As a homeschooling family, our home environment truly shapes the course of our day. I try to make sure our home has plenty of outlets for creative play, exercise, and learning… while still keeping the toys and clutter under control.
It’s a huge challenge.
In many ways, homeschooling sometimes seems totally opposed to a minimalist lifestyle. After all, we are trying to fit a classroom within our home!
Whether you homeschool like me or not, I’m sure we all as parents have struggled with the idea that our kids need material “stuff” from us to be happy. And I have NO doubt the very same stuff can make us miserable later when we’re tripping over toys and shoving things into closets when company drops by.
There must be a simpler, better way… right?
Low Clutter Toys for Kids (That Don’t Make a Mess)
Well, of course the “right way” can look wildly different for each family and in different chapters of life. But here are a few basic principles that have helped our family adopt a healthy minimalism by figuring out what was important and what we could do without.
1. Own Less
I love the classic “Dear Abby” advice:
If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them and half as much money.
Sounds like good advice, but it can feel pretty painful in practice if we aren’t used to saying “no” to ourselves and to our kids. We all say we want a simpler life, but when it comes to that look of sheer delight on their faces when we say “yes”… how can we resist?!
I’ve written before about how much more stuff the modern family has than our grandparents did just two generations ago. And when it comes to our kids, it gets pretty shocking:
- The average child in the developed world owns more than 200 toys but plays with…wait for it…only 12 of them!
- The average American parent spends $317 per year per child on new toys. Imagine that repeated, year after year, for a family with multiple children.
- Only 3% of the world’s children live in the U.S., but they own more than 40% of the world’s toys!
These are some pretty impressive reasons to reevaluate what our kids really need to be happy. Chances are, their fondest childhood memories won’t revolve around stuff.
The truth is, family habits won’t change until we’re convinced that buying more stuff won’t make us or our kids happier.
2. Limit Toys (& Kids Will Enjoy Them More)
I love Montessori principles and have found a lot of success setting up small play “stations” in our home. These can be adapted for different ages and abilities.
A home could never look or work exactly like a Montessori classroom, but the basic Montessori idea of “freedom within limits” certainly comes into play in our everyday lives at home. We limit the freedom a young child has in order to set them up for success, increasing their freedom (and responsibility) as they get older.
There are countless ways to organize toys, but limiting a child’s toys to an amount they can take out and put away independently gives them more freedom and choice.
This doesn’t mean getting rid of all of their toys. It might mean limiting them to a certain number, or only to a specific room, or even rotating small bins of toys in and out periodically.
Physical limits like a closet or box help us know when it is time to rotate or purge toys.
3. Stick to Low Clutter Toys
For the most part, I prefer my children’s entertainment come from the great outdoors (think climbing trees, running, building forts, etc.). Inside, I encourage them to use things I already have in the house and serve another purpose or skill (think cooking/baking, making an indoor obstacle course from the couch cushions, or ripping up old clothes to make costumes). I’m sure just about all of us moms have come up with some creative ways to keep a demanding toddler busy with nothing more than a pot, some kitchen utensils, and a little bit of water.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for well-chosen toys in the house, especially ones that encourage exercise and learning.
Trying to decide which toys are worth buying is tough, since each kid is different and the quality of the toy often unknown. (Although Amazon reviews in recent years certainly help!)
That leads to my next point…
4. Make Buying Choices Carefully
I think it boils down to being extremely choosy before bringing a toy into your home, even if it’s just 10 cents at a garage sale. Liat Hughes Joshi, author of the book Raising Children: The Primary Years, gives three main factors that can help when deciding whether a toy purchase will pay off (and I think it’s good advice).
Before buying a toy, ask yourself…
1. Can my child use this with other children? (social value)
Can more than one child use this toy at time? If so, which ages? Will this toy encourage active play and sharing?
Good examples of toys that serve this purpose well might be a dollhouse, a board game, or a bat and ball.
2. How quickly will they get tired of this toy? (versatility)
How creative does this toy allow my child to be? Is it designed for one purpose, or can it be used multiple ways? How many?
Open-ended toys like Legos, Lincoln Logs, wooden blocks, or silk scarves allow kids to repurpose them in creative ways as they get older. These will be staples around your house a lot longer than another stuffed animal or a mermaid costume.
3. How long will this toy last? What materials is it made of and could any parts break? (durability and sustainability)
My husband especially looks for quality in an item above all else. Although it can mean spending more initially, having a few well chosen quality items always beats piles of plastic junk made in China.
It’s less to clean up for you, less waste for the environment, and will fetch a higher resale value when it comes time to purge… going on to give another child joy.
So which are the best toys? I have some ideas!
My Favorite Low Clutter Toys That Last!
Here are some low clutter toys that have stood the test of time for us. I’ve intentionally tried to keep the list short and pared down to essentials. Check out my other posts on the best natural toys and the Ultimate Gift Guide for more quality toy suggestions!
- Legos (the one and only exception to my ban on plastic toys)
- Easel and art supplies (see this post for tips on organizing the art that results!)
- Chalkboard or Boogie board
- Paper dolls (Usborne has high quality ones)
- Kinetic sand (skip the plastic molds and accessories)
- Felt boards/books
- Playdough (make your own and use kitchen tools as accessories)
- Coloring books
- Board games
- Playing cards
- Marble run
- Train table (table is key for containing clutter)
- Playsilks (open-ended dressup)
Active or Outdoor Toys
- Gorilla Gym
- Child’s bow and arrow set
- Sun Art paper
- Sticks, rocks, and what nature provides! (no kidding!)
- Soft plush doll or animal (with a few accessories)
- Small pillow
- Child-sized reading rug or chair
What toys have stood the test of time for you? What toys do you say “no” to? Please share!