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Notes on living.


This section is about choosing, cleaning, and maintaining your clothes.

People should wear whatever makes them feel good, so I only have one suggestion about style in general. Be intentional about wearing clothes with visible logos – you become a walking advertisement for the brand.



The four materials most commonly used to make clothes are linen, cotton, wool, and synthetic fibers.

Linen produces light, airy, and quick-drying fabrics that are best for hot weather. They tend to crease easily.

Cotton makes fabrics that are suitable for moderate climates. Look for cotton fabric that is thick and robust without being uncomfortable.

Wool makes fabrics that are warm and water-repellent without being heavy. Wool fabrics can be rough, in which case they are called woolens, or smooth, in which case they are called worsteds.

Synthetic fibers span a wide-range of man-made materials. I recommend avoiding them as much as possible except for things like underwear, athletic clothes, and weather-proof or tear-proof layers. A small amount of elastane can also be useful to add stretch to tight clothes.

These four main materials are often mixed together to produce textiles that combine their properties. A garment’s tag will list the makeup of its textiles by percentage.

Some other less-common materials with useful properties include silk, which is strong, shiny, and often used for decorative clothing, and leather, which makes comfortable and hard-wearing shoes and outerwear.


The quality of a garment is also affected by how the materials that make it up are actually turned into textiles. Most textiles used to make clothes are either woven or knitted. Woven fabrics are generally more durable but less stretchy than knitted ones. In both weaving and knitting, raw material fibers are first turned into yarn. The thickness and quality of yarn has a significant effect on the produced fabric.

In a woven fabric, yarns are interlaced at right angles, with warp yarns held straight and weft yarns drawn through them. Weaves can be loose or tight, and they generally follow a pattern. The main weaving patterns for clothes are plain, twill, and satin. Plain-woven fabrics have a checkerboard appearance, twill-woven fabrics have diagonal lines, and satin-woven fabrics are glossy. Another important technique is pile weaving, in which a fabric is woven to contain a pile or nap of upright yarn.

In a knitted fabric, loops of yarn are interlaced with one another. There are many knitting techniques that produce different patterns.

A third way of making textiles is felting, in which fibers of material are pressed together into a fabric. Felted fabrics are less common in modern clothes, but you can still find them in some hats and shoes.


There are many techniques for coloring clothes. In yarn dyeing, yarn is dyed before being turned into fabric and ultimately a garment. Weaving techniques can be used to produce patterned fabrics. In piece dying, undyed yarn is used to produce a fabric which is then dyed. In garment dying, an entire garment is produced before being dyed.

Dyes or pigments can also be printed directly to the surface of a fabric. These techniques allow for the creation of complex designs, but they often yield lower-quality and less durable results than traditional dyeing methods. You can check whether a garment is printed by looking at the back of its fabric. Sometimes clothes that are printed with pigment are labeled as pigment-dyed.


Fabrics can also be finished with coatings to add useful properties like water or microbial resistance. I prefer natural coatings like wax over synthetic ones for non-technical gear.


When picking clothes, think about the fit and quality of fabric in addition to style.

Before doing any shopping, determine your body’s main measurements and write them down. These will give you a good starting point for choosing clothes in person, and they’ll also let you use detailed size guides.

Unless you’re buying something you’ve already seen before, shopping in person is much better than online. Images and descriptions often aren’t enough to give you a complete idea of a fabric. You need to see it and feel it in person.

You can alter your clothes or take them to a tailor after you buy them. Some alterations are easier than others. For example, with a pair of trousers, it’s very easy to take length off of the legs, slightly less easy to take length off of the waist, and hard to add length anywhere.


A garment’s tags contain care instructions for how it should be washed and dried. Learn how to read them, and check them if you’re ever unsure.

Washing most clothes every few wears, even if they aren’t particularly soiled, can keep them in good condition. Doing so tightens up the fabric, making garments more likely to keep their shape and less likely to develop holes.


Separate your laundry into whites and colors, and separate sheets and towels from clothes. Use the lowest temperature and quickest cycle that will get the job done; this is better for your clothes and uses fewer resources. Your machine’s shortest cycle on cold is likely good enough for regular use.

Use as little detergent as possible, which is often much less than the package recommends. Gentle, unscented detergents are best. If you have a machine without a specific detergent drawer, then add detergent to the drum while it’s filling with water and then add your clothes after the detergent has been dissolved.

Clothes that are particularly soiled should be washed separately at a higher temperature. Colors can usually go up to 40 degrees Celsius, and whites can usually go up to 60.

You are probably best off washing delicate clothes by hand. You can also try washing them alone on your machine’s delicate cycle. Woolite makes good detergent specifically for delicates. Folding delicate garments inside out before washing can protect the visible side and, depending on the type of soil, improve cleaning.

To remove oil-based stains, rub some dish soap into the stain before washing. For other stains, try soaking the garment in an oxygen bleach solution for a few hours before washing. Be sure not to use chlorine bleach, and test a non-visible part of the garment in the solution first to make sure it doesn’t affect the color.


To remove excess water before drying, use the max spin setting on all of your non-delicate loads in the washing machine. If you have a dryer, don’t use a temperature setting above low on clothes. A drying cycle that’s too hot can cause shrinking and excessive wear. Higher heat can be useful for sheets and towels.

When transferring a load of laundry into the dryer, remove delicates and other clothes that shouldn’t be machine-dried, like athletic gear. Run the dryer on low for five minutes, then remove clothes for hang-drying and run the dryer until the rest of the load is dry.

For most clothes, hang-drying makes them look nicer and keeps them in good condition for longer. Giving them a quick five minutes in the dryer improves the way they hang-dry and reduces creasing from the spin cycle. For others, like some kinds of socks and undergarments, machine-drying makes them feel nicer, and the way they look doesn’t matter.

When hang-drying clothes, give them a shake then gently shape them and stretch out creases before hanging. In an ideal world, tops should be dried on normal hangers and bottoms on clamp hangers. But most clothes can dry over a line – hangers are only really necessary for button-up shirts, which should be dried with the top two buttons closed to maintain the shape of the collar.

Some delicate garments, like knit wool sweaters, should be air dried horizontally on a towel. Hanging them on a hanger or line causes them to stretch out. Garments stuffed with down feathers can be dried in a machine on low heat with some tennis balls in the drum to fluff them.


In general, the best way to store clothes is by hanging them.

For tops, the best hangers are wooden ones in the shape of a complete triangle. They fit well into neck openings, and the bottom side of the triangle allows them to also hang trousers if necessary. For tops with small or delicate straps, hangers with notches on the top sides of the triangle are useful. For other tops, they can deform the shoulder and should be avoided. Button-up shirts should always be hung with the top two buttons done to maintain the shape of the collar.

For bottoms, the best option is wooden clamp hangers. To hang skirts, clamp them at the waist. To hang trousers, first undo the fly and gently fold the two sides of the crotch inwards so you have two legs stacked on top of each other. Then clamp the leg openings together and hang them upside down. Try to clamp the leg openings below the cuffs: they are thinner and less prone to bunching there. This method doesn’t introduce any creases, and the weight of the waist at the bottom works to remove wrinkles.

The clamps should be wide and apply light pressure so that they don’t leave marks. Good clamp hangers have felt strips on the inside of the clamp jaws so that they can hold clothes without too much pressure. Hangers with clips also work, but it’s hard to find clips that are wide and gentle enough not to leave marks.

If you don’t have clamp or clip hangers, you can hang trousers on triangle hangers. You can either fold them inwards at the undone fly and drape them over the hanger’s bottom rail or learn to do the Savile Row fold.

Some clothes, like knitwear and delicate tops, can get deformed on hangers. You may also not have enough space to hang everything. For these cases, it’s best to roll clothes and store them in drawers as if they were files in a cabinet. You can find videos online that explain how to roll different garments. Rolling and filing clothes makes them much easier to access than folding and stacking them. It also leaves fewer wrinkles and creases.

If you’re not planning to wash a garment after taking it off, air it out for a while before putting it back into a crowded drawer or closet. This keeps your clothes fresh for more wears.


The following tools are useful for maintaining your clothes:


This section contains tips for keeping your body looking and feeling good.

If you’re interested in a hygienic or cosmetic product, you can look it up on incidecoder to see its ingredients, what their purpose is, and how safe they are. In general, products with a small number of well understood ingredients are better than ones with fancy advertisements and packaging.

Most of the time, it’s fine to use your fingers to get a product out of a jar. You can use a small spoon if you want to avoid contamination.

When using a new product, test it to make sure it won’t cause a bad reaction. Place a small amount on one of your forearms and wait a day before using it normally.



Good times to wash your body are in the morning to wake up, after exercise to stay fresh, and at night to get clean before bed. Water, soap, and physical agitation are what get your skin clean.

Simple soap does the job well and doesn’t contain any ingredients. I like the baby-mild liquid castile soap from Dr Bronner’s. It’s really concentrated, so a few drops are enough to wash your entire body.

In terms of physical agitation, cleaning gently with a brush is best. Loofahs and washcloths are also more effective than using your bare hands.

Doing a full-body clean too often strips your skin of its natural oils. You only need to scrub everywhere with soap once or twice a week. For regular bathing you can just use your hands to clean the dirtiest parts of your body – hands, feet, pits, and bits – with a very small amount of soap.

If you have dry skin, apply body lotion after a full-body clean. There are three main kinds of moisturizing ingredients: humectants, emollients, and occlusives. Humectants, like aloe vera and hyaluronic acid, hydrate the skin by attracting water to it. Emollients, like oils and ceramides, help to soften the skin and repair its natural barrier. Occlusives, like beeswax and petroleum jelly, create a physical barrier on top of the skin that prevents water from leaving; they are particularly useful to lock in moisture after bathing or to prevent skin from losing moisture in a dry environment. Lotions often blend ingredients from all three categories– you can pick one that suits your needs.


Skin on your face has different properties from skin on the rest of your body. Keeping it clean and hydrated is easiest with products designed specifically for it. Wash it with a cleanser and apply a moisturizer in the morning and at night. I use the foaming facial cleanser and moisturizing cream by CeraVe.

In the morning, apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to your face after moisturizing. Doing so keeps your skin moisturized, and it also limits sun damage and the appearance of wrinkles over time.

I prefer mineral sunscreen, which sits on top of your skin and physically blocks radiation, over chemical sunscreen, which penetrates your skin and absorbs radiation. It’s gentler and less irritating to wear, especially around the eyes. I like the mineral sunscreen by The Ordinary.

Also put sunscreen on the front and back of your neck, the backs of your hands, and anywhere else that will be exposed to direct sunlight. Lip balm with SPF is a good idea on a dry or sunny day.

The best way to apply a product to your face is to place dots of it on each side of your forehead, each cheekbone, and each jawbone. Then spread the dots out and rub then in until your whole face is covered and the product is not visible.


If your body and level of activity can handle it, use a deodorant rather than an antiperspirant. Antiperspirants aim to reduce the amount you sweat by blocking pores, while deodorants aim to reduce the amount you smell by making your armpits less hospitable to bacteria. In general, deodorants are much gentler on your skin. To make them more effective, you can keep your armpit hair tidy by shaving or trimming it.


This advice applies mostly for people with thick, wavy hair. Everyone has to figure out what works for them specifically, but hopefully this serves as a good starting point.

The trick for keeping your hair in good shape is not letting it get too dry, which leads to frizz, or too oily, which leads to buildup and flakes. Most people clean their hair too often and with harsh shampoo. This strips oil from your scalp and leaves your hair dry. It also makes your scalp over-produce oil to compensate.

Find high-quality, gentle shampoo and conditioner that work for your hair. They don’t have to be expensive, just avoid products that contain a lot of harsh ingredients. When you apply them, massage your scalp with the pads of your fingers before rinsing well. Leave conditioner in for a few minutes before rinsing so it has time to work. I like the shampoo and conditioner made by The Ordinary.

Use conditioner every time you wash your hair, which doesn’t have to be every time you wash your body. This keeps your hair moisturized and clean without stripping too much oil. You only need to shampoo before conditioning once or twice a week to get rid of accumulated buildup.

If you’re prone to buildup and flakes, you may also find it beneficial to reset your scalp with a harsh cleansing shampoo every few weeks. Many brands make expensive shampoos specifically for this purpose, but I find that Mane ‘n Tail or Head & Shoulders work just as well.

To style your hair after washing it, first press it dry with a towel. Scrubbing with a towel will make your hair frizzy. If you haven’t washed your hair, dampen it with water to style it.

With your hair damp, apply some product to keep your hair moisturized, in shape, and not frizzy. For longer cuts, styling creams keep your hair moisturized without making it shiny or sticky. I like the curl and style milk by Shea Moisture. For shorter hair, a texturizing putty adds hold without shine or too much stickiness.

Use your fingers, a wide-toothed brush, or a wide-toothed comb to style your hair. A bristled brush will make it frizzy.

Don’t be afraid to touch up your own haircut. Using scissors and clippers at home can keep you looking clean between cuts, especially if you have bangs or short sides.


If you shave your facial hair, learn how to use a safety razor with double-edged blades. Relative to cartridge shaving, it’s much cheaper and produces less waste. It’s a skill to be learned rather than a chore, and once you learn it you can achieve the same shave quality. The only downside is that you can’t take double-edged razor blades in carry-on luggage.

To get started, pick up a razor, some blades, and some real, non-canned shaving cream. I like Astra blades and Taylor of Old Bond Street creams. You may also want to buy a styptic pen to stop the bleeding from any nicks you might get while learning.

You can lather shaving cream directly onto your face using your fingers or a brush, or you can lather it in a bowl with a brush then apply it to your face.

Store your discarded blades in a glass jar so you can safely dispose of them all at once when it gets full. Once you gain some experience, you’ll know it’s time to change blades when your current one becomes dull enough to give you a small nick. Ideally, you’ll be able to tell just before that happens.

When you finish a shave, dismantle your razor and towel dry the pieces individually before reassembling it. Press the blade dry – wiping it will damage your towel and make the blade dull.

If you don’t wear any facial hair, then just shave with your safety razor and you’re good to go. Start by shaving with the grain of hair growth before going across or against it. Short facial hair can be maintained easily with a pair of clippers.

To maintain medium-length or longer facial hair, start with your face dry. Once you wet your facial hair, it gets heavier and looks longer than it normally does. You can use a bristled brush to work short or wiry hair effectively. Use clippers to make rough lines on your cheeks, neck, and upper lip; and use scissors to remove length from any sections that need it. Shave the lines on your cheeks and neck with a safety razor. Dry your face and use clippers to reduce the length of your facial hair if necessary. Waiting to reduce length with clippers makes it easier to see and re-shave your previous lines. Finally, touch up with scissors, clippers, and tweezers as necessary.

If you aren’t sure where to shave lines, go to a barber and ask them to do it. Then you can follow their lines going forward.


Keeping your teeth and gums in good form is about cleaning them well without being too rough. Teeth and gums are sensitive, and many kinds of damage to them are irreversible.

Brushing technique

Electric toothbrushes are more effective than manual ones. I like Sonicare brushes because they clean well but are gentle; some other brands are too rough. No matter what kind of brush you’re using, get soft-bristled heads. Medium and hard bristles aren’t necessary for a good clean, but they do make it easier to damage your teeth and gums.

Brush all surfaces – outside, inside, and chewing – of your top and bottom teeth. Spend a few seconds on each surface of each tooth. Go slowly, gently, and without too much pressure.

To clean outside and inside surfaces, angle your brush at about 45 degrees from your teeth, with the bristles facing the gum line and just barely touching it. For chewing surfaces, angle your brush head to face the surface directly. With an electric toothbrush, just hold the brush head to the surfaces of your teeth. Don’t apply any additional pressure and let the head’s action do all the work. With a manual brush, you can scrub back and forth on chewing surfaces. For inside and outside surfaces, gently make small circles, focusing on the action that draws the brush away from the gum line.

Try brushing with your non-dominant hand from time to time to even out the way both sides of your mouth experience cleaning and wear.

Bacteria living on and around your teeth turn sugars into acid, which can erode your teeth over time. This erosion is what we call tooth decay, and the regular application of fluoride makes your teeth less susceptible to it. Use a fluorinated toothpaste to brush your teeth, and when you’re done, spit, but don’t rinse your mouth out with water. Try not to eat or drink for 30 minutes afterwards. This keeps fluoride on your teeth for longer.

Avoid toothpastes that contain small dots, squares, or other forms of microplastic.

Beyond brushing

There are a few useful things besides a toothbrush and toothpaste that help to keep your mouth clean.

One is a metal U-shaped tongue scraper. To use it, stick out your tongue, grab each end of the U with one hand, and run the bend of the U over your tongue from back to front with a light amount of pressure. Repeat a few times to be amazed by what’s been hanging out on your tongue this whole time.

Another is dental floss. Run it gently up and down all the gaps in your teeth, holding it first against one tooth and then the other. Avoid brands of non-snag dental floss like Glide. They contain toxic PFAS chemicals, and their slippery nature makes them worse for removing debris. Normal waxed floss is much cheaper, and it’s better for your teeth and your body. You can shop around a bit to find a brand that produces the right sized floss for the gaps in your teeth.

Interdental brushes are more effective than floss at cleaning between your teeth, but they don’t fit everywhere. Get the smallest sized brushes you can find and be gentle when moving them between your teeth. Don’t force them anywhere they don’t fit. Being too aggressive with floss or interdental brushes can damage your gums.

Mouthwash that contains alcohol can be effective in killing bacteria, but it also dries out your mouth. I recommend using it sparingly, and don’t use it immediately after brushing. It will wash off fluoride and may react with other substances in your toothpaste.

When to clean

Brush two times a day. After we eat, especially acidic foods, our teeth are temporarily weakened. As a result, it’s best to wait 30 minutes after eating to brush so that it doesn’t cause excess wear. You can drink water or wash your mouth out to clean it right after a meal.

I recommend using a tongue scraper then brushing in the morning, ideally 30 minutes after or before breakfast. At night, I recommend using an interdental brush, then flossing, then using a tongue scraper, then brushing. Just before going to sleep is a good time.


Another aspect of good oral hygiene is keeping your jaw relaxed. Your top and bottom teeth shouldn’t really touch except when you’re eating or speaking. Clenching or grinding your teeth can damage them as well as your gums. It’s especially important to relax your jaw before bed, because clenching and grinding can happen subconsciously while you sleep.

Head and neck


If your eyes feel tired, you can relax them by closing them and applying very light pressure to your eyelids with the backs of your index and middle fingers for about 30 seconds. You’ll see fireworks behind your eyelids as you feel your eyes start to relax. Open them again when the fireworks stop.

If your eyes feel dry, use lubricating drops. Preservative-free ones are best, but be careful to follow instructions on the packaging about how long you can keep an opened bottle.


If your ears get blocked with wax, you can unblock them by applying a targeted gentle stream of water with a syringe. Angle the syringe head towards one side of your ear canal, so the displaced wax can flow out.

Use cotton swabs to clean your outer ears, but be careful not to push them in too far.


If you get tonsil stones, you can get them out by applying a targeted gentle stream of water with a syringe. Do this in a dark bathroom and sine a light into the back of your throat to see them better.


Ear plugs

When you’re going somewhere loud, bring ear plugs just in case. They make the venue experience nicer and stop you from getting tinnitus afterwards. I like reusable ones that aren’t very visible in your ear and are designed specifically for music. They don’t significantly impact sound quality and make it easier to have conversations in a loud place.

Pollution mask

If you can’t avoid polluted areas, like busy streets or subway lines, you can wear a mask to limit your exposure to bad air. The best ones have rubbery seals against the face and straps that run both over the head and behind the neck.

I like Respro – the masks are expensive, but they’re well-made, the customer service is good, and they only make you look slightly crazy. Their components are modular, so things like filters and valves can be switched out. I recommend getting an overhead mask strap and a pro-seal for the masks to work well. To clean a Respro filter, boil some water and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Add the filter, let it stay in until the water goes cold, then stand it to dry on a paper towel.


This section is about dealing with medical issues.

The UK’s National Health Service website is a good first port-of-call for medical information online. It has comprehensive, searchable pages on a wide range of health conditions and drugs, it’s free, and it’s run by a huge non-profit public health organization.


Your primary care provider (PCP) is your first point of contact for medical help, so it’s important that you find a good one. For adults, PCPs are usually internal medicine doctors, also called internists. They can treat common issues, help you to manage chronic conditions, and refer you to a specialist doctor as needed.

Preventative Checkups

Schedule the following regular doctor’s appointments to find and address medical issues early:

You may want to have additional periodic checkups based on your age and medical history.


For emergency medical care, there are a few options:

It’s a good idea to know where the nearest urgent clinic and emergency department to your home and workplace are. If you’re going to one, call ahead to let them know. It may reduce the amount of time you have to wait.

In the US, visiting an emergency department is extremely expensive without insurance.


There are often long wait times when making appointments with good doctors. If you have a wait with your PCP that you feel is too long for your issue, call the office and explain the situation. They can usually work you in more urgently. You can try the same thing with specialists, and you may have more success by asking your PCP to call a specialist’s office on your behalf.

Keep notes about your health issues as they arise. Before an appointment, write down what you want to tell your doctor and the questions you want to ask to make sure you don’t forget anything. Write notes about important developments during your appointment. If your doctor’s practice supports it, periodically export a copy of your medical data to save on your computer.

If you are ever uncomfortable or not completely sure about what’s going on with your medical care, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Read up on relevant information so you can have productive conversations with your doctor and potentially catch mistakes. Your medical team is likely to be much more experienced than you, but nobody will pay as much attention to your particular case as yourself.

If you have a complicated or rare medical issue, you can ask your specialist doctor how often they see it and how comfortable they are treating it. It may be better to visit a sub-specialist.


Below are some drugs that are useful for common conditions. Always follow usage instructions on the packaging and from your doctor.

See also the WHO’s list of essential medicines.

Pain and inflammation

pill; general-purpose painkiller, first-line for mild aches and pains; doesn’t have significant anti-inflammatory or fever reducing properties
pill; nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that reduces fever and mild pain; can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, take it with food
pill; NSAID that is most commonly used daily in low doses to prevent heart attacks and strokes; can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, take it with food
pill; long-lasting NSAID that is most commonly used to treat chronic pain and inflammation; can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, take it with food

If you have an acute injury or inflammation, use the RICE protocol of rest, ice, compression, and elevation. For chronic tightness or soreness, applying heat increases blood flow and relaxes soft tissue.


pill; sinus decongestant and stimulant
pill; sinus decongestant and vasoconstrictor
nasal spray; sinus decongestant and vasoconstrictor; used for immediate relief
nasal spray; steroid sinus decongestant; used for chronic inflammation
pill; helps to clear mucus from the respiratory tract

If you have congested sinuses, irrigating them via the nostrils is a great way to get relief. I like the handheld squeeze bottle by Neilmed for this purpose. Use boiled, filtered, or distilled water at room temperature, and add salts to balance its pH level.

Gastrointestinal distress

bismuth subsalicylate
liquid or chewable pill; antacid, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diarrheal
calcium carbonate
chewable pill; antacid

Skin issues

topical cream; steroid for itching and inflammation
topical ointment; antibiotic for infected minor wounds

For minor skin wounds that aren’t infected or likely to become infected, irrigate them with soap and water and apply an occlusive like petroleum jelly. If the wound is in a place that’s likely to get dirty then put on an adhesive bandage. Once the wound has healed, apply sunscreen over it to prevent scarring and discoloration.


In the body, histamine is a compound involved in many physiological functions. It plays a key role in immune responses and allergic reactions.

Antihistamines are drugs that limit the effects of histamine in the body. They can be taken short-term to relieve a number of different symptoms.

Symptoms that, when caused by an immune response, can be treated by antihistamines include runny nose, watery eyes, gastrointestinal distress, swelling, hives, and itchy skin.

Some antihistamines cause drowsiness. These can be used to treat additional symptoms, even when the symptoms are not caused by an immune response: motion sickness, insomnia, nausea, and jet lag.

Antihistamines are commonly available as pills or liquids. Antihistamine creams or gels can be used topically for relief from skin issues caused by an immune response.

non-drowsy first-line antihistamine
non-drowsy antihistamine, faster and stronger action with more drowsiness than loratadine
drowsy antihistamine

If you’re thinking about using an antihistamine to treat insomnia or jet lag, you may want to consider trying melatonin supplements first. Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body that is involved in the sleep cycle. Melatonin supplements may have fewer side effects than drowsy antihistamines, but they may also be less effective.


This section is about taking care of plants.


Keep houseplants in pots with holes in the bottom – this allows soil to drain after it’s been watered properly. Put the holed pot on a plate or inside a decorative pot without holes.

Many people give houseplants a small amount of water every day or two, which grows frail plants with weak root systems. The water doesn’t get past the surface of the soil, so plant roots aren’t encouraged to grow deeply. It also evaporates quickly, leaving less for the plant to use.

To water a houseplant well, take its holed pot to a sink, bathtub, or hose. Use a gentle stream of room-temperature water to drench the soil completely, stopping when water starts to run continuously out of the holes at the bottom of the pot. Make sure that all parts of the soil have been watered. Wait for the water to stop running out of the pot, then gently move it up and down a few times to push out some of the excess before returning it to its plate or decorative home.

Water a plant only when the soil feels completely dry to the touch. Once every week or two is about right for most plants and environments.

If a plant is too big to move, use a watering can to drench the soil. Try to be precise with the amount of water, especially if plant is in a decorative pot, because any excess will pool at the bottom. You may want to put some kind of spacer between the bottom of the holed pot and the bottom of the decorative pot so that the pooled water stays separate from the soil. Plates are slightly more forgiving, because water can move out from under the holed pot and evaporate.

To keep a plant healthy, make sure it is receiving the right amount of sunlight; different species have different needs. Regularly use sharp scissors or secateurs to prune withering leaves and branches. Move it into bigger pots when it gets cramped, and replace the soil or add nutrients if it starts to look feeble for no obvious reason.

You can use sections of a thick cotton rope to keep your houseplants watered automatically while you’re away. Place a container of water next to each plant. Put one end of the rope section deep into the plant’s soil and the other at the bottom of the water container. Then cover the container. The capillary effect will cause water to travel slowly from the container to the soil over time. Depending on the size of the container, this setup can keep plants watered for quite a while. I’ve left plants for over five weeks like this with no issues.

Cut flowers

To keep cut flowers healthy, do the following when you first get them and then every other day:

Particularly delicate stems will last longer if you keep them in the fridge when you aren’t around.