15 Things You Should Do at Least Once a Year

iStock.com/eamanver
iStock.com/eamanver

Just handling day-to-day tasks can be a monster achievement (seriously, we all deserve a medal), but sometimes it can be even harder to keep tabs on those to-dos that only need annual attention. We’ve got you covered. Here’s a checklist of 15 things you should be doing with every trip around the sun.

1. Get physical, but not necessarily physical.

You know your body best, but mounting evidence suggests that, contrary to popular belief, you probably don’t need an annual physical. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain health checks you should be doing every time you have to buy a new calendar. In lieu of a check up with your doctor (again, everyone is different, and we aren’t talking about children, the elderly, or those with a medical condition), give yourself an annual, self-administered fitness test. You should be breaking a sweat on the regular anyway, but consider instituting a tradition in which you challenge yourself to a set of physical tasks to see how you measure up. There’s an adult version of the President's Physical Fitness Challenge to get you started, but the specific parameters can be up to you. It’s a good way to see where you’re at in terms of physical health and fitness, and a good motivator if you’re not where you want to be.

2. Do see the doctor for other things.

Eye exams, mole checks, and even dentist visits should be done annually (yep, healthy teeth also only need a checkup once a year), and while you’re making the rounds to keep your body in tip-top shape, take a look at your health coverage. Medical needs can change from year to year, and there’s usually an annual enrollment period in which you can adjust your plan. Mark that window on the calendar and spend a little time making sure your needs are covered. Your body will thank you.

3. That health check goes for your pets, too.

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We wish our pets could talk to us for all sorts of reasons, but especially when it comes to how they’re feeling. Since we haven’t quite cracked the animal-to-human translation code just yet, it’s important to be proactive about the health of your furry or feathered friend. Take them to the vet at least once a year, and include blood work in the checkup. It’s a good way to get ahead of any health issues that could arise, ensure your pet is up-to-date on any necessary vaccinations, and get valuable insights into how your beloved is doing.

4. Scope your credit score.

Being an adult means knowing what’s up with your financial health, too. And the best way to do that is to know your credit score. It’s hugely important for landing that apartment or home you want or getting a good rate on a loan, two of the big things you need to do in the game of life. It’s also free to check annually, so no excuses (and contrary to popular belief, these kinds of “soft inquiries” do not negatively influence your credit score). Basically, a good handle on your credit is a good way to keep money in your pocket. While you’re at it, consider scheduling an annual sit-down with a financial advisor as well to review your money, your plans, and any changes in the market that may have occurred over the course of the year.

5. Drain your hot water heater.

The next few annual check-ups are related to the home. If your household has one or two people in it, your hot water heater needs to be checked every six months and drained at least every 12 months. Draining it will help it last longer by eliminating any minerals or debris that have built up and could cause the unit to break down. It’s a job you can do yourself with a little time and a hose, so pick a Saturday, read the instructions, and hop to it.

6. Clean your carpet.

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No matter how clean you are, there are certain items you just can’t deal with on a regular basis (and often don’t need to). That said, once a year you should roll up your sleeves and tackle your home's carpets, rugs, and upholstery. This isn’t just a run of the vacuum, but a deeper purge with steamers, a soapy bucket, a rented machine, or professionals. Other yearly cleanups include emptying the gutters and cleaning the fireplace and chimney. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

7. Get inspected.

To keep the well-oiled machines in your life running, you have to keep them, well, oiled! Or you know, whatever the particular efficiency-booster might be. And to do that, you often need the help of professionals. Once a year, bring them in to check out your air conditioning units, furnace, roof, gas appliances, and pipes. Termite inspections should happen on the regular, too, as that’s one enemy you definitely want to get a jump on.

8. Mind the gap.

Time, use, and the elements cause wear and tear on outdoor spaces that can damage their integrity in no time. When it comes to decks or outdoor woodwork, reseal once a year to keep the raw materials protected. They’ll function better and look how they’re supposed to, plus resealing extends their lifetime every time you do it. Same goes for driveway pavement, especially in snowy climates. Whether you have concrete or asphalt, take care of your cracks every 12 months to lengthen the life of your outdoor surfaces.

9. Replace the batteries in your smoke detectors.

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We’ve all had that moment when a piece of toast starts burning, the smoke alarm goes off, and we want to rip the thing out of the ceiling—but those loud beeps are exactly what you want to be hearing from your smoke detector. To make sure yours are always in top form, test them monthly and replace alkaline batteries every year. It’s an easy bit of maintenance to ensure the safety of you and yours in the event of a fire.

10. Take spring cleaning seriously.

It doesn’t have to be spring (though the built-in reminder is kind of nice), but you should take some time out every year to go through your many beloved belongings and decide what isn’t so treasured anymore. The best place to start is your closet: Take a good hard look at your wardrobe and figure out what you love and what you can live without. Everything that’s still in good condition can be donated or sold, and the rest can go in the garbage can. It’s also worth going through books and other collections that can get out-of-hand right under our noses. Those, too, can be sold or donated.

11. Give your digital life a good cleaning, too.

The more we live and work on our computers, the more cluttered they become. When you’re done cleaning out those closets, take a load off and direct those cleansing efforts toward your music collection, documents, and other bits of electronic waste that have accumulated over the course of the year (or longer). You probably do this regularly too, but the spring cleaning attitude also applies to social networks where connections and follows should be regularly evaluated. Just because it’s the internet, doesn’t mean it doesn’t require some timely decluttering. While you’re at it, take a peek at the security and permissions settings on your accounts, too. Let’s be honest: you might need to change your relationship status from time to time.

12. Trash your beauty stash.

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Not all of it, but it’s a good idea to keep an eye on beauty products and stay diligent when it comes to refreshing the supply—this stuff is going on your body, after all, often in highly sensitive areas. In particular, nail polish, sunscreen, hair products, lipsticks and liners, eyeliner, brow pencils, face creams, foundation, cream eyeshadows and blushes, cleansers, and other like items should not sit on your shelf for more than a year. Many of these you’ll be using with enough frequency that they won’t last long anyway, but pay attention to those items that might accidentally stick around longer than they should.

13. Get your wheels checked.

The schedule for car maintenance is almost entirely individual to the driver because it’s based more on mileage than time. But assuming you’re an average driver and your car isn’t drifting where it shouldn't be, you should get your wheel alignment checked about once a year (if you drive a lot or have a habit of hitting potholes, you might need to get them realigned more frequently). Having properly oriented wheels makes a huge difference in how your car rides and performs. Not only that, it’s better for the hardware, which will save you money and time as the car ages.

14. Reassess your retirement plan.

You’re saving for retirement, which is great, and should feel like an accomplishment in and of itself. But it’s really an ongoing process that requires regular check-ups if you want to party hard when you’re an octogenarian. Check up on your retirement plan at least once a year to figure out how things are going, whether you can or should be contributing more, and make considerations about whether you want to tweak your savings plan and/or investments. Many retirement plans are set up to run and adjust to the market without your constant supervision, and while all that's great, it’s always a good idea to make sure your nest egg is incubating as efficiently as it should be.

15. Do your taxes.

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OK, you knew that already. But there’s something you might not be doing when you’re settling up with Uncle Sam, and that’s keeping tabs on how much you’re withholding. Many people have too much or too little withheld, resulting in unexpected bills or refunds come April 15. Ideally, you want it to be just the right amount, and luckily it’s pretty easy to take a quick evaluation at IRS.gov (the amount is based on what you earn and the allowances you claim on your W-4 Form—something you filled out when you were hired). An annual appraisal will help make tax time a little less daunting, and that’s something worth scheduling.

An earlier version of this article was published in 2015.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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Squirrels Are Assaulting Porch Pumpkins Across the Country—Here's How to Stop It

Squirrels are looking to pumpkins for sustenance this year.
Squirrels are looking to pumpkins for sustenance this year.
Ian Lee, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If you ever come home to discover a cherished Halloween pumpkin destroyed, don’t assign blame to any neighborhood vandals. This year, it might be the work of squirrels.

According to a series of news reports from around the country, the bushy-tailed rodents that once occupied a place of esteem as a pet for President Warren G. Harding have taken to assaulting and defacing pumpkins left out on porches for Halloween by using them as a source for food.

What makes this year different? There’s been speculation that fewer acorns might have squirrels foraging for food more than usual. Another theory is that reduced traffic in parks and restaurants as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic might mean fewer scraps for squirrels to gather.

In New York and Pennsylvania, a drought may be to blame. Charlie Todd, owner of Chamberlain Acres Garden Center in Southport, New York, told 18 News that a lack of rainfall reduced the amount of available vegetation squirrels normally dine out on.

Can this squirrel crime wave be stopped? A number of solutions are circulating online, from spraying pumpkins with soap and hot sauce to coating it with a sticky solution. But if a squirrel is desperate enough, it’s probably going to take what it can get. Some people leave out other snacks, like peanuts, to deter the squirrel from munching on the gourd, but leaving food out can attract other animals, too. If you have a prized pumpkin and fear its destruction, displaying it inside your home is probably your safest bet.