15 Things You Should Do at Least Once a Year

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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.

Husky puppy being examined by a veterinarian
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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.

Photo of a carpet being steam cleaned
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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.

Man replaces battery in home's smoke detector
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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.

Pile of beauty products on a wooden surface
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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.

A couple works on their annual 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.

5 Trouble-Shooting Tips to Keep Your Houseplant Alive

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iStock

Maybe you’ve heard that houseplants can help improve indoor air quality. Perhaps you’ve read that looking at plants can help you focus. Or maybe you just really like how that ficus looks in your living room. But buying a plant and keeping it alive are two different things, and the answer to your botanical woes isn’t always “don't forget to water it.” Here are five green-thumb tips to make sure your plant stays as leafy green as it was the day you bought it.

1. Don't overwater your houseplant.

You don’t want to neglect your plant, but it’s easy to go overboard with the watering can, and that can be just as harmful as forgetting to water your plant for weeks. A watering schedule can help you keep track of whether or not your plants need attention, but you shouldn’t water just because it’s Sunday and that’s when you usually do it. Before you go to water your plant baby, make sure it actually needs it.

Your plant’s water needs will vary based on the type of plant, its location, how old it is, and plenty of other factors, but there are a few rules of thumb that can put you on the right track. Lift the pot. If it’s heavy, that means that the soil is full of water. If it’s light, it’s dry. Dig a finger into the soil around its roots, making sure to feel beneath the surface. Still damp? Hold off. Dry? Grab the H2O.

If you really struggle to strike the right balance between too much and too little water, consider a smart plant system. And regardless of how often you water, make sure to use a pot with good drainage to prevent root rot.

2. Watch the temperature of the room your houseplant is in.

Be aware of where your plant is situated in the room, and whether there might be any temperature extremes there. Is your fern sitting right above the radiator? Is your peony subject to a cold draft? Is your rosemary plant stuck leaning against a window during a snowstorm?

As a rule, most houseplants can handle temperatures between 58°F and 86°F, according to a bulletin from the University of Georgia. The ideal range is between 70°F and 80°F during the day, and between 65°F and 70°F at night. Below 50°F, sensitive plants can suffer damage to their leaves. However, as with most plant advice, it depends on the species—tropical plants usually do well in higher temperatures, and some other plants are happier in colder rooms.

If your sad-looking plant is sitting in the middle of a cold draft or right next to the heater, consider moving it to a different spot, or at least a few inches away. If it’s near the window, you can also draft-proof the window.

3. Maintain humidity for your houseplant.

Be mindful of the kind of ecosystem that your plant comes from, and know that keeping it happy means more than just finding the right amount of sun. A tropical plant like an orchid won’t thrive in dry desert air. According to the Biology Department at Kenyon College in Ohio, a dried-out plant will look faded and wilting. You can immerse it in water to help it bounce back quickly. (Warning, though: A plant that’s getting too much moisture can look that way, too.)

If your home gets dry—say, when you have the heater on full blast in the winter or the AC on constantly during the summer—you’ll need to find a way to keep your plant refreshed. Your can buy a humidifier, or create a humidity tray by placing the pot on a tray of pebbles soaked in water. The plant will soak up the humidity as the water under the pebbles evaporates. You can also get a spray bottle and mist your tropical plants periodically with water. (But don't mist your fuzzy-leafed plants.)

Not sure how humid your house is? You can get a humidity gauge (known as a hydrometer) for less than $10 on Amazon.

4. Look out for bugs on your house plant.

Even if you do all of the above correctly, you can still struggle to keep a plant healthy due to infestations. Keep an eye out for common pests like spider mites, which will leave brown or yellow spots on leaves or make the plant’s color dull. If you discover these tiny mites (you may need to use a magnifying glass), wash your plant immediately with water to knock off as many mites as possible. Wash the plant with an insecticidal soap, too, but make sure the label says it’s effective for mites.

5. Repot your houseplant.

Healthy plants often outgrow their homes. if you notice that there are roots coming out the drainage holes at the bottom of your pot, or that water sits on the surface of the soil for a long time before draining down, or that your plant’s roots are coming up out of the soil, it’s time to upgrade to a bigger pot. Signs of a “root bound” plant whose root system is too big for its container can also include wilting, yellowed leaves, and stunted plant growth.

No matter what the size of your plant, it’s good to repot it once in a while, since the nutrients in the soil deplete over time. Repotting creates a fresh nutritional start and can help perk up unhappy plants.

If your plant looks unhealthy and you're still stumped, try consulting the website of a university horticulture department for other signs of plant distress and potential solutions.

Yale Is Offering Its 'Science of Well-Being' Course for Free Online

Chainarong Prasertthai/iStock via Getty Images
Chainarong Prasertthai/iStock via Getty Images

Even if you’ve heard that money or career success won’t necessarily make you happier, it’s still hard to resist the impulse to correlate your own well-being to external factors like those. Why are we so bad at predicting what will make us happy, and how can we figure out what actually does the trick?

These are just a couple questions you’ll be able to answer after completing “The Science of Well-Being,” a Yale University course currently being offered for free on Coursera. According to Lifehacker, the 10-week course consists of about two to three hours of reading and videos per week, and you can work at your own pace—so you can definitely take advantage of a free weekend to fly through a few weeks’ worth of material at a time, or postpone a lesson if you’re swamped with other work.

The class is taught by Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos, who will lead students through relevant research on how we’re wired to think about our own well-being and teach you how to implement that knowledge to increase happiness in your life. Since the coursework is task-oriented and the course itself is aimed at helping you build more productive habits, it’s an especially good opportunity for anyone who feels a little overwhelmed at how vague a goal to “be happier” can seem.

As for proof that this is definitely an undertaking worth 20 hours of your time, we’ll let the previous students speak for themselves: From 3731 ratings, the course averages 4.9 out of 5 stars.

Though the course is free, an official certificate to mark your completion—which you can then add to your LinkedIn profile—will cost you $50. Enroll on the Coursera website, and check out 23 other science-backed ways to feel happier here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

[h/t Lifehacker]

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