Using the least while making the most (out of quarantine)


Thea Gonzales

Happy Earth week! If you’re anything like me, you’re going stir crazy during these difficult times and struggling to make the most out of your situation as shelter-in-place is extended in Illinois until the end of April. 
The good news is that we still have plenty of ways to grow right where we are by creating art and connecting with Earth. Here are eight different ways to reduce waste and save money during shelter-in-place:

Sophomore Olivia Smith sews rags out of old shirts on April 23, 2020. Photo submitted by Olivia Smith.

1. Cut up old t-shirts to make rags > paper towels
How many old OSL t-shirts do we need right now? If you have a Last Comic Standing shirt from 2012, chances are that the jokes from eight years ago aren’t funny enough to warrant keeping the shirt. Consider cutting it up to make a rag or towel for kitchen use. 
Get fancy with a sewing machine or honestly just take a pair of scissors to the shirt; the washable cloth can be used again and again in a way paper towels can’t. You also won’t have to go outside and brave the Target lines/put anyone else at risk this way — score! 
2. Do a book swap with friends
Is there a book that you really want to read now that you have all this free time? STEP AWAY from the Amazon one-click purchase button. 
Reconnect with your friends and ask if they have the book or, better yet, start a book swap with a few pals and send each other book recommendations via USPS. You can even include lil handwritten notes to each other and pretend you’re characters from the book Love in the Time of Cholera! Okay, admittedly that may not be as fun when there’s an actual pandemic outside, but it’s always nice to hear from your friends.
Senior Thea Gonzales displays her collage called “This is a [expletive] Plague” on April 24, 2020.
3. Make art out of recycled material (found art)
There is a whole branch of art that seeks to create images using recycled material. It’s called found art (thanks, art history minor) and challenges the way people view/interact with objects. Artists have used things like coins, beach litter,  gas cans and even a urinal (very famous) for decades to make art. Why not you? If Spencer Shay from iCarly could do it with his bottle robot, what’s keeping you from making art? 
Paint on an old clock, paste together cardboard to make a sculpture, cut up magazines and assemble a collage. You are capable of exercising your creative muscles and expressing yourself visually in any way you want. Sometimes the world doesn’t feel so big anymore when you’re doing something that cultivates your soul. 
4. Donate or sell your belongings 
I’m looking at you, seniors. Do you really need to bring all of that stuff back with you to your parents house? Even if you’re not a senior, you can always practice mindfulness by decluttering and donating/selling your possessions to other people. 
Although places like Goodwill may not be open right now, there are always donation bins in your community that are accepting. 
5. Plant a garden of food you can eat 
If you don’t have space outside of your home for a full-on farm operation, don’t worry: there are still edible plants that come in pots. Spices like chives, mint, parsley, basil, rosemary and many more can grow indoors with enough time and care.
It’s supposed to help if you talk to your plants? Even if it doesn’t, you’ll have someone you can tell all your secrets to since plants can’t gossip. 
6. Make a stock out of old vegetable or meat scraps
Don’t throw away your vegetable ends or meat bones so quickly! Cover and simmer your scraps in a big pot for a couple of hours and you’ve got soup for the rest of the week. 
Just about every food vlogger on YouTube and their moms have a video about making stock if you’re stuck. At the end of it all, bones could still go to pet dogs — those guys can really teach us about never wasting. 
Sophomore Olivia Smith assembles old shirts to transform into masks and rags on April 23, 2020. Photo submitted by Olivia Smith.

7. Make reusable masks out of old bedsheets or bandanas 
The cool thing is, so many of these reusable face mask tutorials don’t require any sewing at all! Do you have pieces of cloth? Do you have rubber bands or hair ties? Perfect — you’ve got a reusable mask that you can wash again before the next time you go for a walk. 
8. Use an online PDF annotator instead of printing your readings
There are a plethora of different programs you can use online to annotate your readings for class like Xodo, PDFfiller, PDFescape, and so on. 
These programs aren’t going to zap all the information about “settler colonization and its effects on South African cuisine” from that 30-page chapter into your head, BUT it’ll keep you from spending a ton on printer ink, reduce your paper consumption and hopefully make it a little bit easier to finish your work. 
However you do it, honoring Earth week and keeping yourself mindful during shelter-in-place begins by just trying. You may have harder days than others. You may not want to read or talk to your friends or make art or recycle or cook or sew or any of that.
But if we take a lesson from environmental justice (ENVR 380 with Dr. Lashley — awesome class), we’ve got to reframe our dread of the future into trying to do something small and attainable that we can try everyday. Otherwise, the monsters seem too big; the virus seems insurmountable; the polluters of the planet win. Choose one thing to do everyday that gives you hope and do the best you can with the day you have. 
I’ll be here with my rosemary plants and 17 collages, waiting until we can see each other again soon. 
Featured image by Thea Gonzales/Observer Staff