Sustainable projects to stay at home

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Late January: Add/drop is over, the winter break is just an amorphous memory, and it’s really, really cold outside. Instead of venturing out into the frigid wilderness, try your hand at sustainable projects to distract yourself from the gloom of 5 p.m. sunsets, all without increasing your screen time or buying superfluous gear.

Growing Microgreens

Microgreens — seedlings of nutrient-rich plants or herbs — are often touted as exclusive to gourmet menus or superfood lists. But fear not: they are easy to grow at home. An ideal project for college students who lack the time or resources to garden, microgreens can inject green into your home and food during the dark winter. Once filled with soil, the individual cups of an egg carton provide cozy homes for pre-soaked seeds. After about three weeks, simply harvest the new shoots and start over. While at first you might bewilder your roommates as your makeshift window boxes pile up sunny window sill real estate, you’ll impress them with a dinner filled with local produce.

Fold origami

Don’t let the scribbled lectures of past semesters haunt you. Instead of throwing away your old notes, try folding scrap paper into creative creatures or baffling beasts – origami dragons, anyone? Beginners can start with simpler designs like cranes and stars, and eventually move on to succulents, elephants or lanterns; the list continues. In terms of instructions, YouTube is your friend: video tutorials show each fold in 3D and are often easier to follow than written steps. Once you master the basics, the world is your oyster (origami). Keep your hands busy while binging Netflix or re-watching lectures by bending butterflies or sparrows, which when hung from a window frame cast lovely swaying shadows during the golden hour. You can even try assembling a chess set with recycled card stock as the chessboard and tiny shapes as the pieces.

Write a letter (or several)

Tearing an envelope to receive a thoughtful and sincere letter is a unique joy, a mutual gift for the author and the recipient. Short notes can be as original as a dozen pages: your family or friends will appreciate receiving a freshly stamped letter in the mail, even if it is only a few lines. To save on expensive stationery, fold your own recycled paper envelope and hand-deliver your letters on campus or at their apartment. Cutting an old greeting card in half results in a makeshift postcard from the front image while preserving the original message of the other. Store it and other goodies like tea bags, stickers or even origami in a decorated envelope to add a special touch.

Reuse kitchen scraps

It can be hard to conjure up the hopeful optimism of spring, with all its blossoming flower buds and delicate petrichor, during the current sub-zero temperatures. But you can summon the season earlier with a few easy projects. Prepare your balcony garden by planting bulbs indoors now so they’re ready to move outdoors after the first thaw. For something more immediately rewarding, save the bottoms of the green onions and place them in a shallow glass, making sure to submerge the roots in the water. The onion will regrow quickly – just cut off the top and add to your meals. Turn a sprouted potato into a stamp by cutting it in half and carving a simple pattern. Sort your houseplants to determine if they are lacking in nutrients: if the soil is lacking in calcium, add crushed eggshells; if it lacks nitrogen, add old coffee grounds or brewed tea. Remember to carefully monitor the pH of the soil to ensure the plant thrives.

Build a bird feeder

Help out your friendly feathered neighbors by providing them with high-calorie food. Try making a bird feeder from recycled materials such as plastic bottles or bleached wooden spoons. Buy a brick of suet – rendered fat, basically – and hang it in a suet feeder. You can make your own by melting leftover gravy with other ingredients like peanut butter, seeds, and dried berries. Pour the mixture into a muffin tin or container, place a loop of string over the top and put it in the freezer to solidify. Hang the twine loops on your balcony or in a tree and wait for the hungry birds to flock. And if the squirrels end up devouring it first, well, they are hungry too!

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