Living a Simple, Intentional Life | Pt.2 Toys

Rowan's Nook |

Ever since I wrote the post a few months back about living a simple, intentional life I’ve wanted to share more about how we’ve been working on that in our house. I was so encouraged by all the comments and emails I received from readers and friends (thank you!) striving for the same things in their own lives. It really seems like it’s a common goal for so many of us. Over the past 2 months I’ve majorly purged our house. There seriously has not been a drawer or closet untouched. We have a huge pile of things for a garage sale and have taken countless trips to the goodwill. Man I loved knick knacks a little too much. Anyways, I wanted to start a series on here talking about the different areas that I went through and purged/changed/reorganized to reach our idea of a simple, intentional life.

Today we will talk about toys, but over the next few weeks I would love to talk about the changes I made to our closets, our food choices, our calendar/time, and decorating. Hope you will join along and share your own tips in each of these categories.
First up:


Boy, Oh boy! I can’t escape a trip to target without having to bring Rowan up and down each of the toy aisles. She always asks me when we walk in, “Momma, can we just go check on the toys and make sure they are all still working?” Nice try kid. The reason I picked toys as something we needed to change was because I felt like they were taking over. I don’t say any of this as a way of passing judgement on anyone. This is just how I felt for our house. I don’t like getting caught up in the idea that kids need lots of toys. They don’t. At all. In fact, I believe that too many toys hinder how kids play. I also don’t want Rowan and Finley to think they need toys to have fun either. I’ve never been a big fan of the big ol’ plastic, loud noise making, breaking every 2 seconds, million of parts, fill your house with clutter kind of toys. I stood pretty firmly when Rowan was a baby but over time they just accumulated. You can’t help it. Birthdays, christmas, etc… Every time you turn around it’s another holiday that presents are being given. I am always grateful, but there comes a time when enough is enough in my opinion. I looked around our house at the beginning of the summer and thought we have waaaaay too many toys and the kids play with literally 20% of them. That’s when I went to town on the toy room, their bedrooms, our toy dresser and donated about 75% of everything.

Kev and I sat down and came up with a new game plan when it comes to toys in our house. We talked with each of our parents and asked that for Christmas and birthdays they really try to limit what they give the girls. We suggested that what we would really love is if they gave a gift of an “experience” instead. Bring Rowan to the science museum, Disney on Ice, or the ballet for example. Something that would create a wonderful special day for the grandparents and the girls to share together. Rowan will talk about something like that for months and months, when a toy would interest her for like a week maybe. Some of you may think that is harsh or no fun but I really just didn’t like our parents wasting money either.

As far as the toys I did keep, I narrowed down the toys to 5 different categories. If it didn’t fall into one of them, wasn’t well made, or well loved by the girls, or a toy that I felt enriched their play it was donated. Our toy categories are…

1. Dress Up/Imagination play:

I kept all our dress up clothes (Melissa and Doug have the cutest outfits) and I created a little dress up chest with all the accessories. We have the Melissa and Doug Puppet theatre that the girls love as well. They use all their stuffed animals as “puppets” and love to put on little shows. We have a cute B. Doctor set the girls love. We also have a great kitchen set with lots of Melissa and Doug food pieces. Rowan’s favorite is her Kid Kraft dollhouse, I feel like that is the one toy we’ve bought her that she still uses almost daily. I keep a little basket next to it that houses all the dolls, figurines and furniture. She doesn’t use any one set of dolls for the house. I’ve seen a big ol’ party up in there with Barbies, My Little Ponies, Princess Sophie and Minnie Mouse.

2. Art and Craft Supplies:

In my opinion you can never have enough art supplies. We have loads of markers, paper, coloring books, scissors, glue, glitter (ugh), goggly eyes, pipe cleaners, ribbon. etc… Don’t get scared if you are not a crafty person. If you have the supplies out for your little one to create- they will create! They are so creative without even trying. Sometimes I like to have a set craft in mind for the girls but most times I just let them go at it. Love seeing what Rowan will come up with. If you do feel like you need a lithe help in this area, we love the Alex Toys Craft boxes you can get. It’s a great place to start!

3. Puzzles/ Building

Rowan loves puzzles. We especially extra large floor puzzles, but man she is good at even teeny tiny piece puzzles. She works so hard at them, it’s pretty darn cute. We also love legos. I just bought her first set of real legos. We’ve moved on from duplos and we had the best time this morning building silly animals with them. We also love these bristle blocks and then my absolute favorite are the Haba blocks. Rowan has this Janod circus set and it’s about the cutest thing I have ever seen. We also love this Janod alphabet puzzle.

4. Musical Instruments

Any real musical instrument is ok in my book. I not a huge fan of the fake kid ones out there, I don’t mean a miniature version of the real one, I mean the ones were you press a button on a “guitar” and it plays music sort of thing. That’s not really teaching anything about music. One musical toy we do absolutely LOVE is this Symphony B. Music Toy. I find myself sitting and playing with it well after the girls are done. It’s so fun.

5. Books

Books! Books! Books! I will never say no to books. I always want our house to be full of books to read and look at. I want them out and accessible to the girls and not just tucked up in their rooms either. We have 2 separate areas for their books downstairs on our main floor. I always want them around as an option for something to do.

We organized all the toys and created a few little areas of play around our house. Our basement has most of the imagination play items. We do a lot of our art projects over at my craft table. We have Rowan’s Dollhouse set up in our living room. In the family room we have a little chalk drawing area as well as all the puzzles and blocks stored in the drawers of the dresser. Our goal was to have things accessible but to not take over the house. I wanted it all scaled back and for everything to have a home. And you know what? Removing more than half the toys actually has made the girls play with the toys more. They can find things, aren’t overwhelmed, know how to clean up better, and are more creative with less.

How to you handle toys in your house?

Here are some photos of our play areas. Nothing fancy or styled for pinterst just real life how we organize our kids toys.

Toy Dresser |

Toy Baskets |

Rowan's Dollhouse |

Basement Play Area |

Craft Room |

p.s. I didn’t mention any super specific toys for Finley because she honestly doesn’t want to play with anything other than what Rowan is playing with. She loves all the toys mentioned above just as much as Rowan.

  1. First off I just want to say I LOVE your blog. I discovered it a few months back and haven’t missed a post since! Second off have you read Simplicity Parenting? It is such a great resource when it comes to intentional parenting especially when it comes to purging toys. Some people think it is too over the top but I like to use it more as a guide rather than a bible of sorts. Thirdly, where did you get that awesome chalkboard and those beautiful baskets under your shelving unit, next to your wood stove?!?

  2. I haven’t read that but I will definitely look into it. The chalkboard I made from an oil drip pan and the basket are from Homegoods.

  3. Nicole L •

    I don’t have kids yet, but I think about organization and lifestyle for when I do have kids. I have always wanted to limit the number of toys we will have and try to promote more inventive play but didn’t know how to involve grandparents in their gifts while asking them not to give too many toys, I LOVE the idea of having them do an activity. I definitely dont remember any presents my grandparents gave me growing up, but I do remember them coming to my dance recitals, and taking us out camping etc. I’m looking forward to your future posts in this series!

  4. Great job. My son has SOOOO many toys he just gets spoiled every birthday and Christmas.

  5. So excited to see more posts like this! I have been feeling SO overwhelmed lately and keep thinking, “I want to get rid of EVERYTHING!” Obviously, that’s not entirely true, but I do want to get rid of A LOT and invest in well-made, beautiful, useful things.

  6. This post came at the perfect time. I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of presents for my kids for christmas (I’m an early planner). I’m finding the older they get the harder it is to find toys that aren’t plastic. Although the one plastic toy I would recommend is the fisher price little people farm. My kids have played with that almost daily for the last 2 years!

    I was wondering what lego set you got for Rowan? I’ve been looking to switch to real Legos and all I can seem to find are Lego kits to build specific things.

  7. I believe in living this way too and go through my house periodically to purge. This toy post was great way to share what works in your home. Keep it up! I look forward to seeing what else you have done in your home.

  8. Love these! I just purged as well. What’s also awesome is the less time I spend cleaning up!
    Also, you have a basement!? We need more room tours 🙂

  9. ditto on the book simplicity parenting – one of my favorite all time books. 🙂

  10. Thank you for the tips and encouragement. I love the baskets you use for toys in your living room!

  11. I totally agree about the whole experience thing! I have 3 nieces and 1 nephew. for the past 2 years I’ve been taking the 2 older kids rope climbing and ziplining. and it is something they absolutely love. they remember the experience and talk about it for months as well (and they’re 11/13) so they’re not easy to impress but this is something they have a blast doing! considering they live across the country, i only hope this is something we can keep doing!

  12. I find this so fascinating! I don’t have kids but as a babysitter for 10+ years, I’ve had the experience of seeing lots of different kids with lots of different play set ups. Some kids were overwhelmed with messy houses and tons of toys and other kids had a closet full of toys for themselves. You didn’t mention it but are you guys a board game family? I grew up with them and even at 23, they are a staple in my house. I can’t imagine a life with games!

    When I was a kid, my big things were Barbie dolls, Fisher Price Little People, fake kitchen/food items, books and craft stuff. I, too, was never interested in toys that did all the playing for me. As a creative person, I’ve always been way more interested in using my imagination when it was time to play. And nothing beat making houses out of grass clippings with my neighbors in our backyard! 😉

    I think what you’re doing is really cool and it sounds like it’s working out well for you. Also, your basement is the cutest! I would have died to play in a basement as stylish as that. Who am I kidding, I would still love a basement like that. lol

  13. thanks for sharing. I’m not big on buying too many toys, but as a mom of one toddler I never know if I am depriving her of things since I try to stay pretty minimalistic. great ideas!

  14. I hear you on the toy clutter. I’ve been doing lots of purging (not just toys, other stuff too…like clothes!). Here’s the thing though…my son LOVES super heroes. Obsessed. So he’s really into all those super hero action dolls or whatever you call them. Do your girls have anything like that they’re obsessed with??? And there are SO many super heroes! He needs them ALL lol. I can’t deal.

  15. Thanks for the great post… I have a 1 year old and I’m determined to keep quality not quantity with toys! Thanks for the great tips. I love your blog!

  16. Love this post and perfect timing too…just in time for my nieces first birthday! My husband and I don’t have any children yet but we are a firm believer in wooden, non-battery operated toys so that’s what our niece is getting. I hope that by the time we have children every one around us will have us figured out! I will be referencing this post when more nieces and nephews and more holidays come around. Thank you!

  17. I loved reading your post! You’re so right about too many toys getting in the way of real play. I can’t wait to see what you did in other areas of your home : )

  18. I love this, and we just recently did the same. I felt like the toys were taking over our house and my boys weren’t even playing with them because they were so overwhelmed. I cleared out like 75% of their toys as well and they literally have about 8 different “sections” in different baskets open to play with in their playroom now. I kind of mimicked the Montessori setup. They play so much more now! I loved the photos you shared and I look forward to seeing how you simplified other parts of your life.

  19. Fantastic post. I am so glad I’m not the only one out there who is a bit anti-toy. My beautiful partner has 2 little ones whom we have every second weekend, and we have lots of puzzles, lego and books in our house. We talk a lot about how we want to bring up any kids we have together and one of my main things is iPads. Both his kids received one for their _3rd_ birthday (not his decision) and I think it is just ridiculous to spend that amount of money on a present for a toddler. So that is one thing I will put my foot down about. My brother’s house is like the toys have completely taken over and their girls just have too much stuff. It is crazy!!!!!!

  20. Ya, whats with the babies just skipping over anything that resembles baby and straight to the big kid stuff?!

  21. Our philosophy is much the same – all the books they could ever want, all the art supplies (I bought a little plastic cabinet so they can sit right next to the dining room table for easy access) and musical instruments. But things that are sets, things that require a million pieces, things that the kids can’t play with without my help, forget it. And anything that requires batteries goes straight out to the garage and into the donation bin.

  22. I am excited to read your series on living simply! I just recently went through and purged 23 trash bags out of our house. It felt soooo good. Can’t wait for the food choices and decorating part. Thanks for sharing!

  23. Great post, I have boy/girl twins that are almost 3 and I am always on the lookout for ways to simplify play. I have categories as we’ll and rotate toys every few weeks so only a third or so of toys are accessible at one time. Just had to comment how funny it is the difference between girls and boys – my daughter plays with everything you mentioned Rowan does, but my boy pretty much plays with things on wheels and Legos all day! So at our house we have one more category – things on wheels! Cars, trucks, airplanes, construction site vehicles, etc. make up about half our toys 🙂

  24. Um, LOVE! I’ve been drafting a similar post for a while, I love seeing that others are keeping the number of toys their kids have in check.

  25. I definitely agree with the idea that Christmas presents should be intentional experiences. You are not being harsh at all! My husband and I, just a few days ago, we talking about the exact same concept!

    This year we are hoping to have each set of grandparents create a “mystery gift box.” It may have a whole bunch of things to make puppets; old socks, googly eyes, yarn, paper bags, oven mitts, etc. Then, when we celebrate Christmas with them, the grand kids will open up the big box and create puppets to put on a puppet show. The only 2 rules are 1. Have fun! and 2. Everyone has to participate! Then we’ll video tape it! Another idea we had for the other grandparents was to fill the box with costumes and props, then everyone has to become a character and act out the story of Jesus’ birth… the shepherds may end up looking like superheros or princesses but the main idea is there! 🙂

    We’ll see how it works out… since this is a brand new idea for us! Thanks for the encouraging post and I hope your birthdays and holidays are less toy-filled and more about memory-making!!

  26. I feel the same exact way about giving them experiences instead of toys. I am currently purging everything in preparation for moving to a new house. It’s also tricky keeping toys around because my daughter loves rocks and seashells but my 4 month old can’t be around such choking hazards.

  27. We recently sold/donated/boxed up most of our belongings in the states and traded it for the simple life in New Zealand and it was the best thing we ever did! Thanks for sharing!

  28. Have you heard of the FB group 2014 in 2014? I joined it earlier this year. As you might guess, it’s all about getting rid of 2,014 items in the year 2014. Rachel, from created the group to facilitate encouragement towards reaching the goal. I love the group! Sometimes I ask if certain things are worth keeping and I so appreciate the advice and encouragement.

    Anyway, her blog is filled with helpful posts about minimalizing our homes and our lives, but what I thought you might most appreciate are her posts about gifting experiences instead of toys:
    There are similar posts for men, women, teachers, and so on. I love them! Thought you might enjoy them too. 🙂

  29. Jen,
    As a teacher and a mama to 3, I totally appreciate this post. Less is more…a million more. A strange question but the room pictured one above the bottom: what type of flooring is that? We are in the planning stages of remodeling our basement and I really love that floor (walls, too!). Thanks so much.

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