How to Choose Low Clutter Toys (Ideas Kids Love)

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How to Choose Low Clutter Toys- ideas kids love
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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!

Creative Toys

Collaborative Toys

  • Board games
  • Playing cards
  • Marble run
  • Dollhouse
  • Train table (table is key for containing clutter)
  • Playsilks (open-ended dressup)

Active or Outdoor Toys

  • Trampoline
  • Jumprope
  • Gorilla Gym
  • Bats/balls
  • Chalk
  • Bubbles
  • Child’s bow and arrow set
  • Sun Art paper
  • Sticks, rocks, and what nature provides! (no kidding!)

Comforting Toys

  • Soft plush doll or animal (with a few accessories)
  • Blanket
  • Small pillow
  • Child-sized reading rug or chair

I really enjoyed this podcast interview with Cas from Clutterbug on how to organize with kids.

What toys have stood the test of time for you? What toys do you say “no” to? Please share!


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Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


17 responses to “How to Choose Low Clutter Toys (Ideas Kids Love)”

  1. Ruth Avatar

    I was wondering if you could give me some suggestions for non toxic dolls for my daughter. I have done extensive research trying to find a completely 100% non toxic doll and it seems they don’t exist (other than Apple Park organic baby dolls). She loves looking at the dolls in the stores with eyes that close and that look like her (not a stuffed animal) but I haven’t been able to find any that are completely non toxic (some use 100% organic cotton for the outer layer but then use highly toxic material to stuff the doll). So frustrating!!!! Any recommendations? Would love to hear from you. Thanks for all you do.

  2. Amanda Avatar

    I made some mermaid tail and shark blankets for my aunt to give to her grandkids last year for Christmas, and she says they still use them all the time.

  3. Lesly McDevitt Avatar
    Lesly McDevitt

    I had similar requirements for my toy purchases, tho’ I called it “educational value” (which of course covers far more than just ‘academic’ value). But I included one other plastic toy (in addition to Legos) – Playmobile. I know they’re overpriced, and oh-my do they count as clutter, but my boys would spend hours with those little knights and pirates!

  4. Hannah Avatar

    I am curious about baby age/developmentally specific toys. What are the most helpful/minimalist for different ages. We have a cloth crinkle book that has been a big hit and a silicone teether that has been essential for teething. Baby is now 10 months and I am looking for toys that will be usable for the longest time and help encourage developmental milestones. I don’t want to buy any of the talking/media toys.. they seem like a stimulation assault!

    I do have a walk-behind walker, but have held off other than a set of wooden stacking rings. What other recommendations would you have?

  5. Chasing Jupiter Avatar
    Chasing Jupiter

    I love this list! I only have two boys but as you said it easy to accumulate “stuff”. Over the past couple of years we have done a lot of purging. What remains is the wooden train set, Lego (a lot of Lego), art supplies, and books. I have a slight book addiction… but we have even applied the same logic to buying books. Is it something we will read more than once? Is it hard cover and good quality to last multiple kids? Would it be better to just get it at the library? Etc.

    Thanks so much for this post! Such a good reminder of how good it will be for me to continue a life of “less.”

  6. Kaydee Avatar

    Thank you for the great list. Our oldest daughter loves the art supplies, while the second daughter adores the toy kitchen and singing/playing music. For our son, I would have to say Legos, Citiblocks and recently Snap Circuits are where he spends his free time. A sandbox in the back yard has provided hours of fun for all.

    I would add a musical instrument to the creativity category. Something simple like a lap harp, recorder, harmonica or ukulele. If they each play a different instrument, they can perform together.

    For those with safe access to sidewalks or longer driveways, I would suggest a tricycle or bicycle. Our oldest was even able to hook a bike trailer up to her bike and haul her little brother around before he was old enough to peddle a trike well enough to keep up. It’s also allowed our family to explore nearby bike trails. In winter climates, I would also suggest a sled. Something to get them outdoors and moving!

    We own an ipad, but we say no to most apps because we don’t want to encourage more screen time. (It’s useful for streaming piano lessons, etc.) Besides the lack of social interaction and creativity, it’s important for their eye health to focus further away and not on a close, fixed point for long periods. “Fad” toys are also out. With few exceptions, we limit toy purchases to birthdays and Christmas. If they want something at another time, they need to save up and buy it themselves.

  7. Kali Avatar

    I homeschooled my children while traveling on the road, and living off of the land as we went. Because we traveled, we had very limited space. My children were each given a duffel bag, and were allowed to keep whatever toys would fit into it. These mostly were high quality stuffed puppets and stuffed animals that were to end up being the characters of what would we would come to call “stuffie world”.
    These toys were literally the basis for a complete world they created, and would stay with them till the end of their pre teens. They would use whatever was around them at the time to create the stage for the world. Outdoors they used branches, rocks and debris to create buildings and cities. Indoors they would use tables, chairs, blankets, and other common household items to create their environments. Some of the world’s features included a restaurant and multidimensional inn. The restaurant was the kitchen of course, and the inn was where we lived.
    We taught through this medium our homeschooling agenda, and they learned an incredible array of social skills in this way.
    We tried our best however to limit the number of “toys” they possessed, instead replacing them with real life tools and items.
    Toys are great to stimulate imagination, but tools are what children need to develop real life talents and skills. My husband was a carpenter by trade, and from a young age we would take them on job sites, and help them learn the trade. Because we lived off of the land, they were given pocket knives and Zippo lighters at the age of five, to prepare and light fires, process and cook food, etc. They were required to hunt for and gather wild food throughout the day, collect firewood, wash dishes, set up and take down camp, etc. They had so much to do and learn, and they were always kept busy, and were never bored.
    They developed strong work ethics, and we’re proud to be giving to the general survival of our family. Children need real purpose and meaning, or they become bratty and unfulfilled.
    Other gifts we would give them, were to teach them the importance of buying quality over quantity. For example we would only buy them high quality jewelry, such as real silver necklaces with spiritual significance in our family. Other gifts would include such things as essential oils, spiritual items, and things along the lines of their interests, such as art supplies.
    Children for the most part, should be treated as any adult should, like a person. Ask yourself when buying something for a child if you would want it. We had a rule when buying anything, to ask these questions. Will I really use it? Is it’s worth of quality? Do I really need it? We never bought things like nic-nacs, or low quality items that would break easily. Real things help to make real children. Of course,one of the most important parts of buying for children isn’t the items themselves, but your participation in using the items with your children. Play with your children, work with your children, learn with your children. Toys are not just distractions to keep them out of your hair, they are social platforms for you to become closer, and teach them love and life skills.

    1. Kristy Tillman Avatar
      Kristy Tillman

      I love your post and have great respect for someone who raises their children that way!

  8. Kristy Avatar

    My son is 8 and has almost always played with his play kitchen stuff. He loves cooking real food, but also pretending to cook. He also got a stuffed Peter Pan at birth and they are best friends. 🙂 We are definitely working on passing on toys and getting rid of them. We found a little boy who wouldn’t have otherwise had toys for Christmas and he excitedly gave him his toys. A very special time! 🙂

  9. Jen Avatar

    We homeschool too, and we have a family of 10 in a relatively small house. Our dining room became the school room about 6 years ago, and much of our living room wall space is taken up with bookcases (12 grades = a lot of books!). We try to keep the toys in the family room so they don’t end up all over the house, although this doesn’t always work 🙂 Our favorites are a toy kitchen set, arts and crafts supplies, a train table, and the ever-popular cardboard boxes! Then there’s a trampoline and a swing set in the yard. Twice a year we clean everything out of the family room and get rid of anything broken or missing pieces, and give away anything that no one plays with anymore. The kids groan when I tell them it’s time to clean it, but I try to give them incentive by saying as soon as it’s clean, we can put up the Christmas decorations, and they love that.

  10. Chelle H. Avatar

    Thanks for sharing your ideas & a small list! I’ve been wanting to pare down on toys for awhile, as I’ve noticed there are a handful of favorites while many of them are neglected, despite being liked.

    I’m going to share this post with my family & fiance. We’ll see how much we’re truly able to turn our kids’ toys into the quality items vs. the what will soon be junk (but isn’t there yet). We’ve had to get rid if several garbage bags full of stuffed animals/dolls…and only one of those has been missed, so we plan on getting another one of better quality.

  11. Rebecca Avatar

    We have 3 kids (so far) 5 and under and our “rules” for toys seem to be very similar to yours (although we still have more plastic than Legos). We also just started homeschooling, so have the same issue with fitting a classroom into our home. I would add one more partially plastic toy to your list: MagnaTiles. Our kids love them! My 2 year old will spend a minimum of 1/2hr daily playing with them. Plus, they are good for school too 😉 I highly recommend investing in the high-quality MagnaTile brand name ones. This and/or other smaller or smiliar sets:

    1. Cori Avatar

      Those are so fun! They have them at our local play museum set up over “light boards” and the kids as well as my husband and I loved it! You could seriously just sit there forever and build.

    2. Lorean Avatar

      Magnatiles are key in our house/ homeschool too, especially for my 5 year old during quiet time!!

  12. Linda Avatar

    I went to the local thrift store and bought a grocery bag full of dress up clothes including an evening gown, a lace curtain, a sport coat and a tie among them. They led to imaginative play for several years then became Halloween costumes.

    1. Tammie Avatar

      I love this idea! My kids are older now but buying stuff at a thrift shop and repurposing is so much more sensible than buying crappy costumes that the kids wear one time. Smart thinking!

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