Your family can make a big difference in protecting the earth with very little effort.

Just as every baby step helped us learn to walk, so can little changes around the home make our lives healthier, our budget stronger, and our outlook more positive.

By improving the way we live, we free ourselves to have more money, better food, cleaner air and more time to enjoy the people and things around us.

The first step is to simplify your life. In ages past, late winter was a time for cleaning out the old, the unused, and the unusable. Take the time, as a family, to sort through your possessions and make decisions about what you really use and want. Too often, our shelves and closets are crammed with items we never use, we forget we even own. If you haven’t used something in a couple of years, it’s likely you never will. Take all those items and throw a yard sale. Let others make use of your discards without negatively impacting the environment. Use the opportunity to teach your children about what’s really important, about how to handle money, how to get to know the people who stop by. Then, when it’s all over, take everything else to your local charity and donate. You’ll have more space, more money, a tax deduction, and maybe even a new friend or two.

Next, take a look at what and how you buy. Manufacturers spend billions of dollars each year in getting you to buy their product, whether you need it or not. When you buy a product from a country half way around the world, you have to factor in transportation costs, both financial and environmental. Produce grown locally is fresher and healthier. Even better, take a look at your yard and see where you can grow some of your own fruits, vegetables and herbs. It’s simple and it’s good exercise. It’s a great way to spend time with your children, outside in the sunshine, and there’s nothing like a tomato you’ve grown yourself. My children actually fussed at each other for eating “too many leaves” from baby spinach plants! You can’t buy that kind of happiness!

Recycling is another way to help the environment and make a little extra cash. Instead of tossing metal, glass, plastic and paper into the trash, you can sell metal to scrap yards and recycle the rest. Make it a learning experience for the whole family. Often, metal scrap yards have giant magnets and smashing machines that kids (and adults!) love to see in action. Paper recycling plants often offer tours, showing how the old paper is turned into new paper. Kids love it and many plants will give you a lesson in making your own paper. The library is another great resource if no plants are near your home. Next time you need to buy paper, make sure it’s recycled.

There are so few products we actually need to buy new. Next time you go shopping, try local thrift stores, pawn shops, auctions and yard sales before settling for new. Show your children what an adventure it can be to search for and find what you’re looking for. Be forewarned, however, auctions can get very exciting. Decide ahead of time what you’re willing to pay before you start bidding. When you buy something pre-owned, there have been no raw materials used and minimal transportation costs. These savings are passed on to you and the environment.

Obviously, going green is a win-win situation that we can all take pride and pleasure from.