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Good Instructions: The Absolute Basics (Inspired by Obama)

When it comes to responsible living, eating, and shopping, it can get a little overwhelming to keep track of the things you should and...

When it comes to responsible living, eating, and shopping, it can get a little overwhelming to keep track of the things you should and shouldn't do. So lest anyone use the "I can't do anything right, so I'll do everything wrong" excuse, we've decided to simplify. Earth Day was last week, but obviously we aren't going to get anywhere unless we all start behaving like every day as Earth Day. Turns out, our president agrees.

On April 22, in his national address in New York City, Barack Obama said that change "will come from Americans across the country who take steps in their own homes and their own communities to make that change happen." He closed with a simple call to arms: “I want you to take action—in your home or your community; in your school or your business—to improve our environment.” With that in mind, here is our list of the most basic things everyone can and should do every day of the year—if not all the time, then some of the time.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Remembering that order is important here. First, you need to reduce the amount you consume. When you do decide to buy something, reuse it as much as you can instead of replacing it. That goes for your computer that works just fine, your clothing, your take-out food containers, and so on. Finally, if you can’t reuse something, make sure those things you do consume are recyclable or compostable.

Lower your reliance on electricity. Start with obvious things, like not keeping lights on when you're not home and turning off the TV when you leave the room. Swap out the light bulbs in your home for energy-efficient ones. And unplug appliances when they aren’t in use to curb vampire energy waste. Big offenders are your plasma, your chargers, your computer, and your videogame consoles.

Reduce your daily plastics consumption. Make sure you always have a reusable cloth bag tucked into your purse or laptop bag for on-the-go shopping. Switch out plastic water bottles for a Sigg or a Bobble and get a decent portable coffee mug. Keep these things by the front door of your house or in your car so you don't forget.

Regulate the temperature in your home naturally. Open the windows if it’s warm outside. Throw a sweater on before you turn on the heat. Go for a fan instead of air conditioning. If you reduce your reliance on the thermostat you'll save money and energy—total win-win.

Limit the number of packaged goods you purchase. Opt for fresh, farmer’s market foods without packaging. If you are purchasing produce from the store, just put the items directly in your basket or in a reusable lightweight bag, not in plastic. Choose glass or paper packaging over plastic or Styrofoam, and then reuse them.

Spend and consume thoughtfully. Bring awareness to the unnecessary purchases you make and only buy what you need (or really, really want—but think about it first). Think quality, not quantity.

Water thoughtfully. There are so many simple ways to reduce your water waste. We ran down over a dozen of them in our GOOD Guide to show how easy it can be to wash blue gold down the drain in your bathroom, kitchen and yard: Turn off the tap when you're brushing your teeth; use grey water for your plants; take shorter showers; get a low-flow attachment for your shower.

Steer clear of chemicals. Many chemicals used for agriculture, in cleaning products, and in personal-care products are capable of wreaking havoc on our bodies and our ecosystems (look no further than the suburban hermaphrodite frogs for proof). To limit your contribution to the problem, become a bottle-turner: Check all your labels before you buy, and choose the cleanest, least toxic option available.

Get involved. Depending on your schedule and the amount of time you can commit, you can organize a park or beach cleanup, rally your neighbors to start a community garden, or simply make a donation to a cause you support.

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