The Minimalist Toybox

My daughter Plumblossom has a tiny toybox—a little fabric bin that holds her small selection of rattles, balls, books, blocks, and other infant playthings. The majority of its contents are gifts from friends and family; lucky for her, as her minimalist mother is not particularly adept at choosing or acquiring such items. :)

In fact, while browsing Amazon and other retail sites, I’ve found many more toys I don’t want to buy than those I actually do. Here’s what I plan to avoid:

Battery-operated toys. I think toys that have flashing lights, electronic sounds, or too many bells and whistles are overwhelming for a baby. Furthermore, I want play to be about imagination, not pushing buttons.

Branded toys. No items with Disney or other mass-marketed characters will enter our home until my daughter specifically requests them (and even then, I’d like to limit them).

“Little grown-up” toys. Plumblossom will have to live without a play cellphone, laptop, or cash register for the time being. I know many people think it’s cute, but I’m not too keen on these little plastic versions of adult items. I want my daughter to enjoy being a child, before the pressures of consumption and connection encroach on her life.

Trendy toys. This won’t be hard, as without a TV, neither Plumblossom nor I have any idea “what’s hot” in children’s toys; fortunately, I don’t think I’ll have to worry about this for quite a few years.

Plastic toys. Oh, how I’d love to avoid plastic toys or anything made in China! She currently has a few, but as she gets older, I intend to replace them with European or American-made wooden toys (most of which are geared towards older babies).

So far, Plumblossom has a take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards her toys. She likes to turn the pages of her books, and now that she can sit on her own, play with her blocks and stacking rings. But to be honest, she finds household objects (bags, boxes, mixing bowls, measuring cups) and natural objects (flowers, leaves, sticks, stones) infinitely more interesting than what’s manufactured for her age group.

I also think she’s a minimalist-in-the-making: she’d much rather go for a walk, crawl around the house, or splash in the tub than sit with her playthings. And like her mom, she loves a clear surface; if I put a few toys on a table, she’ll sweep them off (and onto the floor) in record time.

Furthermore, I’ve noticed that if multiple toys are within her reach, she becomes easily distracted and distraught. She’ll pick up one for a few seconds, then go to another, then go to another—none seem to satisfy her for very long. If I give her only one toy at a time, she’s more focused, and plays more quietly and contentedly. It’s fascinating to see this reaction to “too much stuff” at such an early age, and makes me ever more determined to keep her play environment simple and uncluttered.

So what’s your opinion: am I short-changing my daughter by limiting her toy collection? What are the few must-haves for a minimalist under 1 (any favorites from your own childhood)?

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

172 comments to The Minimalist Toybox

  • Pamela

    I agree with all you said. My children loved books and still do. But thing my children loved is The Little People (I think they were called?) they had a house and stuff they fit into. That was the one thing my children played with for a very long time and they were creative with how they played with it. And I always had blank paper and coloring books with crayons and pencils and so on which was and is still a favorite. My children always took pads of paper and pencils/crayons with them were ever we went. Always have had a craft box !!!

  • I’ve noticed my kids are happier with fewer toys. Right now my 9 month old has just a ball, stacking rings, and blocks (which are shared). She is much more interested in playing with us then with the toys.

    My older girls have accumulated quite a few toys I never intended to buy them (gifts, hand-me-downs, things they see other kids use and fall in love with) but we are still working toward keeping our possessions aligned with our values.

    It just gets a little trickier when they start developing their own values.

  • Dawn W

    How about,when she’s a little older,something to encourage her artistically and musically? Crayons and coloring books obviously,but also maybe a child-sized musical instrument? As a kid, I got tons of toys at Christmas,mostly stuff I didn’t want,but not the one thing I really wanted-an accoustic guitar.(Finally got one when I was 9 and begged for it.)There are lots of things for kids of all ages,and probably babies too,that are meant to foster creativity.While she’s still so young,how about giving her a pot and a couple spoons (and earplugs for you) and maybe she’ll grow up to be a drummer! Just kidding.:)

  • Rainy Day

    I was a huge sucker for all stuffed toys. I had a little dragon that could change it’s expression depending on some creative flaps and folds and…

    Man, the stuffed toys from my childhood.

    I also had a small music box for babies that I loved when I was young. It was a genuine music box with a pull chord (and casing that attempted to save it from falling on the floor repeatedly, but it still broke eventually), not an electronic monster, and I suspect that’s still part of my love for instruments/music in general.

    Not sure how many of these will apply to babies, but hey.

  • Tanya

    I totally agree with you about plastic toys, and especially battery operated plastic toys. I have loads of them (none bought by myself) and I dislike them all.

  • Celyn

    I just love this site! I had kept my girls toys to close to the same list as you have. I wanted them to be thinkers and creative. So far that has worked. My oldest daughter went to nursing school on scholarship and graduated with honors. I really believed that by keeping her toys to ones that have a multi purpose really helped during her formative years. My younger daughter is following in her path. The best toys were puzzles, BOOKs (can i stress that more)and dress up clothes. All the best for Plumy!

  • Helen

    How wonderful it is to see readers who don’t yet have children weighing in on this subject.

    I wish I had considered these issues before having my 3 and now having to deal with the mountain of clutter that seems to follow them!

    Great post and enjoyed reading all the comments.


  • Gin

    You are very idealistic, but that’s OK, I think we all were when our firstborns were babies. My youngest just turned 4 and I actually bought him a plastic light sabre, breaking my own self imposed ‘no weapons’ rule. It was all he wanted! We also had his birthday dinner at McDonalds (his choice, again) where, of course, he acquired another cheap plastic mctoy. It’s hard to continue to be idealistic when they start expressing their own wants.

    I agree that collections they can add to are great for gift ideas for other people. I like one of the lists above: lego/duplo, small cars, wooden train set, schleich animals, Little People. Now my kids are 7, 5 and 4, we always request lego as gifts. It’s durable, creative and they just love it!

    • Helen

      and it doesn’t take up too much s p a c e either!

    • Dinah Gray

      That’s what people told me when I had my daughter, that I was idealistic. She turns 6 next month and is going into first grade. It is a little bit harder as they get older, but I have not found it to be overly so. We rearly go to McDonald’s and if we do, it is only to get a hot fudge sunday and play on the playground.

      I think that if you are going to take stuff away, it has to be replaced with something. Instead of going to get a Sunday and play on the playground at McDonald’s, I have started to get food at Wegmans and take it to the local park to picnic and play. I know she will want branded stuff, so I stear her twords branded stuff I have less objection to (hello kitty, my little pony). And I try to keep it to a minimum.

      I do say no to stuff and I do not waiver. No means No. She wanted to have a B-day party at Chucky Cheese (She went to a friends birthday there). No way. I just won’t consume birthday. Instead, we are going to take her to Bush Gardens for an experience as a family. Bush Garden’s is way better.

    • Jenifer

      I think it’s good to be idealistic and to have a realistic expectation of how to meet those ideals and when it’s ok to provide yourself some clear “wiggle room.”

      I would not feel comfortable allowing my son to choose to go to McDonald’s for his 4th birthday (my son turns 4 soon). I asked him what he preferred of several options: the beach, the botanical gardens, the zoo. He opted for the zoo. Since we really only go to the zoo once a year (his birthday) he usually chooses this. And, to avoid gifts from friends, we asked friends to join us and simply pay their way in.

      I think it is possible to stick to your values/ideals, and do your best to bridge any gaps by finding a solution that works for everyone.

      In our community, for example, “screen time” is a big, big “no-no.” But, that’s just not functional for how DH and I live. We love movies. Obviously, we don’t watch all movies with DS, but several movies that we enjoy are child-friendly, and we enjoy watching movies with him. We talk about them, we watch with him, and sometimes when we are sick or need a little peace, it’s nice to provide “How to Train Your Dragon” for him. While we might come under a lot of criticism for not living up to that “ideal” — it’s not our “ideal.” It is important for us that we *limit* screen time, but not that we don’t have the option for ourselves as individuals or a family to watch Masterchef or go to a movie like Oceans from time-to-time. These are positive for us, even if they are negatives in our community.

      We are happy with this “option” — others would not be.

      I think that if you are happy with your son’s choices and what you provided for him, then you are living your ideals — or balancing between the ideal that you might have and the realities. . . what is reasonable for your family, you, and your son. And no one can criticize that, imo. :)

      But likewise, it’s not fair to criticize others who *do* stick to whatever their ideals are (such as those parents in my world who do zero screen time).

  • Aimee

    These are many of the same considerations and criteria that we use when selecting toys, and often when we are accepting gifts. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Please consider this note, however, on “toys made in China.” I understand your point, and empathize – let’s minimize the toys that are plastic and not enduring, that might be made with materials not safe for children (or adults, for that matter), and that are less than educational or less than multifunctional. Let us ALSO note that some toys made in China are made with the same materials, care, love, and intent as those learning tools we are seeking to provide for our children. Some of the best and well-loved toys we have in our home are those we have found in China, particularly family-run and crafts-person shops. No different from the artists or companies lauded in this post. Again, I understand and appreciate the message – I simply ask us all to be thoughtful in any generalizations we make about the manufacture, sourcing, and opportunities both in the USA and in other countries. Thanks.

  • Bonnie

    The ONE great toy for a six-month-old to five-year-old, in my experience: a ABC blocks cart. We had a lovely wooden one made in France by Vilac. Babies love to grab and suck at them, then they begin to stack them, organize them in all sorts of fashions, then they begin to recognize letters, form words…

  • Do check out Wired magazine’s article
    The 5 Best Toys of All Time.

    Also, I recently read the book “Einstein Never Used Flashcards,” and one of the things they discuss is how all those techy learning toys are actually doing the opposite of what they intend. Blocks and dolls are better than anything with an on/off button.

  • Anne S.

    Thank you for sharing how little a baby actual needs. Under a year they just need nurturing and to feel cared for. My kids never have had very many toys and it does not seem to bother them one bit. They have the most amazing imaginations that take them further then any toy ever could

  • Joy

    You might want to look into the Waldorf philosophy. Few quality (non-plastic) toys and lots of nature, play silks, and things that can be “anything” based on your child’s imagination. Waldorf dolls are wonderful too.

  • Minimalist Housewife

    Having minimal toys is for sure the way to go! I feel the same way about electronic toys and plastic toys. I focus on having toys that fulfill a developmental purpose.

    Toys my daughter had under a year were:

    1. A simple shape sorter
    2. Stacking rings
    3. Soft blocks (wooden ones are great when a little older)
    4. Simple puzzles
    5. Stuffed bear
    6. Rattles
    7. Ball
    8. Musical toys
    9. Wooden car
    10. Books (which aren’t really toys!)
    After a year, I’ve added a couple more puzzles, music toys, a doll, and duplos.

    I really try to keep toys that she can use her imagination with. She doesn’t get bored with them as quickly. We do so much outside the house that I think it helps to keep toys minimal.

    What’s wrong with “brand” toys like Disney? Does this create something bad later? I would lie to avoid this if it does!

  • Kathy

    When I was a kid I had a LOT of toys.
    But it was always a glorious day whenever my parents purchased anything that came in a large cardboard box. If I could fit inside the box that was gold. I would spend hours climbing in and out and on top of it pretending it was house/cave/car/spaceship etc. Then if it hadn’t got crushed or fallen apart, it would be art project time and I would colour, cut and paste to make it look like whatever I imagined it was.

  • Rita

    Loved the post, and I know this isn’t related, but I was wondering does anyone know why this website doesn’t have a SEARCH BAR? It’s bothered me for some time now. There’s so much great content here, and it would be so convenient if I could search by keyword instead of browsing through all the archives. Is a search bar non-minimalist or something?

  • Lucy

    “Baby minimalism” is very easy as long as you have your family and friends on board. Babies do not naturally ‘want’ toys (in the manufactured sense of the word ‘toy’), so I can never get my head around parents agonising that their child “only” has this or that – that is just the parents’ own anxiety coming through. For example, babies may shake a rattle because of the noise; they would similarly shake a small item containing dried beans if it makes a noise!

    The real test is when they get older and get exposed to the media (in all its surreptitious forms) and other children!

  • MelD

    I agree with you entirely.
    It’s not always quite so easy in practice as kids get older. Plus the child’s own character varies enormously.

    By the time my 2nd daughter arrived, I was a lot more cautious and selective, though all three of our girls didn’t have battery-oprated toys an d more wooden ones. They did enjoy some miniaturised toys (as did I in the 60s!) like cash register or small brooms and shovels to “help” (my grandson liked these, too, up to about 3). My youngest (now 16) says she always wanted a mini-kitchen, but I didn’t know that so she never had one! We had some Duplo but they preferred Playmobil over Lego (girls?!) and were very imaginative.

    Daughter 1 loved active games and toys, wooden train set, Playmobil (farm, circus, later rescue/hospital!), books and our pets, spent a lot of time with other kids – she is a veterinary nurse and event manager with a large, busy family
    Daughter 2 loved puzzles, quiz games, doll tea set, books, Playmobil mediaeval (anything history) but entertained herself for hours alone outdoors – she is an intellectual type with huge general and classics knowledge of Latin, ancient Greek and Japanese culture/ philosophy
    Daughter 3 loved anything you could arrange in order, play money from her sisters’ games (!), dolls, Playmobil animals, lots of stories (more than books), dress-up, anything that could be a phone – she is training to be a seamstress, enjoys photography and is always talking on the phone ;o

    This all reflects their characters enormously…
    Our grandson (4) will only play with wheeled toys (beginning with the vacuum cleaner) – cars, tractors, trucks, building machines etc. from mimiature to ride-on, so there’s no point in getting him anything else right now. We hardly ever get him toys anyway, he has plenty. My daughter does struggle to stem the flow from well-meant gifts, though. Our granddaughter is 10 mths old and just wants to investigate and have people around, not so bothered with toys,yet.

    It’s certainly not easy, but if I had young kids now, I would do what you are planning, which as another commenter said is close to the Rudolf Steiner/Waldorf philosophy. Lots of time outdoors, natural toys.

    • Helen

      As a mum of 3 young girls myself, I found your post really interesting reading about the toys they enjoyed as children and what they are now doing with their adult lives. It certainly gives a long-term angle on it. Thanks for sharing.

  • MelD

    Peggy Orenstein : “Cinderella ate my daughter” – about the dominance of pink and Disney

    – I would avoid all brand names, and especially Disney. I think it’s shocking how moms succumb to this pressure!!

  • Muli

    I grew up in the early 1960s in the UK in what would definitely be considered a poor, working-class family. Gifts were only at birthday and Christmas time, and one gift only on each occasion. I can always remember that my favourite toys as a young child were a Jack-in-the-box (wooden case, with cloth-covered Jack), a completely knitted stuffed doll that my Nanna had made for me, some tennis balls, and my colouring books. Did I ever feel deprived? No! I also spent most of my time outside playing with children in the park, who also had very few toys.

  • Angie Hall

    Spot on! I cannot tell you how many hours of my life I’ve spent sorting, cleaning, reselling, picking up, hiding, “organizing” my kids’ toy clutter when I could have been–SHOULD HAVE BEEN–spending that quality time with them! It had been an ongoing battle with my non-minamilist husband and his parents to stop the endless parade of toys coming into our home.

    What’s more, I would take a verbal beating from the in-laws and well-meaning friends when I would yell, “Stop! No more! Please, if you must spoil them, shower [insert child’s name here] with hugs, pushes in the swings at the park, running around in the backyard.

  • Heather

    You’re not shortchanging her at all. If she’s happy with what you give her already, as she gets older she won’t feel deprived (at least, until she starts school and sees the stuff her friends have).

    Favorite toys when I was a kid were wooden blocks — they had photos of animals and the alphabet on them — and a wooden train set, complete with tracks and little trees. The train cars connected by a magnet. I don’t remember who made them, but they’re still commonly found in imaginative toy shops (where dolls, kites, doll houses, puzzles, and other imagination-fueled toys fill the shelves).

  • Heather

    I also had a sandbox in the backyard — my brother and I would play in that for hours on end.

  • Annabelle

    Oh I LOVE this post!!! Inspiring and wonderful and the PERFECT way to raise a child in every aspect!!!

    Let kids be kids!!! Let them use their imagination! Mine are 8 & 9; NO TV, no handheld electronic games, nothing that needs batteries, minimal movies (usually to keep the peace during car rides), minimal amounts of perfectly good thrift store bought clothing, they speak three languages and play piano and violin! Life is perfect with the basics folks. NO DISNEY (and etc) stuff here. Lots of plane paper and crayons and markers and colored pencils and paint and the occasional huge box to make into a fort and etc. Keep it simple folks, and love love love. HUG your kids EVERYDAY.

  • Annabelle

    Oh, and my favorite kid stuff from my childhood; huge boxes (refrigerator, stove/oven, etc) to make into anything I wanted it to be, arts & crafts, roller skates (the kind that needed the KEY to tighten on and off!!!! and attached to your sneakers). My bike. Books. Playing flashlight tag (and tons of other games) way into the dark of the night with the rest of the neighborhood kids!

  • mbm

    As a baby and toddler, my daughter loved Little People (the farm, plane, and bus), and her bead maze. I admit the bead maze takes up a bit of space, but she really did play with it enthusiastically from age 1 until about age 3.5. She was also completely obsessed with a $2 set of multicolored plastic stacking cups.

    As kids get older, just be warned that the toys start to have more and more pieces. I am resigned to this as long as they are relatively open ended toys. Our solution is just to limit the space a given thing can take up. ONE bin of Legos, ONE of blocks, ONE of puzzles…OK, we have gone a little nuts with art supplies.

  • If I ever have kids, I just might be following your lead with with this. As a kid I was really spoiled because I could have just about anything I asked for – I too was easily frustrated and distracted and now as an adult, it’s not easy to “unlearn” that. But with less stuff, I appreciate things. I wouldn’t any child of mine to grow up spoiled, indifferent, and unappreciative of the privilege of having “things” in their life.

  • I think what you’re doing is wonderful! I agree, and will probably do something similar someday if I have kids.

  • Liz H.

    Infants just need colorful toys with interesting textures and sounds. Anything she can pick up, manipluate, throw, and put her mouth on without causing damage is fair game. When I see babies on the bus, I like to jingle my keys and whistle to amuse them. (Once a friend’s baby puckered up and tried to whistle back at me! Soooo cute.)

    Kids do like to roleplay and practice grown-up behaviors when they get a little older, though. At some point Plumblossom might enjoy playing with toy phones, tea sets, doctor kits, etc. And there will come a day when she wants a Disney Princess or some other character on her belongings — wait and see.

  • Liz H.

    p.s. As they graduate to toddler, kids LOVE objects they can use together. Like balls and cups, sand and cups, water and cups, lids and containers, pegs and holes… you know.

    Before I learned to read (books) and talk (to stuffed animals) the best thing in the world was putting stuff in slots and holes. When the container was full, I’d pull off the lid, empty it, and spend a while putting things back in again. You ever notice how people are compelled to put stuff down sewer grates or into cracked walls? I think it’s the same instinct.

  • Laura

    One DURABLE rag doll or stuffed animal that can survive multiple “spa visits” to the washer/dryer.

  • Jenifer

    We are also toy minimalists.

    I notice that my son is very happy with fewer toys — not over stimulated, highly creative with what he has, and very capable with those toys. Nearly everything is “open-ended” so that he can create out of them what he wants.

    He has a bike and archery equipment (he’s 4); a drum, ukulele, and harmonica; a basket of blocks and natural objects to go with those (shells, pine cones, stones); a basket of plush toys and fabrics to make into costumes, forts, or landscapes; several wooden vehicles (car, truck, helicopter, 2 planes, digger) with some little wooden “peg people” (7 of those). At our offices, he has lego and a floor thing with a village/roads/etc, and a chalkboard and chalk. And of course he has books.

    It’s really fun watching him create and play with such diversity utilizing so few toys. Today he built a castle and a moat out of blocks, shells, stones, and fabric, dressed as a knight and fought his stuffed dragons. He armored himself with a lego sword and shield, and made several for his stuffed dragons (he has three stuffed dragons). He then made a costume for himself (a knight costume).

    He then tidied that away and had a nap in his favorite blanket (in the middle of the floor sleeping with his dragons), and then woke up and made a viking ship of blocks in the ocean of fabric (with a viking costume), created a viking shield, long bow, and sword out of lego, then kitted out his bears (two) and dragons (3) with viking costumes. He then crashed into icebergs and stood up against ice-giants until the rooster crowed.

    He then decided to have a snack, tidied away again, and is happily playing with a “construction site” that involves all of the wooden vehicles except the plane because you don’t need a plane to build things. He has several stuffed animals manning different jobs on the site, and is building with blocks, but also moving stones and shells around with the machinery.

    It’ll be tidy away time again, soon, and then dinner followed by bath, pjs, and story time before bed. Though, there might be some music after dinner and before bath. :)

    So nice, really. An ideal life. :)

  • Our 10 month old likes his ball, stuffed animals, donut stacking blocks, mega bloks, boomerings, and a plastic car. :-)
    I repurposed a kitchen container with a lid for him to use as a shaker and to dump stuff in an out…. for now, I put toys in the container and he does the dumping part. ;-)
    He is starting to bite/chew on anything when he gets the urge so I usually give him a Teether Baby, which is a soft cloth sewn in the shape of a little gnome, the soaked with water and frozen – he loves it!
    We look forward to keeping toys minimal in our home. We already have to do a sorting!

  • Rob Dean

    I had boys, now 22 and 19, so the baby days are pretty well forgotten. What they really played with through the elementary years were mostly Legos, of which there is still a vast hoard, wooden blocks,wooden trains, and stuffed animals, who ended up as the protagonists of much imaginative roleplay. Other stuff just tended to live in piles until a parental cleaning was enforced….

  • Debbie Baskin

    Our most used toy has been magna tiles — I’ve had them since my daughter was two. She’s played with them regularly since then and she is now five. They’ve also been my go-to toy when older kids come over — they always seem to be a hit. And they’re quick to clean up.

    I have to caution you … expectations can be deadly. My five year-old doesn’t understand why I have a hair dryer when I don’t use it or why I have more than one pair of sandals but this year for her birthday she wanted her party at home b/c “there are going to be so many presents they won’t all fit in the car”. In prior years we had always asked for no gifts … and finally, friends were starting to comply but after giving presents to all her friends she was anxious for her turn. It’s also difficult to stop the party favors now that she is older. Good luck … and thanks for sharing your experiences.

  • eve

    no legos though?

    legos are literally the most imagination inducing things for a child.

    • Jenifer

      legos are up in the air for some parents.

      i never had them growing up because my parents didn’t want to step on them on the floor. my husband had them, but wasn’t allowed to mix or make his own patterns.

      we decided to get them for our son for his special “in office” toys (we own our own business and he is here 4-5 days a week for 2-3 hours). he has that and a chalk board and chalk and some books. all of that stays at the office so that it’s “special” and he’s always excited to come to the office and play. he has friends in the office 2-3 times a week, so it works out nicely for them.

  • Pamela R.

    I don’t have children….yet…but on a recent visit to a pizzeria with my cousin’s 3-year old, the server gave him a chunk of pizza dough to play with instead of the usual crayons and colouring page. He loved it! It totally absorbed his attention and at the end of the dinner, he insisted on taking it home. My cousin told me that “toys” that have lots of flexibility and can change every time you play with them are popular with her kids. They don’t tire of these too quickly. Things like: lego, straws & connectors, and playdough. Also, I remember reading about this somewhere. When Plumblossom is older, you could get her a small bucket of water and a paintbrush. On sunny days, she can use the paint brush and water to “paint” on your driveway or anywhere on your property you have cement. And, it’s an easy cleanup afterwards.

  • Azulao

    I grew up pretty dirt poor and before the “stuff” explosion, and the best thing ever was an old shed that my mom called “Narnia.” Indeed, gateway to worlds.

  • Mims

    It is kind of funny to see how different children are. My cousin loved his rocking horses so much that his parents had to trade up to a bigger size several times as he outgrew them before he tired of rocking horses and got into marbles instead. My brother loved first his duplo, then his lego and his playmobile figures/action figures, but his most favourite thing (until today) was a good dance party, later disco. When he turned seven he got a disco ball and a couple of cans of spray on hair dye in different coulors and he still claims that was his best birthday party ever! My niece has been obsessed with treasure for the last couple of years, she loves beads, necklaces, bracelets, anything that is small and glitters! For Christmas she really wanted a dolls house, so my mother made her one of an old cardboard box and papier-maché that she absolutely loves.

    I was obsessed with dolls from an early age and had several Waldorf dolls, but oddly enoguh never took to Barbie (much to my mom’s delight)! The dolls, a stroller, a cradle and a tea set where some of the most played with things for many years. I also loved to build dens and had a couple of old blankets/sheets just for that, my dad also bought me a giant Lincoln logs type of house when I was 5 and which quite literally got loved to bits, I used it well into my pree teens when I would sit there and read. The home made puppet theatre, art supplies (to make more puppets and decor for the theatre, paper dolls etc.) and puzzles were also well used toys, as were the books, particularly the old German version of Grimm’s fairytales that I still can’t part with. As a toddler and pre-schooler I also loved my small, basic, wooden marble run with a small xylophon at the bottom that my mom still keeps to entertain visiting children.

    The biggest hit however (the one that drew crowds of neighbouring kids) was my big dress up box, which my mom had filled with clothes, fabric and accessories from garage sales, theatre sales and and junk shops paired with some costumes of her own making (I have never had a store bought costume in my life). It was set up when I was about 3 and it was used until I was well into my teens as theatre costumes. Oh, the plays we staged! Shakepeare’s The Tempest and A Midsummernight’s dream, our own epic production of Lawrence of Arabia and plays we either improvised or wrote ourselves. My best friend may have had all the Barbies in the world, but nothing beat my dress up box!

    As many have mentioned, not all favourite things are actual toys either. When I was a toddler my favourite thing in the world was a basket that I would carry around everywhere, much like my nephew carried his big, red plastic spoon everywhere when he was a toddler. I also loved my sheepskin and anything you could climb on. The baby I babysat could not have been without her flatfold diapers: the were her lovies, they were used for hide and seek, you could make a doll out of them, or a den (or even, in a pinch use them as a bath towel, bib or even a diaper whne you needed it). This Christmas we entertained my best friends 9 month old daughter for hours with the help of an old jam jar that could be rolled, chased, filled with things, emptied, filled with beans to make a rattle and endless other things. And off course, then there are the boxes, the boxes…

  • I like to keep things extremely simple with toys, a while ago I wrote a post about toy simplicity at Chrismas time with a entire list of toys that my children have in their play area, all plastic free, since writing the list I think I added Legos and a folding play frame for den building. I have two girls. Interestly, then Lego doesn’t get played with. The girls like to play with a ready built Lego object, but they don’t actually want to build it! They are age 4 and 7. Here in the post I wrote:

    What I find most difficult now both my girls are in school and the expectations other children/adults have of what the girls should have in their play environment. Peer pressure…it is very difficult to navigate. The girls are happy with heir toys but I fear that other children will say, ‘why don’t you have x,y or z?!

  • J

    We have an almost 6 year old daughter, and we have tried to maintain our minimalist toy approach. We try to avoid certain toys and instead focus on high quality, open-ended, creative toys (no batteries). As a toddler, she enjoyed Haba fantasy blocks, Green Toys (made of recycled plastic milk jugs), books, a plush ball, Plan Toys (she had a wooden snail that she would pull around the house by its string) and Lego Duplos. Now that she’s older, she absolutely prefers crayons, colored pencils, and a stack of blank paper. And the library has been essential! We still try to avoid a lot of toys, and we continue to focus on creative or educational items for older kids: Quadrilla marble runs, lego city, the game Qwirkle. We also just discovered Animalz. And she loves her bicycle. We also have started giving experiences – an art camp, swim team, summer reading program, trips to parks, the farmers market, etc. Marketing to little girls can be atrocious, and it’s taken some effort to find items that we find acceptable. We know she’ll start wanting the “trendy, everyone else has this” items, but for now we’re still enjoying the simplicity.

  • V.O.

    This year my daughter turns 30; she was raised as a minimalist before the term was invented. Our minimalism was perforce (poverty — I was single teen aged mom going to college), but she learned how to have a balanced perspective on the material world, have an imagination, make do with what she had. For example, she would use old second-hand kitchen things to make mud pies for hours with her friends; she learned the abundance of joys at library — getting and bringing back books. You’ll find with Plumblossom that if you do this right, and get her to see the sad thing-hoarding worlds of her friends’ families with humor and understanding and wisdom but not disdain, then the values you instill will last a lifetime. She is starting grad school and called me this week to tell me about her thrifted desk she bought and re-painted — she can afford to buy new, but she doesn’t think that way — this is the mark of a minimalist education! So, stick to your guns, Miss Minimalist, no matter what kind of push-back you get from relatives and friends — and as I found, you’ll have the task of teaching Plumblossom about peer pressure etc sooner than you think. Best wishes from a Minimalist Mom from back in the day.

  • Henny

    My firstborn was showered with gifts. I tried to keep them down to a minimum, but it was hard to do so without offense to the generous givers.

    However, I completely agree that sometimes “less is more”…

    I avoided dolls initially, however I did cave in an buy her one, when she started to wrap our TV remote control (we no longer have a TV) in washcloths and made that her pretend “dolly”…
    I also got her a small wooden truck, just out of curiousity to see if it would interest her – not a bit! She was a girly-girl and still is. Her little brother, however, never had an interest in dolls, and inherited the truck with great joy!

    I have to say the best toys we ever had were creative things that could fire their imaginations. Wooden pegs and scraps of fabric for making peg dolls…rolls from inside toilet paper became rockets, cars, dolls and more….crayons, scraps of paper, and Play-Doh were our best friends…and nothing could beat a good old cardboard box, for being a house, car, boat, spaceship, pirate ship and more!

  • Henny

    P.S. Our recycle box is treated like a craft supply box too!

  • Carina

    When I was a kid i was very overly attached to my things. I always had the feeling they were disappearing from me. In my adult life my mom told me she used to go through my things and put toys away in boxes, and if I didn’t notice them being gone she would throw/give them away. But I noticed, even though I never expressed. As I child i didn’t know how to express it. I just became a collector instead. Therefore, for my kid the only thing I find important is that he feels it’s his choice. I’m not going to impose minimalism on him just because we, his parents, are. Chances are he’ll turn out like us anyway. ;)

  • Lilian Gavin

    I have 4 kids (now aged 16-18-20 & 22). When they were little, we had a toy bin that was always the most popular on the beach. All the items were from 2nd hand stores or garage sales – and included: Muffin/bread tins, flour sieves & sifters & strainers, garlic press, large metal spoons, teapots (the metal kind) slotted spoons, measuring cups. Virtually nothing was “bright colored plastic” mundane stuff sold in stores…yet we would have crowds of kids come join us to sift and sort sand and pebbles into various concoctions. When not at the beach, we left the bin of toys at the end of our driveway, right beside an old toy kitchen (this was actually plastic)and right beside it a little sand pit. People walking by could let there kids stop and sift, sort and bake then carry on with their walk. To this day, I have friends of my now “adult” kids comment on how much they enjoyed stopping by to play with that bin of toys and kitchen and sand!

  • Jennie

    My daughter is now two, and we have lived a simple, battery and tv free life with her since birth. Her only plastic toys are a couple sand toys and a few bath toys. The rest are wooden. When she was little (under 1yo) she liked wooden stackers, blocks, simple puzzles, and her stuffed toy penguin. She now has several wooden dolls (vintage Polish dolls that I sanded down, re-painted, re-wigged and re-clothed.) that she plays with extensively, as well as a couple more well loved stuffed toys, some felt food, and more complicated puzzles (and books, lots and lots of books. Not those stupid baby books either. We started her on real books with a paragraph of text when she was just hours old). I’ve noticed that she prefers wooden toys, that now she will gravitate towards something that is made of natural materials and chose to play with that over a plastic item.

  • calyce magee

    I have two older children, 9 and 11. I smile as I read everything here. Before children, my house was perfect, just enough stuff and always clean and orderly. In come children…now I have a husband and child with ADHD, and a daughter who collects everything from nature and loves second hand stores in Brooklyn. My husband collects vintage bikes. Daughter vegetarian from birth. Son loves bacon. They now make their own money through odd jobs and I can’t really control everything they buy. My point, they do come from us and may even look like us, but act nothing like us. They are individuals. I agree that “things” can get out of control easily with children. I am a minimalist, even though my family members are not. And one day I will have my house back when the kids leave, but I know I will miss all their collections when they are gone. Good luck to you and your sweet sweet baby!

  • Jen

    I agree calyce…mine are 14,9 and 6 and controlling what comes in gets harder. I too have loved ones with ADHD and it is harder for them to use traditional storage and things do get messier. We have pegboards and bookcase storage b/c with adhd ers out of sight really is out of mind.

    We are naturally minimalistic, I think, b/c the five of us live in a small house. I have always been a thrift shopper and furniture refurbisher…We have rules for things in/vs things out to keep the stuff to a minimum. I also tell my younger two especially that when it gets to the point that they can’t keep their rooms neat, it means declutter time! I let them keep the proceeds from yard sales.

    I know it can be hard, but no cable tv has helped. There HAVE been comments from the kids’friends over the years. Stuff like “Where are so and sos toys? Where’s your playroom etc” but they all survived and all 3 have great friends and seem to value what they have. My teenager earns extra money to buy clothes above and beyond her alotment,and is very careful with what she has.She does like fashion, but will forgo other things to get what is meaningful to her, which is at its heart, my impression of minimalism at its best! We started our minimalist journey with our oldest out of necessity ( we were broke when she was born) but continued because it seemed a gentler way to live. I do let the grandparents spoil them, b/c it gives them joy, but it really is spoiling b/c my kids aren’t used to shopping for sport :) Great website!!

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