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20 Non-Digital Skills Everyone Should Learn

Man leaning over a camp fire.

Older adults who grew up in the pre-internet age often observe that younger people are lacking in basic skills that people in prior generations took for granted. Sure, they can program a smart TV, text at lightning speed, and navigate the latest computer games. But what about more practical, traditional skills like cooking, using tools, and even socializing offline? Here are the top 20 skills that everyone should master.

1. First Aid, CPR, and the Heimlich Maneuver

You never know when someone will need emergency medical help. Knowing how to apply the Heimlich Maneuver to save someone from choking, CPR to revive someone who’s had a heart attack, or providing basic first aid to an accident victim can be life-saving skills. You can usually find courses in CPR and first aid given by your local hospital.

2. Swimming

Not everyone learns to swim as a child. Even if you did swim in your youth, if that was many years ago, you’re probably rusty. Everyone should be able to survive in water for at least a few minutes. You’ll feel more comfortable the next time you get on a boat. It might even save your life or that of a loved one. Swimming is also fun and great exercise. If you don’t know how to swim, take an adult swimming course at the nearest fitness center that has a pool.

3. Basic Cooking

If your cooking skills don’t go beyond sticking a frozen entree into the microwave, you should expand your repertoire.  It includes tossing a salad and preparing staples such as eggs, rice, pasta. Cooking a steak or burger on a grill is always nice for backyard parties. Take a cooking class or buy a cookbook and cultivate these abilities on your own.

4. Playing Cards

While playing cards isn’t exactly a survival skill, knowing some popular games such as poker, gin rummy, and bridge gives you a way to pass the time without your phone or computer. It also gives you a way to socialize with older folks who still play these games (who might include relatives, bosses, and potential investors). These games also give your brain a workout and teach you how to strategize.

5. Auto Repair and Driving

You don’t need to be an auto mechanic, but it’s always useful to know enough about cars that you don’t get stranded if something goes wrong. Make sure you know how to check tire pressure and oil levels, change a tire, jump-start a car with jumper cables and add fluids such as oil, brake fluid and transmission fluid.

It’s also worth mastering a couple of quickly vanishing driving skills. Knowing how to drive a stick shift vehicle comes in handy if you ever need to drive a truck or older car. All drivers should also be able to parallel park without denting another vehicle or holding up traffic for a half hour.

6. Holding a conversation

While not everyone likes small talk, being able to hold a simple conversation is a useful skill to have. Small talk can be a great gateway to closer and more meaningful connections. However, if not being able to uphold that initial conversation, it can be hard to get there. A good conversationalist can bring the conversation to a subject that both enjoy, leading to more meaningful connection quicker.

7. Sewing

You don’t have to know how to operate a sewing machine or make an Amish quilt unless these are among your hobbies. At the very least, though, you should be able to take a needle and thread and sew on a button or repair a small tear. This way, you won’t be one of those people who discard a shirt or jacket just because a single button falls off.

8. Home Repairs

Even if you never plan to build your own house from the ground up, you should know how to hammer a nail, drill a hole in the wall, or tighten a screw. Similarly, knowing how to unclog a toilet or fix a leak will save you from having to call a plumber for every little issue. Lowes, Home Depot, and other home improvement stores regularly offer such classes.

9. Outdoor Survival

Basic wilderness skills allow you to safely enjoy the experiences of camping and hiking. They’re also useful in the event of power failures or natural disasters. Learn how to start a fire, build an outdoor shelter, and cook food over a fire or using a camp stove. Knowing how to do these things will give you a sense of security even if you never have to apply your knowledge.

10. Hosting a dinner party

Some people feel uncomfortable hosting others, but learning how to host a simple dinner party is an essential skill that everyone should learn. Dinner parties don’t have to be big. They can be small and intimate, or a larger party. Making it into a potluck can be a great way to keep it affordable.

11. Read and Write in Cursive

In the computer age, handwriting is quickly becoming a lost art. Nevertheless, there are benefits to writing things down by hand. It can help you remember what you’re writing and may even stimulate parts of your brain. It’s equally important to know how to read cursive in case someone ever sends you a handwritten letter.

12. Navigate With a Map and Compass

You never know when you might get lost in an area where your car or smartphone’s GPS isn’t working. Knowing how to read a map and use a compass ensure you can find your way home no matter where you are. Make sure you have a map on hand when you’re visiting an unfamiliar place and a compass if you’re venturing into the woods or mountains.

13. Having a sense of humor

Believe it or not, having a sense of humor is a trained skill. With practice, making jokes, as well as laughing, will start coming more naturally. It is a great social lubricant that can help you connect with others more easily. On top of that, it just makes life more fun!

14. Self-Defense

Knowing how to defend yourself gives you a sense of confidence that keeps you safer in many situations. Studying a martial art such as karate, judo, jiu-jitsu or kung fu is also great for fitness and self-discipline. If you don’t want to put in the time to become an expert, take an intensive course that focuses on practical self-defense, such as krav maga.

15. Playing an instrument

Being able to play an instrument is another great skill to have. It is extremely beneficial to the brain. On top of that, it can be a fun social skill to have.

16. Public Speaking

Public speaking is something that fills many people with anxiety, even dread. If you fall into this category, attend a local Toastmasters club and learn to overcome this fear. Even if you have no plans to give long speeches, it’s nice to be able to make a toast or tell an entertaining story. Public speaking also teaches you to capture people’s attention and persuade them, which can boost your career.

17. Ballroom Dancing

Dancing is a social activity that’s probably as old as civilization itself. While many people are satisfied to randomly gyrate freestyle on the dance floor, learning some classic dances such as the Waltz or Tango gives you a social edge at weddings and other formal occasions.

18. Gardening

Even if you’re from the city, knowing how to grow vegetables is a skill worth cultivating. Nowadays, many people are starting indoor and rooftop gardens in cities. This helps you save money, improve nutrition and provide you with food in case of a crisis.

19. Mix Cocktails

Knowing how to mix a drink such as a martini, Bloody Mary or screwdriver is useful when you have a dinner party or want to entertain guests. Even if you don’t drink yourself (or prefer wine or beer), it’s good to be able to serve drinks to the traditionalists in your circle.

20. Bake bread

There are so many different types of ways you can make this delicious food. Not only will it save you money–it can also become gifts too for other people (like grandma or a loved one).

These are some skills that make you more useful, well-rounded, self-sufficient. Even if civilization and the internet never collapse and you can perform most tasks with smartphone apps, it’s nice to be able to perform some of the tasks that your ancestors took for granted.

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