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.

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.

The ChopBox Smart Cutting Board Has a Food Scale, Timer, and Knife Sharper Built Right Into It

ChopBox
ChopBox

When it comes to furnishing your kitchen with all of the appliances necessary to cook night in and night out, you’ll probably find yourself running out of counter space in a hurry. The ChopBox, which is available on Indiegogo and dubs itself “The World’s First Smart Cutting Board,” looks to fix that by cramming a bunch of kitchen necessities right into one cutting board.

In addition to giving you a knife-resistant bamboo surface to slice and dice on, the ChopBox features a built-in digital scale that weighs up to 6.6 pounds of food, a nine-hour kitchen timer, and two knife sharpeners. It also sports a groove on its surface to catch any liquid runoff that may be produced by the food and has a second pull-out cutting board that doubles as a serving tray.

There’s a 254nm UVC light featured on the board, which the company says “is guaranteed to kill 99.99% of germs and bacteria" after a minute of exposure. If you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to cleanliness, the ChopBox is completely waterproof (but not dishwasher-safe) so you can wash and scrub to your heart’s content without worry. 

According to the company, a single one-hour charge will give you 30 days of battery life, and can be recharged through a Micro USB port.

The ChopBox reached its $10,000 crowdfunding goal just 10 minutes after launching its campaign, but you can still contribute at different tiers. Once it’s officially released, the ChopBox will retail for $200, but you can get one for $100 if you pledge now. You can purchase the ChopBox on Indiegogo here.

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7 Pieces of Reading Advice From History’s Greatest Minds

When it came to books, Albert Einstein subscribed to the "oldie but goodie" mentality. He wasn't the only one.
When it came to books, Albert Einstein subscribed to the "oldie but goodie" mentality. He wasn't the only one.
Lucien Aigner/Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If there’s one thing that unites philosophers, writers, politicians, and scientists across time and distance, it’s the belief that reading can broaden your worldview and strengthen your intellect better than just about any other activity. When it comes to choosing what to read and how to go about it, however, opinions start to diverge. From Virginia Woolf’s affinity for wandering secondhand bookstores to Theodore Roosevelt’s rejection of a definitive “best books” list, here are seven pieces of reading advice to help you build an impressive to-be-read (TBR) pile.

1. Read books from eras past // Albert Einstein

albert einstein at home circa 1925
Albert Einstein poses at home in 1925 with a mix of old and new books.
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Keeping up with current events and the latest buzz-worthy book from the bestseller list is no small feat, but Albert Einstein thought it was vital to leave some room for older works, too. Otherwise, you’d be “completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of [your] times,” he wrote in a 1952 journal article [PDF].

“Somebody who reads only newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses,” he wrote.

2. Don’t jump too quickly from book to book // Seneca

seneca the younger
Seneca the Younger, ready to turn that unwavering gaze on a new book.
The Print Collector via Getty Images

Seneca the Younger, a first-century Roman Stoic philosopher and trusted advisor of Emperor Nero, believed that reading too wide a variety in too short a time would keep the teachings from leaving a lasting impression on you. “You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind,” he wrote in a letter to Roman writer Lucilius.

If you’re wishing there were a good metaphor to illustrate this concept, take your pick from these gems, courtesy of Seneca himself:

“Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow strong. There is nothing so efficacious that it can be helpful while it is being shifted about. And in reading of many books is distraction.”

3. Shop at secondhand bookstores // Virginia Woolf

virginia woolf
Virginia Woolf wishing she were in a bookstore.
Culture Club/Getty Images

In her essay “Street Haunting,” Virginia Woolf described the merits of shopping in secondhand bookstores, where the works “have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.”

According to Woolf, browsing through used books gives you the chance to stumble upon something that wouldn’t have risen to the attention of librarians and booksellers, who are often much more selective in curating their collections than secondhand bookstore owners. To give us an example, she imagined coming across the shabby, self-published account of “a man who set out on horseback over a hundred years ago to explore the woollen market in the Midlands and Wales; an unknown traveller, who stayed at inns, drank his pint, noted pretty girls and serious customs, wrote it all down stiffly, laboriously for sheer love of it.”

“In this random miscellaneous company,” she wrote, “we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.”

4. You can skip outdated scientific works, but not old literature // Edward Bulwer-Lytton

edward bulwer-lytton
An 1831 portrait of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, smug at the thought of people reading his novels for centuries to come.
The Print Collector/Getty Images

Though his novels were immensely popular during his lifetime, 19th-century British novelist and Parliamentarian Edward Bulwer-Lytton is now mainly known for coining the phrase It was a dark and stormy night, the opening line of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. It’s a little ironic that Bulwer-Lytton’s books aren’t very widely read today, because he himself was a firm believer in the value of reading old literature.

“In science, read, by preference, the newest works; in literature, the oldest,” he wrote in his 1863 essay collection, Caxtoniana. “The classic literature is always modern. New books revive and redecorate old ideas; old books suggest and invigorate new ideas.”

To Bulwer-Lytton, fiction couldn't ever be obsolete, because it contained timeless themes about human nature and society that came back around in contemporary works; in other words, you can’t disprove fiction. You can, however, disprove scientific theories, so Bulwer-Lytton thought it best to stick to the latest works in that field. (That said, since scientists use previous studies to inform their work, you can still learn a ton about certain schools of thought by delving into debunked ideas—plus, it’s often really entertaining to see what people used to believe.) 

5. Check out authors’ reading lists for book recommendations // Mortimer J. Adler

mortimer j. adler in 1983
Mortimer J. Adler in 1983, happy to read the favorite works of his favorite authors.
George Rose/Getty Images

In his 1940 guide How to Read a Book, American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler talked about the importance of choosing books that other authors consider worth reading. “The great authors were great readers,” he explained, “and one way to understand them is to read the books they read.”

Adler went on to clarify that this would probably matter most in the philosophy field, “because philosophers are great readers of each other,” and it’s easier to grasp a concept if you also know what inspired it. While you don’t necessarily have to read everything a novelist has read in order to fully understand their own work, it’s still a good way to get quality book recommendations from a trusted source. If your favorite author mentions a certain novel that really made an impression on them, there’s a pretty good chance you’d enjoy it, too.

6. Reading so-called guilty pleasures is better than reading nothing // Mary Wollstonecraft

mary wollstonecraft in 1797
Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797, apparently demonstrating that a book with blank pages is worth even less than a novel.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

To the 18th-century writer, philosopher, and early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, just about all novels fell into the category of “guilty pleasures” (though she didn’t call them that). In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she disparaged the “stupid novelists, who, knowing little of human nature, work up stale tales, and describe meretricious scenes, all retailed in a sentimental jargon, which equally tend to corrupt the taste and draw the heart aside from its daily duties.”

If her judgment seems unnecessarily harsh, it’s probably because it’s taken out of its historical context. Wollstonecraft definitely wasn’t the only one who considered novels to be low-quality reading material compared to works of history and philosophy, and she was also indirectly criticizing society for preventing women from seeking more intellectual pursuits. If 21st-century women were confined to watching unrealistic, highly edited dating shows and frowned upon for trying to see 2019’s Parasite or the latest Ken Burns documentary, we might sound a little bitter, too.

Regardless, Wollstonecraft still admitted that even guilty pleasures can help expand your worldview. “Any kind of reading I think better than leaving a blank still a blank, because the mind must receive a degree of enlargement, and obtain a little strength by a slight exertion of its thinking powers,” she wrote. In other words, go forth and enjoy your beach read.

7. You get to make the final decision on how, what, and when to read // Theodore Roosevelt

theodore roosevelt in office in 1905
Theodore Roosevelt pauses for a quick photo before getting back to his book in 1905.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

Theodore Roosevelt might have lived his own life in an exceptionally regimented fashion, but his outlook on reading was surprisingly free-spirited. Apart from being a staunch proponent of finding at least a few minutes to read every single day—and starting young—he thought that most of the details should be left up to the individual.

“The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be,” he wrote in his autobiography, and rejected the idea that there’s a definitive “best books” list that everyone should abide by. Instead, Roosevelt recommended choosing books on subjects that interest you and letting your mood guide you to your next great read. He also wasn’t one to roll his eyes at a happy ending, explaining that “there are enough horror and grimness and sordid squalor in real life with which an active man has to grapple.”

In short, Roosevelt would probably advise you to see what Seneca, Albert Einstein, Mary Wollstonecraft, and other great minds had to say about reading, and then make your own decisions in the end.