The Nest Test

“It’s an ill bird that fouls it’s own nest”mid 13th c. English proverb

Fall is a beloved season of transition, when the highly charged summer months are behind us and we ease into the change of pace that comes with winter. A walk out of doors, through rustling leaves and browning plants, we are reminded of the bounty of the natural world. The flora and fauna that selflessly showed up for duty in spring, and stayed to delight our senses in summer, has completed its cycle and is now bowing its autumnal adieu.

On a recent afternoon of putting gardens to bed, I came across a beautiful birds nest. Carefully crafted from twigs, mud and pine needles it had been built with the singular purpose of sheltering it’s newly hatched inhabitants. Vacated months ago, it had completed its mission and was readying its return to the elements of the earth. I started thinking of the parallels between the nests of twig and mud and the homes we make from lumber and cement. On the most basic level, they provide us with shelter but, since our brains are bigger and more complex, we ask more of our nests than the average house wren does of hers.

Like the bird nest, there is a cycle of life played out in our man-made homes. While the bird stays from incubation to independent flight, we inhabit ours for the duration of our lives, even though we may hop from one to another. During our stay, we alter our nests to adapt to the seasons of our lives, i.e. partnering, welcoming new life, illness, exploring new aesthetics, de-partnering, empty nesting, etc.

Not satisfied with twigs and mud, we fill our human homes with things that physically and energetically imprint our experience into physical form. But whether that filling happens actively (by design and with intent) or passively (inheriting, donated, brought in or left by others) we must be mindful of the ultimate dismantling of our nests that will happen one day.

As an interior designer, I have seen people crushed under the burden of their own accumulation. What starts out as a simple nest suddenly bursts with things that are not needed, wanted or loved. I’ve seen agitation and anxiety overwhelm people as they enter their own homes, disconnected from what surrounds them and tainting their overall outlook. One client, desiring a return to simplicity, was totally overwhelmed by the amount of things that “crept” into her home over the years. Yes, furniture has legs, but I’ve never known it to arrive on its own – and it surely doesn’t leave on it’s own.

There is nothing wrong with surrounding oneself with beautiful things. In fact, it is my professional mission to do so because I know the benefit to quality of living that brings. But being in tune with the cycles of life, from building and filling our nests to empty nesting and beyond, means we need to constantly be transitioning out the things we no longer need.

I’ve often marveled at the ease with which we humans accumulate possessions, yet so many of us shut down when it’s time to edit or purge. The brain freezes, excuses and denial kick in, and the result is inertia. Or worse, we stuff plastic tubs or rent storage space to delay dealing with it! But if we don’t want to deal with the stuffing in our own nests, then who will? Is it fair to leave the burden of decision-making and clean up to our offspring or future generations? Haven’t we already left them too much of our legacy of denial and neglect?


The regular practice of evaluating and editing what we already have is essential. But more important than culling what we’ve already got, is bringing mindfulness to the moment we decide whether or not to bring in something new. Determining whether something is needed or will truly bring value to our lives is what i call the Nest Test. Beyond the immediate attraction to an item, ask if there is longevity to it or whether it’s trend or impulse. . Think about whether or not there is value to someone else once you are through with it. And now that the planet is in such dire straights we need to be asking if there is a responsible way of disposal, recycling or repurposing. Would we decide to possess so much if we took a minute to bypass impulse and think 5 steps down the line? Chances are, if we took the Nest Test first, there’d be a lot less waste and clutter in our lives and in our world. Perhaps we’d see less dollar stores, infomercials, self storage warehouse villages or catalogs filled with useless junk, – and need fewer land fills.

Enjoy the bounty now, but remember the responsibility is ours to clean up what we’ve accumulated and leave our nests, and our lives, as thoughtfully and simply as the bird does.

Small birds nest