We didn’t buy any toys for our kids this holiday season.
Yes, you read that right.
Yes, we do love our kids a ton.
No, we aren’t being neglectful.
Yes, they still got some toys from family members.
But my husband Josh and I don’t feel like it’s our job to instill a love of material things in our children.
Rather, we feel called to teach and model that other things are more important than possessions.
That there are things much more important than things.
And our love for our children is shown not by showering them with gifts they don’t need, but by teaching them important lifelong values.
People over possessions.
Gratitude over greediness.
We’ve never done the Black Friday shopping frenzy and it is my desire that we never do as a family.
This year we #optedoutside and went for a hike at local sculpture park instead of partaking in the madness.
Now please don’t misunderstand. We believe in the importance of play. We just don’t think toys are necessary.
Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.
I believe play is the job of every child. But I don’t believe toys are all that important for quality, imaginative play.
In fact, sometimes too many toys can be overwhelming.
Too many toys -especially ultra-specific toys and toys that do all the work for the child- can actually stifle creativity.
We’ve probably all seen toddlers at their first birthday party who are more interested in the boxes and wrapping paper than the gifts themselves.
Last year I spent some time in Haiti. While there I saw some of the most incredible and imaginative toys – handmade by the children themselves. Toys made completely out of recycled trash.
Kids are resourceful. Play will find them.
I saw cars made out of soda bottles with spinning wheels and counterweights of sand to keep them upright.
I saw handmade jewelry made out of paper and seashells.
I saw whole groups of kids entertained for hours by a single soccer ball.
Yes, play is vitally important. No, toys are not necessary.
In the US we are a culture of excess. We think that more is more when the opposite is actually true.
Too much is stifling.
Decision fatigue is a real thing. And I imagine it’s more prevalent here than anywhere else in the world.
My backyard is intentionally very simple.
We never made it over with swings and a slide and a sandbox like some parents do.
Those things are available for free at local parks when we feel like going for a walk.
What my backyard does have is lots of ways to interact with nature.
Rocks, sticks, dirt for making mud. Leaves, weeds, birds, and squirrels to spy on.
Our yard is pretty small, but all these things spark creativity and an investment in nature.
Maybe you think I’m just lazy.
Maybe you think I’m being stingy.
But either way, this is what works best for our family.
Everything feels lighter when there are fewer toys in the house.
Everything is calmer when there are no loud, blinking electronic toys going off.
There is never much to pick up at the end of the day, meaning the kids can almost always clean up their own messes.
There is less tripping over neglected toys left underfoot.
There is more calm, more crafting, and more “nature treasures” all around my house.
Don’t get me wrong. We do have some toys!
But we try to keep them age-appropriate, quiet, and educational.
- Building blocks
- Art supplies
- Stuffed animals
- Toy food
- Puzzles / games
- Letter tiles
- Books – although most are from the library and not ours
My minimal ways must be rubbing off because my 4-year-old recently requested to clear out his toys he no longer plays with. And then, totally unprompted, he said he wanted to give them away to our refugee friends who don’t have as many toys.
It was a proud mama moment to see my child willingly go through his things and give them away with an open heart.
Something else worth noting is how quickly toys grow old to kids.
I could buy them every single toy they ever laid eyes on, but they would still be more intrigued with their friends toys when we visit their houses than with their own.
This makes swapping toys with friends, or frequently “visiting” toys at the library or the children’s museum better than owning a large collection.
And I’ve found that since libraries and museums are setup by educators, the toys there are usually top-of-the-line, open-ended, and educational. Win / win.
While these freebies are great if you have access to them, the bottom line is this: toys are merely tools for creative play.
Kids’ brains are amazing. They are expanding and learning constantly, in ways we don’t even realize.
When my kids were babies their favorite things to play with were non-toys with interesting colors and textures.
In my experience, learning happens through them interacting with the world around them, not simply being given flashy, expensive toys.
So we don’t have a lot of toys right now. And we’re perfectly okay with that.
What we do have is almost all hand-me-downs or gifts from grandparents – who thankfully respect our desire for simplicity.
I feel like there are already plenty of blogs out there with lists of non-toy gift ideas.
Some of my favorites are:
- Memberships to museums and zoos
- College fund donations
- Adventure gear – boots, snow pants, wool socks, hats, fishing poles, etc.
- Art supplies
- Experiences, not things
When I simplified my kids’ room the first time, they didn’t notice anything missing.
Instead, they were excited and instantly started playing with toys they had always had, but hadn’t touched in months.
That’s the power of breaking through decision fatigue.
Too many choices can overwhelm kids and adults alike. Narrowing the options is refreshing and calming.
And if you can’t bring yourself to part with all the toys you’ve edited, at the very least you can cycle them in and out for a fresh and varied experience.
This is why we don’t buy toys for our kids. Not even holidays and birthdays. And we’re all okay with that.
It isn’t about deprivation or saving money as much as it is about creativity, imagination, breaking through decision fatigue, and instilling lifelong gratitude and generosity in our kids.
What are some ways you foster creative, open-ended play in your children?
How can we model a love of people over possessions and gratitude over greed?
What kinds of toys do you invest in, if any?
Cover photography by Tamara Garcevic