In September 2019, when I started my first year at university, I liked to think I lived sustainably. I shopped at H&M, ate tesco meat, and my flat was full of single use bottles and packages. But it wasn’t until I started talking to the new people I was meeting, and educating myself, that I realized how much negative impact I was having. I’ve always been aware that largescale, governmental changes are the only thing that’s really going to get us out of this climate crisis. But I still felt like I could be doing more to make my actions line up with my values. And so, over the next three years, I taught myself how to live sustainably on a student budget.

My first priority was clothes. Lockdown made me realize that I really didn’t need to be buying new clothes every month, and I definitely didn’t need to be buying them from H&M. As I started to build my sense of style, I tried to avoid brand new items, and then cut them out completely. What I could find at the charity shops was far more unique, and far cheaper, than anything I was going to get at a fast fashion store. My clothes journey culminated in August 2021. I realized I was falling back into old habits, not with brand new clothes, but still consuming more than I had space for. So, I challenged myself not to buy any clothes until 2022. And surprisingly, it was easy. Without the constant stream of new stuff, I was able to wear and enjoy the outfits I already owned, and be creative in the clothes I was wearing. I have some beautiful dresses that until last year had only been worn a handful of times, but thanks to my attempts to cut down on buying new, I was wearing the same items multiple times a month. Most people aren’t big on outfit repeating, but I’m trying my best to bring it into style.

The second big change I made, in my first year of university, was going vegetarian. There are a lot of polarized opinions on vegetarians and veganism, but for me it was a fairly easy choice. As a student, I can’t afford good quality, pasture for life meat, or even free-range eggs. Battery farmed meat definitely doesn’t line up with my values – on the environment or animal welfare. And honestly, in this day and age, being veggie is just cheaper. So, in January 2020, I took the leap, and became a vegetarian.

Again, what really surprised me is how easy it was.

I became more creative in my cooking, and more interesting when I went out for a meal. Before I was veggie, any restaurant I went to, I ordered burger and chips. Every time. But with that option out of the window, I was free to try whatever I wanted, and actually enjoy and savor the meals I was eating. Eventually, lockdown happened, I moved back in with my family. I started to let go of the vegetarian label. And I started to eat meat again, on occasion. And two years down the road, I’ve worked out a pretty solid set of rules for myself. Most of the time, I don’t eat meat. My general rule is that I’ll occasionally have some meat, if I can confirm that it had a good life, and was killed humanely. Apart from that, I will eat other meat if it would be wasted otherwise. In my head, the only thing worse than eating meat from a battery farm, is wasting meat from a battery farm. Because then the animals really did die for nothing.

The last big change I’ve made at university is incorporating reusable items into my daily routine. This started when I realized that I didn’t own any Tupperware. Rather than go out to buy some, I started using empty sauce jars and takeaway containers to store my leftovers and other kitchen creations. I took a similar stance in my food shopping, refusing to buy items in single use packaging unless it was absolutely necessary. Last summer, I was given some potted herbs. Nothing excessive, just mint, oregano and rosemary. But by tending these herbs, I’ve been able to cut down on what I purchase, on top of them being a lovely addition to my otherwise empty university garden.

Now, as a third year about to enter the world of work, I know that there is still more that I can do for the environment. A vague goal of cutting down on processed foods floats around in my head. But I know that whatever I end up doing next, from the looks of it, it’ll be much easier than it seems.