The Minimalist Baby: The Play Room

Friday, January 15, 2016

As I am writing this, I feel like I am a little in over my head.  After all, some of you have many more children than my lone Fox, and have had years of experiencing balancing massive amounts of toys, books and other childhood items that enter your home when you have kids.  That being said, here are a few of my general guidelines for what to buy for my baby, how to control the toys that come into the house, and how to keep your toys to a minimum (but not the fun!).  If you missed Part 1: the Nursery, click here to read it!  

If you don't have kids, or minimalist living isn't your thing, scroll aaaaaalllll the way to the bottom (it is a super long post) where I have embedded my weekly youtube video about our trip to the zoo.  :)  

Toys with longevity: Toy companies almost always put a recommended age on toys.  This can be a useful tool, but sometimes it makes us think that we need to get new toys for every age, or that something isn't age appropriate when it can be.  Instead of relying on the toy companies' recommendation (remember, they are trying to get you to buy lots of toys from them), try to develop the mindset that many toys can age fabulously well with your child, from infancy to toddlerhood and beyond.  As long as a toy will not be a choking hazard, it can be played with from a very young age.    

Example: We have a set of wooden blocks (pictured below).  For a long time, one of Fox's favorite toys was the piece with the four pillars from that set. He would suck and chew on it and thought it was lots of fun.  Now that he is a little older, he likes knocking over towers that we build, and one day, he will build his own castles out of that set.  I love these blocks, because they are wood, they are cute and they will last for many, many years.  And, I bought them at a garage sale for $3.00.   

Toys without Batteries:  Toys that don't use batteries are my favorite.  First, you don't have to keep replacing the batteries (pain in the rear and wasteful).  Second, they force your kids to use their imagination (super important if you don't have a lot of toys!).  Third, they don't drive you nuts, because of the crazy songs or talking. I would much rather hear my sweet baby's voice than the electronic sounding voice from a toy.  We have one or two battery operated toys and they annoy me less than I thought they would, but generally, when I buy toys, I try to get them without batteries.  

Example: We had this battery-operated ball that would spin and sing.  Fox liked it well enough but we unintentionally put it away for a few weeks, and during that time, my in-laws sent a soccer ball to him.  It is a mini-soccer ball, but he likes chasing it around way more than the battery-powered ball, and it will last him until he is like 8, because it doesn't require batteries and he'll be able to play with it in different ways as he grows.  Way more longevity, and Adam gets to play with it, too! 

Durable Toys:  Do you remember that awesome plastic toy that you got for Christmas when you were a kid and it broke the first day you got it?  Sadly, lots of toys are like that.  As soon as I started shopping for toys for Fox, I tried to keep this in mind, and have looked carefully at toys, judging how long I think they will last.  I don't want a one-time use kind of toy.  I remember hearing someone say recently say about a brand new toy that was already breaking, "Well, it was only $10 at Wal-mart."  I often fall into the trap of buying something that is cheap, and expecting it to wear out quickly.  I am trying to change my mentality, and go for quality (even if it isn't very expensive), so that my money goes towards something that will last more than 10 minutes.

Example: My first garage sale-ing trip featured purchases like the ramps with the colored balls (pictured below), a large box of plastic duplo legos, and a little blue wagon from Ikea.  Fox couldn't play with them all at the beginning, but he loves playing with lots of them now, and because most of them are wood or very durable plastic, they should last through all our future children as well!  
Also, I googled several of the items that I found on that garage sale-ing trip, and many of them were very expensive new, because they are nice and well-made toys.  The resale value, if I ever wanted to sell them, would be pretty good!

Cute Toys:  I live in a small space.  Each room in our house has multiple functions.  The living room is also the playroom, the tv room, the dining room, and the craft room; so any toys that I get should be something that I feel is acceptable when it's scattered all over the floor.  I try to get stuff that is aesthetically pleasing for me, and fun for Fox.  

Example:  I love colorful and happy looking toys!  The stacking rings, and the Vilac toy with the colored ramps and balls are sweet and happy looking on my living room floor!  I love having them out, and watching Fox play with them!  As Fox gets older, I am sure I will battle with him more on the cute toy issue, but we will probably live in a slightly bigger place then, and have a less public place for the toys.  Until then, I am encouraging the cute stuff!

Books:  I come from a family of readers (which you probably already know if you read Janssen's blog).  Books may not be a toy exactly, but they are for a child's entertainment and learning, so I want to keep some around the house at all times. We have about 25 board books in a fabric storage bin.  Within the last week or so, Fox has taken to kneeling in front of it, and rummaging around in it, pulling books out and scattering them on the floor, occasionally looking through one.  It is pretty darling and I like owning a few board books. For the ones we don't own, my local library is a great way to keep fresh books coming into the house all the time.  This way, I don't have to store them, and I can always be rotating in new books.  

A few of our favorites: Fox has gone through phases of books that he likes.  His current favorites include Time for BedRoom on the BroomLittle Oink, and First 100 Animals. My favorites include Pajama TimeLittle Blue Truck, and The Owl and the Pussycat

If you don't use it and don't think you ever will, pass it along to someone who will:  Many people (me included), hang onto stuff that we no longer use, because we think we might use it someday.  If you haven't used it in a year, and if your kid hasn't touched it in a year, get rid of it.  You can also use this clearing out to teach your kids about simplicity and using what you have.  

Your kids may argue that that is their favorite and that they love it, but maybe give them one or two weeks to show that they will play with it, and if they do, let them keep it, if they don't, tell them that it is time for that toy to find a new home.  

Where to buy your toys?  Most of Fox's toys were garage sale finds in the area (you might have to go a few times or go to a lot of sales before you find anything good).  Be flexible about what you are looking for, but a few basic criteria (like my criteria above) can be helpful so you don't walk away with a bunch of stuff that you didn't actually want.  

Garage sales are great because, unlike a thrift store, you know where the toy came from, and you can see and talk to the previous owner.  They are also awesome, because the price can be negotiable, and often the owner is willing to go down in price because they want to get rid of their stuff.  
The castle blocks that I got were originally priced at $5.  I thought that was a little steep for a garage sale (mostly, I am cheap, and didn't know they originally cost $40), and asked the owners if they would be willing to accept $3 instead.  They said yes, and I saved $2, which is like $50 at a garage sale! 

I also like shopping at stores like Once Upon a Child and other second hand kid's stores.  These often have nice toys to buy that are less expensive than normal toys, but slightly nicer than what you could buy at a garage sale or thrift store.

If second hand toys make you cringe, Amazon, Magic Cabin (I haven't purchased from there, but they have some really cute wooden toys!), Land of Nod, or Etsy can be good options.  

So what about toys that are gifts from friends and family that I don't have room for or don't want?   This one never gets any easier to answer.  I have a few suggestions, but mostly I would just say: be polite and use your best judgement.  

If it is someone that you are close to, like a parent or in-law, you could politely tell them that you don't have a lot of space for lots of toys, and would really appreciate it if they would send good wishes in card form, just one toy, or maybe something that they really need, like a coat, or a swimsuit for a birthday.  

If that doesn't fit for your circumstances, you might let them know that you are planning on doing very minimal gifts this year, and would prefer to take your children to see some things in your city, and that you would appreciate them donating money to the 'zoo fund,' or whatever, instead of sending a physical gift.  If the family/friends live close, you could invite them to come along, so that they can experience the gift that they gave.  Or they could send a gift card to your child's favorite restaurant. Make sure that you actually use the money/gift card to do whatever you have said you would do with it.  I have a whole post about experience gifts that you can read, if you click here.   

Some people have a really hard time not sending a gift.  In that case, if the gifts are not a good fit for your circumstances and child, then either return the gift to the store where it was purchased for store credit, or gift them to someone else who needs them more.  Thank the sender for their generosity and don't tell them that you got rid of it, because you don't want to hurt their feelings.  The gift has fulfilled it's purpose by giving joy to your child when they opened it, and then can be moved on to a home that will be able to play with and store it long-term. 

This is a topic that is always hard, so if you have any other ideas, I would love to hear them!  

Just like the last post, please be constructive and kind in your comments.  These guidelines may not work for everyone, and I recognize that.  I work hard to not get offended easily, but would appreciate your being open and understanding of my opinion, even if you don't agree.  I hope this and other minimalist posts will be helpful to you as you seek to simplify your life!  

And in case you don't subscribe to my youtube channel, here is my weekly video about our visit to the zoo while we were in SLC a few weeks ago.


  1. We have a family story that once at preschool, a kid was showing his new toy during show and tell, and I asked whether it had batteries in it. "Yes, why?" the parent said. "Oh," I said, very matter-of-factly, "I can't have toys with batteries," and moved on.

    My mom had the same kind of toy philosophy as you're describing above--lots of legos, duplos, playmobil when we got older, lincoln logs, things like that, but not cheap stuff. And I find it hard to imagine all the clutter a child brings with him/her, so I enjoyed this post! We'll see how well I do when it's our turn.

  2. Every time I read your minimalist posts I feel like I'm always doing fist bumps because I always agree with so many things that you say! We have a 4x4 Ikea shelf in our living room, the first row of shelves are for decor pieces, the second row of squares for all our books, the third row for bigger toys, and the bottom row has 4 baskets that we use to store smaller toys like blocks, cars, trains, stuff animals, etc... When the baskets and shelves start getting full or crammed, we go through everything and throw away the broken toys, and pass along the ones that haven't been played with in a long time (usually in August before kid's birthdays, and again before Christmas). My three-year-old is actually really great and understanding about giving toys to friends who will use them. When we only had one child we had a strict, "no noise" toy policy, but now with our daughter they've been more motivating for her when we do physical therapy at home, so we actually have quite a few now. They are slightly annoying, but we haven't had to switch batteries out yet, which makes me feel a little better about them.

    1. I love virtual fist bumps with you, Paige! We still haven't figured the ultimate way for storing them (we use a storage bench currently, and it works okay). I love the idea of having a standard amount of space and getting rid of stuff that doesn't get used that would overflow in the space. We will probably do something like this (we already do in other areas of the house). And it totally get the battery toys with a child doing physical therapy! I definitely think there can be a time and a place for them, we just try to limit them currently. We might feel differently later. Thanks for your comment! I always like reading yours :)

  3. Oh gosh... I'm so anti-toy! Ha! Like you, I want them to be well-made and pretty and I would so much rather have books. Alice got a few toys for Christmas from family and I was like, "okay, she's good for the year!" Ha! It's all irrelevant right now but when she's a little older I'll want to save up and get nice stuff like Melissa and Doug (or find it secondhand.)

    1. Haha! I love this, Ashley! We got so many toys between Fox's Birthday and Christmas, he most likely won't get any toys until next Christmas, and I am totally okay with that! We have nice relatives that gave us Melissa & Doug toys (I love them!!!), and I have found a bunch of wooden toys. They are my favorite!

  4. Oh and I will gladly give away any toy anyone gives us that makes noise. :)

  5. I have the same Melissa and Doug stacking blocks for my daughter who just turned one, she loves playing with them. But, she has terrible balance and I have nightmares of her falling on one of the pegs; so I put them up on a higher shelf for when her balance becomes better. I couldn't store them away though because I just love to look at them! The colors make me so happy. I love all of your minimalist posts by the way, they are so encouraging!

    1. I have totally thought of this! I have to supervise while he is playing with these, because sometimes it ends up looking pretty dangerous, and it makes me super nervous! The colors are so fun and bright! I have them on a shelf in our living room, and they look great! Also, thank you for liking these posts! They are fun to write, and I love being useful to people! I really appreciate the feedback :)

  6. I aspire to have less toys in our house, but it can be really hard with grandparents and aunts and uncles wanting to gift toys. I try to encourage them to gift items that have to be replaced often anyway, like craft paper, crayons, markers, play-doh ,etc. It takes the edge off the birthday toy pile up.

  7. I agree with Elizabeth- the "disposable" things like play doh or markers are great gifts. Also, Now that our oldest is 5, he loves to help in the kitchen so things like measuring cups, a cookie cutter or spoons make fun gifts/toys for him and can be used by us too.

    1. I am so glad you mentioned this! I meant to say something about how regular household items can be great for kids to play with! Fox really likes playing with the rubber spatulas, and yogurt container lids. He did carry around our metal measuring cups, but kept banging them on the tile, so those have gotten banned from use for a while :) Thank you for bringing this up!

  8. This will be interesting to hear about as you have more children and as they get older and if you have a girl sometime. We have less toys than a lot of our friends (which I like) but we still have a lot of toys. I'm with you though less is better. That's great that you and Adam (And sounds like your parents/inlaws) are with you about giving gifts. We got my oldest this year a ipod so that she could listen to audio books and music and look at pictures. It's a controlled gift because I don't want it broken or lost. It was an expensive gift but I feel like minimalist which I liked. You are doing a great job. I want to hear how fox is doing in your closet (can you shut the door?).

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