How many toys does a toddler need?

Like most parents, I want to offer my child the best childhood I can. I want to stimulate his mind, develop his curiosity, nurture his creativity. I don't want him to miss out on any strand of learning. Toys are a vital part of a child's learning. They help them understand the world, and of course I want toys for my child.

The thing is, I don't want too many toys, and we seem to have a lot. I am always trying to cull them, sort them, put some away for the next baby, pass them on. It is a never ending task that I can only imagine gets worse as your family grows. I do rotate a few (some go for a 'rest' in the box under the stairs), and then what we have left fit neatly into a small corner of the room. I go through phases of feeling good about the way I am dealing with this, but most of the time I waver between thinking that we still have too much, then on other days feeling guilty that we may have too little, like I am depriving my child. Perhaps he will be disadvantaged in the future, because he didn't have x y and z.

Every time we visit other people's houses for play dates I get the guilts. Every child, it seems, has much more than BB. There are baskets and bucket loads everywhere. BB loves playing with all their toys. Two or three toddlers in the room and everything is out all over house - the kids are having a fabulous time, there is plenty for all - including things I never even knew existed. They all capture BB's attention, even if just for a short while. After my initial overwhelm at the sheer amount of plastic and noise that surrounds us, I always find myself thinking "Perhaps I should get one of those, or those, or those... mmm, now that's good".

Then of course I worry about how people see me when they come here and see our more modest toy collection. Do they think I am too poor, too tight, or too mean? How will their children cope here on play dates? Will they be bored in seconds?

So, once again I have been in the process of evaluating if I am providing BB with enough. It certainly seems like enough. Having visited and worked in parts of the world where they have nothing, I often catch myself feeling grateful for how lucky we are, even guilty at times, for our good fortune.

Here is what he has. What do you think?

The play area - some of the toys on the shelves get rotated.  There is always
a shape sorter and a pull along toy, and the train set stays there permanently. 
The storage units to the left organised into; cars, animal, musical instruments, 
puppets, beanbags and lummi sticks, and balls. There is also a bag of bricks 
behind the oven. BB knows where to find stuff, and where to put it away.
He has loads of books on the shelf on the landing

He has an activity table and about 6 of these puzzles, but we only have 2 out at a time

And then we have the craft store (with pencils, crayons, paper and paints, coloured card, glue, play dough etc. etc.), which lives in my office.

Craft Materials

Before Christmas, when I was trying to think of things to get for BB I did some research as to what and 18 month old should have. The list went something like this

1. Blocks
2. Puzzles
3. Crayons
4. Picture Books
5. Balls
6. A train set
7. Musical Instruments
8. Things to "Play House"

He already had everything on the list, so, as an extended family, we added to it modestly with a new puzzle, the saucepans, a boat for the bath, some craft materials and some extra bits for his train set.

In addition to all the things I listed already, outside he has a sand tray, and a mini trampoline. The only thing he doesn't have is a ride on toy. I am looking out for one second hand, but right now, it's not really the weather for it anyway. He also has bath toys in the bathroom, and soft toys in his bedroom.

As you can see then, BB literally has it all! And more... Right?

He also enjoys spending a lot of time doing things with me, like cooking and washing up, dusting and polishing, sweeping and mopping, loading the washing machine or dryer and putting the clothes away. The tea drawer and the teaspoons also provide him with as much entertainment as anything else in the house. We go outside a lot too and he has the whole of nature to explore. He doesn't ever seem to get bored. He seems happy with his lot.

When I ask myself what I want from the things I provide, the answer usually goes a bit like this... As well as helping him to understand the world, develop his curiosity and nurture his creativity, I also want to build the foundations for reading and writing, sharing and caring, making and doing. I want him to feel happy and confident with his place in the world. I want him to be creative, resourceful and considerate, generous, patient and tolerant, practical and dependable, clean and tidy. We have all we need, we have a place for everything so that we can keep it in order and find what we want, we take care of what we have, we are learning about and doing real life things too, and we regularly play with and share with others.

I think we have it covered.

So why then am I here, again, at my computer, googling to see if there is something I'm missing? I do it so often I decided to write about it, with links, so that next time I have this paranoia I can come back to my post and remind myself that we really do have it all, more than enough, and that sometimes less is more.

Maybe you are going through the same thing too, or the toys have taken over the living room, and the kitchen, and the garden, and the bedroom, and the bathroom... and you want to sort it out, in which case the links I have found may help you out too.

Interestingly, when I googled 'how many toys should a toddler have', every single site that I came across talked about having LESS.

I particularly enjoyed this article Why fewer toys will actually benefit your kids. I am not sure that any of it is backed up with research, but I like his ideas. Reading it immediately made me feel like I am right all along, which is what I like! Then there is Minimalist Mom who seems to have a similar idea to me regarding the amount of toys and how they should be kept, but it's inspiring too, as she also seems to be better at executing it.

Then I found this quote in an article in The Guardian,
According to Dr John Richer, consultant clinical paediatric psychologist at John Radcliffe hospital, Oxford, "The mistake that many parents make when they buy a toy, especially for very young children, is they get toys that can do a lot, instead of getting toys a child can do a lot with."
and then this on the Zero to Three website, both of which made feel better, and like we have the right kind of toys as well as the right amount.

And so, here I am now, feeling fully justified with my decision to carefully sensor and monitor the toy mountain. It's not just that I am thrifty, or a neat freak, it is actually better for my child.


Now, to remember this next time...

Hello, and thanks for stopping by. My name is Emma and I am a lifestyle entrepreneur, writer, teacher, coach and mentor. I am passionate about eating real food, learning, travel and health. I get to spend my days with my amazing son who has chosen to learn from the world rather than at school. We write to share the life we love and to help others create a life they love too.


  1. I think you are providing well. J has enough toys. Compared to some others it may not be much but in the small spaces that they are allowed in here, I think we're good. I try to remind myself that at his age, everything is interesting in one way or another. He doesn't need a room full of toys to keep him happy and I don't need more to clean!

  2. This is a topic I ponder often, and stressed out about a lot during my pregnancy. To me it looks like you have the right amount...but what do I know? I worried that B wasn't really "playing" in his new playroom, so I went and loaded up on new toys at IKEA, only to have him only be interested in my laptop cord *sigh*

  3. Great post. Truly well said & love that you wrote it. I have so many thoughts swirling in my head now it's hard to compose a coherent comment. It feels as tho Elena has so many toys, so many that she's not even interested in but we "had to have". She's always more interested in "non toys" like the Tupperware cupboard etc that I wonder why we need more.

  4. I am in the "Less is more" camp. 1. We live in a small space in NYC so there just isn't room. 2. At both day care and playdates, it always seems there is one toy that all kids want and even then it can be the darn cardboard box!

    Kids make do with what they have. Having less teaches them they can't have everything (and eventually the value of money.) It teaches them to share what they do have when friends come over. And it lets them use their imaginations... card board boxes, tupperware, plastic cups are all cool things with a little imagination!

    I think you have it all just right!

  5. Truly enjoyed this post. I admire your list of what you want from the things you provide. As long as you keep these goals in sight, you will not go wrong. My daughters are now 33 and 26 - and do you know what they remember most about growing up? The time we spent together enjoying nature, creating family traditions (like a sandwich hug), the songs we sang and the books we read aloud. It is wonderful that you care so much about providing literacy and creative expression and learning opportunities for your child. I promise, this is what will be appreciated the rest of his life. Even if you had nothing more than the tea spoons in a tray, he would sense your joy in his learning, and feel pride in the things he does to help you. Bless you for sharing this great blog with us!

  6. Really enjoyed reading this post as It is something I always ask myself. We had no toys when my son was first born and they as if by magic, they appeared and grew and grew and grew. Now he has too many toys (His bedroom is rammed and my living room just looks like a playroom), however this doesn't mean he is any more entertained. He gets bored easily! His favourite toys are mainly educational toys, like his easel, where he can spell out words using the magnets and on the other side he loves drawing.