Making What You Have Enough: Toys

Friday, July 29, 2016

Living a minimalist lifestyle often necessitates creativity.  This can be difficult generally, and is particularly tricky for parents with small children who want their kids to be happy and have things to play with, but don't want to own a zillion toys.

I remember going to a childhood friend's house to play, and the entire playroom (a VERY large room), was completely covered with a six-inch layer of toys.

This may sound like heaven for a seven year-old, but it was actually super hard to play in.  Kids don't always need more.  Sometimes we all just need to be more flexible and creative, and make what we already have work.

So, I have come up with a few ways to make the toys that we already own, enough.  

Start a Rotation System:  This sounds so regimented, but my system isn't regimented at all.  I just put a few of Fox's toys up high in his closet for a month or two, and when he needs something new to play with, I pull it back out.  Suddenly it is new and exciting again.  Super easy and no money required!

Forget about factory recommended ages: Please don't take this the wrong way (I do recognize that many of the recommended ages are for your child's safety). Basically, there are a ton of toys that have a specific age range listed on the packaging.  There is a part of me that feels like this is a marketing scheme to get parents to buy toys more often (this is certainly not true for every toy, but many of them seem far more versatile than the recommended ages).

Some of the toys that we own are not in his recommended age group, so I thoroughly consider any consequences before he plays with it, and if it seems like a safe choice, he is allowed to have it. If he ends up acting to too young or old for the toy once he has begun playing with it, we take it away and move on to something else.

For example, Fox enjoyed playing with the larger Duplo blocks (recommended age 2-5) when he was 6-9 months old.  They were too big to choke on, and he thought they were great fun to hold and drool on.  Now he can build with them, and I bet he will enjoy playing with them until he is 3 or so.  Toys with longevity are a big win in my book.

Let your baby play with non-toy 'toys:'  Your kid will most likely love playing with the pots and pans, plastic mixing bowls, rubber spatulas, measuring cups, and other safe kitchen equipment.

For example, sometimes I let Fox take a mixing bowl and measuring cup outside and fill them with water repeatedly, so he can dump them on the ground (and his clothes).  This may be his favorite activity to date.  Simplest activity ever, but it brought a huge amount of joy to him.  Also, no new toys required. 

Find new ways to play with toys:  Many toys have have multiple uses.  The simpler the toy, the easier that is.  Let me give you an example of this: There is this really cool food chopping toy that we have from Melissa and Doug toys (pictured above).  On the back of the box, there are a number of recommended uses.

First, you can just have your child chop the toys with the wooden knife (this is the stage we are currently at).  As they get older, you can have them identify the colors.  Then you can have them learn about fractions, because many of the foods cut into quarters and halves. You can also teach them about the foods themselves and why they are good for you, etc.  This technique makes one toy work for many developmental stages in a child's life.

Another example is this farm animal puzzle, shown above.  These three dimensional puzzle pieces are great for a few reasons.  We ask Fox to identify the animals, ask him what noise they make, because they are so thick, Fox plays with them as toys, and sometimes, Adam will get really adventurous and try to make a huge animal tower by stacking them on top of each other.  It makes for a good time for everyone!

You can take a multitude of toys and make them more fun (and potentially educational) by doing this sort of thing.  Books can become tents for your farm animals, toy kitchen equipment can become armor and swords for an epic living room battle, etc.

The whole idea is that a limited number of toys can have many uses and fill many, many hours.  You don't have to constantly be acquiring new toys.  This is a big win for the minimalist!

If you have great ideas for making what you have enough, I would love to hear about it in the comments!  If there is a particular topic that you would like me to cover in this series, please leave it in the comments, or send me an email!

Happy Friday!


  1. We've found the same thing to hold true at our house when it comes to toys. We have a set of Harry Potter peg dolls that I made for my daughter last year when she wanted a Harry Potter (camping + princess) themed birthday cake. I was tempted to buy an inexpensive castle from Michael's and turn it into Hogwarts, but my girls love to play with our our Magna Tiles and make castles / houses for their princess dolls and the Harry Potter dolls and I love to see how creative they are each time they make something new. I love toys that can be used for multiple purposes. Great ideas for the puzzles by the way, I hadn't thought to do that.

  2. In 2012, a toy advanced toward the International Space Station, graciousness of an American space traveler. This toy was the Red Bird of Angry Birds.


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