Toys are just one of those things that can take over your home really quickly! Before you know it, they’re everywhere. Today, guest blogger Jennifer Hess is sharing with us how we can be more intentional about the toys in our home. What toys to buy, what toys to keep, and how to store them.
Jennifer is a wife and mommy to her sweet babies Ellie and Sam. Her passion is helping other women create thriving lives that they love. She shares her thoughts on decorating, organizing and being intentional in your spaces with kids at Home Sweet Hess.
238. That’s the average number of toys children today own. I don’t know about you but when I hear that number it scares me a little. No one should have 238 of anything. Can you imagine having 238 pairs of shoes? It would be completely overwhelming to make a choice in the morning, let alone keep them clean and organized. How do we think our kid’s feel when they have that many toys to chose from?
Can I be honest for a minute? It actually isn’t hard to get to that number. Before I even brought my first born home from the hospital she already owned toys. Gifts from friends, things I thought were cute. By the time her first birthday hit, I looked around and I realized we were suddenly swimming in a sea that was bright, plastic and lit up when we dove in.?
I knew that I needed to start becoming really intentional about how we would manage the toys that came into our family. But in order to do that, I first had to figure out what types of toys we already owned.
I like to categorize the toys in our home by type. This helps me to know if we have too little or too many in a given category. I consider there to be 10 general categories of toys.
- Art- Paints, crayons, scissors
- Building- blocks, legos, magna-tiles
- Dramatic Play- dress up, animals, babies
- Fine Motor- pegs, tongs, bead lacing
- Gross Motor- ride, jump, climb
- Logic- puzzles, board games
- Math- sorting, nesting boxes
- Music- pianos, shakers, clappers
- Science- gears, simple machines
- Vehicles- cars, planes, boats
I’ve learned that a lot of those needs can get met without having an actual physical toy.
For example, my daughter is at the age where she is always wanting to help me in the kitchen so I thought a mini kitchen would be perfect! But you know what? The more I thought about it, the more I realized the clutter it would be bringing into our home.
What do I do instead? I am just trying to be more conscious of inviting her into the kitchen with me. Now she will help me measure flour or cut fruit. Sure it takes more effort and intentionality on my part but not having to collect 30 pieces of fake food from around the house every day is worth it.
Another example, we live in a place where the weather is decent year round so we don’t really need any gross motor toys for our children. We take advantage of all the parks that are walking distance from our house and my daughter can jump and climb for free!
Close-Ended vs. Open-Ended Toys
Every toy, no matter the category will either be a close-ended toy or an open-ended toy.
Close-ended toys are toys that have a clear ending point and are often telling your child what to do.
Example: A puzzle. There is only one way it can be completed. The cow goes in one spot, the horse in another. Once the child has mastered the puzzle they are bored and move on. It might entertain them a few more times but it is definitely not a long-term toy.
Open-ended toys do not have an endpoint. These types of toys can be played with again and again in a variety of ways. Your child is telling the toy what to do. They are the perfect option for independent play.
Example: Blocks. One day you can make a cave, the next day you can make a castle. The options are limitless.
Now that is not to say you should never have any closed-ended toys but I would keep them minimal. They won’t last your child that long. I believe the 80-20 rule is best applied here. 80% of the toys should be open-ended and 20% should be closed-ended. If you see buying and receiving toys as an investment, open-ended toys are the way to go. Investing in one set of nice wooden blocks can last your family ten years. I can’t imagine a puzzle lasting that long.
We live in a smaller house that has no dedicated playroom and we don’t want our children to have toys in their rooms. Because of this, we’ve had to be creative in how we store and access our children’s toys. We desire to live in a home where our children can thrive and be kids. But that doesn’t mean that we need to be tripping over toys or letting them fill every nook and cranny of our home.
When you walk into our house we have an entry bench that my husband built. There are four bins in the bottom that corral the toys my daughter is currently playing with.
Currently, the four categories available to Ellie are:
- Dramatic Play- her people and animals
- Vehicles- a truck and a bus
- Building- blocks
- Math- nesting bowls and a nesting rainbow
In our case, each bin only contains a few toys and that is ok. I think sometimes we get caught up in the fact that things can’t look empty and we end up filling baskets to the brim in an effort to make it appear like they’re serving their purpose. All of their other toys are stored in the bay window bench my husband also built.
About once a month I clear out all the toys from the four bins and rotate in new options from the toys that are housed in the bay window bench. I chose four new categories unless she still seems really interested in one that’s already out. For example, she plays with her animals every single day so those have been out for months.
Three Toy-Collecting Tips
1) You don’t need duplicates of the same type of toy.
I ran into this over the Christmas holiday. My daughter was going to be a big sister come February and everyone was so excited for her that she received five different baby dolls. Five! Of course, we were very grateful for all the love and thought that went into her gifts but she simply doesn’t need five baby dolls. So what did we do? We chose one and returned or donated the other four.
Before I started to shift my mindset I would have kept all five out of guilt or sentiment. I would have made sure that the pink doll came out when my grandma came over etc. But that creates so much unnecessary stress and in the big picture does it really matter? Probably not. So, please give yourself permission to let go of things. You will be much happier for it.
2) Try to collect open-ended, multi-age and gender-neutral toys.
Now I only buy or keep toys that can be used by both of my children. My son doesn’t have any “baby” toys. We just have toys that they can both play with. Nothing too small that can fit in his mouth and for the most part, everything we have is fair game. Now this works for us because our children are so close in age but even if I had older kids, I would still try and choose toys that I would be able to pass down.
3) No (or few) fantasy/character toys
Try to stray from toys that have characters that your kids will be sick of when their interests change. I know it can be hard not to get sucked into the consuming these types of toys. Marketers know what they’re doing and it’s their jobs to get us hooked unto their products. Now, I will admit that I enjoy Disney as much as the next person but they’re probably one of the worst (or best depending on how you look at it) offenders.
My daughter is constantly asking for Mickey and Minnie toys and stuffed animals whenever she sees them. How does a 1-year-old who doesn’t watch any TV desire Mickey and Minnie toys? One of her first words was “mouse”, in fact. Do you know why? Mickey is plastered on the side of her diapers. If I want to buy that brand of diapers, I have no choice but to subject her to Disney daily. How’s that for successful marketing?!
My point is, being aware of this is important. It can help us as parents to make more conscious decisions for our kids. We can guide them to make more neutral choices so their toys have staying power.
Living with Intention
I hope reading this has helped you think a little deeper about the toys that live in your home. When you are worrying less about all the toy clutter you can focus more on building relationships with your children through play.
And isn’t that what toys are a tool for anyway?
Creating moments of joy for you and your children? I want to encourage you to try being more intentional with the toys in your home today. I promise you won’t regret it.