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Being green feels good. But no matter how spartan your lifestyle, your carbon shoe size is anything but dainty.


Virtually every aspect of your life causes pollution:

  • food
  • clothing
  • shelter
  • transportation
  • leisure activities

Making big changes to reduce your carbon footprint may be beyond your interest or discipline, but you can still make small changes that add up to make a difference.

  1. Set your dishwasher to “air dry.” At the end of the wash cycle, the heating element of your dishwasher comes on to dry your dishes faster and with fewer water spots. I must admit, I didn’t want to give this one up. But one summer day, it was so hot (global warming?) in my kitchen, I decided I didn’t want the extra heat and steam that the drying cycle would generate. Yeah, the dishes came out wet, but I just opened the dishwasher door and left them to dry while I ran errands. Spotting wasn’t the problem I expected, and I had the side benefit of being able to wash plasticware on the bottom drawer. I thought when cooler weather returned I’d go back to using the heat cycle, but I just haven’t missed it that much. So why use it?
  2. Turn your car off if it will be idling for more than a few seconds. Common wisdom used to be that restarting your car uses more gas than it would consume in a few minutes of waiting. But that’s been disproven, so just kill it already! In line at the bank or drive-through or waiting for your kids to load in, it all adds up.
  3. Combine fitness with greenness. Experts say that little bouts of activity throughout the day are as beneficial as one long stretch of exercise for an equivalent amount of time. Walk to the mailbox. Park in the outer reaches of the parking lot rather than circling for a good spot. Switch from a gas or electric mower to a user-powered reel mower. Whenever you increase your activity in your day-to-day activities, you are probably reducing your carbon footprint along with reducing your backside!
  4. Tilt your blinds upwards. My mom taught me this one. I used to keep my blinds tilted downwards because they close more completely that way. But every time my mom came over during warm weather, she covertly went around the house tilting them upwards. She said, “When they’re tilted up, the sun reflects off them. When they’re pointed down, you’re just letting all the heat beat down in the room.” I didn’t think it would make a difference because they were closed. But I finally got tired of switching them, and you know what? It really IS cooler. Conversely, point them down in the winter (or leave them open on the south side to really take advantage of that heat).
  5. Install motion-activated lights. My kids are notorious for leaving lights on all over the house. No amount of pleading or punishment made them remember to turn them off. So I had my husband to install motion-activated lights in all their prime spots (hallway, basement, garage, family room, back porch). The lights can still be turned off manually, but if someone forgets, they go off by themselves.
  6. Don’t throw stuff away. No, I’m not suggesting that you become a hoarder. But don’t be so quick to throw out old furniture, clothes, books, housewares, or appliances that still have usable life left in them. Have a garage sale (better yet, a multifamily garage sale) or sell your things on eBay. You’d be surprised what will sell! Best option: Skip the hassle of selling your stuff, and just donate it to charity. You’ll be helping a good cause, you’ll feel good, you’ll get a tax write-off, and for every one of your castoffs that gets reused by someone else, that’s one less item that has to be manufactured.
  7. Cut your paper towels in half. I refuse to give up paper towels. But I know that for most things I use them for, I don’t need anywhere near the size of a full paper towel or even the half sheets they now sell. So I keep a half roll of half sheets on hand. Here’s how to make one (great project for the kids): Tape a circle of masking tape very firmly around the middle of a roll. Then start unrolling the sheets, pulling slightly in the direction of the tape. The unrolled half sheets can be wrapped back onto the roll.
  8. Make your kids walk more. Or ride their bikes, scooters, skateboards, etc. Encourage them to make human-powered trips that are a little farther than their comfort level (if it’s safe). Especially when they get old enough to drive, kids think relatively short distances need the car. Offer to go with them and prove otherwise!
  9. Buy a down comforter. Everyone in the house should have one. Then turn that thermostat way down. Under my down comforter, I’m still toasty at 45 degrees! (But don’t freeze your pipes.)
  10. Don’t fill up your gas tank. Gasoline is heavy. By only filling your tank halfway, you can keep your car 100 pounds (or more) lighter. A lighter car gets better gas mileage! For the same reason, make sure you’re not carrying around a lot of junk in your trunk (yours or your car’s).

Don’t give up on going green even if you don’t want to make huge lifestyle changes. Something is better than nothing! Start small and see how many little changes you and your family can try.

Even small changes make a difference when they’re combined with everyone else’s small changes.