy those and, possibly, a duvet and pillow. It helps to let the kids know the difference between a single and a queen-sized bed. It also helps to teach them how to make their bed, or they’ll be sleeping on a sheet draped on top of a mattress. Classy.
2. Cooking beyond cup noodles (do microwavable ready meals count?)
The next thing said wide-eyed ingénue would discover is that they’re hungry. When you’re sick of snacks and ice cream, it’s probably best to know how to use a kitchen and its various appliances. “What’s the worst that could happen?” you might say. There’s more than one answer: sparks when someone sticks foil into the microwave, ready-made pizza melting through the oven grill, food poisoning, and, oh, everyone’s favourite, setting off the fire alarm. Apart from my own ill-advised meals, I’ve heard horror stories of noodles ‘cooked’ in apple juice and brownies made with mayonnaise (apparently, it’s very good). Parents, please teach your kids how to cook!
N.B. Some recommended easy meals are salads, boiled eggs, toast and canned food. For a more Asian flavour, teach the kids how to use a rice cooker, and they’ll be able to make one-pot meals like chicken rice, porridge and even hotpot. As a college hack, a girl in my dorms boiled eggs and stored them in her kitchen cupboard for breakfast during exam week. Another stocked her freezer with a month’s worth of takeout. Genius or gag-worthy? You be the judge…
3. How to avoid scurvy
Imagine all the essential vitamins and minerals your kid is missing out on when they cram spoonfuls of cereal and cold baked beans into their mouth. Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of the food pyramid, and if you’re struggling to make the kids eat their greens, you should hope they find alternatives by the time they hit their teens (eating chips is fine because potatoes are a vegetable, right?). My veggie woes stemmed from selecting and preparing them. What exactly is fennel, and how can you eat it? Do you wash mushrooms? And can you eat the eyes of a potato? While stuck in a hotel room on a particularly miserable weekend, I ‘cooked’ savoy cabbage by repeatedly pouring hot water over it. “Vitamins,” I told myself as I choked it down (and then binned the rest).
4. No clean plates left? Never mind, I’ll just eat out of the saucepan.
If your kid isn’t surviving on takeout, they’ll be generating a mound of dirty dishes in less than a week. They’ll need to know how to load and operate a dishwasher, or at the very least, pick up a sponge and rub it against a dish to remove food stains. Not only will they get clean dishes, but it’ll also help them prevent their disgruntled roommates from taking revenge. I had to learn the hard way that using the wrong side of said sponge on my non-stick pans meant my food had that Extra Special Garnish of coating.
5. Clothes don’t clean themselves…
This is easy enough, right? When your clothes get dirty, you wash them. But what about stains, separating colours and whites, dryer sheets and ‘dry-clean’ or ‘hand-wash’ only? And what of those funny symbols on the tags? Most importantly, how do you use a washing machine? Teaching kids how to develop their own laundry routine can be invaluable, or they’ll wind up wearing the same shirt five days a row. More horrifyingly, a male friend once looked me dead in the eye and said, “Bath towels don’t need to be washed.” Ugh.
6. … and don’t fold themselves either
Your kids are going to have “The Chair”. You know the one: heaped with semi-dirty clothes you’re not done wearing, bags, jackets… the whole lot. It’s up to you to guide your child to know what that dream chair will look like. Will it be a laundry basket? Their wardrobe? Or will it be a festering nightmare that spills over to the rest of their things? Even if they never touch an iron and never learn how to fold clothes KonMari style, they should at least know how to use a coat hanger. Please, please, please, unless you’re only away for a week, do not live out of your suitcase – that’s just sad. I once had one (or maybe a few) roommate who slept under the mess on their bed comprising dirty (and clean) laundry, books, laptop… You name it, it was there.
7. What? Do toilets need to be cleaned?
While vacuum cleaners exist, if every inch of their room isn’t covered in carpet, they’re going to need to know how to use a broom and a mop. Sticky floors and surfaces are gross. We’ve all heard of Toilet Duck, Jif and Mr Clean, but I guarantee kids (as I didn’t) haven’t. Eventually, the whole toilet ends up looking like… a toilet.
Parents, if you haven’t already, it’s time for you (or your helper) to impart the kids and teens the skills they’ll need to survive living on their own. It took me up to five years to pick up the skills necessary to forge my way into adulthood! I braved couponing at Sainsbury’s, oven burns, clogged sinks and locking myself out of my own room. Now that I’m home in Singapore, I can finally… leave all the washing up to Mum again.
This post was originally published in 2017.