75+ of Our Favorite “Non-Toy Toys”

posted by Andrea | 10/15/2013

favorite non-toy toys

You all know how much I dislike clutter in and around our homes. And you probably also know how much I hate spending money on unnecessary things. So when I announced I was pregnant with Nora 2.5 years ago, you can probably imagine the type of feedback I got from people.

Although everyone was supportive and super excited for us, we did receive our fair share of semi-negative comments about how our house would be in shambles, our finances would be in ruins, and our lives would now be full of baby/kid clutter for the next 15-20 years.

Yes, I knew we would definitely acquire more stuff after kids; but I also felt confident that I would eventually be able to come up with a system for toy storage and organization that would keep our home relatively clutter-free.

At this point, with only one toddler in our home, we really have not amassed many traditional toys at all. We have a few larger toys out in the garage, 3 small shelves of toys / books in our living room, and then a few more toys and activities in Nora’s play room under the stairs.

That’s it. 

Yes, Nora enjoys playing with her toys — and I’m certain she will get more for her birthday in a few weeks — but what she loves even more than most of her “real toys” are her “non-toy toys”!

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I should mention that at almost 2, Nora is past the stage of putting everything in her mouth — so that obviously opens up a whole new world of toys that wouldn’t have been safe for her even 6 months ago.

Also, please remember that we only have ONE child so that really helps with the toy clutter issue. I fully realize that once Nora gets older and once more children are added to the mix, we WILL get more toys, books, games, etc. etc. I’m OK with that — as long as they are items we use and love on a regular basis.

But for now, I’m enjoying our relatively toy-free home and the fact that Nora can have so much fun with so many different non-toy toys!

Here are some of our favorites…

Kitchen Items:

1. Spoons, forks, bowls, and plates

2. Cupcake liners and muffin tins

3. Pots and pans — a.k.a. drums

4. Measuring cups and spoons (she has her own set so she doesn’t hoard mine)

5. Food storage containers where she can match the lids to the containers

6. Empty dish soap bottles for squirting water into the sink

7. Empty egg cartons for sorting things and storing her plastic Easter eggs

Food:

8. Empty food containers (boxes of cereal, oatmeal containers, coffee canisters, etc)

9. Plastic water bottles or old spice containers to fill with stuff (especially outside treasures)

10. Snapping vegetables — beans are her favorite and we have to buy them EVERY time we’re at the store

11. Watching me cook — she just sits in her chair by the counter or the stove and watches

12. Pretending to measure ingredients and eating pretend food — her favorite is making Dave and I pizza :)

13. Beans and rice to sort or shake in containers

14. Drawing with pudding on her highchair tray

Adult Clothing and Accessories:

15. Lugging around my purses and bags

16. Wearing her back pack

17. Carrying a wallet with used up gift cards or business cards inside

18. Wearing my shirts as dresses and walking in my shoes

19. Laundry — she loves to “help” fold the laundry or to just jump on the piles of clothes

20. Keys and key chains

21. Necklaces, bracelets, and belts

22. Watches… don’t come to our house with a watch on unless you want to get mobbed by Nora

23. Lint rollers — this is Nora’s newest favorite “toy” :)

24. Tags and the size stickers from new clothes — these keep her busy forever

Linens:

25. Blankets and towels for wrapping up her babies and hiding under

26. Bed pillows and throw pillows for making forts

27. Pillow cases for carrying animals and dolls

28. Sleeping bags — ours are silky and she likes that feeling

29. Rugs — she makes beds for her babies with our rugs

Boxes and Other Containers:

30. Boxes — all boxes (I cover larger boxes with butcher block paper so she can color it)

31. Laundry baskets –Dave gives her airplane rides in them or she pushes her dolls around the house in them

32. Any type of small basket or container with a handle she can carry and stuff things in

Things with Buttons:

33. Remote controls

34. Old cell phones

35. Calculators

36. Old tape/cd players

37. An old keyboard for typing with mommy

38. Alarm clocks (yes, we have to double check ours every night!)

39. Flashlights (this is her favorite in-the-car toy)

40. Clothing buttons — we have some containers of extra buttons for sorting and she LOVES them

Office Supplies:

41. Freebie address labels (a.k.a. stickers)

42. Junk mail and junk magazines for ripping pages out

43. Expired coupons

44. Extra envelopes and postcards (she calls postcards “baby mail”)

45. Magnets

46. Rubberbands and paper clips

47. Scratch paper for ripping or coloring on

48. Bubble wrap, packing peanuts, or other packing materials

Outside Stuff:

49. Rocks — like boulders to stand on

50. Baby rocks for holding and treasuring for days and weeks at at time

51. Pine cones and pine needles (the long soft needles)

52. Water in buckets or in watering cans –or even sprinklers and hoses

53. Sticks

54. Puddles on the sidewalk or driveway (we make our own puddles if it doesn’t rain)

watering can

Cleaning Tools:

55. Sponges and rags

56. Dust cloths and mits

57. Swiffer — I make it smaller for Nora and she will honestly walk around the house “sweeping” for 10-15 minutes

58. Brooms to sweep outside

59. Anything else she can clean with — her dolls are apparently very messy so she needs to regularly clean up after them

60. Empty spray bottles

Carpentry Tools:

61. Tape measure

62. Plastic screw drivers

63. A very small hammer we got as a gag gift

64. Levels, rulers, and yardsticks

65. Blunt screws to sort

66. Scrap wood that we sanded down for blocks — a.k.a. roads for Nora’s cars

Miscellaneous:

67. Headphones — no music required

68. Listening to music on her ‘boom box’ while snuggled up in a blanket

69. Exercise ball

70. Ping pong balls

71. Pretend friends and animals

72. Sitting in the car and pretending to drive

73. Baths — or anything involving water

74. Looking at photo books or photos on the computer/iPad

75. Travel-size toiletries and small bottles — these are also used for cleaning

76. Fish in fishtanks at the grocery store

77. Toilet paper!

I’m sure there are hundreds of other things I could add to this list — but these are some of Nora’s favorite “non-toy toys” that we play with on a very regular basis. However, if these ideas aren’t enough, here are the MANY responses you all gave on my Facebook page last week!

As you notice, almost all the items I’ve listed above are things we would most likely have in our house anyway (even if we didn’t have kids) which keeps the kid clutter at bay and saves a TON of money.

Plus, many of the items are disposable after a couple days or weeks, which means we never have an overwhelming amount of toy clutter and there are always new things to try and play with.

Clearly, Nora is super upset that she is stuck playing with bubble wrap and balloons :)

bubble wrap and balloons

Also, I do want to point out that although we do A LOT of playing outside and we truly don’t have that many toys, Nora does watch a good amount of TV every day. At this point, we’ve essentially given up on any sort of nap which means I never get a break. Ever!

Nora and I are together all day long which is pretty overwhelming, especially since I work from home, try to keep supper on the table, and clean laundry in our closets. So she usually watches two PBS shows in the morning from 8-9am and then another show or a Veggie Tales movie in the afternoon before Dave gets home from school. I can get a lot done during those time periods and she’s happy as a clam.

So lest you think we’re all creative crafts, outdoor adventures, fun, and games over here… I just wanted to make it very clear that there are days we just sit and watch TV for a while — and I’m 100% OK with that :)

What are your favorite non-toy toys?

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23 comments

  1. Organize 365

    10/15/2013

    What a GREAT list! I wish I had this list when my kids were young. I was so excited to be a mom I bought TONS of toys and my kids are still addicted to store bought stuff.

    :)
    Lisa

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  2. Jen

    10/15/2013

    I LOVE this! Such a great reminder that kids don’t NEED all the extras! And their creativity and imaginations are stretched so much more without them!

    Also, love the honesty about the tv watching! I had four kids in seven years. They watched TV too! They are now 21 (happily married), 18, 16, and 14. And they all seem to have turned out just fine! :-) You go, girl!

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  3. Kelly @ old blue silo

    10/15/2013

    I love your wooden toys on the shelves! I always try to get those kinds of toys for my nieces and nephews. They are truly timeless! I hate bright, plastic toys. That’s one of my biggest fears if I ever have kids. I know that sounds silly! I just don’t like bright colors and I don’t like cheap things that don’t last. We have a box of my husband’s grandpa’s toys from the 30s and 40s that we pulled out of the old farm house we had to knock down and when our nieces and nephew come to play they always ask for the “Old but just as good” toys :)

    Nora looks like she is having a blast! My mom use to always joke around when my brother and I were kids saying she should just get us laundry baskets and pots/pans for Christmas! We played with that kind of stuff more than we did our toys.

    Great post!

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  4. Carle

    10/15/2013

    My two year old son is crazy about small balls (pom-poms, marbles, bouncy balls, bells), spice containers (he calls them all “cinnamon” and puts pom poms or bells into them), and outdoor things (acorns, bugs, pinecones, rocks, sticks). He too uses my Swiffer more than I do! I love the idea of putting dishes/cutlery for kids at their height, when we cook he pulls out his own pots and containers, fills them with toys and cooks up a storm! We spent all evening tonight playing “supermarket” with pictures I cut out of a flyer. We live in a VERY small apartment (400sq. feet for 3 of us!) and we have no room for extra toys. I appreciate your site and always look to you for inspiration to clear out clutter! :)

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  5. Deni

    10/15/2013

    You are so smart to not fall into the toy trap! I think Nora is very intelligent and what you are doing is only making her smarter. She already has lots of skills most kids are not exposed to, like sweeping leaves. Look at the intensity on her face while sweeping, I love it! Nora is such a cutie and I love to see what she is up to. She clearly enjoys what she is doing and seems to be a go-getter like her Mom :)

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  6. Melissa

    10/15/2013

    These are great! I remember as a kid my mom made us play outside a lot and although we had toys we had just as much fun using our imagination, making up games and playing with what we found outside. With my daughter on the way this February I’m already strategizing on how to manage the toy clutter. Our house is on the small side and I’d like it to not become overrun with toys. Do you ever return gifts from bdays/christmas if it becomes too much?

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  7. Katy

    10/15/2013

    I think this is a great list. It seems like kids have become so dependent on electronic toys that they never learn to use their imagination. Once on an 8 hour road trip, my daughter entertained herself for almost the entire trip with a spork and paper napkin we got with our fast food breakfast that day. I should note that she did have a selection of small toys and other car activities…she just was having fun with the spork. An imagination is one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids…no batteries required :)

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  8. Rhonda

    10/15/2013

    Great list and reminder to keep things clutter free! I remember when I was young one of my favorite things to do was make “moss gardens” in margarine containers. I used to use pebbles to make little pathways and add painted rocks for animals. Memories! This year in our home we are trying to have a Minimalist Christmas! Less stuff, less packaging and less mess!

    [Reply]

  9. Evie

    10/15/2013

    Great list, Andrea! My kids didn’t have a lot of “real” toys, either, except for Lego (zillions of pieces), little action figure super hero guys, and of course lots of books. Oh, and Tonka construction equipment for digging outside. One favorite outside non toy that’s not on your list: raked up piles of cut grass to be arranged into mazes or else into towns, airports or forts for the little super hero guys. HOURS of fun there.

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  10. Jen

    10/15/2013

    I HATE having a house full of toys, especially loud, beeping, flashing toys that leave little to no room for imagination. I’ve been meaning to get to my pre-holiday toy pare down and I keep putting it off, so this inspired me!

    My son loves a lot of “non-toys”, too. His favorite? Two plastics bowls, one with beans and one with water, and a few measuring cups spread out on a towel. He’ll play for an hour just dumping them back and forth and scooping. I always have a small mess to clean up, but it’s literally just sopping up the water with the towel and sweeping up the beans. Take me two minutes.

    Another one we like is to tape a piece of contact paper, sticky side out, on a window and let him stick things to it. Pom poms, pieces of tissue paper, little things he finds, whatever.

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  11. Angela

    10/15/2013

    Great list :-) We also have a list with our all-time favorite household baby toys and some other easy DIY baby toys with stuff one has in the house.

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  12. Amber

    10/15/2013

    You’re a great Mom!

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  13. susie

    10/15/2013

    My almost 2 year old latest non-toy is the word “suprise!” she hides then come out and yells it… It is so cute!

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  14. Liz

    10/15/2013

    Sounds like our house! My three kids seldom play with toys. I always cringe when my kids recieve any kind of toy for Christmas or Birthday. They often go unused and end up being donated

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  15. Jo

    10/15/2013

    We had a blast making forts when I was a kid with random blankets, chairs, etc.! My dad even helped us make a cardboard periscope with some of my moms old small mirrors so we could spy who was coming! Hehe

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  16. Maria

    10/15/2013

    Great list, Andrea. I also love the photos; especially the one of Nora with the balloon and bubble wrap. She just looks so happy and excited. You are such a great Mom!

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  17. Janice

    10/15/2013

    Four of our g’kids that live close think that Nan has the greatest toys in the whole world at her house. What are they? Lincoln Logs and John Deere tractors from our son’s childhood and 3 plastic barns and farm toys that I bought at garage sales. Oh yes, and a plastic castle and a big pirate ship I also got at a garage sale. On some days they include all of the above in some grand scene from history which they have read about. The 3 boys love to build, imagine, and create. And why do they think of them as Nan’s toys? Because during a few intense fights over which toys each could claim for their own in the farm village or battle or whatever, I have stated that these were NAN’S TOYS and people using them had to share fairly! :) Our granddaughter loves the toy tea set, some old plastic fruit, paper napkins, plastic forks, etc. while she plays restaurant. When our kids were young and Christmas approached, I made them give some of their toys to Salvation Army before they could think that Santa or Mom and Dad would consider getting them more. This way they learned to purge at an early age and both of them are great minimalists today as adults. In fact, our son could be your twin, Andrea.

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  18. Julia

    10/15/2013

    A lovely post (as always).

    Here in Australia we have a reality TV show called “My Kitchen Rules” (MKR). My 5 yr old daughter loves to come into the kitchen when I’m making dinner and “play MKR” with me. I’ll be preparing dinner and she is always “on dessert”. We chat to each other as though we were the contestants on the show. She’ll say to me “come on mum – how are you going with the mashed potatoes – the guest judges are due to arrive any minute and we still have SO much to do”. She just loves playing this game :) She has her own pretend kitchen etc in her room – yet she prefers to play like this. This game is a memory maker – much more so than the toys ie the things.

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  19. Amanda

    10/15/2013

    I too have managed to keep “baby clutter” to a minimum. We have 2 bins in our living room – one for toys, one for books. Plus a music table thing, A giant “box” of duplos (the box unzips into a playmat with roads and stuff), and a rider/pusher toy. He has a bookshelf in his room with more books and a small stepstool that has a “door” on top, so he has a few toys he keeps in there up in his room. That’s it. It makes clean up easy in the evening because everything goes back in either the toy bin or the book bin, and the few bigger items line up along the wall next to our TV – it means that in the evening, the room looks like adults live here too :)

    We do have a small pop-up tent that my parents got him, but it’s easily put away and stored in our hall closet when he’s not using it/playing with it.

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  20. Julia

    10/15/2013

    One fun low-clutter thing that we do at our house that my kids love is using dry erase boards. The kids love creating masterpieces on their boards and it’s easy to fix mistakes when they need to. When they have drawn or written something they want to keep, I take a picture of it and then they can erase and go on to their next idea. We like the double sided dry erase boards that is lined on one side for those learning to read and write and also the magnetic ones that can be used with alphabet or number (or any other) magnets and dry erase markers to make pictures, stories, practice homework, etc. The smaller boards are also great as a travel toy or for use when waiting at a Dr office, etc. Definetly a favorite for us. :)

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  21. Carrie

    10/18/2013

    My children have way to many toys. While I can never get rid of all of them, and I know that more toys will come in; I am trying to be more careful with what I put on their “wish lists” for birthdays and holidays. We have a dedicated “playroom” but they of course always want to be on the main level where I am. I need to be better at letting them play with more “on toys” and be ok with the house getting messy because they’ve taken all of the tupperware out of the drawers and things like that.

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  22. Jenni

    10/19/2013

    Great list – I think you’re totally on the right track with not amassing a lot of toys. I get a lot of gift cards to a certain big toy store, and never know what to do with them. My boys love cars, and we keep Tinker Toys and other open-ended building sets upstairs, but most other things get put down in the basement (and right now we are preparing to sell most of the ones they rarely play with) to be pulled out every now and then.

    And thanks for being honest about the tv. I have a very intense 6-year-old son, and I just have to let him watch a couple of shows during the day to get some time where I don’t have to be talking all the time.

    One toy I am glad we received as a gift, though, was a set of Magna Tiles. They are a very compact set of magnetic plastic tiles and I have just been amazed at what the boys have done with them – built chairs and tables for their stuffed animals, roads, parking garages, churches, etc. They are also great for building dollhouses. They are kind of expensive, but hands down, if I had to just keep one toy, that is the one I would keep.

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  23. Ingrid@morestylethancash.com

    10/22/2013

    This was a wonderful post that brought back so many memories.

    I am the youngest of 4 but the only one with children so I had to insist to all my family when our kids were born that they would not over load them with toys.

    When they were about 4 and older my children’s non toys were cardboard boxes. I would go to a appliance store and get stove and fridge boxes and smaller boxes as well and they would build forts and castles and tunnels with them in the basement. When they got really shabby looking I would bundle them up and put them out for recycling.

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