When my daughters were born (just a year apart), I was bombarded by advice from moms, advertisements, blogs, and social media about all the stuff they needed. When they were babies, they had all the gear. When they started to grow more mobile, they had all the toys.
Then, when my kids were 1 and 2, our house in Virginia Beach flooded. I lived in a hotel with them for six months while our entire house was being renovated. Everything we owned except a few suitcases of stuff went into boxes our garage.
Six months later, I only remembered a handful of things that were in those boxes. A lot of the things were toys my kids didn’t really need, or had outgrown quickly, or took up too much space.
Since then, I’ve become a minimalist, especially when it comes to toys. Studies have shown that too many toys is actually distracting for kids. Here is the ultimate list of toys you should buy for your kids (up to age 10). One great benefit of these is that you can buy all of them for a total of a few hundred dollars (a plus for families on a budget).
Something to throw or kick: A ball of some kind (soccer, football, baseball, basketball, bouncy ball) for outside play.
Something to ride outside: If you have a quiet place to play on the street, a bike or scooter is a great investment. Look online for used ones to save a lot of money.
Something to imagine: A small box of figurines (20 at the most) provides your child with hours of fun. These can be zoo animals, character toys like My Little Pony, Disney or superheroes. I also love adding a dollhouse to the collection.
Something that moves: Matchbox cars, a train set that can be taken apart, or something similar, depending on your child’s interest.
Something to build: Legos and wooden blocks. I can’t emphasize these enough (Duplo Legos are safest for younger kids).
Something to create: Have a box for basic art supplies, like markers, crayons, paper, coloring books, stencils and stamps. I would stay away from “trendy” art supplies (things like light up, take up a lot of space, cost more because they are scented or special colors or involve a lot of plastic pieces).
Something to hug: A few stuffed animals or a doll.
Something to read: A small classic book collection (10 or fewer). The rest you can cycle through from the library.
These aren’t the only toys my kids have. For example, I bought a trampoline on Facebook marketplace a few months ago and it has been a lifesaver during quarantine. We also have board games, iPads, a few puzzles and too many stuffed animals. We have been gifted all kinds of toys, but the items in the list are what they always go back to (I finally donated a box of a dozen Barbies because they never played with them).
As a general rule of thumb, avoid anything made of a lot of plastic (except figurines) because it will usually not last for long; avoid anything that lights up or makes noises; and avoid anything that takes up a ton of space (that Barbie jeep may be fun for a while, but the few uses it gets won’t be worth the $100+ price tag).
And here’s one more tip: Before I get rid of anything, I secretly put it away in the basement for a few weeks. If no one asks for it, it gets donated. This is the real test to see if a toy is valued or just sitting around.