Hi, everyone. I'm new to this site, so I'm still getting the hang of things! Well first off, I started keeping fish about a year ago, as they were the only easily accessible pet that I wasn't allergic to. I had 2 mollies and a deformed Mickey Mouse Platy in a 2.5 gallon. Yeah, I know, pretty bad, haha. But I'm proud of those fish. I was told the Platy would live a week due to her deformities, but she lived 4 months, fighting to the very end. My mollies, who I grew to love and cherish, lived 11 months. They started in an unheated, 2.5 gal; they died in a 10 gallon, with a heater and filter, 3 days apart from one another. I believe it was due to nitrates building up (a brown algae infestation), but I still miss them like heck. Aissa and Araceli, their names; a black molly & a Dalmatian Lyretail. They were the absolute best of friends and followed each other everywhere. They were the type of fish that make you smile, not because of their appearances, or how big they are, but because you actually loved them and you could swear they loved you back. They were the goofiest little fish, full of personality and charisma. I even have a picture where Aissa was seemingly hypnotized by the light on the heater. When they died, it was a hard blow. I only had one fish remaining, a silver molly I had adopted 5 months prior, a challenging, hearty girl named Perri. Don't get me wrong, I love and adore Perri in her stubborn, frustrating ways, but Aissa and Araceli... They were something special. They're the reason I'm striving to improve and continue with this hobby. Nowadays, I'm the owner of Perri, Rita (orange balloon molly), Anti (veil-tail betta, she resides in the 2.5 gallon) and 3 comet goldfish I rescued, Big Red, Double, and Cappy. (Note; yes, I understand that goldfish shouldn't be housed in a 10 gal, and that some people feel that's too small for a molly, much less 2, and I know that's too small for goldfish; I'm not making excuses. I can't give them away anywhere, I'm not going to, and I'm doing the best I can for them. I can't go out and buy a billion+ gallon tank, as well, I don't have the money nor the room. They were put in a public pool, chlorine and all, as a game to catch them. Well, I caught 9, and the last 3 are the survivors. They're now in an actual home with a filter, food, heater, and love. I'm doing my best, and they are okay. ~ I know you guys must hear these types of stories all the time, and get sick of them pretty quickly, and the entire "oh they're just fish" thing. I'm not one of those people. I get it, I've come a long way, and I still have a lot more to go.) - - - Now that you have some knowledge of my history, I need your help! I've been saving up, I'd like to upgrade to a 20 gallon. Realistically, it'd most likely be around the winter when it finally happens, but I like to plan these things out. ~ Any advice or comments on my following plans would be very appreciated! ~ - - - The tank would just be a normal, square 20 gal, which is as big as I can go (parents' rules). I'd like to get a filter for a 30 or 40 gallon tank. It'd just be regular ol' gravel, with some ceramic pots and fish - specific decor, and maybe an artificial plant or two. I want to get a background for my tank, as well, as I've heard that helps with the fish feeling more secure. Plus it looks a lot prettier, haha. I want to change the diet for my fish, and seeing as I want to keep strictly Mollies in this 20 gal (with the exception of my rescue comets); I want to buy sinking algae wafers, bloodworms, and a plant/vegetable based fish flake. I would absolutely love to upgrade my lighting to fluorescent. I'd like to try live plants, because I've heard such great things about them. I would love to start out with a Java Fern or two, (and a moss ball if that counts?). I've heard that a dirted (dirtied?) tank is superb for plants, but have no idea what they are at all or how to set one up, much less maintain one. I found out about them when a user on Instagram posted a picture of clay and soil, and told me it was for this type of tank. I'm also unsure of whether to get a CO2 booster/fertilizer or not, as well. I've heard that since lava rocks are porous, they help with filtration? Somehow? So I'd like to have a couple of those, since they're like $3. I'm yet to pay any sort of attention, really, to pH or stuff of that sort. I basically just check the temperature on my heater, replace filter cartridges when they get dirty, and do water changes (scooping up water with a large cup and replacing it with new water) when the mood hits me, which I'm aware all that's not good. So I'd like to get a test kit, so I can start and aim for the perfect environment. (I learned everything I needed to know about aiming for the pH, hardness, etc from the species profile for mollies on this website. That was extremely helpful ~ however, I'm unsure of how to raise or lower my pH.) I'd like to start adding aquarium salt to my tank, as well, as I've heard it does mollies a world of good and is a good buffer. However, I've heard like... A lot of different rates to add it and such (like 1 teaspoon / gallon, others say per 5, etc.) I'm not sure which is best. I'd like to add some Ghost Shrimp, as well, to take care of any algae (plus invertebrates are cool), and some Nerite snails, but I'm not sure if the snails are a good idea. I've heard they can eat away at plants, anyways. I know a lot of people keep Cory Catfish in their tanks, however I'm not sure whether they'd benefit my tank or not. I know they need to be kept in numbers. - - - As well as that, I'm pretty clueless on other things. I could use a lot of help w/ learning about cycling (a watered down version would be nice), the correct method to do water changes, and cleaning my tank and keeping it crystal clear. I can handle scrubbing algae and such, no problem, but I'm talking about the leftover food and waste that sinks to the gravel and isn't sucked up by the filter. I've heard of something called a syphon and a water vacuum...? Some (well, a lot, actually) insight on that would be very helpful. - - - Well, if you read this entire post, thank you ~ I hope you guys can help me out with learning about these things, and I hope that I can find my place within this forum.