Millennials call it “adulting”—those triumphant/scary moments in life when we discover that we’ve actually got our acts together, that we’re grown-ups tackling grown-up things. In grown-up ways!
There are a few common milestones of adulting: Have steady employment. Pay your bills. Know how to cook for yourself. Contribute to a 401(k).
If you’ve checked all of those things off your list, you might be feeling pretty good about your status as a responsible member of human society. But before you pat yourself on the back, take a look around: Does your pad still look like a dorm room? If so, we’re afraid to say, you haven’t nailed this adulting thing just yet.
It’s time to grow up already! Kick these household items to the curb—and pick up a few chic items in their place—for a sophisticated style upgrade.
You knew this one would make the list: You’re out of college, so it’s time to upgrade to a regular mattress (and maybe a box spring) for you and your out-of-town guests.
If you don’t want the hassle of going mattress shopping, never fear: The brave new world of e-commerce has you covered, with companies such as Casper and Amerisleep offering premium, free-delivery options with generous tryout and return options. Is your space at a premium? Try a sophisticated Murphy bed instead. Ditch the futons, and don’t look back.
2. A bed in a bag
We’ll be the first to admit it: We loved a good bed-in-a-bag set for those first few lean years after college. (Four pillows, a bed skirt, and a matching throw to casually drape across the foot of our beds, all for $49 at Bed Bath Beyond? Count us in!)
But here’s the thing about bedding sets: They tend to be made of swelteringly hot synthetic materials. Plus, they lend a vibe to your boudoir that’s decidedly matchy-matchy—and more than a little, well, generic.
Elevate your bedding game by choosing a high-quality sheet set like these from Cuddledown, and choose a textured duvet cover or coverlet in cotton or another natural fiber. You’ll spend a bit more, but it’s worth it, experts say.
“Quality linens get better with time,” says Christina Harmon, owner of luxury home goods purveyor Epitome Home. Essentially, “long-term, good linens are less expensive than basic cotton sheets.”
3. A cheap bed frame
Even the best linens can be instantly cheapened by a bad bed. Elevate your look by investing in a high-quality bed frame with a luxe-looking headboard.
If that’s not in your budget, get creative: Cover your rickety old metal frame with a floor-skimming bed skirt, and create a chic-looking headboard out of old doors.
4. Cowhide rugs
Photo by Jagoda Architecture
“Remember when you first saw a cowhide rug and you were all, ‘Oh man, that is so cool’? Yeah, that was 15 years ago,” says Justin M. Riordan of Spade and Archer Design Agency. “Let it go, sweetheart—it’s time.”
And here’s the good news: You don’t have to spend a mint to get a quality rug. If you’re on a budget, consider a sisal or jute option; you can always layer a patterned rug on top if you tire of the natural look.
5. Plastic furniture
“Whether it’s shelves, chairs, tables, or the bed frame, it’s time to retire the plastic furniture and replace it with quality furniture that will last,” says designer Kayla Hein, who’s also creative director for Modern Castle, a home product review site.
Look for real wood, quality composite materials, or aesthetically pleasing metals instead, Hein suggests.
6. Bicast leather
Once upon a time, pet owners flocked to stores for bicast leather furniture. Less expensive than natural leather, bicast leather is covered in polyurethane.
“The big pull was the fact that this stuff would survive a nuclear attack,” Riordan says. “The problem is it’s now 20 years out of style and still tough as nails—and ugly as all get-out.”
Now that you’re a grown-up, it’s time to step away from the fake leather and embrace buttery soft stuff that gets only better with age.
7. Paper lamps
“Nothing says big-box Swedish furniture store like a paper lamp,” Riordan says. “Seriously, everybody knows where you got it. You’re not fooling anybody.”
Trade in your Ikea special for a layered lighting concept that fuses upright, task, and overhead lighting—and will instantly up your style quotient.
8. Disposable plates
Experts are united: Plastic or paper plates are acceptable only at a child’s birthday party or Fourth of July barbecue. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
“If you’re old enough to be cooking for yourself, then you’re old enough to own real dishes,” Hein says. “Corelle is a great place to start: They’re inexpensive, look great, and are high-quality.”
Same goes for glassware: Banish the plastic cups you snagged at sporting events, and buy a collection of cool acrylic ones instead.
9. Paper napkins
OK, there’s a caveat here worth mentioning: If you have kids, paper napkins definitely deserve space in your linen drawer. But for everyone else, ditch the disposable stuff for a more elevated, eco-friendly option, like these table linens from Wolf Irving.
10. Bottles and shot glasses on display
“You’re not 22 any more,” Hein says. “Displaying empty liquor bottle trophies is just sad now.”
And remember: Less is more.
“You don’t need to fill every inch of space,” Hein cautions. “The space between your decor speaks as much as the accent pieces themselves.”
11. Neon signs
Photo by Kahrs
Everyone knows it’s 5 o’clock somewhere—you don’t need to advertise it. Ditch those neon signs for sophisticated paintings and artistic photographs (like these from Gray Malin) that mesh with your more evolved design style.
You are so much more than the generic art you grabbed from the college bookstore. Trade in your taped-up Monet print for a well-framed piece of art or decorative mirror like this one from contemporary furniture company Modani.
If you absolutely must keep a poster, spring for custom framing and professional hanging.
13. Fake plants
If you can keep yourself functioning, you can keep a plant alive—especially resilient ones like air plants, which you literally just dip in water every 10 days, or peace lilies, which NASA claims can filter toxins from the air.
We’ll acknowledge there are some strikingly real-looking fake plants out there, and if you have the funds, go for it. Otherwise, opt for hardy houseplants you can’t kill and prove you’re a real adult taking care of real things.