The very simple guide to being a proper grown-up

Forget a mortgage and a fancy job title, Sali Hughes knows that she’s a proper grown-up now because she always has enough toilet paper and booze

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By Sali Hughes on

On the prescribed timeline of life, we are expected to hit certain markers, achieve particular life events, to feel we’re headed in the right direction. Career by 25, mortgage by 30, marriage by 35, babies by 40, blah, blah, blah, until death. Well, I scored all those goals and not one of them meant I suddenly had things nailed – miles from it, in fact. More often, tiny, insignificant moments and much subtler changes made me feel I’d grown up, that I’d done alright and was progressing along some kind of continuum. They’re seemingly so insignificant, so unmomentous and, crucially, are mostly not age-related, but they really meant something and, for me personally, better represent a grown-up and enlightened me than any job promotion or ISA ever could.

Owning booze

When I was a little girl, I had many ambitions for when I grew up. One was to become a journalist, another was to move to London, but just as significant was my ambition to have a well-stocked bar at home. I had observed that, however skint we were, whichever utility was cut off that month, if someone came to the house, my mother always had something for them to drink. A small but permanent selection of booze – even if only cheap wine and a leftover half-bottle of Christmas Baileys – struck me as the hallmark of adulthood, the height of good manners and sophistication, and so, as soon as I could, I got my own. I now have every imaginable spirit, several mixers and any wine but rosé locked, loaded and ready to entertain. I also keep emergency Valium for anyone suddenly bereaved, sacked or dumped.

Being called “a lady” by a stranger

I know from my speaking to other women that most people hate this. It makes them feel like a nana but, for me, it was a great moment. Being identified by strangers as an adult means you can do stern “mam face” at train passengers leaking Calvin Harris from their headphones. You can shout at people for leaving dog poo on the pavement and, the chances are, they’ll look mortified and scuttle back, old tissue in hand. You will never again be denied a plus one at weddings, and be forced to sit on the “fraggle table” of singles.

 I also keep emergency Valium for anyone suddenly bereaved, sacked or dumped

Never running out of toilet paper

There have been many times in the past 15 years when life has felt out of control, when bad decisions and poor handling of bad luck have caused me to think I still have some growing up to do. But, throughout it all, I’ve never once run out of toilet paper. This (admittedly strange) belief that abundant loo paper represents great responsibility is born from an adolescence spent sadly “shaking my lettuce” post-wee in a selection of gross student bathrooms and squats scattered with old cardboard toilet rolls and no sodding paper. Somewhere along the line, I swore that this would never happen in my home, should I ever have one. Nowadays, at any given time, I have a low wall of white two-ply in the bathroom cupboard, as though preparing for nuclear attack, and get twitchy when levels fall below around 24 rolls. On the same tip, I now refuse to pay for any hotel or holiday that’s less nice than my house. I’d rather be home. Life’s too short for spitting showers and itchy blankets.

Making a will

One of the only pitfalls on the timeline to adulthood is a fear of death. I’ve gone my whole life without giving death any real thought. Now I think of it most weeks. I’m not a catastrophist or a worrier – just permanently conscious that, should life follows its correct course, I will one day leave my children behind. I panic I’ll become ill or die before I’ve finished paying for our house, or seen them complete their education and start to make a life for themselves. I hate that some of my friends or their relatives are being diagnosed with serious conditions, and finally see death as something to do with me. I fretted over who would get my handbags and frocks, and how my friends would know which are most important or valuable, so I put it in writing. It’s not easy deciding which of my nephews, sons, goddaughter or nieces are most likely to have use for 300 MAC duo-fibre brushes. Most significantly, I care about living. Having shown myself and my body so little respect in my youth, I now desperately want to be alive.

Checking out the care label before the garment

The young me grabbed anything she liked off the rails and, provided it was affordable, bought it. Now I glance at the care label before I’ve even tried something on. If it says cold wash, no tumble, cool iron (I genuinely haven’t ironed in the 21st century; shake and fold, people), I immediately think, “You're too much trouble, mate” and pop it back for someone with more time for pointless busywork.

We’ve even just grown our own tomato (yes, that’s a singular) and felt a huge sense of accomplishment in staring at it, wondering if a cat may have pissed on it and deciding to chuck it in a salad anyway

Keeping basil alive

I’ll admit my expectations are staggeringly low here but, to someone who is reliably the kiss of death to all plantlife, the ability to finally keep something – anything – potted alive, even for a fortnight, is a big moment. I’m here to water it a little every day, not crashing in from a weekender or work trip and drowning it. I’m invested in its future because I love its scent and I can no longer tolerate bland pasta. We’ve even just grown our own tomato (yes, that’s a singular) and felt a huge sense of accomplishment in staring at it, wondering if a cat may have pissed on it and deciding to chuck it in a salad anyway.

Removal men packing my forks

I’ve had all manner of living arrangements – sleeping on sofas in squats, living on housing benefit, flatsharing, renting and owning a house, and remained the same person throughout. What made me feel really grown-up was finally having removal men come and pack up my things before moving on. The elation at being able nip out for coffee, closing the door on the chaos, knowing that someone was going to bubble wrap my butter dish, was unexpected but real. The satisfaction of getting into an empty car and driving to my new house, no washing basket on my lap, portable telly wedged inside it. And no stained Argos duvet flattened against a mini cab window. I felt invincible. I would now sooner buy a cheaper house than scrimp on removal costs.

Thinking “fuck it" on a daily basis

If my own personal timeline has delivered anything of major importance to my life, it’s the gift of “fuck it”. I find it saddening that bucket-listers focus on swimming with dolphins and bungee jumping over the Grand Canyon, while presumably content to continue spending their lives obsessing over what other people think of them. I did it for years, mentally replaying conversations I’d had, cringing and tormenting myself at how I’d come across, worrying I wasn’t good, clever, funny, or cool enough. I never said, “No, I don’t want to do that”, I rarely pulled anyone up when they were unkind. Being a grown-up means finally letting that stuff go and saying, “Fuck it, this doesn’t matter.” You feel perfectly fine in walking away from arguments, knowing you’ll never convince someone and that’s perfectly OK. You understand that not everyone will “get you” and that you needn’t give them another minute of your time. You accept that everyone is flawed, prone to mad phases and poor choices, and that doesn’t define them. You see that everything is messy, that bad people are rare, but also that no one is made exclusively of good, with the possible exception of Marian Keyes.


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The tyranny of the timeline

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