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A single woman’s guide to nesting

Without a boyfriend or a roommate, I felt myself turning inward, into myself, into my home

If I let my eyes lose focus, the collection of green squares that have accumulated on the wall between my kitchen and my living room looks like Midwestern farmland from above. A warm breeze might blow between them, stirring long grasses in a chorus of soft, scratchy sounds. But the reality is much less soothing. I cannot for the life of me pick a paint color, and it’s starting to drive me insane.

I’ve come to say I’m nesting, because the process of curating and cultivating the spaces that make up my home feels imminently significant.

Two years ago I bought my first house, in Portland, Oregon. It’s your basic starter home; one level, 1,000 square feet, 100 years old, with thick layers of peeling paint used to cover up the many lives that have passed through. My friend rented out the second bedroom, and my dog would crawl through our connected closets to visit us both, climbing over little hills of shoes we shared. At night we gossiped over the glow of HBO, like wiser versions of our college selves.

This year, I broke up with my boyfriend the day before my 31st birthday. Around the same time, my roommate decided to get her own space. Both situations had been good, but not good enough to last forever. And as I stepped onto solid 30-something ground, I craved the space to define my life—to make it the best it could be—without the clutter of too much company or commitment. Without a boyfriend or a roommate, I felt myself turning inward, into myself, into my home, and I was thrilled by the prospect of living alone.

A primal urge to make this house my own has taken up the space my roommate once occupied. Time once spent having dinners at my boyfriend’s apartment is now dedicated to cleaning out junk drawers and grunting behind the weight of furniture as I slide it into new arrangements.

But as I stare at the wall, letting the green squares blur and sharpen, blur and sharpen, I feel the pressure of passing time and decisions and solitude. I hadn’t put enough thought into any of this. I only looked at three houses before deciding on this one. The avocado green is a little pukey, the limey yellow is too neon, and the soft sage is boring me already.

The term “nesting” is often used to describe expectant mothers who are preparing a house for the arrival of an infant. Nothing is growing inside of me but anxiety over finding the perfect piece of art to hang above my bed. Yet still, this urge is surely biological, primal, unavoidable.

I was recently listening to a podcast in which an author told listeners that our gut is not to be trusted, because we’ve evolved to make decisions based on a world in which we no longer live. Our gut is still optimized for hunting and gathering, and our modern reality is moving far too quickly for it to react appropriately.

I think back to when I was 22 or 23, when, deep in my gut, I wanted to be a mom. I watched pregnant women longingly, and though the experience of being pregnant frightened me, I wanted it so badly.

That urge has faded. And biologically speaking, that’s to be expected. Women’s bodies are still wired to want children at a much younger age than we’re having them. And our gut hasn’t gotten the news that it’s okay not to. I now view motherhood pragmatically; something that might be nice, but might never happen, and might also be awful, so why pine over it when I really have no idea?

It’s a relief to accept that life might not turn out how I thought; that the world is changing and I’m changing and the only thing guaranteed is change. I’m allowed to focus on myself, and how to arrange my collection of books, and where my plants will thrive. I can leave the plugs exposed.

When people enter my home, I want them to see me. As a single, childless woman. And I believe that’s where my nesting urge stems from. Instead of a desire to make a safe space for a baby, I’m making it safe to be exactly who I am right now. Because I really like who I am right now, and that’s taken a lot of work. Just as a parent marks the height of their child on a door frame—standing back with a gasp at the visible growth—I see my progress in every room as I work toward this reflection of who I’ve become and who I’m becoming.

I recently threw a party at my house for the holidays. I cooked all day, dusted hidden corners, and lit candles on every surface. I even organized the piles of shoes in my closet. Guests arrived and told me they loved my home; it’s so cozy, “so you!” It reminded me that I do love a house full of people. I also love that they leave once the wine glasses are dry.

I decide to paint the wall a bold blue. My gut instinct on this might be wrong, but I can always change it. There are more decisions to be made, but, bit by bit, it’s all coming together.