In 2011, I set out to design a new home life with my kids. My 14-year marriage was ending, we had moved into a small apartment, but the uncertain future also felt full of possibility. I was determined to do things differently. I didn’t want to be master of the house; I didn’t want to raise kids who obey my commands to take out the trash, make their beds, or brush their teeth. I needed them to be self-driven and responsible. That summer we crafted our ground rules:

Our Family Rules

Be kind,

be safe,

be helpful.



Listen to each other.

Be curious.

Work hard.

Make time to play.



Four years and many experiments later, we’re still trying out new systems. Some have worked fabulously, others less so. Kitchen Boss rotation has been inconsistent, but the Awesome Points Game endures; I’ll write about these in other posts.

Laissez faire Laundry has been a winner: Everyone does their own laundry when they decide they need to—miraculously neither kid has yet gone to school naked, and water usage has remained stable. This shift has saved me at least an hour a week—from collecting, sorting, washing, drying, folding, and putting in drawers. That’s 52 hours a year, more than six days. The kids probably miss the days when clean clothes just appeared magically in their drawers, but I’m more than okay with them knowing that the Laundry Fairy wouldn’t fit through the chimney either.

Our most recent experiment is The Noticing Wall. The ostensible purpose is to appreciate each other’s contributions, but the underlying aim is for us to pay attention to our shared space and to recognize the “invisible” work that happens.

Noticing Wall
  • Validate that others do notice our contributions.
  • Appreciate others’ efforts, even when we don’t know who to acknowledge.
  • Practice being attentive to our shared space.

Each week, notice three specific improvements to our environment that we didn’t make ourselves. Write on a sticky, and put on the wall. Check the wall throughout the week, tracking what others are noticing. Before dinner at the end of the week, review the observations and share reflections. If playing Awesome Points, each sticky earns 1 point for the author of the note (individuals get points for noticing, not for getting noticed).

A few reflections from our first harvest:

  • It’s nice to know someone noticed I swept the stairs.
  • I think Mom notices things we don’t.
  • Mom doesn’t notice everything.
  • I notice but I just forget to say it.
  • I’m glad this is only for compliments, not criticizing.

I expect we’ll do this for a month or so. At some point, I might shift the focus to a particular room of the house, or appreciating a single family member’s efforts each week for a month. The noticing wall comes out of my general wish that we be more present, attend our surroundings instead of our screens, notice each moment. Yup, that’s as much for me as for them, probably more.