Day after day ended the exact same way: me, exhausted and longing to climb into bed… but instead walking around our apartment, gathering the random toys our kids had pulled out, played with for two seconds, and left in the middle of the floor.
For way too long I accepted this as part of my life, one of the responsibilities that came with parenting small children.
But eventually, it dawned on me that I was in charge of my grown-up life (crazy, huh?), and if I didn’t want to finish all of my days collecting Tonka trucks and toy telephones, I didn’t have to!
What We Did Next
So for the next few days, I watched my boys (ages 1 and 3) more carefully, trying to really notice how they engaged with their toys.
I asked myself—What toys capture their interest for more than a few minutes? What toys are dragged around the house and discarded, and which ones do they actually play with?
Then one night while they slept, I hid any toys that didn’t meet my new criteria. They woke up to an apartment containing a third of their toys and a mom biting her nails, wondering how soon they’d notice what was missing and how many tantrums she’d have to weather that day.
How It Turned Out
Crazy thing? They barely noticed.
If anything, they acted like the few toys I’d left out were new. To my surprise, it was a little bit like Christmas morning.
After that epiphany, I realized that the only toys I’d kept out were our building & imaginative sets. The toys that paid off for me as a mom were the ones that my kids could come back to over and over again and engage differently with every time.
The Toy Strategy that Unfolded
I started keeping our toy sets in the top of the boys’ closet, leaving one set down at a time. Whenever they were ready for a new set, I’d tell them we could switch it out as soon as they had their current set picked up.
I went from cleaning up armfuls of toys every night to cleaning up barely any toys—ever.
I found that owning a handful of sets was really all we needed, and rotating them regularly helped keep their interest. As they grew and became ready for new challenges, at Christmas or birthdays we’d donate one set to make room for a new one.
We’ve since added a daughter to our family (and become even more minimal in other areas of our house!), and we’ve followed suit with her (small) toy collection. Our kids are now 9, 7, and 4, so we’ve cycled through a good number of toy sets over the years and have honed in on our very favorites.
If you’re looking for a new idea for your little ones this holiday season, I hope my toy strategy and these toy suggestions give you some inspiration!
I believe that less is more in nearly all areas of life… toys included. 🙂
10 Toys Even Minimalist Parents Can Get Behind
Roughly in order of toys for younger kids to toys for older kids.
My boys loved their marble run when they were younger. They’d build it a million different ways and get giddy when sending the marbles down. I did have to pack it up when their little sister became mobile (so she didn’t swallow any marbles), and years after I donated it, my boys still bemoan the fact that I did so without their permission. (Hazards of having a minimalist mother!) I call that a toy that made an impression! PS. This one is very well reviewed on Amazon.
All three of our kids currently play with these almost every day. It’s easy for them to create new things out of the instruction booklet it comes with, and then they always elaborate from there. Bonus: I swear the fact that they’re magnetic makes them super easy to clean up. The pieces practically jump together when you go to scoop them up. 🙂
Watch for sales of these on Amazon during the holiday season, and splurge for more pieces than you might initially plan to buy. You won’t regret it.
These are a classic that I plan on buying for my grandchildren someday! (My husband always thinks it’s so weird when I talk about grandchildren. Admittedly, that IS a ways off…) The Melissa & Doug set is beautiful and holds up great to a ton of use (5 stars, 1,650 reviews).
To keep their imaginations working different ways, I keep a small bag of hot wheels, toy soldiers, and princess figurines that my kids can choose to combine with the blocks. Over the years they’ve built army encampments, haunted houses, royal castles, pony stables, and much more out of these simple blocks.
Did anybody else adore their Lite Brite as a kid? I bought one for my daughter partly out of nostalgia, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much she plays with it! It’s a lifesaver when I need just 20 minutes of quiet time from my otherwise suuuuper chatty little lady. 😉
Have you ever heard of these sets? They’re opened-ended, STEM building and design sets geared toward girls. I’ve heard great things about them and will definitely be getting one for my daughter once she’s a bit older. We’ll probably start with the townhouse set, but this RV (at a lower price point) is pretty darn cute!
I like that this set is small and doesn’t take over their bedrooms (I’m looking at you, Legos!), and I love what it teaches them and how it feeds their curiosity. I swear my kids know more about electricity than I do at this point! Start with a basic set (30-piece, 60-piece), and then you can always add a supplemental kit for a future holiday! (The light kit looks fun!)
Like I’d guess most moms do, I have a love / hate relationship with Legos. Leaning more toward love, though, because of how well they occupy my boys. I didn’t officially put Legos on this list because (a) they’re kind of a given, and (b) some minimalists might die at how thoroughly Legos can take over a space. (They’re so little they just creep everywhere!) Regardless, I still think they’re worth it, and one thing that’s helped us get more bang for our buck is The Lego Ideas Book. It’s a fun way to get kids to stretch their creativity expand their Lego skills!
Oh and for my fellow neat freaks, train your kiddos to keep their Legos contained on a Lego mat (like this one that turns into backpack), making it easy to cinch up when they’re finished!
Educational Subscription Boxes
You may have heard of Kiwi Crates or Little Passports… Subscription services that send monthly boxes with themed activities for kids. Whatever your passion is, you can find a subscription service that will help you share it with your kids. I love the idea of these because parents and kids can connect through them, and you can explore totally new topics or skill sets. For ideas and sources, check out my friend Kerry’s post, 20 of the Best Education Subscription Boxes for Kids. (This would be an amazing gift from the grandparents!)
Heaven knows I love outdoor equipment because it doesn’t clutter up my house! Plus, you know, exercise. 😉
In particular, my minimalist self loves these scooters because they’re three-wheeled, meaning they always stand upright. So instead of having a tangled heap of scooters hanging out on my porch, we have three scooters standing neatly upright and in a row. (It’s the little joys in life, right?)
What the kids love about them is how they glide. AKA, like a dream. They can take a bit for little ones to master, because you have to lean your body to steer, instead of physically turning the handlebars like you do on a traditional scooter. But this also makes them super fun, and the kids in our neighborhood are always ditching their razors and grabbing my kids’ scooters for a turn.
As far as I can tell the ones made by Micro Kickboard are the name brand, but other companies (like Rimable, Voyage Sports, Vokul, and Globber) make them at slightly lower price points. They also come in several different sizes, so watch the weight guidelines to get a feel for that.
Best wishes as you and I both try to strike that tricky balance between enough toys to keep our kids curious and engaged but not so many that collecting them and cleaning them up takes over our lives! 😉
I’d love to hear—How’s the toy situation at your house?