Our Year Without Buying Toys

Our Year Without Buying Toys | Twin Cities Mom CollectiveThis past year has been one of those major milestone years for our family: 2019 has been a one. Our family had a new baby in June, my oldest started her first year of preschool, and we have gone a full year without buying a single toy for either of our kids.

Okay, so that last one might seem less impressive, but I’m actually really proud of it. Amidst all the wonderful new chaos that 2019 had to offer, we did not buy a single toy through it all. We’re talking no toys at Christmas, birthdays, Target sales, nothing. And you know what? Everyone survived. I would even argue our family is better off for it.

Full disclosure, I have two kids ages 4 years and 6 months. I am also a stay-at-home parent and my oldest is in half day preschool. This means I am often at home with the kids and responsible for managing how they keep themselves entertained. It’s exhausting. And while I realize it isn’t my job to keep them perfectly entertained every moment of the day, I am responsible for managing how they keep themselves entertained: no knives, no throwing inside, no giving the 6-month old anything choke-able… things like that. Ultimately, as the adult in charge I need to offer safe ways for my kids to play, but I firmly believe that to be the extent of what I am responsible for when it comes to entertainment. The bottom line is, I am not going to buy toy after toy to keep them playing nicely. 

Why We Decided Not To Buy Toys

Our decision to stop buying toys wasn’t really a decision we made as a couple, so much as it was one that I impulsively imposed one day. (Pro marriage tip – don’t impulsively impose parenting laws without consulting your partner as it tends to go over the best when you both are on board!) But that personal life lesson aside, my family’s new rule came about because one day I just snapped. I couldn’t take the mess of my house, the toy storage war, the constant begging at Target for a new toy, and wasting my money on junky toys my toddler played with for a day or two before losing interest completely. My husband and I live in a small house, with a total of four people residing there. Bottom line, the toy madness had to stop. And before you send me all your toy storage solution ideas from Pinterest, the fact of the matter is that we live in a finite space. I’m done making room in my house for toys. 

The Transition

I’m sure you guessed it, but the transition started off really rough. My daughter was 3 when we pulled the plug on buying new toys altogether and she was old enough to know that we changed a rule in a way that no longer benefited her. We did it because we had a real problem on our hands – she was demanding toys and treats anytime we went out in a way that was not appropriate. That behavior needed to stop. I honestly don’t know how the problem got so out of control, my husband and I don’t exactly cave to her every demand. Nevertheless we had a problem that needed fixing and change is hard no matter how old you are. So yeah, the tantrums were real. We would write out a list of everything we needed every time we went shopping, and I made it clear that we were only going to buy the things on the list.

To help my daughter better understand our new plan, I would sometimes say things like, “Oh wow, I wish I could have these nice earrings. Don’t you think they’d look beautiful on me?” solely so that my 3 year old could also enforce, “Mommy, we need to stick to the list. You don’t need new earrings.” And you guys, that was the best idea I ever had. This way she felt like we were both in it together, empowering and helping each other. It took around 2 months (December-February) before the begging finally stopped. 

So What Happened?

  1. She Stopped Asking For Toys

The single greatest thing that happened from this decision was that she no longer expected us to buy things for her, so the begging stopped. From December 2018 thru today we still have yet to buy her a toy. This goes for Christmas, her birthday, and even following the birth of a new baby – we held firm on not buying her any toys.

Side bar: do you have any idea how many people told me you have to buy your oldest a new special toy when a baby is born? I think the idea is so the older ones feel special. I had no idea that was a thing. The pressure from other parents to do this was real.

Anyhow, we didn’t gift any toys. This is not to say she didn’t get toys for a year–she has grandparents, aunts, and uncles for that, but not mom and dad. From us she gets things she needs: new clothes, socks, pencils, boots, a new toothbrush, maybe some fun toothpaste. We wrap them and gift them to her, which for now has been working well. Her birthday wasn’t any less special because we didn’t buy her a toy. Instead we threw her a low-key birthday party and got her a Daniel Tiger birthday cake to share with friends and family. She loved it and we loved it too.

Our Year Without Buying Toys | Twin Cities Mom Collective

2. She Found Other Things To Play With

When kids get bored I feel like that is when they have the most creative potential. Older toys became interesting again, she got better with her coloring, she could play with whatever I laid out for her: anything is a toy if you play with it, right? Boxes are a big hit at my house. We’ve even collected giant boxes and taped them together to keep it interesting. I have given her things from my kitchen to play with for her pretend cooking games; things like empty egg cartons, a whisk, and some Tupperware so she can play kitchen alongside me. She has gotten so much better at keeping herself entertained, which has been invaluable. 

Our Year Without Buying Toys | Twin Cities Mom Collective

3. She Appreciates Gifts From Others

I didn’t see this one coming, but now whenever she gets a gift from someone she is genuinely grateful for it. Since she so rarely gets new toys, when someone gets her something new it’s nearly always going to be something she wouldn’t otherwise have. As a result, she doesn’t complain that it’s not the toy she wanted. The attitude shift has been amazing to watch. It takes time to develop, and she’s still working on it, but she has gotten better at being genuinely thankful. 

Moving Forward

Now that our year of not buying toys has come to an end, we have decided to keep it going. Honestly, we have a good thing going for us. People have asked what we are going to get our 4 year old for Christmas this year and honestly it’s mostly books, some new markers, a new set of pjs, and if we are feeling up to it we might get her one extra something special – she’s earned it. One new toy won’t unravel everything (I hope). Although I have to say, even for having not purchased any toys for a year, I still feel like we are drowning in toys at my house. So if any of you have solutions for purging existing toys, I’m all ears. How is it that the toy pile never stops accumulating? I’m not even contributing to the madness anymore!

Regardless, I am so glad we did this. My daughter is ultimately more creative, independent, and grateful because of our year without buying toys. 

Nicole works from home as a nanny and freelance writer. She has an English degree from the University of St. Thomas and married her high school sweetheart, Joe. She and her family love to travel and have ventured near and far from Wisconsin to the Philippines. Obviously, the Twin Cities is the place to be. She and her husband live in Hopkins with their two daughters ages five and one. Nicole is also a karate instructor at National Karate in Hopkins and a practicing blackbelt. She has been practicing karate since she was 12 and has her second degree blackbelt. She is currently training for her third degree blackbelt and competes in tournaments around the Twin Cities.


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