Musings + Essays

Are You a Noticer?

By: Jen Shoop

Earlier this week, I read portions of Anne Helen Petersen’s interview with Kate Mangino on the latter’s recently-published book, Equal Partners, in which she explores the persistence of gendered norms in the household. The part of the interview that absolutely jumped off the page for me was about “noticers,” a term I’d never before encountered. Mangino describes the noticer as follows: “Part of noticing is cognitive labor… noticing when the dishwasher is clean, noticing when you need to order more diapers, noticing when you’re out of milk, noticing that the shoes are all over the hall…But I also think the Noticer does more, and we don’t talk about this extra stuff enough. So permit me to dive in here. The Noticer is often the person in the house who does all the nice little things: putting family photos around the home; buying pumpkins for decoration in October; organizing social events with friends and family. These individual acts might not make or break a household, but collectively, they are essential to making a home friendlier, more inviting, and more comfortable.” Mangino goes on to explain: “Historically, Noticing is a female-coded task (because girls are raised to value and support social bonds) and the Noticer feels that they must do this noticing work; it is not a choice or an option. It is in our job description. It is required to make us a good parent, a good spouse, a good family member.”

The gender politics here are complicated for me because Mr. Magpie is also a noticer. Beyond that, he understands that I thrive on “words of affirmation,” and so I feel my contributions are more than adequately recognized. (I don’t know that I believe in the “love languages” paradigm, but verbal praise makes my world go round.) I think this might be because Mr. Magpie’s parents never completely filled traditional gender roles in their household. They both cook; they both clean. Often, my MIL handles tasks I would assume my FIL would handle, and vice versa. She is plucky and undeterred by dirt, and at the same time, tremendously design-oriented and capable of doing anything from knitting to sewing her own window treatments. I wouldn’t be surprised if she weaves baskets and blows glass. Seriously – she probably does those things (sorry, Pat, if you’re reading this and have already told me you do these things). But she also weeds and is historically the more tech-proficient of the two. At one point, my MIL enjoyed a successful corporate career in technology, and I believe a lot of the housework fell to my FIL. To this day, I watch him proactively, shruggingly empty the dishwasher, prepare dinner, clear the plates, run to the grocery when staples are low, shuck the corn, etc. These feel like flimsy examples as I write them out, but I am convinced that there is something about their dynamic that has contributed to Mr. Magpie’s “noticing” in our own home.

All of this is a digression from my broader inquiry here into the concept of “noticing.” The phrase itself gave a name to — gave a shape to! — a lot of the invisible work that keeps me busy. As an example, I woke up in the middle of the night earlier this week and could not fall back asleep because my mind was racing with completely random and trivial tasks. I was wondering what special breakfast I should make the children on their first day of school, and whether it was too late to start one of those countdown calendars to school? Should I ask mini what she’d want on her first day of school for lunch? Would she be able to read a simple lunchbox note, or should I save that for another year, when she might need to rely less on the assistance of a teacher? I was also thinking that I should text my girlfriends to coordinate a trip to go apple picking (and/or possibly pumpkin picking) for some time in September or October, and wondering whether I should return that extra leotard I bought for mini because she seems to prefer the ones with spaghetti straps.

After reading Petersen’s interview with Mangino, I am recognizing that a lot of the “work” that gave rise to these skittering midnight thoughts can best be categorized as “noticing.” I am spending a lot of time observing my family and its needs. I must complicate this insight by saying that I like doing this work. It makes me feel good. Of course, my saying this does not contradict Mangino’s point that, nationally, the division of labor in the home is not equal, and that that imbalance is a problem. I have a strange, persistent hope that one day my children will look back and say, “Mom made everything special.” Why this matters so deeply to me, and seems so fulfilling to me, is an interesting question. I have always thought it had more to do with my personality, my strengths, my career — in a certain sense, I am a “noticer” for a living. That is, I am observant by both nature and trade. But Mangino introduces familial and gender norms to the mix that bear contemplation.

I thought this line of conversation might be helpful — enlightening! — to some of you. One of the most satisfying elements of writing for a living is “giving a name to” the maelstrom of emotions and experiences I am encountering on any given day. That “naming” orders my thoughts. When I saw the word “noticer,” it was like I’d rubbed clean a foggy corner of the mirror and saw myself a bit clearer. I am wondering if the same might be true for some of you.



+On apologies.

+Portraits of a heart.

+Love is —

Shopping Break.

+I just spent a lot of time updating my shops — check out my new Amazon Boutique, my new Children’s Boutique, and my new Most Popular Boutique.

+Daphne Wilde just further reduced some of its beautiful dresses – love this late summer linen stripe and this rich paisley fall pattern.

+I have a henley sweatshirt from Old Navy similar to this year’s style that I literally wore once or twice a week last year — ordering another for sure. Mine is olive green but I also love that faded pine color…but maybe will go for the mineral white instead to switch things up. J’adore j’adore! So chic and easy with vintage fit denim and sneaks.

+Easy throw-and-go dress for end of summer. Pair with your favorite sneaks for a fresh look.

+I know I’ve talked your ear off about this, but I think I’ve put this patio dress on close to every evening for the past week straight. I like to replenish my makeup and change to sort of mark the end of the work day and the start of mom duties. This dress is perfect for evening. It’s not sheer and it’s not as starchy/stiff as it looks — very breathable and soft. Soft enough to sleep in but totally permissible to wear outside the home, too. It is kind of a bear to launder only because you really need to iron it afterward, or the scallops don’t show properly. Just a caveat!

+Going to share some of the purchases I’ve made for my children’s fall wardrobes soon, but had to mention this Patagonia fleece in the red/blue colorway since there are only a few left. Bought it for micro!

+Just ordered this candle for our home.

+We just ordered these urns to replant the boxwoods that flank our front door! Can’t wait for them to arrive.

+My children need these sweatshirts.

+S&L’s iconic riviera chairs are on sale — I still love the look of these, and they are so practical for young families.

+Hill House just added a bunch of summer items to their sale section! I am mildly obsessed with this Missoni-esque duster…fun! They also just re-released a bunch of their classic nap dresses in gingham — this green is versatile! Apple picking moment! Pair with velvet green furlanes for fall….

+Love this classic trench from Sezane.

+Adorable packing cubes from Neely and Chloe’s new collab with Couper!

+Well, this coat is a total dream.

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16 thoughts on “Are You a Noticer?

  1. This post has stuck with me since you posted for many reasons but one point I wanted to share is that this post made me realize I too love to be a “noticer” and to make special memories for my children and family, I am definitely the driver behind quality time together. That being said, one f my favorite things about your writing and posts is all of the ways in which you share your “noticer” tips and tricks and I look to emulate those in my life! (for example, i purchased those bats last year and they have been a huge hit!!) so hope I am being articulate but huge fan of your writing and hope to read more always 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for the lovely note, Rayna — I so appreciate it. I’m so glad this post resonated! It really made me think differently — or just more deeply — about myself, my role, my vision of motherhood, etc.

      Have a great weekend.


  2. I read the same piece last week and yes, I immediately jumped onto the term Noticer for describing something I haven’t been able to put into words previously. I am definitely the Noticer in our family. Not so much with everyday tasks (we both are in that regard) but all the little extras that really make our home a pleasant place to be.

    Interestingly, my brother came around yesterday after staying at my parents’ place for a couple of nights and complained about my mother essentially not being a Noticer. She never has been; neither of my parents are, they are both extraordinarily talented in their careers and amazingly absent-minded about pretty much everything else. We grew up in a house which was clean and functional and where we had everything we needed (and, to be fair, a lot of what we wanted) but it wasn’t styled beautifully, food was plentiful but rather like camp in that it was nutritious and there’s not much more to be said about it that is good, and there were certainly no niceties like fresh flowers or scented candles most of the time. My brother and I joke about our frustration with it often and we’ve both responded by being intense Noticers who work hard to make our surroundings lovely, but as he complained yesterday I realized he was complaining about my mother’s role and essentially her inability to meet his unspoken expectations of what a woman/mother should be or do. I called him on it and he was quick to defend himself by saying our father is also next to useless in that regard (he’s not wrong!) but why do we have these unspoken expectations of women that men don’t have to meet? Why isn’t it enough that my mother is wickedly smart and has achieved so much work-wise? For me and for my family!

    I’ve already written far too much for a simple comment but one final thought –I carry this tension into my adult life. My home is incredibly pleasant, made so by my noticing. Yet great things were expected of me and while I am quietly successful it is quiet; I don’t think the great things have come to fruition. I’m not on my school’s list of notable alumni, as an example that probably doesn’t matter but might. What more could I be doing with my time that I currently spend in buying scented candles and making playlists for dinner parties and picking up my daughter’s room? To be possibly entirely reductive, what would a man be doing with that time?

    1. Hi Hayley – Thank you so much for the thoughtful and candid commentary here. So interesting that you and your brother both consider yourselves noticers — I’m now thinking about my own siblings and wondering which of us identify with this role, and how my parents might have shaped that for some of us and NOT for others? This gets into a whole different topic — siblings, and how — despite being raised by the same parents in the same manner — we do not share the same traits/outlooks/orientations across the board. Some of this has to be “nature” rather than nurture. I am one of five, so birth order also plays a role, I think…? I feel that because I was the oldest sister, I was already being nurtured as a “noticer” from an early age? Will have to think on this angle.

      Anyway, thanks, as always, for the well-put food for thought.


  3. This speaks to me so much! I am very much a “noticer” and love that word to describe it. Like you, I don’t mind this, actually quite like it, though admittedly, if my partner never noticed my “noticing” or appreciated it, maybe I would not like it so much. Very thoughtful piece, thank you!

  4. Wow, I love this. I always just considered myself a “busybody” – but now I’ll embrace the much more endearing term of “noticer”. Thanks as always, Jen, for giving me new ways to look at things.

  5. Love this post! I always find AHP’s pieces interesting, too. I have yet to pop over to the piece you’re referencing (I probably should before commenting, eeps, but her pieces can be long and I want to join this conversation! :)), but one line of your post stuck out to me: “Of course, my saying this does not contradict Mangino’s point that, nationally, the division of labor in the home is not equal, and that that imbalance is a problem.” My immediate thought: why is that a problem? Why is an uneven division of labor in the home *automatically* a problem?

    I write this from the perspective of a fellow noticer, and also one who enjoys and is good at the role (and seen and appreciated for it in my household!). Based on our strengths and desires, my husband and I have made choices along the way for him to work full-time and me to work part-time. This allows me more margin for household responsibilities. Our division of household labor is not equal, and for us, that is not a problem. Of course, not every couple could or would want to choose our arrangement, and my perspective is not to say that unequal divisions of household labor are never a problem (they absolutely are!). For as much as this issue gets talked about in my circles, though, it often seems to stall at the blanket statement that anything but perfect equality is a problem, or that perfect equality is the only outcome worth pursuing. It seems to me that two content partners should be the outcome worth pursuing, whatever the division of labor.

    1. Hi Em! It’s so good to hear you’ve found a good balance at home, and I admire the mindfulness/awareness you’ve had heading into your arrangement, too. I think sometimes I sort of “fall into” ways of doing things without as much critical thought as those roles/decisions deserve. To your specific question about whether the unequal division of labor is “automatically” a problem — I really didn’t know how to answer that, to be honest. My instinct in writing that line related to that fact that I’ve seen many friends/family members struggle with a balance that has felt unfairly gendered, and I wanted to make sure that their lived experience was represented in this conversation, where I more or less say that the opposite has been true in my personal life. That is – like you, I have landed on a good balance in my own home, but I know the same is not true for many women.

      Thank you, though, for the gentle push-back. It was helpful to reflect on my own assumptions coming into this piece.


  6. Lovely post, thank you for sharing this info. I’ve found that having a “brain dump” tab in my phone’s notes allows me to write down things I notice or remember to do throughout the day. Writing these things down means that I have less anxiety about forgetting to do something and makes the mental burden slightly easier.

    1. Love this idea. I need to get back into this – I used to be better about this! Thanks for the reminder!

  7. I subscribe to AHP’s substack so I also read that piece…and immediately forwarded it to 3 different women who have shared their frustrations regarding imbalances in their relationships with me! It struck a chord for many. I am unpartnered so I don’t have my own relationship to examine in such a way, but that means I have a lot of time to examine the relationships of others…hah. I recently read a study that compared the attitudes vs the reality of straight Boomers vs straight millennials. Basically Boomer men thought women did more in their relationships whereas millennial men thought men did an equal amount…but the division of labor in the millennial relationship was the same as Boomers. So not only was the millennial division of labor still unfair, but the men were delusional about it as well. We can hardly call that progress!

    1. What a disheartening study!! I also have several friends who struggle with the imbalance — going to send the article to them, too.


  8. The post you’ve written today is going down as one of my personal favorites. Thank you for bringing your readers the awareness and importance of the roles we assume. I would add that artists are Noticers. They notice, they create, and hopefully, we as a society recognize the value they bring to our lives.

    1. I’m so glad this resonated – yes! So interesting to unpack the roles we assume, whether unwittingly or intentionally. xx

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