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    A minimalist’s guide to children’s toys

    We have truly become minimalists in our house, especially in the toy department. Our church just moved to a new facility and needed toy donations to stock the children’s rooms. I gladly filled a few bags full of toys my kids hardly play with and rushed them off to our children’s director.

    I like my home neat and tidy, so we have always operated with far fewer toys than most families in our demographic. I hate seeing toys littered around the house, so I figure if we don’t have many they won’t take long to pick up.

    When I observe my children play, they don’t actually use very many of their toys. Sure, they might get out ten toys, but nine of them will simply make their way to the living room and get neglected in a corner until bedroom. Very few toys actually engage my kids for a sustained period of time, teach them something new, or invite them to use their imaginations. Toys that can’t pass the time, teaching, imagination checklist have officially been exiled from our house. 


    I have curated a short and sweet list of the toys we love and actually use in our home. As you are shopping this holiday season, here are some toys that kids enjoy and that don’t drive moms insane.

    Baby favorites – Clearly, babies can’t interact with toys very much, but we have a small collection of items that all our girls loved as infants: Baby Einstein music box, Freddie the Firefly, classic stacking rings, and the Indestructibles books.

    Touch and Feel Flash Cards – We have used these flashcards since Zianne was a baby, and our set probably needs to be replaced. This is a fun way to teach new words and the touch and feel aspect keeps young children engaged. This is our favorite gift for a one-year old.

    Roll and Play Game – This is a great first “board” game for toddlers. Children roll a giant colorful dice and then pick a coordinating card that asks them to perform a learning or motor activity such as find a certain color around the room, make an animal noise, or spin in a circle. This is our favorite gift for a two-year old.

    Play Kitchen – No toy gets used more than our play kitchen. The plastic food gets carried around the house daily, “restaurant” meals are served regularly, and baby dolls often get tucked in for a nap in the kitchen sink. If you were to pick a single toy for 1-5 year olds (male or female), this would be my vote. Here is an affordable option on Amazon, but I would also suggest scouring Craig’s List or OfferUp for a used one. That’s how we got ours.

    Duplos – If my kids are quietly entertaining themselves, it’s likely they’ve gotten out their Duplos. The bigger block sizes are easier to use than legos, making them perfect for kids five and under. We have the Doc McStuffins set. These blocks keep my kids busy, teach them to build creatively, and then get tossed back in the container for easy clean-up.

    Magna-Tiles – These magnetic blocks are spendy, but every parent will tell you they are well worth the money. These blocks encourage creativity, teach building strategy, and even look pretty. We only have one set so far but would like to add to our collection.

    Baby Doll – Our girls play with their dolls every day, whether cuddling up with them for a show or putting them down for a nap in the kitchen sink (see above). We do have some doll clothes and accessories, but our girls generally just carry unclothed baby dolls around the house all day long. (Black doll // boy doll options)

    Purses and backpacks– Zianne bought this pink Nike lunch tote over a year ago, and it never leaves her side. Every morning, she wakes up, stuffs it full of toys, clothes, and books and carries it with her everywhere. Now Talitha has started borrowing my lunch tote to do the same thing. Whenever something is missing around the house – a lovey, a pacifier, a certain book – I can generally find it stuffed inside one of these bags. Although preschooler hoarding habits are kind of strange, it’s actually quiet conducive to keeping our house clean. Small toys get contained in bags all day long and the girls use their imaginations, taking their totes to “school,” “work,” or in the “car.”

    Paper and crayons – Although we have a variety of art supplies – from coloring books to watercolors to play dough – nothing beats paper and crayons. My girls are most content to sit down with a box of good ol’ Crayolas and plain white paper and draw to their hearts’ content. We use computer paper most of the time, but we also love the Melissa and Doug Paper Roll.

    And that’s it. Other than a small basket of miscellaneous toys, some stuffed animals, and a whole shelf full of books, these are the only toys we keep in our house. Our girls play all day with a small collection of items that capture their attention, grow their minds, and engage their imaginations.


    Dear Zianne (four years)

    Dear Zianne,

    I look at you and see myself at four years old. Light blonde hair, large vocabulary, very social, always twirling in a dress or reading a book.

    The resemblance, both in looks and personality, is uncanny.

    Our similarities drive me crazy yet stir deep sympathy and adoration in my heart.

    I sigh with exasperation as I beg you to wear leggings rather than a sundress on a chilly fall day. But then I crack a smile, because I despised wearing pants throughout my youth. I don’t think I wore jeans until sixth grade. Every day after school, I would put on my fanciest dress and prance through the neighborhood pretending to be a princess, a teacher, or an orphan adopted into a rich family.

    Now you are the one with constant outfit changes, running into the living room with a different ensemble every five minutes. Long dresses, short dresses, skirts over dresses, tutus galore. But never pants, unless they are worn under a dress, of course.

    Your demeanor is so much like mine. I declared you an extravert when you were four months of age, and I was not wrong. You are highly social, confident, a lover of conversation. I told you the other day I admire your willingness to try out big words. You had just told me something was “educational,” although it came out sounding more like “vocational.” You tell me when something is “hilarious” or that you are “disappointed.” You are barely four, but sometimes you sound like a ten year-old.

    I love the things we have in common, but I also want to celebrate the ways we are different.

    You are sillier than me. I think you get it from your dad.

    You love school like me, but you aren’t quite as studious. You rush through your tracing without precision and your letters fly all over the page. You would rather paint than write. I’ve never seen anyone who loves art as much as you.

    You might be more outgoing than I was at your age. You are never bashful. Always assured. You know what you want and you seek out friendships. Sometimes you’ll even seek out friendships for me. At dinner, you’ll tell me, “I met a lady for you, mom. I think you should be friends with her.”

    You are always eager to get out the house and explore public places – the gym, the library, a restaurant. I was more content to stay home as a child, but you want to go, go, go.

    You are a beautiful mix of your dad and me, and yet unique and vibrant in your own right. It’s a joy to watch you grow and learn. I look forward to another of year of seeing you blossom. I think it’s time to surrender to the outfit changes and simply delight in watching you leap and dance and twirl your way through life.

    Love you always,



    Le Tote Maternity: Is it worth it? (An honest, unsponsored review)

    Over the past few months, I’ve been packing up maternity clothes and all those silly newborn items you use for just a few weeks but store in your garage for years. I’m looking at you – nursing tanks, boppy pillow, tiny swaddles, and burp cloths.

    Le Tote Maternity

    I’m starting to feel like my non-pregnant self again, mostly sleeping at night and simply needing to lose 15 pounds (easy, right?). I recently reactivated my subscription to Le Tote, where I rent my clothes instead of buying them (see my past review here). During the final trimester of pregnancy, I used Le Tote’s maternity subscription to keep the bump looking cute without buying even more maternity clothes I would later have to stash in a storage bin or pawn off on a pregnant friend. Before I wipe all the maternity items from my closet on Le Tote, I thought I would share a quick review of their maternity subscription. This is NOT sponsored by Le Tote. I just want to fill you in on how you can feel cute during week 39 of pregnancy without spending all your money in the Target maternity section.

    When I was pregnant with Zianne, I had fun buying some cute maternity dresses and tank tops to get my large body through the brutal Phoenix summer. I also had a friend loan me all her maternity clothes. I thought she was being generous, but it turns out she was just being crafty. She was in the middle of moving and lending her maternity clothes meant one less box to pack up and store. After I had Zianne, I realized it’s actually not that fun to own maternity clothes, because you only wear them for three to six months, and then you have to figure out where to keep them. They are necessary, but highly impractical.

    Side note: I know some women solve this problem by wearing flowy, non-maternity items throughout pregnancy that can still be worn after the baby arrives. While I like the idea, I often notice that non-maternity clothes make pregnant women look frumpy and extra large, especially in photographs. I prefer to wear real maternity clothes, at least in the final months of pregnancy. They are more comfortable, since they are designed for the uniquely-shaped body of a pregnant woman, and they extenuate the bump, while allowing the thinner parts of my body to still be seen.

    Even though I’ve only had spring and summer babies, I have found that even the difference of a few months between my due dates has meant fairly different wardrobe needs during pregnancy. Zianne was born on the last day of a typical 110+ degree Phoenix summer. I was not teaching and could float in my pool in a bikini every afternoon. Eisley, however, was born in April in California, which means my bump was significantly popping by Christmastime. I was teaching full-time, so I needed professional, yet comfortable clothing for mildly cold weather. My Old Navy maternity tanks that I lived in with Zianne would not suffice.

    Enter Le Tote. I switched over to their maternity package when I was around 30 weeks, and I lived in their gorgeous dresses for the rest of my pregnancy. I had pretty bad varicose veins with Eisley, so I was desperate to keep my legs covered, but didn’t want to buy more maxi dresses. Instead, I borrowed Le Tote’s dresses and kept my legs hidden in style.


    Le Tote Maxi Dress

    Le Tote Maxi Dress

    Le Tote Maternity

    Le Tote Tunic Top

    I loved this dress so much, I added it to two separate totes! (I also loved this black mermaid dress, this striped midi dress, and this striped maxi dress.)

    If I were pregnant right now, these would be my favorite pieces for fall:

    Tops: Ruffle sleeve / High-low textured / Embroidered yoke

    Bell sleeve dress / High shine leggings / Cross front sweater

    To sum it up: I loved using Le Tote Maternity during my 3rd trimester. I own a solid foundation of maternity pieces, but it was great to use Le Tote to fill in some gaps as far as professional clothing, spring styles, and long items to keep my legs covered. I also rented a few nursing items after Eisley was born, but then I put my account on hold for the summer while I was fluctuating sizes and off work for a few months. I love that you can freeze your Le Tote account at any time for as long as you want. I actually extended my freeze for an extra month or two, when I realized I didn’t really have a need for Le Tote until school started up again. But now that fall has arrived, I am using my Le Tote subscription again and I love it. The downside is that the maternity option is expensive. It costs about $10 more per month than the regular subscription. I thought it was worth it, especially since I only used it for about ten weeks and then paused my account for a number of months, but cost may be a hinderance to some people. I truly wish Le Tote would drop their prices a little bit…

    If you are interested in signing up for Le Tote, you can use this referral link for one free tote. This post is NOT at all sponsored by Le Tote; I just really love their service and wanted to highlight their maternity option.