11 toys minimalist families love and 3 types to avoid

We all know minimalist families love “clutter-free” gifts and experience gifts. (Here’s my ultimate clutter-free gift list, by the way!)

But in the minimalist communities I’m a part of, I see the same toys over and over and over and over… there are certain toys that just stand the test of time, endless play, and minimalism. They quite literally make the cut.

Around this time of year, the subject of toys always comes up in those groups.

The question goes a bit like this:

“Christmas is coming, and I (or my parents, or my in-laws, or my siblings) want to give my kids something they can unwrap and enjoy playing with. What are the best, most open-ended high-quality toys you guys recommend? What do your children NEVER get tired of?”

You see, minimalists don’t want a toy which will keep the kids’ attention for 3 months. Nope. We want something that will keep the kids’ attention for 3 YEARS. If we only have 10 toys for our kids, they’d better be the 10 most amazing imagination-igniting attention-keeping toys.

A high-quality wooden doodad that only does one thing over and over is still just a one-trick pony. Before we decluttered to the bare bones we might have been blinded by its “high-quality wood” status, but not anymore. (I’m serious. You won’t believe how often I’ve heard the phrase “high-quality wood toys” as if that somehow makes them immune to sucking in the long term. It doesn’t.)

So what ARE the top toys minimalist families love?

Magnatiles or Tegu blocks –

These are building sets that have all of the appeal and creative spark of legos, but with a more modern aesthetic and the satisfying “click” of magnets. Magnatiles are plastic with embedded magnets, and there are clear ones that are crazy fun to play with on a light box. Tegu blocks are really unique – wooden blocks with magnets hidden inside, in a variety of beautiful natural colors.

Automoblox –

The first time I saw these in person, I was blown away. They’re mix-and-match car parts for building unique vehicles, but they’re so simple and intuitive that even a 2-year-old can assemble them. The design is top-notch; these are really beautiful toys. Great for the kid who loves to build and invent things, and who is also smitten with vehicles. Since the parts are all interchangeable, having multiple sets of these is wonderful, not excessive or overwhelming, even for a minimalist.

Playsilks –

Playsilks are the ultimate open-ended dress-up item. They can be tied around kids to serve as skirts, fancy dresses, shirts, pirate clothes, wings, and even hair. Beyond that, my kids have used play silks to build forts, as hammocks for their soft babies, as market bags, and more.

Kinetic Sand –

This is the play-doh of the modern age. It’s satisfyingly moldable, but crumbles into fluffy sand as the child pulls it apart, picks it up, or cuts it with tools. My kids can play with our small amount of kinetic sand for hours. I can only imagine having more would be better and open up more possibilities for creative play! The best parts? The sand NEVER dries out. We store ours in a lidded plastic shoebox. It’s certainly not air-tight, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still just as soft as the day we got it. AND it doesn’t get ground into carpet like play-doh does. It’s easy to rescue from carpet by patting with a larger hunk of kinetic sand, and the smallest bits easily succumb to the vacuum.

Duplo or Lego blocks –

I don’t know how much I have to say about these classic building toys. Small colorful blocks that snap together serve as the foundation for so much imaginative play around the world! My kids love to build airplanes, buildings (lately garages for their cars are a favorite), and since we got this kit they’ve been super happily building cars. We have a giant basket full of Duplo blocks, and my kids (5 and 3 years old) use them ALL when they play.

A Soft Baby Doll –

Children love to pretend, and acting out adult roles such as mom/dad, teacher, doctor, or any other “characters” with baby dolls helps them practice cognitive, self-help, fine motor, language, and social-emotional skills. A baby doll can be one of the most valuable toys for children’s personal development, and a soft one which is easy to wash and comfortable to snuggle with can be the perfect fit for most kids. This one is much less expensive than beautiful hand-made Waldorf dolls (each of my kids has their own one of these), and this big-kid version is lovely and affordable too.

Craft materials –

Maybe craft materials shouldn’t be included in this post, since they’re not really toys, but they come up in almost every minimalist discussion of toys! These are wonderful for exercising creativity and practicing innovation. They’re open-ended by nature, and also consumable (they get used up). Craft materials are basically a minimalist family’s dream gift.

Rocker Board or Bilbo –

These indoor active toys are simple and open-ended. Kids can rock or spin in or on them, or flip them over to use them as little forts for figurines, bridges for cars. These toys have countless other imaginative uses. I’ve never met anyone – minimalist or not – who bought one of these toys for their kids and regretted it. My kids’ rocker board is so fun that even I join in playing with it!

Trampoline –

A small indoor one, or a large outdoor one… either way, a trampoline provides kids with a great way to expel some energy and get a little exercise in a small space while having fun. The small ones are popular in playrooms of minimalists in areas that have snowy winters. I even saw one comment from a mom whose kids had a full-sized trampoline (with a safety enclosure) in their basement! Her kids have a blast no matter what the weather is like!

Jungle Gym –

This is another great one for outdoors. Having a climbing structure like this right in your own yard is a great way to allow kids to develop gross-motor coordination and have fun while burning off some energy. But beyond that, a jungle gym also provides a structure for imaginative play. Especially since we added a parachute for building forts on the jungle gym, my kids have had so many hours of fun building forts and houses, pretending to camp out, and playing “house” in the jungle gym. This one is a hit among minimalists, especially if there are no good climbing trees in the yard.

Small “pretending” toys related to the child’s interests –

This may include a dollhouse with little furniture and people, dinosaur figurines, wooden trains, small cars, pretend cooking tools and food, or Little People. Minimalist families tend to only have one or two of these, at the most, carefully chosen to reflect the child’s current interests.

So yes, minimalists like toys.

There are plenty of wonderful ones that serve children and families well and aren’t too difficult to keep organized and contained when they’re not being used.

Still, there are a few horrid categories of toys that I need to mention really quickly. Avoid these at all costs if you want to keep the minimalist in your life happy.

Avoid these categories of toys:

Licensed or Character toys –

These scream “consumerism.” Even if a minimalist child has a favorite television show or movie, his or her parents are highly unlikely to want to embrace the idea of bringing those characters into other aspects of life. We just know we’re being “sold to,” often lower-quality items, at a higher price, solely because of the product’s character licensing. It rubs us the wrong way, and we’re not going to be pleased with these items. If we’re going to have a licensed character item in our homes, it’s probably going to be a toothbrush or a water bottle. That’s about where it stops.

Toys that do too much –

If the kid just has to bump into the toy or push a button in order to make the toy start singing or flashing lights… it’s not for us. ‘Nuff said.

Toys that only do one thing –

These are hard to imagine being used and enjoyed by our kids for hours, let alone for months or years. Case in point – the American Girl Doll “Grace’s Baking Set.” It is $68 and includes a doll-sized stand mixer, measuring cups, dough cutter, sifter, and wooden spoon, plus a few other small items. You guys. This is a pretend, non-functional baking set. For a doll. And it costs as much as those actual functional adult-sized items cost, if you replace the stand mixer with a $20 handheld electric one. Tell me, how many cumulative hours is your child going to spend making her doll pretend to bake. It’s just… I just… I’m sorry. I just can’t even.

So there you have it! 11 toys minimalists actually love, plus 3 types of toys to avoid.

Now, get to work decluttering the excess/cluttery toys, so there’s more room to play and imagine.

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  1. Yeah! I agree! I’ll add some yo oír family’s wishlist; the sand looks amazing , i’m sure muy husband will spend some time playing it too; and about brío trains , my son uses ir evento dat too! We live in Mexico and only one store was selling them, now we must buy brio at amazon but our son isn’t asking for more railway kits, he wants more rails to have more possibilities to create so I’m thinking about buying the “generic” ones, wooden rails sold in a box without brand, in amazon too, because it’s cheaper and has the same material, more items and same size

  2. Nice lists! I love toys that go years and beyond like stack-O/Jenga, wooden puzzles, and fabrics that enhances a child’s imagination. I have mine that has been for two decades and is still being played with younger generation. I think it’s an antique now, but still adore it.

  3. Great ideas and thoughts! I’m not sure if I’m a minimalist family, but anything that gets into creative play is a win in my book. Thanks for sharing on the #HomeMattersParty

  4. Yes! We love all sorts of building blocks too! Keva plants, Qba mazes, etc. Anything that gets them using their imagination.

  5. Great list! We have a few of those that my son has loved, and there are a few I’ll have to check out. I would also suggest Kiva blocks. They’re just small planks of wood that can be assembled into all kinds of creations. My son LOVES them and will play with them for hours.

  6. LOVE this post. We ahve a very small home and keep our toy collection small, especially since my son is only 21 months. I agree that for the most part, simple toys seem to be the ones that last the longest(granted, my son is so little still, that his attention span is kind of short as is.) My husband’s cousin got him this random ride on motorcycle for his first birthday – it doesn’t do anything except have wheels that move and handle bars to steer it, but it’s his FAVORITE toy. And it’s super lightweight so even he can pick it up and carry it from room to room. (It’s called a Super Mopi if you’re interested)

  7. What a great list! Some of these I haven’t heard of but they look up my alley! I’m guilty of letting my kids put things on an amazon wish list and they always put things on there (and receive some of them) that I don’t approve of and end up wishing we didn’t have in our home.

  8. I would add Brio trains to the must have list. It’s the only toy we have out (everything is stored in closed bins) and my son has played with them every single day for a year.

  9. This is a great list! We have (or had) almost everything on this list-we haven’t tried the Tegu blocks. The only one on the list we regretted was the Bilibo. We had 2, and they were duds around here. I think the rocking board looks like fun! The Automoblox weren’t long-lasting fun here either, but they were loved briefly. I think we just have other cars that are more fun to them. Big wooden ones (Fagus) and little Hot Wheels. Magnatiles are a huge hit here, and Duplos and Legos are just amazing! Play silks are so fun. And yes, even boys need a baby to snuggle! 🙂

    One toy I’d add is standard unit blocks. Melissa and Doug makes an affordable set, but for a big family gift, solid maple ones are weighty and stack so well, and there are road pieces, castle pieces etc you can slowly add on. The only other toy I’d add is play food. You don’t even need a play kitchen, but the pots and pans, oven mitt, and food can be used to make a shop, restaurant, and are so great for creativity!

  10. This has been the bulk of my Christmas shopping this year for my kids (8,6,4,2). It fits in perfectly with our desire to have classical, wooden toys and minimalistic also. I loved what you said at the end also, it really clarifies some boundaries for toy purchases. I’ve come back many times and even bought off of your links and created a wish list for the upcoming year. Please consider doing this again next year! I’ll be ready for some fresh ideas by then.

    • Aw thank you for your kind words about this post. I’m so happy it was helpful to you! (And thank you for using my links also.) I have ideas for more gift posts for kids, and if I don’t get them done this season I’ll definitely hold on to them for next time.

      • I’m curious if you’ve been able to update this yet.

    • Yes! “Children” all ages have fun with Lego! And Duplo! If you have a little one in the house, put out the Duplo and find the big ones joining in.

  11. Emily – this is a great list! As a counselor and play therapist, I applaud you on creating a succinct list that promotes creativity, imaginative play, fine and large motor skill development and sensory input! Thank you so much. I’m sharing!! 🙂

  12. I won’t buy anything that has a face on it, which is sometimes harder than you would think. I wanted one of those little kiddie foam couches and all the ones in my budget had some kind of Disney character plastered on it. Thanks for posting. Hello from Inspire Me Monday.

  13. Yes on the DUplos!! My 2 yr old grand baby loves them! And she charms the 2 grandpas into gettingh in the floor and building with her!! Love, love!

  14. I’ve been wondering about getting my 2YO a soft doll for Christmas. My now 13YO had one and loved it so much. Your recommendation is perfect. Thanks for this great list!

  15. Have you seen “plus plus”? My kids got some last Christmas and they still play/build with them almost everyday.

  16. I think you know my kids better than I do! 😉 This is the perfect list for them!

    I’ve always said no in the store to Kinetic Sand, for no reason other than I just didn’t want to spend the extra money. I’ll be a hero if I buy it now!
    I’ve never seen the Automoblox- something they can build & rebuild completely on their own is perfect! I wonder what the age recs for them are? I ‘ll have to go look.

    We have a flat backyard now, and the jungle gym might be perfect! Is it easily moved to mow under?

    With that and the stocking stuffers and shirts I already have, I’d be able to call my shopping done! 🙂

    • Haha Sidnie, I swear, all kids would like MOST of these things… sure, the random kid won’t have any interest in a baby doll or some kid won’t like building, but for the most part… yeah.

      The kinetic sand is awesome. You won’t regret buying it, even if YOU are the only one who plays with it. Sometimes I sneak into the playroom and play with it all by myself. hahaha.

      The automoblox? I’m not sure the official age recommendations, but the kid I babysat who had them was 2 and he could do them himself, but he was a very smart 2. 🙂 So 2 or 3 up until maybe 6? Maybe older, depending on the kid.

      The jungle gym is light enough to move. I can’t really do it by myself because I’m not tall enough to pick it up high enough, but moving it with a friend was really easy when Topher was out of town. Topher is 6 feet and can easily move it by himself to mow underneath.

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