Sustainable student: minimalism 101

I am fortunate to have more resources available than I need. So, it becomes all the more important to make choices based on an awareness of my responsibility.

Written by Fiana |

What inspires me to adopt this way of life? Why should I do this? What difference does it make?

The University of London has dedicated itself towards becoming a more sustainable institution. As such, as Saturday 16 September is the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, I am here to share a few thoughts about what we can do as students.

Especially with the commencement of the academic year 2017-18, many of you are in the same boat as me. You may have dreamt all summer of those customary visits to the stationery store, revamping your study space and buying course books.

All these little rites of passages such as buying the right bag or the right desk may seem of utmost necessity and importance. You may be, like me, feverishly obsessed with the idea of the perfect start to university which requires a hundred additional investments in turn.

Yet, over time I have come to question the real need for these material possessions. When we think in terms of environmental impact, our purchases and choice of products and practices make a significant contribution. As they say old is gold, maybe that hand-me-down desk works just fine.

For the very same reason, I have embraced the concept of minimalism. For us cash-strapped students sometimes minimalism is a compulsion. However, it can also become a very conscious choice and balanced way of life. Incorporating even the smallest principles in our everyday routines can have a multi-fold effect. The bonus is that it can inevitably lead to peace of mind and contentment by detaching ourselves from the dregs of materialism that bear us down. The underlying principle of minimalism is that you gradually let go of certain desires and learn to live with less and less over time. If done right, basically it can be one of the most fruitful ideologies yet. It runs in sharp contrast to the blatant consumerism of our times.

The last four years of my study as a student of the University of London pursuing the B.A. in English (2013-16) and then the Graduate Diploma in International Relations (2016-17) has taught me a lot in terms of managing my resources judiciously. In current times, we are increasingly aware of the acute need to contribute to the improvement of our environment and for the preservation of the natural resources at our disposal. Therefore, our mindfulness as responsible students collectively will make an immense and powerful change.

They say many of our habits acquired during our formative years stay with us for the rest of our lives. What could be more formative than our brief wonderful years at university?

Today, I would like to share with you simple yet significant practices that I have over time cultivated in my studies that have been immensely rewarding in terms of academic success and personal balance. The strawberry on the cake is that all these practices inevitably led to a more sustainable lifestyle for me:

Think twice before you hit the print button: I remember in my first year, I luxuriously printed one-sided all the extra readings for my literature courses. I ended up really reading only half of them. By the third year, I managed to train myself to read and annotate secondary readings on my laptop and stopped printing on autopilot. I would use papers as a rare currency, using one blank page and writing my exam notes on both sides per journal article or chapter. By the final year I could reduce my total paper count to less than a small boxful as opposed to the five jumbo boxes in year one!

Borrow, don’t buy: While I was in India I had to buy copious amounts of books. There were no libraries where I could have sourced all my texts. However, when I moved to Canada, I discovered the endless library shelves where luckily most of my books were always available. I learnt to study on borrowed books and very few personal core textbooks. I practiced making comprehensive notes in case someone recalled those books by the time I sat my exams. It was worth the hassle since I saved quite a lot and didn’t have to worry about storing books in the attic for the rest of my life. In any case, you can borrow from someone who has those books. Buying second-hand is also a great alternative. If you must buy new then follow the next principle.
Donate don’t throw: If you have tools like a calculator, bag, stationary or books that you won’t need, don’t let them rot in your cupboard. As soon as school is over and you don’t need it anymore, gift it to someone you know who will have a use for it. They could be your sibling, neighbour, co-worker or some lucky stranger.

Recycle, don’t waste: I cringe when I see papers being thrown along with kitchen waste. Please do the kindness of sending it for recycling if you must print as many as I did in 2013.

Less is more: Question yourself, do I really need another file or a backup box of pens? Or am I hoarding for the one ‘rainy day’ when the world will run out of supplies, technically a day that will never come? Do I really need all those stacks of journal articles which I probably won’t ever read? Sometimes just stopping a moment before consuming extra resources allows your logical mind to take over and make a better choice.

Sustainable living

What inspires me to adopt this way of life? Why should I do this? What difference does it make? I believe hearing stories about how people around me have lived has motivated me. Look around you, and you will find similar experiences. My grandmother was a wonderful seamstress. She would buy the finest Indian linen to put on beds. Once they were old and started showing little holes, she would cut them up into squares and make lovely pillowcases and bags. When the pillowcases after few years showed lines of wear, she would make them into rags to dust the house. This delightful instance, among many others, of reuse and recycle was very inspiring for me.

I know my actions are very small, but they are steps to making all the difference possible. I am fortunate to have more resources available than I need. So, it becomes all the more important to make choices based on an awareness of my responsibility.

As I start my first week of studies for my M.A. in English at the University of Toronto, I take these little practices I developed as a student of the University of London close to my heart and hope to keep on developing better habits that will make me a more sustainable individual.

I would be very happy to know what your strategies are for becoming a sustainable student. Please share and let us all know more.

Good luck and cheers to a new, more sustainable academic year!

Fiana is enrolled in the Graduate Diploma in International Relations. She previously earned a BA English degree with the International Programmes and is studying independently 

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