Like all expectant parents, we stocked up on necessary stuff like a bouncy seat and a co-sleeper. We also bought a few toys that were too cute to resist: a stuffed bunny and some stacking blocks, even though we knew it would be ages before our son would play with them. Family members and friends also supplied us with various other stuff like wooden puzzles, matchbox cars and plastic bath buckets.
Now, 5 years and two kids in, I have a pretty good sense of what toys have been “worth it,” which is to say, exactly none of them. If I could go back in time and tell my pregnant self one thing, it would be this: Don’t spend a dime on toys. Instead, stock up on these 25 essential items that will keep your kids busy for days, if not weeks and years.
1. A post-it pad, one note peeled off at a time and stuck to random places around the house, like your open mascara wand.
2. An empty tampon wrapper, which is part of an installation called “pirate treasure.”
3. A pile of twigs smuggled from outdoors, which is part of an installation called “Blair Witch Project.”
4. Everything in the junk drawer. Literally everything in there is fascinating, right down to the sticky pennies and the straw wrapper.
5. A little-old-lady-type coin purse, which my 3-year-old son picked out as a gift from the dentist.
6. Seventy-five earplugs to stuff in the coin purse.
7. A torn-out page from a pop-up book that cost $30.
8. My shoe.
9. Daddy’s shoe, which makes it tough to get out the door for date night.
10. The soup ladle, for a wand.
11. My toothbrush, for a wand.
12. All the spatulas, bananas and more tampons: wands.
13. Every colander, for a game of “car wash.”
14. The spring from a broken monster truck, which I am intending to fix.
15. My phone, the box my phone came in, the rubber case from the old phone…anything phone-related is a-okay.
16. Many little pieces of torn-up paper, AKA confetti, AKA shit the vacuum cleaner won’t pick up.
17. Anything in the fridge. To my toddler, the fridge is Shangri-La. Mustard bottles, a carton of eggs, a basket of cherry tomatoes? It would be the thrill of a lifetime if I would just. let. him. into. the. fridge.
18. All the shoes I had put away in the cabinet for a potential new baby. The sheer number of times the shoes have been pulled out and strewn about has made me decide that another baby isn’t worth storing the stuff. Yes, it is for this reason alone we’re stopping at two.
19. The bathroom faucet. Besides the fridge, the bathroom sink is the place my toddler would most like to be…he swears if I’d just let him play in there for several hours unobserved he would never ask for anything again.
20. Except for the toilet. He just needs to look for one quick thing in the toilet.
21. Rocks, bugs and a desiccated squirrel carcass, at least until someone notices.
22. A turkey baster.
23. A screen door.
24. A turkey baster poking perfectly symmetrical holes in the screen door.
25. An empty binoculars case, which he sleeps with and prefers to the stuffed bunny.
What I’m saying is, don’t buy toys. Instead consider what you have lying around the house—your good kitchen tongs, say—that you’d like to never be able to find again. Or consider what you’d like to throw out, but instead of throwing it out, keep it on your hallway floor for 3 months as part of a “city.” The stuffed bunny? Forgotten. The blocks? Never played with. But a post-it note? That’s forever.