A minimalist's toddler gift guide

My journey to a more minimalist lifestyle began unconsciously when Emerson was born. I am not a true minimalist by any means, I’m quite the opposite. I collect and keep too many things, and I’ve been trying to consciously (yet unsuccessfully) declutter our lives since she arrived. When she was younger, I didn’t fawn over all of the latest baby gadgets and toys; we didn’t have a bouncer, a swing or a walker and all those other “must have” items you see on baby registries. Turns out, she survived just fine, and we didn’t have to fill our home with items we would eventually have no use for. We also really didn’t have the space for clunky baby toys, and we certainly don’t have the storage.

With her birthday being so close to Christmas (Dec. 28) I knew I was going to have to do something to maintain my desired lifestyle without affecting her quality of life. Family members love giving gifts, so while I didn’t want to take that opportunity away from them, I don’t feel that she needs tons of toys that she may or may not play with. For her first birthday, I asked friends and family to gift experiences (i.e. trips to the zoo, museum memberships, science center tickets, etc.). It’s a birthday tradition that I would love to continue throughout her life because we received some really great ones. More than anything I want to to inspire and nurture creativity and her adventerous side. However, as she gets older I know that her needs and desires are going to change, and she’s going to need items and toys that will help her development.

She doesn’t currently have a lot of toys, so I haven’t done much recycling and donating, but I think this will be the year that I clear some space to update her collection. I created this minimalist toddler toy guide to compile some of the things that I believe are beneficial for this current stage of life as well as her growth. Some of the things on the list she already has (marked with a star) and I would recommend, and others are things I’d love to get her or have gifted this year. My goal is to inspire other people to value the vast opportunity for experiences with their children over occupying them with endless toys, and also to make more conscious decisions when buying necessary products, toys and games to help our children’s development. 

The gift guide is broken up in to sections for your convenience. Links are included in each item name. I hope you find it helpful. Enjoy!


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To Educate

 1.  Kindergarten Toolkit   We are one year away from preschool, and only two years away from Kindergarten!!! and even though I’m not trying to push any kind of structured learning on Emerson, I’m always thinking of ways to incorporate learning in to our every day activities. I think this kit would be the perfect way to start integrating the tools necessary for a toddler to help them succeed in school.  2.  Ikea Abacus  *  Great for learning colors and counting.  3.  Doctor Kit  *  I’m a big fan of creative play, so when Toys R US went out of business, I jumped at the opportunity to add a few new items to her toy collection, mainly things that would help expand her imagination. I left the store with a doctor kit, a cape & mask and a baby stroller. Out of those three items, she plays with the doctor kit the most, making sure her babies, friends and parents are in perfect health.  4.  My Little Cities Travel Matching Game   We haven’t yet introduced Emerson to matching, but I would love to start soon. This set seems like it would be a lot of fun.

1. Kindergarten Toolkit

We are one year away from preschool, and only two years away from Kindergarten!!! and even though I’m not trying to push any kind of structured learning on Emerson, I’m always thinking of ways to incorporate learning in to our every day activities. I think this kit would be the perfect way to start integrating the tools necessary for a toddler to help them succeed in school.

2. Ikea Abacus *

Great for learning colors and counting.

3. Doctor Kit *

I’m a big fan of creative play, so when Toys R US went out of business, I jumped at the opportunity to add a few new items to her toy collection, mainly things that would help expand her imagination. I left the store with a doctor kit, a cape & mask and a baby stroller. Out of those three items, she plays with the doctor kit the most, making sure her babies, friends and parents are in perfect health.

4. My Little Cities Travel Matching Game

We haven’t yet introduced Emerson to matching, but I would love to start soon. This set seems like it would be a lot of fun.


To Wear

 1.  LLBean Toddlers Wicked Good Slippers  *  I can’t say enough good things about these slippers. They are so incredibly cozy, durable and warm. We’ve had the adult version for years, and I bought Emerson the toddler version for the first time last year. She outgrew them (boy do they grow fast!) and I recently bought a new pair and went up a few sizes so that they could last a couple of years.  2.  Patagonia Baby Retro X Fleece Jacket   We absolutely love Patagonia products. It’s truly an amazing company that produces quality clothing. Although their items are a bit on the pricey side, I definitely think it’s worth it for what you get. Her first winter coat was a size 12-18 months and lasted her two winters. They even have a recycling and buy back program, so if we’d like we can take it in and sell it back to the company. You can even shop for used clothing on their site. Brent recently had a tear in his jacket, he took it to the store and they sent it out for repair for free! You can’t beat that. While we already purchased a winter jacket for the season, I’d love something for her to wear on those in-between days where it’s not too cold and around the house.  3.  Burt’s Bees Holiday Family Jammies   While I am not the family pajama type, I really love Burt’s Bee’s Holiday pajamas. I am a big fan of Burt’s Bees (everything) and love that they are 100% organic cotton. So far Emerson has had two holiday themed pairs, and one plain Ivory pair. I switch up the print every year, and this year the Fair Isle is on my list.  4.  Herschel Heritage Kids Backpack  *  I’ve been a fan of Herschel for many years now. I have a backpack of my own as well as a duffel bag, so when I was looking for a backpack for Emerson for a trip we were taking, it only made sense to start with Herschel. She’s had her backpack for over a year now, and I anticipate it lasting for the next few years while she’s in school. They’re cute, durable and come in a variety of prints and colors.

1. LLBean Toddlers Wicked Good Slippers *

I can’t say enough good things about these slippers. They are so incredibly cozy, durable and warm. We’ve had the adult version for years, and I bought Emerson the toddler version for the first time last year. She outgrew them (boy do they grow fast!) and I recently bought a new pair and went up a few sizes so that they could last a couple of years.

2. Patagonia Baby Retro X Fleece Jacket

We absolutely love Patagonia products. It’s truly an amazing company that produces quality clothing. Although their items are a bit on the pricey side, I definitely think it’s worth it for what you get. Her first winter coat was a size 12-18 months and lasted her two winters. They even have a recycling and buy back program, so if we’d like we can take it in and sell it back to the company. You can even shop for used clothing on their site. Brent recently had a tear in his jacket, he took it to the store and they sent it out for repair for free! You can’t beat that. While we already purchased a winter jacket for the season, I’d love something for her to wear on those in-between days where it’s not too cold and around the house.

3. Burt’s Bees Holiday Family Jammies

While I am not the family pajama type, I really love Burt’s Bee’s Holiday pajamas. I am a big fan of Burt’s Bees (everything) and love that they are 100% organic cotton. So far Emerson has had two holiday themed pairs, and one plain Ivory pair. I switch up the print every year, and this year the Fair Isle is on my list.

4. Herschel Heritage Kids Backpack *

I’ve been a fan of Herschel for many years now. I have a backpack of my own as well as a duffel bag, so when I was looking for a backpack for Emerson for a trip we were taking, it only made sense to start with Herschel. She’s had her backpack for over a year now, and I anticipate it lasting for the next few years while she’s in school. They’re cute, durable and come in a variety of prints and colors.


To Play

 1.  Ikea Train Set   We have the original train set that only came with the tracks and the train, but I love that this updated version includes buildings, signs and trees.  2.  Magna Tiles   She’s drawn to these every time we are the library, and loves to build so I think they’d be a great addition to her toy collection.  3.  Farm Animals   Great for learning and play. So far we have the Aquatic (which I love taking to the beach) and the Wild Animals, but would love to add the farm animals to her collection.  4.  Gathre Village Mini Play Mat   A gender neutral play mat that doubles as a rug for indoor / outdoor play and is easy to wipe clean.

1. Ikea Train Set

We have the original train set that only came with the tracks and the train, but I love that this updated version includes buildings, signs and trees.

2. Magna Tiles

She’s drawn to these every time we are the library, and loves to build so I think they’d be a great addition to her toy collection.

3. Farm Animals

Great for learning and play. So far we have the Aquatic (which I love taking to the beach) and the Wild Animals, but would love to add the farm animals to her collection.

4. Gathre Village Mini Play Mat

A gender neutral play mat that doubles as a rug for indoor / outdoor play and is easy to wipe clean.


To Read

 1.  Ada Twist, Scientist  *  We have this book and absolutely love it. I would love to add the others to our library this holiday season.  Rosie Revere, Engineer  and  Iggy Peck, Architect .  2.  Dream Big Little One   A book that showcases women of color who changed the world. I believe it’s incredibly important to include diverse books in your child’s collection.  3.  Goggles   We are big fans of Ezra Jack Keats books and have three in our collection so far. Peter is such a wonderful and fun character, and we love reading about his adventures.  4.  Happy in Our Skin   A photography client of mine was recently telling me about reading this book to their two year old, and I was immediately intrigued. I am always on the look out for children’s books that celebrate diversity, and they spoke highly of this book and how much their son liked it.

1. Ada Twist, Scientist *

We have this book and absolutely love it. I would love to add the others to our library this holiday season. Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect.

2. Dream Big Little One

A book that showcases women of color who changed the world. I believe it’s incredibly important to include diverse books in your child’s collection.

3. Goggles

We are big fans of Ezra Jack Keats books and have three in our collection so far. Peter is such a wonderful and fun character, and we love reading about his adventures.

4. Happy in Our Skin

A photography client of mine was recently telling me about reading this book to their two year old, and I was immediately intrigued. I am always on the look out for children’s books that celebrate diversity, and they spoke highly of this book and how much their son liked it.


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To Create

 1.  Ikea Easel  *  It has a white board, a chalk board and is only $20. You really can’t go wrong with this purchase. Unleash your toddler’s inner artist.  2.  LEGO set  *  Brent loves to play with Legos just as much as Emerson. Actually, to be honest I think he may like them even more than she does. We recently bought a similar set to this one, and it is great to see them building together. Legos are great for independent and creative play. I especially like that it comes with a catalog of ideas for things to build. While Emerson can’t build anything from the booklet herself, it’s great to know that legos are a toy she won’t outgrow (ever, if she’s anything like Brent).  3.  VTech Kidizoom Camera   Emerson had a wooden toy camera that she loved, but unfortunately broke. On our trip to Italy this year, I bought her a disposable camera and she went crazy taking photos. It sat around the house for a bit before I got it developed and she continued to try and use it, so I think that it’s time to upgrade her to her own camera.  4.  Band in a Box  *  We aren’t exactly a musical family (I used to play flute in middle school, but that’s the extent of my abilities) however, we do listen to music as a part of our daily routine. Emerson has this toy has shown an interest in every instrument included. Lately she’s been asking for a trumpet, so I think I would like to add  this  to her collection.

1. Ikea Easel *

It has a white board, a chalk board and is only $20. You really can’t go wrong with this purchase. Unleash your toddler’s inner artist.

2. LEGO set *

Brent loves to play with Legos just as much as Emerson. Actually, to be honest I think he may like them even more than she does. We recently bought a similar set to this one, and it is great to see them building together. Legos are great for independent and creative play. I especially like that it comes with a catalog of ideas for things to build. While Emerson can’t build anything from the booklet herself, it’s great to know that legos are a toy she won’t outgrow (ever, if she’s anything like Brent).

3. VTech Kidizoom Camera

Emerson had a wooden toy camera that she loved, but unfortunately broke. On our trip to Italy this year, I bought her a disposable camera and she went crazy taking photos. It sat around the house for a bit before I got it developed and she continued to try and use it, so I think that it’s time to upgrade her to her own camera.

4. Band in a Box *

We aren’t exactly a musical family (I used to play flute in middle school, but that’s the extent of my abilities) however, we do listen to music as a part of our daily routine. Emerson has this toy has shown an interest in every instrument included. Lately she’s been asking for a trumpet, so I think I would like to add this to her collection.


To Move

 1.  Trampoline   Perfect for those days when it’s a little too cold, or you’re a little too tired to venture out of the house, but the kids need to get some energy out.  2.  Little Tokyobike   Emerson received a balance bike last Christmas, and while I don’t think she’s ready for a bike with training wheels, she’s been asking for one as of late. I’m not ready to invest in a new bike just yet, but when we do upgrade, this bike will certainly be a contender. Brent and I visited the Tokyobike showroom in Brooklyn a few years ago, and I was so impressed. They make beautiful bikes, and I was so happy to find that they make them for children as well.  3.  Nugget Comfort   It’s a toy and a couch combined in one. It’s a way to simultaneously keep your children comfortable creative and active. The nugget is a foam couch made of four separate pieces that can be converted into many different shapes and objects for play. Emerson loves to slide, jump off of and hang upside down from things, and I’ve been contemplating getting a nugget since I found it earlier this year. We also need additional seating in our living room space, and think this would be a great addition.  4.  Micro Mini  *  We took a trip to Brooklyn this past summer and every child we saw was on a scooter. Emerson asked for one the entire trip, so we finally caved and bought one at a local toy store. She spent the rest of the summer scooting around our neighborhood, and I couldn’t be happier about our purchase. She loves zipping through our apartment hallways and down the sidewalks, and it’s a great way for her to get some energy out.

1. Trampoline

Perfect for those days when it’s a little too cold, or you’re a little too tired to venture out of the house, but the kids need to get some energy out.

2. Little Tokyobike

Emerson received a balance bike last Christmas, and while I don’t think she’s ready for a bike with training wheels, she’s been asking for one as of late. I’m not ready to invest in a new bike just yet, but when we do upgrade, this bike will certainly be a contender. Brent and I visited the Tokyobike showroom in Brooklyn a few years ago, and I was so impressed. They make beautiful bikes, and I was so happy to find that they make them for children as well.

3. Nugget Comfort

It’s a toy and a couch combined in one. It’s a way to simultaneously keep your children comfortable creative and active. The nugget is a foam couch made of four separate pieces that can be converted into many different shapes and objects for play. Emerson loves to slide, jump off of and hang upside down from things, and I’ve been contemplating getting a nugget since I found it earlier this year. We also need additional seating in our living room space, and think this would be a great addition.

4. Micro Mini *

We took a trip to Brooklyn this past summer and every child we saw was on a scooter. Emerson asked for one the entire trip, so we finally caved and bought one at a local toy store. She spent the rest of the summer scooting around our neighborhood, and I couldn’t be happier about our purchase. She loves zipping through our apartment hallways and down the sidewalks, and it’s a great way for her to get some energy out.

Happy shopping! xox