The end of January: Add/drop is over, winter break is but an amorphous memory, and outside is really, really cold. Instead of venturing into the frigid outdoors, try your hand at some sustainable projects to distract yourself from the gloom of 5 p.m. sunsets—all without ratcheting up your screen time or purchasing superfluous materials.
Microgreens—nutrient-dense seedlings of plants or herbs—are often touted as exclusive to fine-dining menus or superfood listicles. But fear not: They are easy to grow at home. An ideal project for students who lack the time or resources necessary to garden, microgreens can inject some green into your home and diet during the bleak midwinter. Once packed with soil, the individual cups of an egg carton make snug homes for pre-soaked seeds. After three-ish weeks, simply harvest the newly grown shoots and start again. While at first you might baffle your roommates as your makeshift planters hoard sunny windowsill real estate, you’ll impress them with a dinner garnished with home-grown produce.
Don’t let the scribbled coursework of semesters past haunt you. Instead of chucking your old notes, try folding the scrap paper into creative creatures or bewildering beasts—origami dragons, anyone? Beginners can start with simpler patterns like cranes and stars, and eventually graduate to succulents, elephants or lanterns; the list goes on. Instructions-wise, YouTube is your friend: Video tutorials show each fold in 3D, and are often easier to follow than written steps. Once you’ve got the hang of the basics, the world is your (origami) oyster. Keep your hands busy while binging Netflix or rewatching lectures by folding butterflies or sparrows, which, when hung from a window frame, cast pretty, swaying shadows during golden hour. You could even try assembling a chess set with recycled cardstock as the board and tiny shapes as the pieces.
Pen a letter (or many)
Tearing open an envelope to receive a thoughtful, heartfelt letter is a unique joy, a gift mutual to the writer and the receiver. Short notes can be just as novel as a dozen pages: Your family or friends will appreciate receiving a freshly stamped letter in the mail, even if it’s only a few lines. To save on expensive stationary, fold your own envelope from recycled paper, and hand-deliver your letters on campus or to their apartment. Severing an old greeting card in half yields a makeshift postcard from the front image while preserving the original message on the other. Tuck this, along with other goodies like tea bags, stickers, or even some origami, into a decorated envelope to add an extra-special touch.
Reuse kitchen scraps
It can be difficult to conjure the hopeful optimism of spring, with all its burgeoning flower buds and delicate petrichor, during the current sub-zero temperatures. But you can summon the season early with some easy projects. Prepare for your balcony garden by planting bulbs indoors now so they are ready to transfer outside after the first thaw. For something more immediately gratifying, save the bottoms of green onions and place them in a shallow glass, making sure to submerge the roots in water. The onion will regrow quickly—just trim the tops and add to your meals. Turn a sprouted potato into a stamp by cutting it half and carving a simple design. Triage your houseplants to determine if they are nutrient deficient: If the soil lacks calcium, add crushed eggshells; if it lacks nitrogen, add old coffee grounds or steeped tea. Just remember to carefully monitor the soil’s pH to ensure the plant thrives.
Build a birdfeeder
Help out your friendly feathered neighbours by providing them with high-calorie foods. Try crafting a bird feeder from recycled materials such as plastic bottles or hoary wooden spoons. Buy a brick of suet—rendered fat, essentially—and hang it in a suet feeder. You can make your own by melting leftover meat drippings with other ingredients like peanut butter, seeds, and dried berries. Pour the mixture into a muffin tray or container, place a loop of twine on the top, and pop it in the freezer to solidify. Hang the loops of twine on your balcony or in a tree and wait for hungry birds to flock. And if the squirrels end up devouring it first, well—they’re hungry too!