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.

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