baby proof: pre-holiday toy reflections.

November 6, 2019
toy reflections | reading my tea leaves

The nights are coming too quickly. My kids’ internal clocks are set to crave dinner as soon as the sun sets and earlier this week we found ourselves with a kid incensed that we wouldn’t let them eat raw pizza dough for dinner at 4:45 pm. It’s the time of year when playground time gets cut a bit short due to dropping temperatures and a setting sun and when we find ourselves more regularly inside, looking for things to do that don’t involve inflicting bodily harm on anyone or knocking on our dear neighbors’ door to demand snacks or games of hide-and-go-seek.

It’s a time of year, in other words, when a thoughtful selection of toys and crafts and games and art supplies become saviors while waiting for dinner or while on day two of being cooped up inside. For many folks, it’s also the beginning of the season of shopping and gift-giving and abundance. We can count on two hands the weeks between today and both Christmas and Hanukkah, and on less than one hand the weeks before Black Friday and the shopping bonanza commonly referred to as the holiday season.

As a parent to two young kids with a third baby on the way, I find it to be both helpful and cathartic to use these weeks to reflect a bit on the state of proverbial toy chest. What do we already have? What might we be ready to pass on? What would be the most helpful or loved addition to our home?

toy reflections | reading my tea leaves

I’ve found that no matter how lean our family’s collection of toys might be, there are some items that are loved better than others and some items that get forgotten altogether. When kids are very small, I think it’s helpful and natural for the task of keeping an eye on toys and collections to fall on the parents and I’ve said plenty of times before that I fully embrace parental involvement when it comes to curating the collections of young children. (We can’t after all, make room for every moldy leaf and stick that a two-year-old might wish to keep at the foot of their bed, nor, indeed, every lovingly gifted stuffed animal.)

toy reflections | reading my tea leaves

But as my kids get older, I’m striving to keep the lines of communication open. I’m not making claims of perfection here; there have definitely been items that have been disappeared from our home, sans referendum, but last weekend, we sat down with our two advisors to do a pre-holiday toy reflection as a family. You might call what we did a purge, but I think reflection suits the entirety of the process best. It was an assessment and a reckoning and a decision-making process with the aim of ending up with less clutter, more intention, and the ability for everyone to have a bit of breathing room and, with any luck, more fun.

Perhaps it’s time for a caveat: We did not always reach consensus. The selections made were not always precisely what I might have made were I embarking on the task solo. Inevitably, one child expressed a deep and abiding affection for items I’d never seen them play with, while the other dismissed something I’d heretofore considered prized above all else, with a distracted wave of the hand. We carried on and made compromises where we could.

toy reflections | reading my tea leaves

We also tried to pay attention to gaps, asking ourselves what might be helpful to add to our collection? What are our kids especially loving these days? What can we suggest to doting grandparents and relatives who would love to shower our kids with holiday presents? What do we call in to Santa or the Buy Nothing Group?

We ended up with a selection of items that could be passed back or loaned to younger cousins and friends. Other items we posted to our local Buy Nothing group and they’ve gone off to live somewhere else in the neighborhood. What we chose to keep we made sure is organized and accessible, especially in the case of any pending raw pizza dough meltdowns.

For the curious, a few of our pictured favorites:

Our dollhouse and furniture.

Our dolls.

Our magnetic wooden tiles.

Our wooden building blocks.

Our bunk beds.

This post includes affiliate links. Reading My Tea Leaves might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links. 

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  • Reply Susan Magnolia November 6, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    My eight year old plays with her Plan dollhouse and calico critters every day all day. Its her world within a world with endless stories. Other toys have largely been neglected. Art supplies are used daily too.

  • Reply Judith A Ross November 6, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    Thank you for this, Erin. As I have written in a soon-to-be submitted post, you have turned living with less into an art form. My son and his partner have all of this ahead of them with their new daughter. And, I just showed her handy grandpa your photo of the doll house for future reference!

  • Reply Esha J. November 6, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    May I ask: where did you get these awesome baskets, perfect for little hands to carry?

  • Reply Tina November 6, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    So timely! I am already filled with anxiety and rage about the avalanche of intent-less and disposable toys that my in-laws will undoubtedly throw our way. Relatedly, does anyone know what to do with stuffed animals that are no longer used? I haven’t found a charity that accepts them. Thanks!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 6, 2019 at 4:02 pm

      I know that some animal shelters might take them, but this is actually exactly the kind of thing I think is so great about the Buy Nothing Project—people are so much more willing to take a gently used doll or stuffed animal (ditto things like bedding, pillows, etc.) from someone in their own community! I see stuffed animals on our local group a lot and they usually seem to get scooped up!

      • Reply Tina November 8, 2019 at 9:54 am

        Thanks Erin, that’s good to know. I am on Park Slope Parents, and I don’t think I have tried that route for stuffed animals.
        I also now remember you had a post a while back about how to best incentivize sustainable gift-giving… Have a great weekend!

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 8, 2019 at 10:09 am

          Yes, definitely could be a place to try! I think this is the post you might be thinking of! Hope it’s helpful!

  • Reply Kellyn November 6, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    Love Hazel Villge dollls <3 My toddler got one last year from her uncle.

    I had a goal to put together a care package for grieving children by the end of this year…don't think I'm going to make that deadline, but next year for sure, and a doll or animal from Hazel Village is something I know I want to include.

  • Reply Kelly November 7, 2019 at 10:02 am

    Always love your thoughts on this topic. Since I have a lot of nieces and nephews that I’d like to gift this year (gift can be an experience, etc), I’m curious what your children and others here are considering asking relatives to give? Thanks!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 7, 2019 at 11:06 am

      Hi there! Thanks and sure! I think this is so specific depending on families and relationships and specific budgets/means, etc. We often ask grandparents to help support experience-based gifts; things like museum tickets, play tickets, after-school classes, etc. We’ve also sometimes asked them to help contribute to a larger budget item (like a dollhouse). Other time there’s been a specific small item that I know one kid or another would love receive and I might include that on a list of ideas. All depends on the year and moment, really!

      • Reply Laurie November 10, 2019 at 10:42 pm

        Hi Erin,
        I fully agree that experience-based gifts are the best! Last Christmas I took my three year old son on a Christmas train a fortnight before Christmas. On Dec 23 I took him to a children’s singing-a-long at a historical castle decked out in gorgeous Victorian decorations that we both enjoyed. On Dec 24-26 we were busy feasting with family, but on the 27th we snuck out to the ballet!
        This year, I’m planning to do experience-based activities again. On Dec 8 I’m taking him to the symphony’s children concert. In mid-December I’ll take him on the Christmas train again, and hopefully to a children’s program at the castle right before Christmas. I might take him to the ballet as well. I also am planning to taking him to a Xmas sing-along concert led by a concert pianist. In between all of this, he will be in a Christmas pageant plus the next town down the road is famous for it’s Xmas lights, so we’ll have a night out for that with a flask full of hot chocolate. Moreover, there will be a Xmas party at his school, and lots of cookies to bake! The only thing I’m ditching from last year is the Santa parade, which I found tacky and not worth fight the crowd. Regarding baking, I’m going to do more sugar-free goodies, such as dates filled with almond butter, and replacing sugar with xylitol. Yay, for health and quality time together!

    • Reply Victoria November 8, 2019 at 8:18 am

      This book!!

      It is fabulous. And has kept my four year old son and eight year old daughter enthralled for hours. It is now my go to gift for children of 3/4/5 and has always been enthusiastically received.

  • Reply M. November 7, 2019 at 11:14 am

    My parents were, um, very generous with gifts. They didn’t realize how much my daughter had (and how hard things were to store) because they live across the country. I took pictures of her bedroom, closet, playroom, our basement storage, etc. and sent it their way. Not only did that totally put the brakes on their buying but they also saw what she already had and had way better ideas for gifts. Now she gets a couple of small gifts from them, and they’re usually a consumable like art supplies. Message received!! (and kudos to them for “getting it”).

  • Reply Alexandra November 7, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    I enjoy your peaceful manner of approaching topics that can be stressful. Sometimes I find it so easy to get bogged down with the mantra of just having less, but I also think it’s important to remind our children that each gift, even if unwisely bestowed, was chosen in love. That said, we conduct an annual purging with our children (7, 4, and 1) and use the phrasing that we “decide what could bless someone else and what someone else might enjoy more” (since we don’t actually “need” toys and they are all an extravagant -in the best sense- blessing).

  • Reply Anne November 7, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    My children are fickle (all children are fickle?!) and I have a hard time getting rid of stuff because I always wonder if they might like it later or it might get played with on a rainy/sick day. Thoughts on this? We have so many great toys, many more well-loved than others. And we have a third baby coming up in the ranks. It seems so wasteful to pass everything on (and then need/want it again), but having the extra breathing room would be so nice.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 7, 2019 at 5:23 pm

      Oh, for sure. We don’t pass along anything that we think we’d need or want again. (With the exception of a few small baby toys I passed along this summer before I knew I was pregnant.) I think you just need to follow your gut here!

    • Reply Leanne November 27, 2019 at 6:20 pm

      We’re starting a neighbourhood toy library to help with this – borrow toys the kids are in to, and return them when they lose interest to pick something else. Less storage/waste. Also, I’ve found that personally, it’s largely out-of-sight, out-of-mind with kids and toys.

  • Reply Lauren November 7, 2019 at 4:56 pm

    With the impending holiday season, it would be great to see a post on how to manage family expectations during this time. My in laws have a tendency to live by the mantra that more is better, something that is antithetical to our way of living here in our smallish NYC apartment, as well as our general ideals about “stuff”. We’ve been trying to have this conversation with them for years, but it’s fallen on deaf ears. Any help in effectively communicating our wishes would be much appreciated!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 7, 2019 at 5:22 pm

      This post from a few years ago covers it!

    • Reply Kirsten November 8, 2019 at 5:46 am

      This. I hate how anxiety-filled my holiday season has become since having kids! My in-laws especially are both very into gifts and very into surprises, which means just a lot of extra stuff. I feel like I’ve tried everything. I try so hard to remind myself that this is all the result of their generosity and incredible love they have for my kids, but it’s so hard sometimes.

  • Reply Lauren November 8, 2019 at 10:27 am

    I love reading posts (and comments) like these around the holidays because they make me feel less alone in the everlasting challenge to keep a peaceful and inspiring home. Erin, I’ll never tire of your thoughts on this! I’m fortunate in that relatives usually ask us what our child wants or needs, but they all certainly prefer giving material items over experiences, and also feel that the bigger or more impressive the gift is, the better. I’ve come up with a few strategies that have helped a bit – we have my old wooden toy box from growing up, and I’ve mentioned that if someone were to get a toy, it would be great if it were small enough to fit inside the toy box; I make comments throughout the year about how my child prefers simple things that encourage her imagination, and I always always always mention that a contribution to her 529 would be the most valuable gift in the long run.

  • Reply Carla November 8, 2019 at 11:03 am

    I had never seen those magnetic wooden tiles. Any thoughts on how they compare to Magnatiles? My son loves playing with Magnatiles at school, but I wouldn’t mind a wooden alternative for home.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 8, 2019 at 11:13 am

      While they’re certainly the same concept, I don’t have direct experience with magnatiles, so I can’t really compare them!

    • Reply Katy November 12, 2019 at 4:07 pm

      I also really wanted the wooden magnetic tiles, but they were sold out! Something similar that I went with instead are Tegu blocks. I found this set on bellaluna, they are made from sustainable wood:


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