Inside: Is there a difference between minimalist toys and not-so-minimalist-toys? Plus, here you’ll find a list of our family’s favorite toys. This post contains a few Amazon affiliate links at no additional cost to you.
I got my annual Target holiday toy catalog in the mail last week. It went directly from mailbox to dumpster in a matter of seconds. I used to love those things! They were a sure sign that the holidays were near.
It took a dramatic shift toward minimalism to show me that handing my kids a book of the hottest, trending toys to peruse wasn’t such a great idea after all. Face palm.
Thanks to the closure of Toys-R-Us we now have one less catalog to catch before the kids do. At least there’s that. After 70 years in business, Toys-R-Us officially closed it’s doors in 2018. Some blame Amazon, others blame a lack of innovation or poor management, but I like to think my blog had a little something to do with it. Come on, think about it. I start a blog about minimalism and then the next year they file bankruptcy? Coincidence? Maybe. (Definitely). Just sayin.
Let’s be clear, I’m not at all against toys (nor for the failure of iconic companies). Certainly not. With three children in my home we still own plenty of toys. I am however, against handing them each a book of advertisements sure to induce a classic case of the “gimmes” for toys they never even knew existed a moment prior.
Toys are such a tricky topic as they relate to minimalism. People are always asking me, “How many toys should a minimalist family own?” or “What are the best minimalist toys to own? “
Here’s the way I see it. There are no perfect minimalist toys.
It doesn’t matter if a toy is a battery free, educational, and ethically made from high quality, natural products. If your kid doesn’t play with it, it’s just another clutter inducing waste of space, time and money.
Prior to minimalism we would let any and all toys into our home. I paid little attention to the purpose they served or the rate at which they were piling up. So much of my time and mental energy went to sorting, organizing, tidying and maintaining the toy clutter and chaos.
While sure, if I could go back to the very beginning of my motherhood, I’d certainly do some things differently. But the reality is, my overly cluttered motherhood played an important role in bringing me to the place I am today. A place where grace abounds and “perfectly curated” isn’t even on my radar.
Minimalism is here to serve my very real and frequently messy life, not the other way around. My real life, for better or worse, still involves Disney characters, Nerf guns and the occasional battery operated hunk of junk.
We own what we own and my kids love what they love. As much as I admire a good Instagram worthy #minimalistplayroom, a perfectly curated minimalist toy collection doesn’t guarantee your children will grow into conscious consumers who put people over possessions. That’s what I’m after.
Less But Better
The minimalist mantra of “Less, But Better” isn’t a call to donate your son’s Pokemon cards. I mean, not unless he hasn’t touched them in ages. “Less, But Better” as it relates to toys means we only hold on to the truly treasured items. Start by eliminating the nonessential, the never played with, the broken, the duplicates, and eventually the excess.
If what you’re left with includes a light up Buzz Lightyear or twenty small stuffed animals and figurines who each have a name and a back story in your child’s imagination land, relax. You’re doing fine.
Our Family’s Favorite “Minimalist” Toys
When getting uncluttered the question isn’t then “Which toys should a minimalist family own?” But rather, “Which toys do my kids adore? Which toys do they get lost in? Which items make them come alive?” As holidays and birthdays approach people are always in search of the perfect gifts for minimalists.
Here are some of the toys that get the most love in our home. Keep in mind, this is not a list of must haves. It’s only the “perfect minimalist toy” if it’s perfect for your child.
1. Melissa & Doug Wooden Blocks
By far, this is the most used toy in our home. They often get left out for days on end to act as a castle, water slide, hotel or zoo.
2. Nintendo: NES Classic Edition
Gasp! A minimalist with a video game system! This is one of our favorite family past-times. Sometimes when the kids are in bed my husband and I drink wine and play Dr. Mario. For the record, I always kick his butt.
3. Paint, Crafts, Colored Pencils and Sharpie Markers
4. Basketball, Football and Soccer Balls
This is what my nine-year-old son plays with most of the time.
5. Board games
Scrabble, Risk, Monopoly, Sneaky Squirrel, Princess Cupcake Game and IceCream Truck Jr. are some of our favorites.
Occasionally it’s a new set, but usually it’s just building random creations from old sets.
7. Couch Cushions and Pillows
I have a love hate relationship with this one because it makes such a flipping mess. But boy, do they love to build things with our couch cushions. Sometimes it’s one large fort, or a zoo involving all of our stuffed animals and animal figurines. But their favorite is to create individual homes for a live action game of “Minecraft.” They use Nerf guns, stuffed animals and wooden blocks as “currency” in a fantasy world that absolutely destroys my home and takes them forever to clean up.
8. Scooters and Bikes
9. Nerf Rival Guns and Laser Guns
My husband and son love to have Nerf wars in our basement, and we all love a good game of laser tag.
10. Doc McStuffins Vet Kit
This plastic, glittery toy based off of a hit Disney show, would hardly be considered “minimalist” by some. But it’s a well loved and often fought over toy in our home.
11. KidKraft Chelsea Dollhouse
This would be the runner-up as the most used toy in our home. Amelia plays with this for HOURS a day and forces us to join her. If you ever come over for dinner, odds are good you’ll be asked to play dollhouse with her.
12. Homemade Peg Dolls and Random Character Figurines
The key here is to limit the quantity. Collectible figurines such as mini Hatchimals, Hot Wheels and Shopkins can accumulate fast because they are an easy and relatively affordable buy. Our three Hot Wheels and five mini Hatchimals get more use than they would if we owned thirty of each. Trust me, I know from experience.
I painted these peg dolls of our family for Amelia for Christmas last year and she loves them. These are the wooden peg dolls I used if you’re interested: Mom &Dad, and kids.
13. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood Trolly
I picked this little gem up at a garage sale for $2. Thats right, $2! According to Ebay, I hit the jackpot. Trolly plays an important role in Miss Amelia’s Neighborhood.
14. Dog Bed
We bought a literal dog bed for Amelia for her birthday. Don’t judge me! She spends a good chunk of each day pretending to be a puppy.
In my defense, she did ask for a dog crate for her birthday so I could “crate her up.” I figured child protective services would frown upon that. So I settled for a dog bed instead. She sleeps in it every night… don’t worry, it’s in her actual bed.
15. Woody, Jesse, Buzz and Bullseye
These are some well loved characters in our home.
16. Cardboard boxes
Cardboard boxes are a favorite around here. They get used for craft projects and double as dog crates, doll beds, dollhouse classrooms, fairy homes and more. Currently, each of my daughters has a small cardboard box in their beds.
17. Stuffed Animals
When we went minimalist we were drowning in stuffed animals. It’s taken time, but we’ve pruned our collection down as much as possible for now. It’s an area we must monitor closely as stuffed animals seem to multiply overnight.
However, the ones we own are cherished. My son has just a handful because they are special to him, while my daughter has over a dozen because she plays with them literally every single day.
*For the record, I did cut my kids off on getting any new stuffed animals. Thankfully their grandparents have been supportive. My kids become attached to them and they become the single hardest thing for them to let go of. We’ve enacted a ban on any and all new stuffed animals until some are either donated, ruined or left behind at a hotel.
18. Camera strap
This random pink camera case strap gets some serious love in our home. My kids use it as a leash for stuffed animals…and occasionally each other.
When I asked my daughter what her favorite toys are she asked me, “Does nature count?” She proceeded to explain how she loves using nature to build fairy houses. We’ regularly find sticks they’ve smuggled into their beds for reasons unknown to me.
20. Dress Up Clothes
While letting go of the excess is important, being more intentional with what you bring in from now on is even more important.
Try and choose items that will grow with your kids, encourage creativity, innovation and imaginative play. Remember, toys should be an avenue for the imagination, not entertainment.
Owning fewer toys has benefited my kids and changed the tone in my home all together. It’s ushered in peace and created more opportunities for connection.
The toys your children love will vary as much as their personalities do. The only difference between a minimalist toy and a not-so-minimalist-toy is that one is cherished and regularly played with, while the other is not.
What are some of your family’s favorite things to play with? Keep in mind, it may be the strap to a camera.
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This is the best list of minimalist toys I’ve seen! I love how you included things like the couch cushions.
I’d have to add a sandbox filled with sand and water. My two youngest will play for hours if they can have water in it.
A basket of rocks – both polished and collected (I sort these and dump some collected about 1x a month).
Old sheets – we have a basket that contains 5 or 6 that they use for capes, tents, play bedding.
And fairys made from this book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1607056909/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1 . My kids have made tons and play with them forever. When they get worn out, they are easy to replace since the main materials are pipecleaners, felt, embroidery floss, and wooden beads.
I’m so glad! Love the idea of old sheets too. And oh my word! You just made my daughter’s whole life. Crafting your own fairies out of pipe cleaners? I’ll have to check that out. Thanks for sharing❤️
How about the great out doors, a backyard to stimulate creativity, community playgrounds, bicycles
Yes to this list, I love it! Our favourites:
Trampoline – we live in Canada and our trampoline is used from the moment the snow has melted off the mat in spring until the snow arrives for good in winter. I once joked with a friend that if everything in our home and yard burned down, the first thing I would replace would be the trampoline! 😬
Dry erase markers – my aunt found a classroom-quality dry erase easel at a garage sale and gifted it to us. It’s quite large and we were initially irritated but it is used daily and we practically have to put a line in the budget for dry erase markers because we go through so many!
Cardboard tubes – any size from toilet paper to wrapping paper rolls, they cannot be recycled until they have become part of someone’s imaginary game or craft.
Thanks for this! I really needed some inspiration. Good to know that some one else’s kids smuggle sticks inside…
The dog bed cracks me up (and your daughter’s request to “crate her up” is hilarious!), but it’s a great idea! My kids love to pretend to be various animals and would probably get a ton of use out of a couple of large dog beds.
My kids (son especially) also love old shoestrings, similar I’m sure to your camera strap. They’ll tie a bunch together and create traps and ninja courses or they’ll tie them to a box and try to drag each other around in the box. Tons of uses!!!
I love this list so much! I adore the dog bed idea!! The idea that a minimalist toy collection can look a million different ways as long as everything is used and loved–even if it contains some trademarked characters! Brilliant!
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