...because home doesn't happen overnight.
01.26.16 / Living With Toys

kid stuff 1

If you have kids then you have kid stuff. Chances are you’re constantly trying to strike a balance between their stuff and your sanity. I’m a tidy person by nature. Clutter – whether messy or overly decorated – makes me a little twitchy. I live, work and sleep better in uncluttered spaces. With three kids, it’s challenging but not impossible. When people visit our home virtually or in real life, they want to know where all the toys are. I thought I’d share a behind-the-scenes look at the kid stuff in our home along with my thoughts on toys. I snapped some pics last week when the kids were at school and the house was tidy, but they are not styled shots. This is what our home looks like when everything is in its place…and the kids aren’t around ;)

Honestly, it would make my life so much easier if people would just stop giving my kids stuff (no more stickers at the grocery store! no more party favors! no more things just because the calendar says it’s a holiday and the stores say buy something to celebrate!) but that’s not my decision to make. Preserving my sanity is my decision though. Here’s how I do it…

Less is more. Honestly, we don’t have many toys to begin with and what we do have is mostly corralled out of plain sight in a bin or basket. But it’s here! We don’t have a ton of room for toys but even if we had more space it’s likely we wouldn’t fill it with toys. As a parent, I don’t believe it’s my job to buy all. the. toys. We maybe buy each kid 2-3 toys annually and that includes birthdays and holidays. There are no impulse buys at Target or the grocery store and the kids know it. If they ask for a toy at the store my response is, “Sorry, that’s not on our list today. Why don’t you put it on your wish list?”

I don’t think my kids need a bunch of toys to keep them entertained. In fact, they focus better with fewer toys. When they tell me they’re bored my response is, “That’s your fault, not mine.” I usually follow up with a verbal list of things they could do. The next few minutes are sometimes dicey as they whine, but eventually they always find something to do.

Having minimal toys keeps our house mostly clutter-free, saves us money and makes it easier to pick up at the end of each day.

kid stuff 10

kid stuff 8

kid stuff 9

Quality > quantity. We would rather own a few quality toys that can be used long-term, passed on to siblings or other relatives or even sold, than a slew of meh stuff. Think wood > plastic, non-themed > themed and gender neutral. Hape is one of my favorite toy brands.

I think the biggest misconception is that buying quality toys equates to spending more money. But it’s quite the opposite. Sure, one single quality toy might cost more than one single plastic toy, but if that quality toy is the only toy you buy for 6-12 months, you aren’t spending as much in the long run. The grandparents are slowly catching on to this as well. They like knowing a toy they gifted made it past the one month mark unscathed.

Inevitably, toys will be seen and strewn about the house but they look less obnoxious when they aren’t all primary-colored plastic.

Toys are stored within reach and in areas where they are used most. Making toys accessible encourages independence. My height isn’t required to pull something down from a shelf or to put it back later.

kid stuff 2

kid stuff 3

kid stuff 4

Three baskets on a low shelf in our living room hold a train set, Perplexus mazes and kitchen/grocery toys.

kid stuff 5

Mabrey’s play kitchen sits out in the open because she likes to pretend she’s serving people in the living room.

kid stuff 6

The fridge was a Santa gift after Mabrey requested it several times over the past year. I, um, I mean those nice elves used leftover paint, wood putty and two new handles to tweak it to match the sink cabinet. The mini ice dispenser drops wooden “ice cubes” and is Mabrey’s favorite feature.

kid stuff 7

Board games are kept in one of the fauxdenza cabinets near the dining table where family game nights take place.

Give grandparents specific gift ideas. I think we can all agree that grandparents mean well, but their gifting can be excessive at times. Over the years, Steve’s parents and my parents have realized that we really don’t want a bunch of toys in the house. They’ve gradually cut back on buying toys which we’re extremely happy about, but when they insist on getting something, we’ve learned that it helps to be specific. Instead of saying general things like, “Mabrey likes playing grocery store” and ending up with all kinds of toy grocery paraphernalia, we specifically tell them we think she would really enjoy a cash register and, per their request, send a quick email containing a link to a specific item. That’s exactly how this wooden toy register came to be hers. She loves it!

Experience-based gifts, please! If given a choice, most of the time our kids will choose a fun activity over a thing. For their birthdays, we’ll often ask if they want that toy or if they would like to choose dining out, watching a movie, going to an indoor trampoline park, playing laser tag, visiting a museum, etc. If they do choose a thing, we encourage them to think about how they will use it and for how long.

Recently, Layne asked for a mandolin and Everett asked for a scooter to replace his wrecked one. While these are things, they provide experiences and learning opportunities that the kids will remember for years to come. At least, that’s my hope.

We also give experience-based gift ideas to family when asked. Over the last year, grandparents have gifted our kids tennis lessons, a trampoline, gymnastics classes, movie tickets, online music lessons (seriously, the best gift ever – no driving involved!), ballet classes, these awesome electronic snap circuits (the kids LOVE them) and tickets to see The Art of the Brick. My sister gave Layne airline tickets to visit her in Washington DC as a combo Christmas/birthday gift. He goes in a few weeks and is stoked. (I’ll probably be a hot mess watching his plane take off.) These gifts are so appreciated! The best part is that family members are able to experience the gifts with the kids if they want, watching them play an instrument or master a plié and greeting them after their first solo plane ride.

kid stuff 15

Layne’s mandolin bag hangs on a hook in his bedroom closet (along with a Swoop bag full of Legos). He practices in his room so it makes sense to keep it in there.

kid stuff 13

kid stuff 12

kid stuff 14

All the books! One area where we’re a little more lenient on quantity is books. My kids love to read and I want to fuel that fire as much as possible. We visit our local library almost weekly and the kids have many books of their own, too. I will periodically buy them books throughout the year. They read and reread them and share them with each other. I recently had to replace our eleven-year-old copy of Goodnight Moon because it had literally fallen apart and was illegible.

Get creative. We always have markers, crayons, pencils, watercolor paints and paper on hand to feed their creativity. Everett is in his happy place when he’s drawing. (In fact, I’ll often encourage him to draw when he’s having meltdowns. It helps him calm down.) Layne is on an origami kick so we have origami paper and a few origami books. He’ll also watch origami tutorial videos on You Tube for ideas. All these supplies are kept in cabinets in the office area of the kitchen so the kids can spread out on the island and make creative messes.

Frequent purging. Besides not bringing many toys into our home, we’re also adamant about getting rid of things that are broken or unused or things the kids have simply outgrown or lost interest in. I keep a laundry basket in Mabrey’s closet just for these items. As we go about normal daily life, we toss said items (toys and clothing) in the basket. Oh, look, there’s a hole in this shirt. Put it in the basket. Hey, this costume is way too small for you. Put it in the basket. This car is missing three wheels. Put it in the basket. When’s the last time you played with this? Put it in the basket. You get the idea…put it in the basket!

When the basket is full, I sort the items and deal with them accordingly. Items to be donated are put in the car right away so I have no excuse for not dropping them off the next time I pass Goodwill. (Also, the kids can’t suddenly decide they need that toy they haven’t played with in months.) Currently, I have three bags of kid stuff in the back of my car waiting to be donated. This is an ongoing process that will continue as long as my kids keep acquiring stuff. I find this method to be more efficient than big purges that consume an entire day or weekend, although I do make an effort to do a quick toy inventory check just before the holidays to make room for new stuff.

How do you keep toys in check at your house? Do you have any good non-toy gift ideas for kids? How do you handle overzealous grandparents?

P.S. – A dollhouse for Mabrey. Some toy favorites.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

121 Comments

27.January.2016

Great post! While I am child-free, my friends and my sister have had this REAL struggle – especially with “overzealous grandparents”! As an aunt observing the trend VERY early on in my nieces’ lives I did not want to add to my sister’s stress and minimalist brother in law’s life with MORE pink plastic- so I implemented my role as “shoe giver”.

Every birthday I give shoes. When they were young I picked them out (with my sister’s input)- pink sparkle converses and tiny crocs or minnetonka mocs- and now that they are older they pick out whatever they want- custom vans, doc martens, birkenstocks or a pair of Uggs (ok yes I spoil them)

My nieces now love and expect our special tradition- and their parents love it because they know Aunt Ita buys their daughters quality nice shoes that give their girls some fashion autonomy and it doesn’t come out of the clothing budget. I love it because I live in a foreign country and can do it all online with them and send from the website of their choice.

Christmas is a different story and I try to be creative- yet minimal and think experientially as well as creatively or in support of a hobby- soccer gear and clothes, art supplies, concert tickets etc.

I think family should think outside the box and not add complication to a child’s life and also be thoughtful gift givers! Cheers!

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

I LOVE THE SHOE IDEA! That’s so great. My sister always gifts Mabrey a new leotard, tights and ballet slippers each year as she outgrows the previous ones. This is such a great help (and Mabrey LOVES them) along with ballet classes from grandparents.

reply )

replied on January 28th, 2016

Shoes are a fantastic idea! My older, very financially successful sister started investment accounts for both my boys, which sounds really lame to a 4-year-old, but will be really appreciated when they’re in college. Since my husband has been slaving away in academia for years (PhD and now post-doc), we haven’t been able to save for the boys so, mom and dad appreciate this gift now. My sister also offered to get them a playset for the backyard when we bought a house, but our yard is so small that I still can’t figure out where swings would go where they wouldn’t swing into the house, the tree, or the sidewalk!

reply )

27.January.2016

I love this concept. We try to hold to the same standards in our home but goodness grandparents CAN make it hard sometimes! May I ask about Your daughter’s doll stroller pictured? It’s adorable!!

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

It’s from Land of Nod. It was one of those specific gift ideas we gave to grandparents ;)

reply )

27.January.2016

Toys management/storage can be so tricky – especially as they get old enough to have their own opinion about things! I’ve found it helpful for my little girl (who loves to keep everything) to suggest younger friends who might enjoy playing with something she’s outgrown. Then I tell the other mom to feel free to pass if she isn’t interested, but it helps my girl let go if she can imagine someone else she cares about enjoying the toy. Random, unrelated question – recently I replaced our closet doors with the white ikea curtains (I believe you’ve said that was your source for yours in the past). But when I washed them, two pairs shrank a lot and unevenly. How do you clean yours? Thanks!

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

I pre-washed the curtains before hemming and hanging them. I always wash them in cold water and dry only to slightly damp then rehang them to finish drying. Hope that helps!

reply )

27.January.2016

I’m so happy for this post! My husband and I also only buy our kids gifts only on b-days and Christmas and, I was beginning to wonder if we were being naughty parents for this? I resonate like you, they get sooo many crap toys from everyone else and we figure it’s unnecessary junk. We do like to buy them books, they love to read and that I’m happy with! I don’t like having toys around around the house so they keep them in their bedroom. We have board games in the living room, and paper, crayons and markers in the office. I love that your family is understanding and is learning to gift them quality gifts such as lessons, trips, wooden toys…. now I don’t feel like such a horrible parent, ha! I do need to use the basket method, so thanks for the tip!

reply )

27.January.2016

I’d love to see a book list. Our kids are big readers as well and similar ages, though our oldest is the girl. They read and reread, so I never say, no, to a new book. :) What are some favorites, by age?

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

Great idea for a separate post?

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

Yes, definitely.

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

Yes, please!! My son just turned six and we would love some suggestions!

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

I’m sure your local children’s public librarian would be happy to give suggestions too. We have a large book collection but love supplementing by visiting the public library to change things up!

replied on January 28th, 2016

We have not been happy with the library near us. The series are choppy. By that I mean, they’ll have book 1-3 of a series, but then jump to 7 and then 11. It’s odd. Plus, we live about 17 minutes from our closest library, so we end up forgetting to return things on time. I am always more interested in the books other moms have come across. I have found more books using the Amazon filters and “People who search this also liked…” links than I have with librarians. We started keeping a wish list on Amazon with for granparents to buy from. We have 4 sets of grandparents who are eager to buy, so having the list there for them to pick from has been very helpful.

27.January.2016

Great thoughtful post. I always read the articles about designer homes that are ‘family friendly’ to find inspiration on including my children’s things in our décor. I always find, aside from cute kids rooms, everything childlike is hidden except artwork. I love that the play kitchen is out in the open. Wooden toys tend to be prettier to look at as well. When we had baby #3 (and started running out of room to hide) I cleared a shelf for him in our living room amongst our grownup books and figureines to display his favorite board books and wooden toys. It looks great in the room and adds so much life and color. His kitchen has a home in our kitchen, so he can cook along side his parents and siblings. Great tips on purging, too!

reply )

27.January.2016

Amen! We are in the same boat, I have two boys and its a constant battle against the stuff people get them. I ask people to buy my kids art supplies since those get used up frequently instead of toys. We still have more than I’d like though and I may implement the basket idea. I feel so much more at peace (mentally and physically) when there is no clutter

reply )

27.January.2016

Yes….I completely agree with everything above!!!! I didn’t know there were others out there like me. :) I always get called scrooge when I try to say no thank you to ‘all the toys’ when it is Christmas and Birthday time.

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

Scrooges unite! I can understand wanting to make a kid feel special on their birthday but I have no idea how throwing around a bunch of gifts and spending an absurd amount of money on Christmas ever came to be. I don’t get it.

reply )

27.January.2016

I love this post. It turns out there can be tidy rooms after children! I love living more mindfully when it comes to ‘stuff’ and I always wondered how this would go down once/if kids come along. I was wondering how you manage to curb the brandy stuff, I have a niece who is utterly Frozen crazy, that’s all she ever asks for, ugly (in my opinion) plastic stuff and I would prefer to get her things with more longevity or give a contribution towards a larger gift. (a bike etc). Do you have the same policy for buying gifts outside your family? Thanks! Georgina

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

We have three nieces (no nephews so far!) and almost always give experience-based gifts. Luckily, their parents share our less is more philosophy. Several times I have gifted the girls special days where I pick them up and take them to see a live show on stage then they spend the night. We’ve also gifted them gift certificates to a local art studio where children can make glass beads and other crafts. In return, they usually give our kids gift cards to an indoor trampoline park OR the girls pass down favorite toys or clothes they’ve outgrown to Mabrey. (Currently, Mabrey is the youngest of all the cousins.) Gifting or receiving art supplies are always great gifts.

I don’t buy branded or themed toys just because I don’t feel like they are good long-term investments. (The kids have a few things like this that have been gifted to them from friends/family.) Most likely, they will end up in a landfill at some point. Also, when themed toys or “it” toys are the go-to there will always be another, newer theme or “it” toy to be acquired. It’s the perpetual “I want that!” promoted by commercials that drive me bonkers. We watch channels with no commercials, recorded shows or movies to avoid commercials. If kids like Frozen, then watch the movie with them or make a craft that revolves around the movie or even get them a relevant costume. (We have tons of costumes.) I don’t think you have to always give kids exactly what they ask for. Maybe asking “what are you into right now?” instead of “what do you want?” is a better way to get ideas.

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

I agree, Dana! Also, my almost 6 year old daughter is into Frozen, and we make paper snowflakes and “play” Frozen instead. (Someone is Anna, someone is Elsa, and we go around “freezing” the dog and her younger brother who automatically is Olaf). I have nieces and nephews who are older and I’ve seen the cycle that Dana speaks about in their lives. They love Hello Kitty, so they get the bedding, and matching socks, then the kids move onto Lightening McQueen and suddenly they can’t sleep under those kitty sheets or wear those socks anymore. If you start from the beginning with rules like “No licensed character toys” then its easier. If your kid is into Finding Nemo, try reading about fish, or looking up youtube vidoes of clown fish online.

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

Yes, that is a great idea. We don’t live near, so taking them out is difficult, but we did send cinema vouchers recently!

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

My husband’s family goes totally overboard with gifts for Christmas and birthdays. It’s totally overwhelming! I’m with you on plastic toys, but it’s so hard to communicate that with in-laws who don’t see the problem. We managed to have all the kids draw names with each other this year so instead of getting 10 little, cheap toys, they got one thing they actually wanted. We still ended up with extra, but it was much more manageable. Both my big kids are into themed stuff, but they have been for long enough that we’re ok building a “collection.” We also discovered these wonderful books that have a play mat and 12 little figures. We have several now, but it satisfies the “I want every single character” without having shelves full of toys. This was the first year that both my older kids really got the whole Santa/stocking thing, so instead of making a list, we just talked about the ONE thing they wanted Santa to bring. I felt ok getting them what they wanted since it was just one thing instead of a long list. Then we had each of them choose one thing to get their sibling, and that was it. They play with those things nearly every day because they actually wanted them!

reply )

27.January.2016

I am a grandma of 4, almost 5, grandchildren, and I appreciate when my children give me specific ideas for gifts for their children and also tell me what isn’t wanted. But do let grandparents do a little spoiling, buying a special gift once in awhile. I like the idea of “expiriences, we haven’t done much of that.
I, maybe unfortunately, am a saver; and my grandchildren have enjoyed receiving special books and toys that their parents played with.

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

Many gifts the kids have received are books that were once mine or Steve’s handed down from grandparents. They love knowing their mom or dad once read them as children! Toys that have been saved stay at grandparents’ homes to be played with there except for a few stuffed animals. The kids also love it when grandparents do something with them or go on a special outing as opposed to simply handing them a gift. They remember going to see the dinosaur exhibit versus getting a nerf gun. We love grandparents!

reply )

27.January.2016

I can’t second the “experience based gifts” idea more! My in-laws gifted us a museum membership, and not only can we go to our local museum, the membership reciprocates with free admission at roughly 150 museums throughout the country, so we’re able to have a fun time at home, AND when we’re visiting family. It’s probably the best gift we’ve ever gotten.

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

Such a great gift!

reply )

27.January.2016

Bravo, this is a lifestyle that will serve you well! Wish I could have practiced such discipline. I have raised 3 kids in a small home that is now filled with stuff that should have been removed long ago. As I clean out, I keep the classic and toss the plastic. I will say that letting things go sooner than later would have been so much better…cause when you’ve held on to it so long, you can confuse its value – you waffle, wonder if it is still worth keeping? ..and that slows you down! Then you wish they were babes again… Oh it’s rough. Any way keep it up, you’ll be happy. At least now I know for sure that the classics are worth holding on to, not only because they were indeed their favorites, but … that it will make me a well prepared grand mom when that day comes! Smiles, Kathleen

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

That’s so true. The longer you hold on to something, the harder it is to let it go even when it isn’t being used or loved any longer. To help with the purging process, I look at items and tell myself “it has served its purpose”- whether the purpose was simply opening a gift and thanking the giver or playing with it for a few years until it was outgrown.

reply )

Love the post. My kids were little, I swore I would never own a plastic toy. (Adore Mabrey’s kitchen set!). And I gave the grandparents very strict rules about gift buying. They are now 11 and 13 and most of my promises to myself have gone out the window. UGH!!! But, like you, I do purge regularly and try to give the kids the organizational tools they need to clean up independently. But one of them is a true hoarder. And a collector. So it’s still a battle. The other one now purges on his own and is a “less is more” type. So that helps. But I totally agree that the worst culprits are the completely inane toys and treats that come into the house for “free.”

reply )

27.January.2016

Hi Dana,

Love the gold clip on light on you living room book case. Can you tell me where it is from. Love your blog and posts.

Thanks!

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

It’s actually from Land of Nod! Meant for kids but cool enough for adults ;)

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

Thanks Dana! Your blog is refreshed by me every morning while I have my coffee. :) Always excited when you post a new one.

reply )

27.January.2016

I never walk away from a basket I like – I feel like you can almost never have enough! There is always something to corral. We’ve tried to be on the same track you’ve outlined here since our little one was born too. Space is just too tight and honestly, at least at 2 years old, he hardly ever pulls things out of the big toy basket in the living room right now. Non-toys are much preferred ;)

I have to say, at least here in France, that second hand is another awesome option for toys, too! Like Gail commented, we’ve given our son some of his father’s old toys for gifts and I’ve bought many things from yard sales/flea market/consignment. When you are going for those good quality, wood toys to begin with, it doesn’t feel cheap to buy them that way. Also, since so many toys get used lightly, you can get super deals: I bought a wooden race track for 12€ and just saw it in our local toy store new for 49€!

Totally unrelated: but I noticed the brackets of the two wall shelves near the boys’ closet. We have the same but in the smaller size (Ikea). Do you have any tips at all for getting the dang screws into the top holes on the wall side? I haven’t been able to maneuver any tools in such a tight space. There must be a simple answer but I haven’t figured it out!

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

Abigail, I don’t know if this would solve the screw problem, but just in case: I recently discovered this tool (or something very similar) at Home Depot: http://www.homedepot.com/p/DEWALT-1-4-in-Hex-MAXFIT-Pivot-Holder-DWAPVTMF/205997269?MERCH=REC-_-SearchPLPHorizontal1_rr-_-NA-_-205997269-_-N

We used it this weekend to screw some screws into a bookshelf in a tight spot. It was a little fiddly, but definitely made things easier. Might be worth trying!

reply )

replied on February 2nd, 2016

Thanks! I thought something at an angle like that couldn’t exist but I should know better – there is a tool for everything!! I’ll check it out. And I realized after I sent my comment that I meant the hole on the shelf side, not the wall. Doh!

Also, meant to say, since our son was born on Dec. 26th, I’ve been trying to think of a way to keep his day special and separate from the holidays, especially if we have other kids down the line. That idea of giving ‘experiences’ is what I’ve come up with so far – that Christmas can be saved for a few special ‘object gifts’ and birthdays will be about experience gifts for all the (eventual) kids. I love that kind of gift! If anyone has any other ideas about making Christmas birthdays special, though, I’m all ears ;)

reply )

27.January.2016

Great post! I, too, am hyper organized and function better with a calm looking house. We don’t have tons of toys and everything has a place to go at the end of the day. I’d love to hear how you and others deal with kid birthday parties and the influx of stuff. It’s hard when kids get invited to a party and see a pile of presents for the birthday kid, so I can’t imagine telling my almost 6 year old that he has to only accept items to be donated, or do a book themed gifting arrangement, etc. Birthday party gifts seem to be of the cheaper and character themed variety, which we stay away from in gifting to our own kids (we try to stick to open ended toys that hold their interest and creativity for much longer), and while he may be excited to initially receive these gifts, it’s only a short time before he looses interest. Short of deciding on no party, what do others do?

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

We usually allow the kids to have 1-2 of their very best friends over for a sleepover or fun outing around their birthdays. Fortunately, most of the parents are great about asking for ideas and gifting things our kids will use and love over the long run. Lego sets and big hardback books about cars are favorites. Amazon gift cards are great too because then the kids get to go “shopping” for something they really want.

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

For the past couple of years some friends and I have been asking for various donations to local charities in lieu of birthday party gifts for our kids. Coloring books to go to a local children’s help group, canned goods to our local food pantry, extra coins to a horse rescue facility, etc. The birthday child helps decide what the donation could be and then goes to donate it. The kids have loved being a part of something bigger and don’t even miss the presents.

reply )

replied on January 28th, 2016

This is such a great idea!!!: )

reply )

replied on February 1st, 2016

A birthday party trend we love in Canada is “toonie” parties. Instead of gifts, birthday party attendees bring two toonies (2 dollar coins) for the birthday kid. One toonie is donated to a charity (older kids choose the charity themselves), the other can be used to buy a special item of choice. If you have 15 kids that’s $30 for charity and one nice $30 gift! Parents of the kids invited love not having to shop, parents of the birthday kid LOVE not having 15 crappy toys to contend with. Best thing EVER.

reply )

replied on February 1st, 2016

Oh my gosh, such a wonderful idea!

reply )

27.January.2016

Love this post! I will definitely be sharing it with friends and family as we are expecting our first child in a few months. I’ve said it before – I don’t think I’ll ever gift my children any toys (and will only get them things they need ie: clothes; or fun things like experiences). I figure they will get enough toys from friends/family EVEN if I tell people to calm down…

I’ve been trying to purge my own stuff, and after going through all my childhood things, I realized a lot of it was just junk given to me for the sake of buying something for a special occasion.

reply )

27.January.2016

Ugh, the toy battle. My in-laws do not share the “less is more” philosophy, and we get so. much. crap. from them. At my MIL buys a giagantic box of clothes for each kid on their birthday, which is great in many ways but horrible in others. Does my son really need 8!! sets of pajamas? No. Nor does he need 10 pairs of pants. I have asked people to stop but all I get is either laughter or a sarcastic “sorry.”
Just ugh.

reply )

27.January.2016

I love this post! We follow the same philosophy.

I agree on the experience-based gifts. One of our favorites to put on wish lists is yearly memberships to local museums. We received one to a local children’s science museum this Christmas and it’s already paid for itself. It also allows us not to feel bad if we go for only an hour instead of having to go for longer to get our money’s worth if we’d paid for tickets. Plus, it’s so fun to see our two-year-old get so excited every time we go.

One thing we’ve done if grandparents want to get a particular large gift or something we don’t have room for/don’t want in our home is to say they can give it to them but only if it stays at their home. It’s worked out nicely because the kids now have special toys at their grandparents house that they only get to play with while there and we don’t have to bring anything over to keep them entertained.

reply )

27.January.2016

LOVING the more frequent posts! Also, enjoying this topic. I am ditching toys left and right. I buy quality stuff but need to be more prescriptive with family. So we don’t end up with Barbies and stuff that I generally don’t like for my almost 4 year old. Her b-day is coming up and I LOVE that marble run you linked to in the post with your favorite toys. That is definitely going to be her gift this year.

reply )

27.January.2016

Now that my kids are older I miss the scattered toys knowing they’d set up their train tracks and such in a place they knew they could be close to me. To be able to set up elaborate scenes and leave them there for days to keep adding to meant they were more important than a pretty room. And many of their favorite toys were far from esthetically pleasing. Life is more than a photo op.

reply )

27.January.2016

Yes. Yes. and Yes. Love all your tips and have followed most of them (when possible) as my kids have grown up. Not only does controlling the chaos of toys keep you a little more sane–especially if you work from home–it’s also a good reminder to the kids (and parents) that the kids don’t “rule the kingdom” but instead are a part of the family.

reply )

27.January.2016

You have mentioned doing this post a long time ago. I don’t have children but I also don’t like clutter. This is a great post for several reasons. Less is more in most everything. Great pictures that we don’t normally see, not staged is perfect really. The only thing that would make it better is sources.

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

What would you like sources for? Most sources are listed under the ‘see my house’ tab. If you don’t find it there, just ask!

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

That ocean picture on the top shelf in the living room. I checked the see my house tab and the living room photo did not even show it up there. Thanks in advance.

reply )

replied on January 28th, 2016

The print is a photograph of a beach in Dunedin, New Zealand. My husband has traveled there for work several times and I like the imagery. I found it on etsy and had it framed at JoAnn’s with gift cards I asked for for my birthday one year.

27.January.2016

Dana, can I just say that you are seriously the biggest role model to me? I found your blog over a year ago and I just love your personal/home style and outlook on life. Even though I’m 25 and little ways off from children, I find these posts SO interesting/useful/inspiring. Thank you, thank you! :)

reply )

27.January.2016

This is such a great post! I am wondering what you do about your children’s birthday party gifts from their friends? We had a birthday party for our daughter this year and invited her friends for the first time (usually we just invite family). While I told all of the parents they didn’t need to bring a gift, everyone did. She got way too many toys!

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

We usually let the kids invite one or two friends over for a sleepover or fun outing around their birthday. Usually, we don’t do kid birthday parties (so far the boys prefer this…neither one of them like being the center of attention) but we do have parties with family, sometimes outside the house at an indoor bounce house or nearby children’s museum.

reply )

27.January.2016

We try to keep a reasonable limit on toys — available space dictates what we keep. Recently, one of my sons friends (they are six-year-old boys) said he wanted my son to play at his house next time because we don’t have that many toys. I alway think we have more than enough toys.

Wondered if you or any other readers ever had that experience.

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

When Layne has playdates, he often wants to go to his friends’ houses because they get more screen time and some of them even have rooms just for gaming. He goes a few times a year (as long as he is safe, I can’t really dictate what other parents allow as far as screen time) but we have friends over for playdates as well. They’ll watch a movie, go to a park or the pool, go bowling, ride bikes, have picnics, jump on the trampoline or have Lego builds.

Our biggest problem is the boys’ shared room that also acts as a playroom. One boy and his friend will want to play alone but the other brother wants in “his” room, too. I do feel like sometimes we could benefit from a flex room of sorts that could act as a rumpus room / den / guest room. It wouldn’t have to be large.

reply )

27.January.2016

I’m on the other side of this, as it were. I’m the grandma who likes to buy a few good quality things, books, and experiences for my grandkids. However, my son-in-law’s family absolutely buries the kids in cheap, plastic battery-operated talking junk. There is literally a tsunami of toys in my daughter’s living room that just drives me bonkers when I babysit. I wish more parents would follow your philosophy. All this stuff is ending up in the landfill and it is such a waste!

reply )

27.January.2016

Great post! I’m way past this stage, but operated on the same principles in my day. My daughter is turning 28 this year and her friends still remember the Little House on the prairie party we threw 20 yrs ago…we made butter, real potpourri from my garden, etc. Not a made-in-China trinket in site. It is encouraging to me that so many of you younger generation are eschewing the crap for a simpler lifestyle, with style.

reply )

replied on January 27th, 2016

That is such a great party idea! My childhood friends’ parents were awesome about doing experience-based birthday parties. One year when I was in middle school my friend’s parents took a group of four girls to a nearby hotel for a night of swimming, indoor volleyball, staying up late, watching movies and having pizza delivered to our room. (The parents got their own room adjacent to ours, connected by a door.) It was so much fun and it’s the “party” I remember most from my childhood. Come to think of it, the parents probably used points from traveling (they were travelers) to pay for the rooms so, bonus!

reply )

27.January.2016

One of the first and most eye-opening lessons of parenting was realizing that my relationship to my child’s stuff was much different than my relationship to my own stuff, because I had to respect the fact that my child was a person with her own tastes and preferences, and I needed my actions to reflect that to her. As a clutter-averse neatnik, this was a personal challenge.

Still, there’s room for plastic if it works for you and your family. My daughter plays with the same Fisher Price Little People playsets I did back in the 1970s (Sesame Street, the cottage, the downtown, the farm), the same Bristle Blocks and the same Lincoln Logs. And I’m planning on holding on to them so if she decides to have children a few decades hence, we can pull them back out.

We’re also lenient about toys from Happy Meals or gift bag fripperies, mostly because I have found that they provide great opportunities for helping my daughter feel a sense of control over her belongings and her environment. She has a special IKEA storage box they all go in, and when a new one comes in the house, she decides which one she will put in the garage-sale pile. (People snatch up bagsful of these things for a dollar a bag.)

I figure the best thing I can do for my daughter insofar as “stuff” goes — and believe me, three people in a 850-square-foot house means thoughtful “stuff management” — is to help her develop the skills to define her own relationship with her belongings: what stays, what goes and how to store it in a way that works for her.

reply )

27.January.2016

This is great; I love this post! Thank you. I don’t have kids (yet), but we live in a tiny space and this is encouraging! Plus, plastic toys…yuck. Except for the “waffle blocks” my sisters and I had as kids and loved! My mom always made us clean them up into a big bag, however.

reply )

27.January.2016

My son LOVES his toys and plays with them all—and during the winter especially it’s nice to have plenty of activities. He is not quite 3, so that will likely change as he gets older. I guess I have a higher tolerance for clutter, though I do love having baskets and containers to corral the things in (plastic ones and all).

reply )

27.January.2016

I used to rotate the kids toys out to avoid stimulation overload, and keep their toy selection fresh. It works great, but what I realized is that each time I rotated in few toys, and the kids were still fine. I used that ‘out of sight out of mind’ opportunity to get rid of a ton of toys.
For the gifts – I feel you. I try to ask for experiences. We have also done the specific list, only to have the grandparents get every.single.item off that list. Not the point!

reply )

27.January.2016

We have moved away from birthday parties. The kids get sprinkle pancakes and choose their dinner (ribs for my oldest since she turned 3). I also have them go through their toys and donate some before birthdays and before Christmas. The toy baskets they have, are all they get so they make room for new things before they get them. We also give happy meal toys and school prizes a few days before they are tossed or donated. Its not perfect, but it helps.

reply )

27.January.2016

I always adore your clever storage solutions. I am currently pregnant with my first, a girl, due in April and am trying to keep the amount of things I acquire to a minimum. Some of my friends think I am crazy and have registered for too little, but I, like you, would rather invest in a handful of quality neutral looking pieces and things that my child can grow into over the next few years. We have already been declining many free items from our friends and grandparents, just because it is free doesn’t mean we need it.

I am looking forward to implementing some of your storage solutions in my nursery over the coming months and years!

On a side note, Mabrey’s room has always been so clean and sophisticated for me and I drew inspiration from it when planning out my nursery design. Here it is if you are interested in taking a look: http://alpinefancy.com/2016/01/27/little-ladys-nursery/

reply )

replied on January 28th, 2016

That’s one lucky lady!

reply )

27.January.2016

I love when you do posts about how you handle kid stuff. I have two older boys, and one younger girl (almost the same ages as yours). We also share your philosophy of less is more, the house shouldn’t be overrun with toys, and experiences over stuff. My parents respect this and tend to get the kids clothes or a special recommended toy or experience. My in-laws are a much different story and I don’t even try. They’ve got 10 grandkids and don’t live locally so we mostly just donate stuff pretty quickly with no one the wiser.

I have two big challenges though, and I wonder how you handle them with your boys. My boys are LEGO freaks, and also share a room. They each have a Swoop bag to keep LEGOs in, but they build “bases”, set up wars, and create various other scenes which they want to leave spread across their room for days. They don’t want their creations to get smashed by putting them away in the bags. Do your boys actually play with the LEGOs and then just put them away? How do you manage this?! I always marvel at the clean, organized state of your boys’ room. We are very strict about toys and other stuff around the house, but my boys’ room is often a disaster. I really struggle with how much to regulate this.

Second, how do you handle the things the boys want to buy on their own? My older two get an allowance and they save their money to buy either LEGOs or Nerf guns. I feel like we have way too many of both, but they earn and save the money, so it feels like they should be able to spend it on the things they want (within reason of course–my 10-year-old keeps saying he is saving for a phone to which I say “No Way!”).

reply )

replied on January 28th, 2016

Built Lego projects stay on display on their dresser tops for weeks until they need the parts for another project. Currently, their dressers are COVERED. I’m all for letting them display their creations. Every once in a while, a Lego castle or car will sit on a shelf in the living room.

When the boys have money to spend, I suggest they make a list and then we kind of go over it together. We set limits on what they are allowed to buy but they still have several items to choose from on their own. They are really good about saving their money for a year or more to buy something they really want. (Layne bought a Kindle this way.) Personally, I don’t allow Nerf guns just because I never like the way they act after playing with them. I allowed them for a while as only outside toys but they were constantly losing the bullets which rendered them useless. They have slingshots and foam rocket launchers that are less aggressive toys that don’t seem to have a negative impact on their behavior afterwards. And I’m with you on no phone!

reply )

replied on January 29th, 2016

I don’t know if you have the room for this… but we have a very strict NO toys in bedrooms policy. All the toys stay in the basement (yes, we have a basement playroom. I live in Minnesota and it’s not always possible to play outside here, and we like it). Legos are allowed to stay out, but they have to be in the basement EXCEPT for one shelf in our family room where a Minecraft scene has been stationed and played with for over a year now. I love legos. TBH I sometimes play with them without my kids. No toys in the bedroom also cuts down on the urge to play after bedtime. My boys share a room and they each get a couple lovies and a bookshelf that is just for books. It works for us, but YYMV

reply )

replied on February 1st, 2016

We’re on a slab, no basement! But I’m all for doing whatever works – especially in winter when cabin fever is rampant!!

reply )

27.January.2016

Love this post. I have a 1 year old and just went through our first Christmas and birthday. Despite requesting no gifts, we got TONS. I love the experience idea, no themed toys and sticking to quality wooden toys and books! Question – the white shelves/book cases at the bottom of your boys’ closet – where is that from? Would love something like that for my son’s room.

reply )

replied on January 28th, 2016

Target! It’s 10+ years old and has served us well, making the move to three different houses over the years to corral toys and books.

reply )

27.January.2016

100% agree with every word and wish this was the norm! Kids need space to make their own fun and it is such a disservice to them to fill their lives with junk. I often find myself quoting the most unlikely parent, Betty Draper, who once told her kid that only boring people are bored! Haha! Great post.

reply )

27.January.2016

You would love the book “simplicity parenting” although you likely could have written it yourself! It takes this idea one step further with a look into the WHY we should all (but especially kids) have less. I just finished it and really enjoyed it.

lovely post xx

reply )

replied on January 28th, 2016

It’s going on my wish list! Thanks for the book rec.

reply )

27.January.2016

This post is so timely as I try to eliminate some of the clutter before our next move this summer. I need to start the basket method :) My in laws are all for experience-based gifts. My mother, on the other hand, doesn’t feel like it’s a real present unless it’s something tangible for them to unwrap, i.e. toys.

reply )

27.January.2016

Thanks for the tips! I have young kids and I’m wondering what you do with art and other projects they do at school. My daughter comes home with so many different projects and I don’t want to throw them all away but can’t save them either. Any ideas??

reply )

replied on January 28th, 2016

We display current projects for a few weeks then only save absolute favorites. Most go into a plastic tote in the attic with other memorabilia. Even then, I don’t save much. I have maybe two pieces of kid art waiting to be framed and hung because they are so, so good. It makes the pieces we keep feel extra special.

reply )

27.January.2016

I like how you have organized them and have minimalist idea. A friend of mine has a huge playroom for her kids and so many toys there, as well as in each kids room, and also in a big downstairs storage room. Too much!

reply )

27.January.2016

Besides crayons, markers & pencils what craft supplies do you like to use/recommend with your children?

reply )

replied on January 28th, 2016

Watercolor paints and big pads of drawing/painting paper are big hits. IKEA sells a tabletop paper roll holder (+ rolls of paper) and it is perfect for kitchen islands or dining room tables. For older kids, the trendy “adult” coloring books are great when paired with colored pencils or fine point markers. My oldest loves origami so we have supplies for that, too. Of course, we have other basics like scissors, glue, colored paper, etc. Never underestimate the simplicity of a cardboard box and tape!

reply )

27.January.2016

Wonderful post! For our daughters 5th birthday we rented out the local roller skating rink. In lieu of gifts she collected donations for the local animal rescue. She loved it!

reply )

27.January.2016

We ask grandparents for experience-gifts for everyone. Usually it’s a family pass to local stuff (the Biltmore Estate, the local botanical gardens, the zoo) – we also use those same passes with the reciprocal membership to always check out the zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums in different cities while on vacation.
We also have a pretty strict one-in/one-out rule for toys; we also rotate toys and exchange toys with friends.

reply )

27.January.2016

I don’t even have kids, but I read every word of this. Your philosophies are right in line with my own and, if I do say so myself, your advice on this topic was excellent! A lot of this can be applied so easily to adults, too! I am a firm believer that the only appropriate response to a gift is “thank you” but I so wish people would not spend their hard-earned money on gifts for every holiday (I’m in my 30s, but my mother still spends a fortune on me every year!) and if they really want to? Then I, too, wish it could be an experience or dinner out together, etc.

reply )

27.January.2016

I am soooo with you when it comes to “stuff” for the kiddies. My husband and I are grandparents to an eight year old and a 3 month old. The oldest has so many toys that he insists upon keeping (I know because I tried to purge his room when I visited over the holidays) and I have little control over that. I don’t push; actually my husband read that kids his age tend to hoard items. sigh. At least he willingly gave his little brother some toys and books.
What we have done over the years lieu of trendy gifts is provide camp, karate lessons, art supplies, etc. During our last visit (for Christmas) I bought him a pair of funky socks and a gift card to the grocery store. Yes, the grocery store. He will occasionally pester his mom for something and I felt now he can get it himself and budget his money. My only condition was that his mom had to approve the item(s) he wanted. He loved it! We live 2500 miles away and usually have him each summer for a few weeks. His toys and crafts supplies are kept in trunks and/or hassocks (I’m always switching it up!). His books are with our books. Surprisingly for an eight-year-old he loves fashion and anything “different”. I recently gifted him a colorful Cirque du Solei tee shirt of mine, loved it! I shop thrift stores for clothing that fit his need to be unique; he loves all types of hats too. A hot wash with vinegar and they’re good as new!
We know time is the best gift. Our boys live 2500 miles away so taking walks, crafting, reading, and watching a movie are our top choices.

reply )

replied on January 28th, 2016

“Time is the best gift.” I couldn’t agree more. And I love the grocery gift card!! Such a great idea.

reply )

27.January.2016

I totally agree with you on this! I have eight children and no designated “play room”. They range in age from 2 to 18, but they all keep their toys in their own rooms. When they have a birthday party, I specifically request that no gift be brought. It’s hard for others around me to understand this, but in the long run I believe my children will benefit from this. I only had a couple toys growing up and I turned out just fine!

reply )

27.January.2016

I have seven kiddos and absolutely believe in the minimalist approach! My kids each own 8-9 outfits, enough for one week since I do all the laundry on Mondays. We ONLY give them toys at Christmas and birthdays. We have enough toys that we don’t ever need anything else, but sometimes we give them to the younger ones so they have a few things that aren’t hand-me-downs. Experience gifts are the best. One question: I see your bulging swoop bag of legos. I bought one for my kids a couple years ago. They love their legos, but whenever they get them out there are legos EVERYWHERE! They never keep the legos on the mat while they’re playing. Is this the same for you? Any tips for keeping legos under control?

reply )

replied on January 28th, 2016

The kids are pretty good at keeping the pieces mostly on the opened bag when they build. They know they’re responsible for picking up so keeping them on the mat makes their cleanup easier and quicker. That being said, I find stray pieces everywhere, all the time. Currently, I have a few pieces in a cupholder in my car??? I’ve found them under the clawfoot tub in the main bathroom and almost always vacuum one or two up with each sweep. I think it comes with the territory. We toss stray pieces into a wood bowl on the coffee table and when a pile accumulates, we dump it into the bag. I don’t think you can avoid stray Legos, just designate a bowl or basket for stray pieces. That works for us!

reply )

27.January.2016

LOVED this post and so timely as i’m ready for another big purge before birthday season! Despite my suggesting, there are two sets of grandparents (my kids have three) that absolutely refuse to follow the suggestion that they give “experience” gifts. We get loaded and put much of it away in the basement to donate (I always have bags full of new things for Toys for Tots) or re-gift for birthday parties. There is actually so much and the kids recognize they don’t need/want it all! Just more stuff for stuff sake. That being said, we have WAY more toys than you describe and kids love coming here for playdates cause there are lots of different things to see/do (and I love to see it actually getting used). More often, they are playing hide and seek, crafting, being spies, or playing football in the living room (we have 3 boys). But as they are getting older we are ready to part with lots. My boy love to display their legos once they are built. Lots and lots of legos. You mentioned you have some. Are they in bins for building and then put away? Could use some help in this area!

reply )

replied on January 28th, 2016

Legos are kept in the orange Swoop bag hanging in the boys’ closet. (You can see it in one of the images.) The bag is awesome because they can drag it out to the living room, spread it open and the Legos *mostly* stay on the bag and can be easily “swooped” up when they’re finished playing. We usually throw stray pieces into the wood bowl on the coffee table and after a small pile accumulates, we dump them back into the Swoop bag. Also, the bag travels really well! We take it on vacation.

When I was searching for Lego storage, my initial inclination was to have bins sorted by color but I asked the boys if they would find that helpful and if they would use the system (i.e., put pieces back in the correct bins). Their answer was a resounding “no!” They actually enjoy the hunt for the perfect piece which is fine with me because it takes them a little longer to build something ;)

Built projects are displayed on their dresser tops or a shelf in the living room until they need the parts again for another build. I love seeing them on display! I would never hide them.

reply )

28.January.2016

This post was so very needed by our family! We are expecting our first in April, and we are already starting to panic about the baby stuff overtaking our 1200 square foot house! We LOVE living in a small house compared to our friends and their McMansions (Hello, Texas real estate), but we were seriously worried. You make this seem doable! Thank you!

reply )




This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.