Intentional Gifts: Toys with a Greater Purpose

A few years ago someone told me that they think of spending money like voting for the type of world we want to live in. You use the power of your $ to tell companies what you value and what type of products you want. (A good example of this is grocery shopping – if it’s important to you to have quality organic food, you need to purchase quality organic food. The more money companies make off of organic food, the more they’re inspired to keep working to provide lots of organic food options. Then other companies notice and start providing their own organic products, the food industry starts to shift, now there are more organic food options – often at better price points! – because consumers ‘voted’ with their money).

This has stuck with me ever since, and I now try to be very intentional with the type of purchases I make. Whenever possible, I try to consider the type of world I want to live in and ‘vote’ with the power of my dollar. Does it always happen? No. But one area that I do really try to consider how I’m ‘voting’ is with toys.

Toys with a Greater Purpose

Last week, in my post about gift ideas that aren’t conventional toys, I shared some ideas for practical gifts, experiences, and consumable products. It’s true that I love non-toy gifts, but it’s also true that I do love toys! I just don’t love having a TON of toys around. There is a big difference in my mind between having a few quality toys that get frequently played with and inspire my kids to be creative, use their imagination, and have fun than having a playroom so full of toys that half of them don’t even get played with. (As always, if that’s not your thing, no judgement here! This is what works for us).

My kids will always have toys on their Christmas wish lists. Since they are still too little to request specific toys, I’m the one coming up with items for their lists and I try to be intentional about what goes on the list. I love finding toys that are not only cute and fun but also have some sort of greater purpose: this could mean supporting a small business selling products made in the USA or fair trade products made in Peru. It also means trying to find toys that are made from safer materials or sustainable materials (even better if they’re made from recycled materials). In other words I’m not looking for just a toy, but I’m looking for my dollar to also do a little good in the world. Now, does every single toy we own fit this bill? No. Do my kids still receive toys that aren’t on their list? Of course they do. We’re not perfect and I’m not worried about making sure every single thing that comes into our house has a greater purpose. We just try our best to make the effort when we can and don’t lose sleep over it when we can’t.

Since the holidays are coming up, I wanted to share some of the brands/stores I’ve found over the years that sell toys that have a mission or purpose that I love. This isn’t sponsored at all and I’m not making any money off of this – I just enjoy sharing what I’ve found! Plus, you know how I like to keep things as simple as possible so having this compiled list of go-to stores makes my own holiday shopping simpler.

There are so many great options beyond the specific items I share so if you’ve got some little ones in your life that you’re needing gift ideas for, I hope you’ll consider checking one of these brands out!

Plan Toys – I love Plan Toys because they are eco-friendly and made from sustainable materials like reclaimed rubber woods. They also have a strong focus on providing toys that aid in child development. A green company that makes development a priority and has cute products? Sign me up! LJ’s still frequently plays with this bulldozer that he got last Christmas so we’re putting this firetruck, this mini roller, and this excavator on his list this year.

Eco Kids – I mentioned in my previous post that I love asking for consumable toys because they are fun, inspire imagination and creativity, and eventually get used up (less clutter over time). I love this company because it is a family-owned business that uses non-toxic, natural ingredients and environmentally friendly packaging AND all products are made in the USA. I love these crayons (made from all natural beeswax so I don’t worry if LJ puts them in his mouth. . . which he does) and I have this finger paint set on his Christmas list this year.

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Begin Again – This small US company is committed to making toys for plastic-free play by utilizing plants such as rubberwood, natural rubber, and water-based stains. Last year LJ got this dump truck (seen in the corner of the picture above!) made of a bio-plastic consisting of sugar cane and corn cob and he still plays with it almost every day. They also have cute puzzles and bath toys!

Caaocho – This company makes bath toys out of 100% natural rubber and they are colored with food-grade paint. Plus they are super cute! LJ got this turtle during his first Christmas and Vi has this butterflyfish on her list this year.

Cuddle + Kind – I love the mission behind this company! They sell heirloom-quality knit dolls that are SO beautiful. Their products are handmade and fair trade, meaning the artisans that make them are compensated fairly for their work. Not only that, but for each doll purchased, the company provides 10 meals to children in need around the world. It’s just an incredible mission and I feel so good purchasing their products. Now their dolls aren’t cheap, but my preference would be to get one super cute and high quality doll rather than 10 cheaper dolls that aren’t made as ethically or sustainably. Vi has this one already and this one is on her Christmas list. 

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Green Toys – These toys are made safe in the USA from 100% recycled materials. They have recycled over 83 million milk jugs to this day! I have this dough set on LJ’s list this year – bonus that the dough is made with organic flour in a food-safe facility!

Chalk Full of Design – These small business sells a variety of cute and educational chalkboards made in the USA. I love so many of them! LJ is a little too small this year, but next year I’m going to ask for this personalized name chalkboard!

New Creation – I love supporting small businesses and I especially love supporting small businesses with a great mission. This shoppe’s mission is “design for justice” and they partner with many organizations in the fight to end sex trafficking and provide next steps for survivors. They are faith based non-profit selling survivor made goods and fair trade accessories, and they also provide prevention education on and rescue from human trafficking. I always ask for jewelry for myself (they have a great selection, and this mini stud set is on my list this year!) but they also offer some adorable items for children.  LJ got this donut rattle and this woodland fox for his first Christmas and I love these bandana bibs for Vi.

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OMG – baby LJ making me feel all the feels!

Secondhand shops – Another great place to buy toys? A secondhand shop/Facebook marketplace/yard sale/etc! There are so many places that sell used toys that are still in great condition. These toys are often sold for a fraction of the retail price and still have a lot of life left in them! Now does this mean every toy there is in good condition and worth buying? No. I’m not interested in adding junk toys to our collection, but when there are quality options, I’m all for it! Last year LJ got a full bag of Mega Blocks and a Melissa and Doug Spin Gear Board for Christmas. Both items were bought at a local consignment shop for less than $10 total (retail price is about $32 for both).  They were both in great condition and he loves playing with them. And I feel good about the purchases because they were inexpensive and gave new life to toys that were no longer being played with by their original owners and might’ve ended up in a landfill way too soon. Buying secondhand means you might have to hunt a little more for treasures, but it can be very worth it!

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What are your favorite places to buy toys? If you have found a great shop that sells toys and has a great mission behind it, I’d love to hear about it!

Non-Toy Gift Ideas

The first snow is on the ground here in Indiana and something about looking outside and seeing a fresh coat of white puts me in a festive mood. I love this time of year – cozy nights snuggled under blankets, candles burning, gathering with friends and family for a meal. I love the holiday seasons!

With every holiday season comes the inevitable gift-giving. My children are lucky to have grandparents, great-grandparerents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who love them and want to give them gifts. Every year around this time, I start getting asked what is on their Christmas list and every year, I struggle to come up with enough things to go around. On the one hand, I love that others want to show love to my children in this way. On the other, I don’t want our family to just accumulate stuff for the sake of getting gifts. I want our gifts to be meaningful, special, and not just clutter-creating.

LJ’s Christmas list does have some toys on it. I get it, I totally like gifting fun items! Who just wants to gift things like socks all the time? But that doesn’t mean that ALL his presents need to be toys. Currently, his list has practical things, experience gifts and consumable products. And yes, we did include a few books and specific toys he’ll love.  That’s completely okay! I’m not trying to be a grinch here. Just trying to keep what comes into our house a little more well-rounded.

Today I thought I’d share some ideas of what I’ve put on LJ and Vi’s Christmas lists. I want to be clear that if you’re all about giving toys for Christmas and want to go that route with all their presents – go for it! I’m not judging anyone for requesting or gifting toys. I just prefer to have a wider variety of gifts and avoid adding lots of clutter to my house. I’m sharing what we’re asking for this year in case anyone else out there is looking for ideas for gifts to ask for that aren’t toys.

Practical Gifts

I know my kiddos are still really little and don’t care so much about getting “fun” gifts, so I loaded up their lists with things that they need for the coming year. This includes things like snow pants, snow boots, and socks. I also put practical things on LJ’s list that are a little more fun like this Paw Patrol potty (he needs one for potty training and he LOVES Paw Patrol so this will be fun for him haha) and a backpack. Since she will only be 4 months old and we already have plenty of age-appropriate toys for her, Vi’s list is almost exclusively practical with things like clothing, a swimsuit for summer, a mirror for the car, bathtub spout cover, diapers and wipes.

Meaningful experiences

LJ adores his grandparents and loves to spend time with them. And on the flip side, they love spending time with him! This makes experience gifts an easy thing to ask for. I love the idea of experience gifts because they keep on giving – they are exciting to get, fun to look forward to, enjoyable in the moment, and afterwards they become fond memories to cherish. I let our loved ones know if they want to give an experience gift, such as a zoo pass, they are welcome to join our family when we use it or they can even take our children on a special date without us and experience it together. Justin and I did this several years ago for our niece and nephew; we bought them passes to a local children’s museum and then took them ourselves. We don’t get to see them as often as we would like so it was a special day just us four and we made some great memories and had so much fun!

Here are some ideas of experience gifts I have requested for my kids (or may ask for one day):

Zoo Pass

Whether it’s a day pass or a full membership, this is an experience gift that appeals to children of many ages. LJ absolutely loves going to the zoo, and we are lucky to live close to a great children’s zoo where he can not only see many different animals, but he can feed giraffes, ride a train, and brush goats (or kiss like he’s doing in the picture – haha! So sweet and so gross). The zoo is always a hit!

Day at a Children’s Museum

We have a science museum nearby. My parents live near a living history museum and my in-laws live near a children’s discovery museum. We all live in vastly different sized towns and cities so just because you live in a small town doesn’t mean there isn’t an option for you within driving distance. Maybe there is something 5 minutes away and this experience gift takes an afternoon. Maybe you have to drive an hour and it becomes more of an all-day trip. Maybe the museum is geared towards something specific, like art or science, or maybe it is more of a play museum. Or maybe it’s not a museum at all – for my nephew’s 7th birthday instead of getting him a physical gift, we bought tickets for our families to go to a trampoline park (highly recommend!) Whether it’s a hands-on museum or an indoor waterpark, there are memories to be made. 🙂

Inexpensive local experiences

Experience gifts don’t have to be expensive. Just think about what your child loves doing and try to create a special experience around it. Maybe the gift is a movie night at grandma’s with a new DVD or Redbox/Netflix/Amazon Prime/etc. movie, popped popcorn, and your child’s favorite splurge candy. Maybe there’s a local farm you can visit and explore together. If you live near a town with minor league teams, you can often find inexpensive tickets to a game. If your child loves to help in the kitchen, perhaps a gift of baking (gifting ingredients for chocolate chip cookies and then spending the afternoon baking together) is something he or she would enjoy. My nephew loves Legos, and if we buy him a set, Justin helps him put it together and this has become a special ‘thing’ they now do. There are a lot of options out there for things to do that don’t cost a ton but will provide lots of fun!

Consumable Gifts

A consumable gift is something that can be used up. It’s no secret that I am pretty minimal-ish and don’t like clutter. A gift that can get used up is perfect for creating fun memories without a ton of long-lasting clutter! LJ is starting to really enjoy doing little art projects at home so we put things like stickers and crayons (I love these!) on his list this year and I know he will be so excited to receive them.

Examples of consumable gifts:

-bubbles

-stickers/sticker books

-crayons, markers, colored pencils

-coloring books/activity books

-sidewalk chalk

-fingerpaint

-bath bombs in fun colors

I also love consumable gifts because they often inspire creativity and play in ways that conventional toys don’t. Win win!

And in addition to all those ideas, we did put a few toys and books on LJ’s Christmas list, although I try to be intentional about the toys I do ask for (I’ll share more about that next week). I’m not about restricting toys, just about finding balance. 🙂

Do you have any other ideas for non-toy gift ideas? Or toys that are definitely worth asking for? I’d love to hear them!

 

 

#DeclutterLikeAMother Week Three

Good morning! We’re back with another installment of the January #DeclutterLikeAMother challenge! If you missed them, be sure to catch up on week one (bathrooms and closets) and week two (kitchen).

Week three of the challenge centered on decluttering toys and to be honest, this is not an area I feel overwhelmed by. From the very beginning of parenthood, Justin and I decided that we don’t want our home to feel overrun by toys. Of course, we want our kids to have toys and to enjoy playing with them, but we don’t want to have such an excess that it becomes unmanageable. We’ve always been very intentional about the amount of toys in our home, so I spent very little time decluttering last week (honestly like 20 minutes). Today’s post is going to be more of an update on how I consistently manage the intake of toys, since that is the main reason this week wasn’t a big one for decluttering. I realize everyone makes their own choices when it comes to toys for their children; this is just what works for us.

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I have previously posted how we find balance with toys and you can read all about what toys LJ has and how we store them here. Since I first posted that in October, we have had both LJ’s first birthday and Christmas and I still feel that our toy situation is manageable. For LJ’s birthday, we asked for book donations to a local charity. This worked out so well – we got to support an organization we love and LJ didn’t get a bunch of toys (We had a little celebration, but he actually got no gifts at all, which was our goal. He had no idea what was going on or what he was “missing out” on, and we knew he would get plenty of gifts for Christmas in a few weeks). We won’t do this for all his future birthdays, but we’re really glad we did it for his first one!

When Christmas rolled around, LJ received several gifts, including new toys. Both of our families requested wish lists for presents, and LJ’s list was mostly filled with non-toy items (he got things like wipes, a stroller attachment, money towards a convertible car seat, clothing, socks, etc). Like I said before, he is too little to know that he’s getting the “boring” gifts and there is no shame in my mom game to limit the toys and ask for other things he really needs. That being said, I did include some toys and books I knew he will use throughout the next year. There were also a few toys my mother-in-law texted me about that she found while out and about and I was honest about what I thought he would love and use and what was pretty similar to something he already has. Communication is key! I appreciated that she asked me what I thought so I could give feedback on what I thought he’d like best. For the most part, we got things on our list. We also got a few extras and that was 100% okay!! The goal for us isn’t to be super controlling and only allow x number of toys or these exact things into our home. The goal is to just keep things manageable and a few extra toys does not push us over the edge. At the end of the day, we focus on being grateful for the generosity and loving spirit behind the gifts. It’s fun to see the things our families find that make them think of LJ and sometimes, an “extra” gift ends up being one of LJ’s favorites!

When we came home from Christmas, I immediately looked at the space we had for toys  and decluttered before putting anything away. While I do keep a few small amount of toys in his bedroom and my bedroom (see my toy post for more info), most of his toys are in the playroom. In our playroom, we have a green cabinet where we store toys and we have a rule that unless a toy doesn’t fit because it is too large (like his activity table), it must be stored in the cabinet. This allows for plenty of toys but keeps the overall amount to a manageable number. If the cabinet doors don’t close, we have too many toys!

We’ve always kept a loose definition of toy and LJ had things in his toy cabinet like a snack can and a plastic waterbottle with a straw. These are things I easily got rid of to make room for his new toys. I also took out some toys he never showed much interest in or that were really similar to other toys. Once I streamlined and made room for his new items, I put everything back in the cabinet.

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When it came time for this week of #DeclutterLikeAMother, our toys were mostly already streamlined from Christmas, but I did find a few more things to get rid of. Our book bin was pretty full and it was hard to fit everything in there, so I got rid of a few he never chooses to read and a few that won’t be age appropriate for several years (like one for learning how to tell time – that’s helpful, but I can find something like that in a few years when we’re ready to teach him this). We had several stuffed toys so I got rid of a couple he doesn’t use. And I set aside the two bigger items we had borrowed from a friend, a music table and push toy, so they are ready to be returned to their owners.

Even with all we got rid of, LJ still has plenty to keep him busy. Ha!

week three declutter

For me, the key is to just keep an eye on what is being used and what is fostering imagination. LJ doesn’t really have many toys that are passive entertainment; most of his toys require him to move them or do something with them. If I notice a toy isn’t working well anymore or he’s never wanting to play with it, I take it out to sell or donate. Just a little effort every now and then to make sure we’re using what we have helps keep things at a manageable level.

If you are a parent, what tips do you have for keeping your toy inventory manageable?

Finding Balance with Toys

While I love the simplicity of living with less, there is one area where things can quickly move into chaotic overabundance: TOYS.

That being said, I honestly do not feel overwhelmed by the toys in our house. I don’t feel like our living space has been taken over by toys. I don’t spend hours picking up toys and in fact, spend less than four total minutes putting away all our toys. And while I am going to share how I organize all our toys, spoiler alert: there is no magical storage system or organization strategy that makes me feel in control of our toys. I feel in control of our toys because we limit our toys to a manageable amount. Simply put, we do not have more toys than we can handle. Justin and I both agree we would rather LJ have fewer toys that he actually plays with than more toys than he knows what to do with. And while I know our choices in this department will not be for everyone, I wanted to share what has worked for our family in case there is someone out there who feels like they are drowning in toys and wants suggestions for ways to simplify the toy chaos and take back control of their house.

LJ in playroom

How we keep our toys manageable

1) We rarely buy toys for LJ.

In a minute, I’m going to show you every single toy in my house. And since LJ has been born, I have bought exactly one of these toys (a xylophone). While there are a lot of beautiful, fun toys out there that I know he would love, I also know that at this point he is so happy with the variety of toys that he was given through my baby showers and Christmas last year. He gets exposure to other toys when we go to the library, play dates with friends, or grandma’s house and I do not need to spend money on more infant toys in our home for him.

2) We keep a loose definition of “toy”

LJ regularly plays with the hard plastic water jug I got from the hospital where I gave birth (he particularly loves the straw). He loves the ridges and crinkly sounds of a recyclable plastic water bottle. He is just as happy playing with these as he would be playing with a $20 toy from Target. Free promotional balls from local sporting events, books from Kids Eat Free night at Chik-fil-A – these are all fun for him to play with and also very easy to dispose of or put in a 25-cent garage sale bin when we need to make space for toddler toys down the road.

3) We’re honest about gifts

Both sets of our parents know about and respect our desire to live with less. We have communicated honestly with them that we love seeing their love expressed through quality time spent with LJ, cards, video chats, etc and do not need them to constantly gift LJ toys. We totally understand their rights as grandparents to occasionally spoil, so if they happen to see something that they just can’t resist giving him, of course that is okay! The key is occasionally and we so appreciate that they have mostly limited gift-giving to Christmastime or special occasions.

And speaking of Christmas, we don’t fill LJ’s wish list with toys. We do choose a few toys or books we know he’ll use throughout the next year as he develops and grows, but we also include other necessities (clothes, diapers, wipes, stroller attachments, money towards a convertible car seat). He is too little right now to know that he’s getting the “boring” gifts and there is no shame in my mom game to limit the toys and ask for other things he really needs. Gifts don’t have to just be toys!

4) We toy swap

We currently have a musical walker and learning table that we borrowed from friends – their first child has outgrown these toys and their second child is still too little. By the time LJ is done with both toys, our friends’ younger son will be ready to play with them! It’s a win-win; neither of us has to take up space storing these toys when our kids outgrow them. I do this with baby gear too (my niece is currently using LJ’s doorway jumper and Justin’s colleague is going to use LJ’s baby swing) which really helps keep storage spaces manageable!

5) We clean up when we’re done playing

When we’re done playing in a room and ready to move on, I very quickly scoop everything up and put it back in place. I’m a big believer in “outer order, inner calm” (thanks Gretchen Rubin!) – I am much less stressed when my house seems somewhat orderly and toys aren’t left everywhere. The mess always seems manageable because it is confined to one room and not spread throughout the entire house. Plus, I am always amazed by how little time it actually takes to get things back to baseline. Just a minute makes a huge difference!

How we keep our toys organized

We spend most days at home so LJ plays with his toys often. While I know I could keep them all in one room, I prefer to have them stored in three main areas as we move throughout the house during the day. Keeping toys in a few strategic places helps prevent the feeling that they’ve taken over our entire house but they are readily available where we hang out most frequently.

Nursery

Nursery Toy Storage

In LJ’s nursery, I have an old crate that I use as an end table + storage. This is where the bulk of LJ’s book collection is kept because we often read in the rocker. I store stuffed animals in a fabric basket and found the perfect little wire basket that fits just right to house a few other toys – crinkly books, rattles, animal links, and a wooden ball toy.

LJ and books

LJ frequently pulls everything off the shelf, but because it is a limited amount of toys and everything has a clear belonging place, it takes me between 30-45 seconds to put things back in order when we’re done playing.

My Bedroom

bedroom

I often have LJ in my bedroom with me if I need to fold laundry or get dressed to go out of the house. I keep a small basket with textured balls and a few other toys so he stays occupied playing while I do whatever I need to do. I timed our clean-up after the last time he was playing with these – it took ten. seconds. to throw everything into the basket and put the basket back against the wall. Just ten seconds out of my day and my room felt put back in order. Totally worth it!

Playroom

Playroom toy storage 1

We have a small den in our home that has become our main hangout space. It’s got a comfy sectional and our TV so it’s where we naturally gravitate as a family and is therefore where we have created a little playroom for LJ by blocking off the doorways with the sectional ottoman and a baby gate. I painted a buffet hutch that was handed down to me and we use the entire bottom to house LJ’s toys.

Playroom Toy storage 2

While I have the doors open to show you how I store the toys, I rarely have the doors open while we’re playing in this room. Instead, I’ll alternate taking out a basket or two at a time and close the doors so LJ doesn’t pull out the rest. I know eventually he’ll be big enough to open the doors himself, but for now, this method works really well for us in preventing all the toys from being pulled out every time. Examples of things I’ll bring out at any one time are:

Side note: You’ll notice I keep some of these toys in their original packaging. I know I can just throw everything into a bin, but I personally don’t mind spending an extra 10-20 seconds putting things back in the plastic pouch so I can store them vertically (space-saving) and make sure I have everything (easy to see if I need to search under the couch for missing items).

Last night I snapped a picture of the playroom after LJ went to bed but before I cleaned up.

nightly clean-up

I timed myself picking things up just to see how long it took. It took me ninety seconds to put away everything you see here. Then it took me an extra 49 seconds to grab my broom from a nearby closet and retrieve two balls that had rolled past my reach under the couch. A total of 2:19 and the room was back in order so I could relax and enjoy the evening!

Bonus – pack n play

While it’s not frequently used anymore, I do also have LJ’s pack n play set up in our main living room for anytime I need to set him down and leave the room. I keep just a couple toys in there so it’s always ready to plop him down into. I also keep his activity center next to it, although now that he is so mobile he does not like being in the activity center much so this will soon get converted to a toddler table when we give our friends their learning table back.

pack n play

And that’s it! That is literally every single toy in our house. There’s nothing hiding out in a closet, there’s nothing I pulled out of pictures to seem like we have less. This is everything LJ has. I hope you can see that just because we choose to live with less does not mean we deprive our son. He still has plenty of toys to play with that engage his mind and help with stages of development.

Did you notice how much time it takes to clean up when we’re done? On an average day, I spend less than four minutes cleaning up. Four minutes is all it takes to get back to baseline for the next day. FOUR. MINUTES. This is not because I’m a magical cleaning wizard who can put things away at super-speed. This is not because I’ve discovered the perfect organizational system to store toys. It is because we have decided on what “enough” toys looks like for our family and we stay within that amount of toys. Living with less toys has simplified our lives and allowed our home to still feel like a relaxing haven rather than the inside of an overstuffed toy box.

I hope this encourages you to know you can still live abundantly without an overabundance of toys for your baby. What tips/tricks do you use to manage toys within your home? I’d love to hear what works for you!