With the full return of in-person classes, internship applications, and the anticipation of final exams looming on the horizon, many students have become accustomed to self-care being left behind.
How can students fight against this?
One way is to beautify their space with plants.
By cultivating a living space that is itself alive, students can reap a variety of mental benefits, and by caring for a living organism, they can even learn to prioritize their own care in the process. Plants need care: water, fresh air and sun.
Without it, they wither. Slowing down and taking time to attend to the life of another organism has the potential to teach students a valuable truth: so do we.
Senior Theater Major Callahan Teceno considers himself a plant parent. During the pandemic, he started buying plants periodically; some of them would die. With time and practice, however, his parenting improved and he has now successfully cared for ten plants. His apartment is full of plants and, what he described as “a whole new vibe”.
“It’s kind of a routine that I have every other day when I wake up and water them,” Teceno said.
Teceno typically purchases its plants from Trader Joes, located in the USC Village across from campus. He plans to expand his collection by buying from local South LA plant stores.
“I’m also definitely an outdoor and nature lover, and I feel like it’s really hard to find in LA, so plants give me a great way to accent that in my apartment,” did he declare.
Camille Dieterle, associate professor of clinical occupational therapy at USC, said the environment we create around us impacts how we experience our days.
“People really react to their environment,” Dieterle said. “Wherever you are, whether you’re in a classroom, whether you’re in a home… whether you’re hiking. All the stimuli in our environment affect us completely.
Indoor plants can help with that sensory overload caused by our increasingly man-made environment. They allow the brain to rest and engage with nature in a space free from the stressful stimuli of everyday life.
Andrew Bawiec, a freshman majoring in environmental studies, is a member of The Sustainability Project, a member organization of the Environmental Student Assembly.
The sustainability project aims to promote environmental awareness through business, in hopes of increasing the planting of native plants on and around campus.
“Native plants require much less water than imported plants,” Bawiec said. “We have a lot of tropical species here that need a lot of water. California does not have a lot of water, so they have to use irrigation systems rather than growing in the natural environment species that are already there.
Jaqueline Weeger, a graduate in business administration, started buying plants in an effort to improve the design aspect of her space and create a comforting environment.
“With my Fiddle Fig plant, I have to wipe the leaves to let them breathe…It’s kind of therapeutic,” Weeger said. “Some people might think it’s tedious, but I like doing it.”
Weeger bought plants at Costco and Home Depot, where plants are often cheaper.
“They’re too expensive, mostly because they can be so finicky and die,” she said.
Teceno and Weeger plan to research hanging plants as the next addition to their collection.
Dieterle said people report greater life satisfaction just from having plants in their workspace as well as better overall health when they have access to nature nearby. Visible green space has also been shown to improve recovery and decrease the need for painkillers.
Anthropology major Alaina Vivian grew up surrounded by plants in her home, so when she began her college career, plants were a necessity wherever she lived.
“I’ve always loved nature and plants, and my mom always had lots of plants in our house when I was little,” she said. “She loves to garden and take care of her houseplants, so I’ve always made it a point to have a plant in my room at school.”
While his passion for plants has remained stagnant, his collection is renewed every year.
“Usually I get new ones every year because they either end up dying or I have to give them to people when I move somewhere for a long time and nobody wants to take care of my plants like I do,” Vivian mentioned.
Although maintaining and regenerating plants for Vivian can be expensive, the liability and cost are worth it. “It’s just a small responsibility that makes me feel good. Honestly, it’s really good to see them change and grow,” she said. Once she has a consistent living environment after graduation, she plans to expand her collection rather than starting over every year.