Things to Purchase for Young People Entering the Real World

by Blair Thornburgh

I was reading the latest issue of Real Simple a few days ago, like you do after a long day of undergrad coursework (I do not care if this makes me a housefrau or a luddite. Viva la print media! Also: It was a gift). Paging through their “Gift Guide for Grads,” it became apparent to me that no one on the Real Simple editorial staff has ever met — or recalls being — a college student. They literally suggest (and I am not making this up) a mousepad and artisanal tonic water as gifts. Because when the grad in your life comes home to her shitty sublet after a long, hard day of unpaid interning, she’s really going to want to kick back and drink fancy sugar water and CLICK AT THINGS WITH A MOUSE.

So I feel it’s incumbent on me — a very nearly recent graduate — to make a list of things that people like me actually need. I am not posting this to drop any hints (my parents are assuming my loan debt, which is more of a present than I will ever receive for the rest of my life) but rather as a public service.

Nice pants: Maybe other people graduate from college with a closet full of professional wear, but my personal stock of intern-clothes is something like a pair of H&M slacks from the 10th grade and some bright-orange J. Crew pants that I bought at a flea market and are too short. Tops and shirts are less of an issue — nice blouse plus cardigan equals work appropriate! — but there is nowhere to hide your legs but in nice pants. Take your graduate out to a real store (it can be an outlet store!) and get them two or three pairs of basic dark trousers that actually fit. Don’t trust them with a gift card: Make sure you personally supervise the fitting of said pants.

Gift cards: If there’s any kind of tackiness taboo about this, we need as a culture to get over it. Gift cards are great, so long as they’re for somewhere that is somewhere your gift will actually shop. This means NO iTUNES. iTunes gift cards are most useful as a tool to scrape burnt scrambled eggs off your IKEA pan. And, I’m sorry, but for some reason older aunts/family friends/grandparents see them and think “Yes! The iTunes! Where all of the Youth purchase their Music!” and buy them up like they’re Furbies in 1999. No. It will languish unused or get slowly nibbled away to buy new iterations of Angry Birds while your graduate is subsisting on ramen and ketchup packets. Instead, you could fund nicer versions of essentials at Target or Whole Foods (for quinoa without the sticker shock). Or, if you’re dead-set on bankrolling entertainment, buy a card for a movie theater or (ugh) Ticketmaster and get them something that’s fun and a social experience. Lastly, it’s not technically a gift card, but I know that if someone gave me a monthly Metrocard in my “ConGRADulations!” envelope I might weep for joy.

A Knife that Doesn’t Suck: Not for stabbing, for cooking! If the graduate in question ever prepares her own meals, this is an absolute essential. Don’t bother with a huge set of them; just one solid, 8 or 9 inch chef’s knife will do. Plenty of us are still hacking away at vegetables with scarily-bendy steak knives, which is a recipe for nothing but puncture wounds. You can’t get a decent temp job doing data entry if your fingers are mangled! Also: Forbid them from putting it in the dishwasher, if they’re lucky enough to have one.

A nice pair of bedsheets: Maybe this is just me, and maybe I am just gross, but I made it through college with only one set of crappy, scratchy bed linens that I only picked because they were dark enough to hide evidence of not being recently washed. Another, higher-thread-count sheet set would not only dramatically improve my sleep experience, but it would also remove one of the major limiting factors that determines when Laundry Day will occur (the other being underwear, but that’s kind of a weird present for this occasion). I hope I’m not alone in this.

Frequent-flier miles: If you’re a real person who flies for work or else just someone who’s really good at gaming the system, you might have racked up a decent number of these, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a young person who wouldn’t want some concrete help getting underway on the whole Postgrad Finding Yourself journey. Many rewards programs will let you buy a ticket for someone who’s not you, so make the offer to your Graduate if you can. You don’t have to buy the tickets or anything in advance of giving — my grandparents have done this for their kids/grandkids multiple times and just make hand-drawn certificates on shirt cardboard. Simple but wonderful.

Magazine Subscriptions: I know I shit on Real Simple before, but it’s actually one of those Little Things in my life that makes day-to-day whatevery bearable. The subscription was probably only 25 bucks, but it was a nice gesture and something I never would have rationalizing buying for myself. You can change your address online now, in case you’re as nomadic in your job search as I am, and magazines have the added bonus of furnishing inspiration for corrective Internet gift guides.

Blair Thornburgh graduates on Saturday. She is not nervous about her commencement speech or the rest of her life.

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