100 Ways to Avoid Dying

According to Folklore, these are the best ways to stay alive!

By Tim Clark
April 1, 2021
Green Lizard

“Don’t let a lizard count your teeth.” Discover 100 ways to avoid dying—without giving up any of the stuff you really like to do or eat, according to age-old folklore. (None of these “surefire” ways was made up!)

Doctors and scientists are always telling us ways to live longer. Usually they involve a healthier diet or lifestyle: that is, eating fewer carbs and more vegetables, getting more exercise, or giving up smoking.

We wholeheartedly endorse the rigorous and unpleasant methods of extending life suggested by doctors, but our research into centuries of American folk wisdom has turned up 100 EASY ways of avoiding death by observing a few simple rules in everyday situations.

These beliefs come from all over this country and were actually collected by students of folklore and anthropology. 

Just remember: if you fail to observe these rules (or have a sense of humor), we won’t be responsible for the consequences!

Housekeeping Hints

1. Don’t take ashes out of the fireplace or wood stove between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
2. Never place a broom on a bed.
3. Close umbrellas before bringing them into a house.
4. Avoid sweeping after sundown.
5. You mustn’t wash clothes on New Year Day.
6. Don’t shake out a tablecloth after dark.
7. Never wash a flag.
8. Don’t turn a chair on one leg.
9. Keep cats off piano keys.
10. Don’t hang a dishcloth on a doorknob.
11. Sweeping under a sick person’s bed will kill him or her.
12. Don’t ever, ever rock an empty rocking chair.


Renovation and Decorating

13. Never add-on to the back of your house.
14. You mustn’t cut a new window in an old house; the only way to avoid fatal consequences is to toss your apron through the new window, and then jump through it yourself.
15. Never drive a nail after sunset.
16. Don’t move into an unfinished house.
17. Avoid carrying axes, shovels, and other sharp-edged tools through a house; if you must take one inside, always take it out by the same door.
18. If you move out of a house, don’t move back into it for a year.
19. Don’t hang your sweetheart’s picture upside-down.
20. If a picture falls from the wall, don’t pick it up.
21. Never carry a peacock’s feather into a house.
22. Keep cut flowers out of bedrooms overnight.
23. Don’t ever carry a bouquet of wildflowers indoors before May 1.


Sewing and Fashion

24. If you cut out a new dress on Friday, you must finish it that same day.
25. Don’t make new clothes between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
26. Never hold a stick in your mouth while sewing.
27. Always sew cross-stitching on your underwear.
28. Don’t walk around in one shoe.
29. If you see a will-o’-wisp while out walking at night, turn your coat inside-out.
30. Never wear another’s new clothes before they have worn them.
31. A woman who makes her own wedding dress will not live to wear it.


Cooking and Table Manners

32. Never set three lamps on a table at the same time.
33. Don’t set the table backwards.
34. Never serve 13 at a table.
35. Avoid drinking coffee at 5 o’clock.
36. You mustn’t write on the back of a dish.
37. Never return borrowed salt.
38. Don’t ever cross knives while setting the table.
39. Be sure that someone else cooks your birthday dinner.
40. Don’t put two forks at one place setting.
41. Never, never turn a loaf of bread upside down.



42. Sleeping with your head at the foot of the bed is surely fatal.
43. Don’t sing in bed.
44. If you hear a dog howl at night, reach under the bed and turn over a shoe.
45. Don’t count stars.
46. A man should never dream of a naked woman; a woman should never dream of a naked man. (You know who you are…)

Personal Hygiene

47. Never rub soap on your skin on a Friday.
48. Don’t look into a mirror over another’s shoulder.
49. Avoid combing your hair after dark.
50. Absolutely no haircuts in March.
51. Let a baby’s hair and fingernails grow until their 1st birthday.
52. Don’t let two people comb your hair at once.
53. Never shave at night.
54. NEVER, EVER share a razor used by a dead man.

Funeral Etiquette

55. Never hold a funeral on a Friday.
56. When a person dies in a house, you must immediately cover all mirrors and stop all clocks.
57. Children should not pretend to have funerals.
58. Don’t ever try on a mourning veil.
59. Always remove a dead body from a house feet first.
60. Never ride in a hearse, unless you are the driver.
61. Don’t count the cars in a funeral motorcade.
62. Avoid wearing new clothes to a funeral, especially new shoes.
63. Pull the shades in a room where a funeral service is taking place; if the sun hits a mourner’s face, he is the next to die.
64. When walking in a funeral procession, don’t look backwards.
65. Never point at a grave.
66. Try not to step across a grave.
67. Never leave a grave open overnight.
68. Don’t ever be the first to leave the graveyard after a funeral. (And hope that not everyone else follows this rule, too…)
69. If a corpse lies unburied on Sunday, another in town will surely die soon.
70. Wait a year before putting up a tombstone for a family member; if you don’t, another family member will go before the year has ended.


General and Miscellaneous

71. Drink May rainwater.
72. When sick, don’t look in mirrors.
73. Don’t give a person a peony.
74. Never measure your own height.
75. Try not to imagine it’s Saturday when it’s not.
76. Don’t count cars on a passenger train.
77. Never whistle in a coal mine.
78. Avoid measuring a person who is lying down.
79. Don’t walk backwards.
80. You mustn’t allow a candle to burn itself out.
81. Never sell a dog.
82. Try not to kill a crow; but if you do, be sure to bury it while wearing black.
83. If you transplant a cedar tree, you will die by the time it is big enough to shade a grave.
84. The same is true of a willow tree (as in 83)
85. Don’t ever hang your hoe on a tree branch.
86. Don’t skip a row when planting corn or beans.
87. If you watch a person out of sight, you’ll never see them again.
88. Avoid stepping over a person who is lying down.
89. When your name is called, don’t answer the first time—it may be the Devil calling you.
90. Never shake hands through a window or over a fence.
91. Try not to sit with your back to the fire.
92. Don’t burn sassafras wood.
93. If you walk with your hands locked behind your head, it will kill your mother.
94. Don’t even THINK of mocking an owl. (Who?)
95. Don’t store your shoes above your head.
96. Never kill a locust.
97. Never kill a lizard.
98. If you hear a hen crow, you must kill the hen.
99. If you are on a train when a woman boards, dressed in black, get off.
100. Whatever you do, don’t let a lizard count your teeth. (Seriously, just DON’T.)

Do you know any folklore like the above? A saying passed down from parents or grandparents? Let us know in the comments!


Originally published in The 1990 Old Farmer's Almanac


Reader Comments

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Look where yo step

Though I'm now 69 and my mother long gone, I have a meltdown whenever I step on a crack. Dead or not, I don't want to break her back.

I like to think that

I like to think that something happened at some point in time to prompt each and every one of these into existence; although it's probably as simple as that someone happened to die after completing one of these actions.


Never ok leave a loaf of bread upsidedown. It will cause a fight in the family.


If your left hand itches, you will inherit money. If your right hand itches, you will shake hands with a stranger.

98. If you hear a hen crow, you must kill the hen.

My grandmother always said, "A whistling woman and a crowing hen, are sure to come to no good end!".

The Devil is Impatient

89. When your name is called, don’t answer the first time—it may be the Devil calling you.

So the devil can't be bothered to call for you a second time? That's good info right there! ;)

General folklore

Never wear yellow on Thursdays.

#83 of 100 Ways

Decades ago I saved a ten-inch wild cedar from death by cars running it over on a campground driveway, took it home in a coffee can and planted it in my backyard. I and the tree are both still here. Maybe because the trunk 'twinned' when it was about four feet tall?

Cats and babies

Cats suck the breath out of babies.

I have a lizard living in my

I have a lizard living in my mouth... but she can't count. i'm OK!

Old wives tales

No more than 2 people may make a bed; if 3 do it, the youngest one dies.


If you must borrow a friend's shoes, blow in them first. If you don't, there will be a fight between you.

After having a baby, wear a sweater at all times, for a year.


Always pull on your ear lobe after you sneeze, or an evil spirit will be able to get inside you.

100 Ways to Die

No shoes on a table ....no hats on a bed.

100 ways to die

As a child my mom yelled at me for throwing my hat on the bed. She said someone would die.
It is estimated 100 thousand people world wide die each day. I wonder which one I was responsible for?

This is some of the weirdest

This is some of the weirdest stuff I have ever heard.

Ways to avoid dying??

Folklore??? i.e. superstition. Unfortunately some still believe it.

101 When you hear the words

101 When you hear the words "I'm with the government and I'm here to help", run the other way quick

Some have a real reason

Some have a real reason if you consider the situation. Like don't hang a hoe on a tree = it could fall on you. Many of the others also tend to avoid things that could provoke accidents!

Funny but

Funny but most of it doesn't make any sense...

Herd alot of those quotes,

Herd alot of those quotes, How about this one if a butter knife falls off the table ,that means your going to have company over.

I'm originally from New

I'm originally from New Orleans, and a lot of these sound familiar. Scary, they were'nt making them up!

I am doomed.

I am doomed.

Me too! I'm on borrowed time.

Me too! I'm on borrowed time. Lol

If I break the first one, I

If I break the first one, I will never live to break the rest!

Oh my Lord, I am doomed!

Oh my Lord, I am doomed!

Oh no! I let a lizard count

Oh no! I let a lizard count my teeth last week. What should I do

54. NEVER, EVER share a razor

54. NEVER, EVER share a razor used by a dead man.

I didn't know dead men could shave.

These are hilarious! Thanks!

These are hilarious! Thanks!

I remember some of these and

I remember some of these and some I had not heard. Very interesting and unbelievable.