There are certain things that make us feel successful in early adulthood that are totally rational: a good job, close-knit friends, our own apartment, paying bills on time, etc. But there are other things that, while deeply satisfying, are not real markers of success. They just make us feel "adult" in that totally meaningless, how-we-used-to-imagine-adulthood-as-a-kid way. And as much as we probably shouldn't care about them, they just feel so. damn. good.
Matching, all-wooden hangers
What is it about wooden hangers that transforms even the shabbiest closet into something a Real Housewife would be proud to show off? There is something so deeply organized about it, even if the clothes themselves are mostly Forever 21 and Zara. Opening your closet and running your hands along the matching, shiny hangers of polished wood is akin to walking through a flowering garden and smelling the lush roses—it's a luxury afforded to the chic.
I hope that when I die, it's by drowning in my beautiful, diverse, partially vintage collection of throw pillows. There is no piece of furniture that can't be immediately and deeply improved by a good throw pillow, and it is the kind of thing you only think to buy when everything else is going well in your home. Only after you've thought of furniture, storage, and more basic decor can you start going into the throw pillow section of the store. It's a reward for having taken care of everything else.
Nice knives are jewelry for people with 401(k)s: expensive, shiny, and often only recognizable to those in the know. If you have someone come over and say, "Hey, are those [insert classy knife brand here, I don't know them]?" then you have truly made it.
A full refrigerator
This one is probably less irrational than the rest, but even if your refrigerator is full of mostly unhealthy impulse purchases, just the sight of all the shelves being full is enough to feel like you've accomplished something. Once I hosted a dinner party and had a bunch of leftovers, and though I did not have milk, eggs, or a single piece of fruit at my disposal, I looked on my stacked fridge with deep pride.
Is there a worse application for our confidence, priorities, and overall self-worth than Instagram? It's where we go to put literal filters on our activities, and art-direct them within an inch of their lives, so as to make them seem deceptively attractive and interesting, to make our friends impressed and envious. And harvesting more than just a like, getting that elusive comment of a genuine compliment on your picture of a latte or whatever, is a huge, embarrassing boost of self-esteem. You feel successful for having made a falsely appealing picture of your life, and for having friends who participate in the lie with you.
Martinis make you feel like a real adult blowing off some steam at the end of a long day at the office, even if "long day" meant "five hours since you woke up a little after noon" and "at the office" meant "laying on your bed watching Netflix because it's Saturday." It's an instant, alcoholic way to feel like a hard worker who deserves a break.
If nothing else in your life is going right, having your shoes neatly arranged in pairs on some kind of shelf makes everything feel better. (If you have the enviable closet space, you could also keep them in their boxes, but that is a level that I simply don't imagine is achievable in one's 20s.) Not only are shoes aesthetically pleasing when arranged well, it also makes your day feel infinitely more convenient, as you can quickly scan your options and pluck the pair you want, instead of sifting through the messy pile of boots and shoes at the bottom of your closet.
A stand mixer
Kitchen Aid stand mixers are the St. Peter at the pearly gates of Full Adulthood. I don't make the rules.
Mittens are clearly for children, but there is a very murky period between having big, puffy mittens pinned to your jacket and having classy, professional-looking leather gloves. Often, in the interest of saving money in the short term, we opt for the crappy knit kind you can get for a couple bucks at H&M or whatever, forgetting that they are the least water-resistant — and scratchiest — of all the hand-warming options. Only when we take the plunge and invest in real leather, lined gloves can we know what it means to survive the winter as an adult.
Shiny hair equates with success like little else. Having shiny hair means you had the time and the foresight to take care of things, and you're either the kind of person who uses hair masks, or you got up early enough to smooth things out with a flat iron and spray some product on. Either way, things are looking up for you.
You really need to have everything else covered in the kitchen department if you're going to get yourself some Champagne glasses. Because even if you're the kind of person to throw a good amount of classy parties, there is no way you are using those things more than 5 to 6 times per year (unless you drink your water out of them, which I honestly wouldn't judge). Champagne glasses say to the world "I have arrived to the point that I have a separate set of stemware entirely to keep up with the frequency of my sparkling wine consumption." It's classy as hell.
Being able to pull off a real live dinner party, complete with a tight-knit circle of friends who actually appreciate the effort and nuance of a good dinner, is a big mark of superficial success. As they are both deceptively expensive, and demand a fair amount of pre-planning, it's not the kind of thing that an unsuccessful person would be able to take on, honestly. It's also the upscale way to get drunk, and when you're looking on your slizzered friends in their nice sweaters while jazz plays in the background, you feel like the Norman Rockwell painting you've always wanted to be on some level — only drunk. And that is, ultimately, what it's all about.
Image: Flickr/Ella Ceron