The Foyer Phone Method

Published: Mar 22, 2019
Updated: Apr 19, 2023

If you’ve never read Cal Newport’s blog, you’re missing out – his content is just plain meaningful to my life (and likely yours). The following excerpt is from his blog post on Digital Minimalism for Parents. I do something similar to the “foyer phone method”, but instead of leaving it in the foyer, I leave it in the car until my wife and I put our son down for bed. It’s crazy how much mental energy is freed up when you’re not worried about checking your phone. It makes those little conversations and moments all the more enjoyable.

Most digital minimalist parents I’ve talked with recently haven’t gone so far as to give up their smartphones, but they share the same serious interest in reshaping their digital lives — even if it’s a pain — to provide a better model for their kids.

One interesting strategy I encountered, for example, is the so-called foyer phone method. In the evening, after work, you leave your phone in the foyer by the front door with your keys and wallet. If you need to look something up, you go to the foyer to use the phone. If you’re expecting a call or text message that you need to answer, you put on the ringer, and if it rings, you go to the foyer. If you’re bored during a commercial while watching TV, then you’re just bored.

It seems like a simple hack, but the result is that your interactions with your family become screen-free by default. You also avoid the micro-glances at your device as you go about your household business — glances you think are surreptitious, but that your kids are almost certainly taking note of and internalizing as a model of the phone’s importance. With this method, the smartphone becomes a tool that you deploy for specific uses, not a constant companion.

Another minimalist parenting strategy that caught my attention is making a strong commitment to analog social media — that is, real world social activities, like having friends over on a regular basis, visiting with neighbors, hosting community or religious groups at your house.

This demonstrates to kids through example the deep value of real world relationships, an important message for a generation that has attempted to relocate their entire social existence into the low-friction world of Snapchat likes and text messages. (c.f., Sherry Turkle’s excellent book on this topic).