In order to choose the right toys for our kids, we follow three toy minimalist rules: We only keep toys in play areas, all of our toys are battery-free, and we don’t have any board games.
The idea of toy minimalism was first introduced to me six years ago when I read this article. In the article, Ruth talks about how she took all her kids’ toys away. She shares that both her and her daughters were happy about it! At that time I was deep in the trenches of parenting two toddlers and a baby. Our tiny apartment was overrun by toys. Our girls enjoyed dumping and throwing more than they enjoyed playing with.
After reading Ruth’s experience with taking her kids’ toys away, I began majorly purging ours. I still kept a lot, but it was the beginning of my journey to reclaim our lives from plastic toys. Our family dynamics have changed in the past six years. The girls are no longer toddlers, we added a little brother to the mix, and moved into a modest sized house in my hometown. One thing that we’ve kept constant is being intentional about our toys. I’ve narrowed this intentionality down into three toy rules.
Our Toy Minimalism Rules
I am a big fan of rules. They help me make a decision once and allow me to stick with that decision. We have a few family rules surrounding toys: which ones we bring into the house, and how they are used. These rules are all organic, and I only put names to them after observing the overlap between what both parents and children enjoyed having in the house.
1. We Only Keep Toys in Play Areas
Our first three children were born while we were living in small apartments and dedicated to paying off our student loans. In these apartments we did not have the luxury of space. The living room doubled as the kids’ play area. With two toddlers and a baby it was always a disaster.
Once we moved into our first house, we made the rule that we keep toys in play areas. As the needs of our family have changed and we added a little brother, the location of the play area has moved around the house. What hasn’t changed is that all the toys “live” in that area.
Our girls are now old enough that they enjoy playing with friends away from their parents. Our toddler keeps a few trucks in the living room, otherwise he starts playing with kitchenware. This family rule that “we keep toys in play areas” helps us balance the number of toys we have. If the play area storage is full, we know that we have to rotate out toys before adding anything new to our collection.
2. All of Our Toys are Battery-Free
Between my children’s constant need for touch and their love of making loud noises I often experience sensory overload throughout the day. When my brain goes into sensory overload I begin trying to remove stimuli as fast as possible. This leads me to brushing small hands off my body and snapping at the kids, none of which I want to be doing.
To protect my nervous system I began eliminating toys that added to the din in the house. Soon I realized that it was all electronic toys that helped send me over the edge. Once I identified this, we made a rule that we only have battery-free toys.
A secondary benefit to this rule is I don’t have to worry about my kids getting into the battery compartments of toys and eating the button batteries.
3. We Don’t Have Board Games (yet)
One of my favorite memories from my own childhood is playing board games with my siblings. We were the only children in our neighborhood, and we all loved playing long-form board games with eachother.
Before I had my own kids I imagined many cozy evenings playing games together. I began collecting toddler-friendly games and storing them in the kid’s play area. I quickly found that instead of playing these games with our family, I was taking all the game pieces out of the dollhouse and putting them away. No matter how many reminders the kids got that game pieces are for games only, the temptation was too great and the pieces ended up jumbled up.
Before our move to the homestead I decided to put all the pieces to our games away one last time and donate the games to our local food pantry. I do have hope that once our kids are a little older and we have multiple readers we can get back into board games. For now we will stick with open-ended toys that can go in the dollhouse.
Benefits of Toy Minimalism
1. Fewer toys encourage kids to be creative. Toys actually stifle the creativity of children; they force them to play in a certain way. When two German social workers removed all they toys from a daycare room the initial response was boredom, but quickly the children used only their imaginations to invent games. They began playing and having fun all on their own.
2. Fewer toys encourages longer attention spans and deeper focus. When too many toys are introduced in a child’s life, they are unable to focus on one plaything for a long time before moving on to another. Fewer toys encourage long attention spans and allows children to fully explore the capabilities of what they are using.
3. Kids become more resourceful with fewer toys. Problem solving is a skill that will be used through children’s lives. When they have fewer toys, they must use problem solving in their games more frequently. This allows them to be more resourceful with what they have and imagine new ways to use what they already own.
4. Fewer toys encourage a love of reading, writing, and art. With fewer toys grabbing their attention, kids have more energy and focus to pour into coloring, reading, writing, drawing, and other creative activities. These activities also need long attention spans, which fewer toys help develop.
Other Reasons to scale back on toys
- 80% of plastic toys end up in landfills
- More money in the budget to spend on experiences
- Calmer, more organized home
Read More about Our Family Rules
What to “Toy Minimalist” Kids Do All Day?
Before getting rid of the majority of our toys, I was afraid that the kids would constantly be bored and expecting me to entertain them. Thankfully, this is not our experience at all. I decided to have my kids answer this question themselves, here’s what they said:
“I’m not bored all day because I read and do school. I also go on hikes, play legos, and read some more. That’s mostly what I do!” – A. age 9
“Eat breakfast. Play mine blocks” N. age 2
What about the holidays?
I often hear parents say that they are drawn to the idea of toy minimalism, but loving relatives keep showering their children with copious amounts of toys for any and all occasions. We are very fortunate to have understanding families.
Each October I make a Christmas Google Doc and share it with family members who ask what the kids would like. The Doc is our master wish list that everyone can shop from. It is organized by child and includes a few toys that they want, books they would like, and any practical items like winter outerwear, clothes, and shoes they need.
This past Christmas my brother had the genius idea of including an “Experiences” section in his shared document. I’ve added this section to ours as well, and those experiences are the things my kids were most excited about!
If you are overwhelmed by generous family members, I encourage you to make a shared document and ask them to shop off of that. This can be a great time to have a conversation with them and explain how you are trying to pare down the plastic toys in your house, but also give them other ways to spoil your kids.
Our Favorite Toys
Open-ended toys are always the favorite around our house. Ones that the kids can easily use their imaginations with and that can be played with in a variety of ways. I’ve collected a few of our favorite toys for different age groups below:
Are You a Toy Minimalist?
If you are a Toy Minimalist or are drawn to the idea of toy minimalism, I would love to hear from you! How has this lifestyle choice affected your family? What do your kids do all day? Please share all the things with me down in the comments!