Tag Archives: Toys

Thrifty Living: Toysplosion, Part II

28 Nov

I have been fighting the good fight over toy storage ever since before Isobel was old enough to go through the cat door. When her toys began taking over the living room we bought an awesome six dollar thrifted chest and begged the internet for help to solve this problem. Little did I know that the toy storage problem would never go away, just change and become difficult in different ways with time.

We’ve been slowly moving Isobel’s toys out of her nursery and into a room affectionately known as “the Pencil Room,” after the time that I stashed an enormous cache of colored pencils in that room. Which, nevermind. That’s a story for another time. Our plan is to move Isobel out of the nursery and into the Pencil Room, which will eventually become her big girl room.

After shopping around for toy storage and organization systems, I settled for thrifted tins and baskets, tubs for larger toys and collections, a few buckets and finally, some photo storage boxes bought cheaply at Micheal’s.

I really like the tins, even though you do have to remember what’s in them. But that makes them that much fresher to your child when they pull them out again. Sometimes the lids on older tins tend to stick, but that can be a good thing if it holds toys for your older child that you don’t want your younger kid getting into.

The main thing I’ve learned about toy storage and organization is you have to develop a little ruthlessness. Keeping the amount of toys at manageable levels, developing collections that will grow with your child, and donating the things that you child has out grown/doesn’t care a whole lot about/are duplicates of other toys has really saved my sanity. Especially when we have playdates. When we have Kingston over he moves from room to room, rooting out his favorite toys while he and Isobel dump everything out in the process. And that is totally fine! Kids! It’s what they do! I’ve sorted and pared the toys down to the point that I can clean up a toysplosion, I mean a total, house-wrecking toysplosion, in under twenty minutes. I don’t mean to brag. Getting to this point was a hard-won battle. But it is possible.

Thrifty Living: Toy Kitchen

3 Oct

It started while I was thrifting, when Isobel tagged along beside me, grabbing things out of bins or trying on hats when she thought I wasn’t looking. Or maybe it really started before that, when she sad on the ground as a baby, digging through my measuring cups and playing with spoons. Then, it occurred to me: I could start building her a collection of thrifted kitchen items to play with. Her own mini thrifted kitchen.

You can probably tell my favorite area of the thrift store is the kitchen paraphernalia. I’ve talked about it a couple of times. (And I have more planned for the future.) It’s just that vintage kitchens are so charming and so interesting and generally very well-made. It was only natural, then, especially since I have Isobel along with me when I shop, to start buying toys for her in this aisle.

Children’s kitchen toys aren’t expensive. In fact you can come by them very, very cheaply. In many cases there is nothing wrong with a regular ol’ pot and pan set, and you can even find some really cute ones without looking very far. Why then, go to the effort of building a thrifted kitchen? Simple: It’s more fun. You can build a whole cooking set based just on things you find secondhand. The best play knives I’ve seen were actually (totally blunt, completely dull) cheese knives in the bin at my favorite religious charity shop. I could find a dozen small saucepans and mini loaf pans in under and hour if I wanted to. Spoons, ladles, all manner of spatulas can be found for a few cents and make wonderful accessories to a child’s play kitchen.

The first thing I bought for the thrifted play kitchen was plastic fruit and vegetables. These are better than all the plastic food versions I’ve seen for kids, and it was less than a dollar for all this and more (Isobel was playing with some of the fruit at the time). The best part about this display food is that it’s healthier than most of the fake food items you can buy. I bought a bag of children’s play food for a dollar at a yard sale before Isobel was born. The healthiest thing in it was frozen carrots. It seems like I can find some healthier versions now that don’t include only canned or boxed vegetables, but I’ve yet to see a set than includes the variety and detail that this set has. Sure, it might be out there. But I found this (in an attractive display basket) for fifty cents.

(A word of warning, as with anything you give your child, especially if it’s not a toy meant for young kids, watch for hazardous parts. I have several bunches of plastic grapes that I put in the attic because she could pluck off those plastic globes and choke on them.)

You can find full-sized small saucepans easily, as I mentioned, but Isobel loved playing with these metal measuring cups. She put them the DIY kitchen my Aunt made her before we bought her a toy kitchen. She filled them with plastic hot dogs and wooden wedges of cheese. She’d shake her sealed jar of pink sprinkles in for seasoning and then she’d lift it directly to her lips, sipping loudly, before exclaiming, “Yummy!”

This mitt is perfect for a four or a five year old.

I’m not exactly sure what these were used for, but their long handles suggest they are for open fire cooking, maybe part of a camping set. I really don’t know but I adore their orange color.

I bought these at an estate sale wherein I had a very embarrassing moment. I walked in the door and immediatley I could see three paths to take: the living room, the family room, or the kitchen. Obviously, I chose the kitchen area and became fascinated by an antique kettle. I rushed forward for a closer look (sensing others in the kitchen who might also want it) before realizing it was full of hot coffee and the ladies in the kitchen were running the sale. Which was all piled in the living and family rooms.

This thrifted gravy  boat is perfect for Isobel’s kitchen. It’s to tiny, yet perfectly proportioned like a real gravy boat. Zorro must have known I’d want to take a photo of it next to something else for scale, so he obliged.

I found this miniscule whisk and this small ice cream cup on the same trip, and Isobel loves to play with them together as if she thinks they are part of a set. Usually when I’m cooking she’s on a step stool right next to me and sometimes she’ll be stirring her little bowl with this whisk while I cook.

The pot in the background was my great aunts and it was hers as a child. It’s circa 1900 and has held up remarkably well. The miniature pan next to it came from my Nana and is surprisingly not a toy. It was part of her Revereware cookware set. It’s the perfect size for melting butter or heating up a bit of leftover sauce or chocolate in the days before microwaves. Little saucepans like this used to be common.

The watering can is usually kept with the kitchen stuff. It just is. I pulled it off a wreath for a nickle and Isobel likes to “water” indoor things with it.

The tiny rolling pin came from the same estate sale where I totally embarrassed myself and the tea scoop is a measuring cup for flour. I talked a bit about the blue tea cups here.

Collecting all these things only serves a purpose if your kid likes them enough to play with them.

Which, fortunately, mine does. They are some of her favorite toys and the first thing she reaches for when she wants to play, “cook.” I’m always thrifting and on the lookout for more items to add to her collection. In terms of price and charm, secondhand is definitely the way to go.

Thrift Store Score: Tree House/Doll House

27 Sep

I am so excited about this Thrift Store Score and I’m sure this is partly because of how I discovered it. I had some time to kill before dropping Isobel off at my Mom’s house while I went to a doctor appointment, so I decided to stop by a thrift store. I still need some accessories for Isobel’s Halloween costume, my thrifting basket recently suffered an unfortunate accident (sad face), and I’m ever on the hunt for things for the shop, so I thought I’d just stop in for a bit since I was on that side of town.

I found a few goodies and I almost didn’t see this plastic tree in the kids’ section. It was folded up and looked like nothing of consequence, but my gut told me to take a chance. At best it will be a fun accessory for the hoards of LPS toys Grandma keeps giving her, and at worst we can donate it back to the store. I couldn’t figure out how to open right away and we were running late, so I bought it sight unseen.

It was a dollar.

Once we arrived at Grandma’s I brought the tree out and showed Isobel. She was immediately smitten. When I finally figured out how to open it (easy, really, push-button release) I gasped. I had thought this was a newish toy, but it was actually a well-preserved gem from 1975.

It was so much better than I could have possibly guessed. It came with a bed, three chairs, a daddy figurine and a little girl, who you will not see because Isobel insisted on serving her tea inside the jellyfish tent while I took these pictures.

I was so pleased with myself for finding this. Later when I triumphantly showed my prize to Anthony I couldn’t help but saying, “Isn’t this amazing! I feel like such a baller!”

Anthony thought for a second and then replied, “I don’t think you know what that word means.”

The tree was really a doll house, er, tree house, fit for the little figures that once inhabited it. I imagine a Mommy figure and a little boy figure probably completed the household. Even though this toy was before my time, it struck a familiar cord with me, as if I vaguely remember it.

As you can see in the photo above, the trunk has a little elevator that takes the little people from the house level down to the ground level of the house.

The little door opens and closes. The elevator works by turning a crank at the base of the tree. It needs a little work but I’m sure Anthony can fix it.

The tree has three rooms: a kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom. I could immediately tell this toy was a 1970s original just by looking at the furnishings and the carpet, and my guess was confirmed by a stamped date on the bottom: 1975.

The kitchen might be my favorite.

A little ramp sits to one side of the living room. It looks like it was longer at one point but became damaged over the years. I think one side is supposed to be stairs and the other side is a slide. At least I hope one side is a slide. That would be fun.

There is also a little area under the kitchen that I think is a garage. I really have a feeling a very 70s Volkswagen-style van used to park there, but if that’s an actual memory I have or just wishful thinking, I can’t say.

Here is the Dad. Very 1970s Dad-like, with his super wide tie and thick mustache.

The book shelf illustration is amazing. I’d love to have a bookshelf that looks like that now. What goes around comes around.

I think I’ve never really left the 70s.

Thrifty Living: Toy Cart Update

22 Aug

Recently I posted about the vintage cart we’re using as toy storage for Isobel. I still needed organizing bins at the time, but it worked out so perfectly just as it was that I wanted to share it. Isobel and I took a trip to Target the next day and I happy to discover their dollar aisle was full of colorful storage bins. I bought a ton since I didn’t know what exactly I’d need and also because her play room (known in our house as “the guest bedroom,” or more often simply, “the pencil room”) was also in need of some organizational assistance. Even so, I bought more than I’d need for just the two areas since I wanted to be sure I had both areas covered and I knew I could take back the unused bins.

Isobel was busy “painting” while I got to work on the toy cart.

Her toys already divided pretty evenly by type: bubbles, sand and gardening toys, chalk, and water painting supplies. She also has a ton of small inflatable beach balls left over from her bubble-themed birthday party,  but those we keep near the pool with her other water toys. The Barbies, of course, are courtesy of Jupey’s Harem.

The top of the cart is where we keep the watering cans, her bulk bubbles, her (by now crusty) Easter basket, and of course, all of her water painting buckets and brushes. Since she was playing with them at the moment of the photo, they are not pictured.

The second tier of the cart comfortably holds vast amounts of chalk and an assortment of bubble wands and bubbles. The librarian in me was tickled the two orange pans fit neatly side by side on this shelf, as if they were meant for it. It gave me an organizational boner.

The bottom shelf holds a large bin with all of her gardening equipment and her sand castle toys. Next to that is the bubble bucket and her “Mrs. Cat Boots.”

Hey, Isobel! While I was organizing, you weren’t by chance  painting the windows, hrmmmmmm?

That’s what I thought.

All the extra tubs I had intended to return never made it back to Target. Isobel thought up a lovely new game called “Train” and they are now a necessary part of our family. She likes to organize them by color, sort them into a line, fill each “car” with passengers, and sit in the front bin while saying, “CHOO CHOO!”

If it makes her happy then I guess it was money well spent, especially since each bin averaged out to about a dollar.

This whole “thrifty living” thing I’m so fond of? I think Isobel’s better at it than I am.

Thrift Store Score: The Rocking Horse

8 Aug

We got this baby for five bucks at a neighbor’s yard sale. Five bucks! We’ve been looking for a rocking horse for ages, and although Isobel’s pretty much outgrown it, we can save it for the next kid and then pass it on. That’s not to say Isobel doesn’t use it. She’s just more likely to put necklaces around its neck and talk to it rather than ride it.

The hair has matted into dreads, which I think is pretty funny. Someone spent a lot of money on this when it was new. It was purchased at a fancy homemade toy store in the foothills.

;Here’s Isobel trying it out.

lIt’s really sturdy and can even handle the weight of a small adult. Don’t ask me how I know that.

Thrifty Living: Water Painting

13 Jul

I spent much of my youth babysitting. I had a regular gig babysitting kids from two sets of families down the street, plus regular gigs at my family’s church. I was an expert babysitter. I took classes, enjoyed what I did, and had a blast with the kids that I cared for. Like every other girl my age, I voraciously read through the Babysitter’s Club. I was convinced that all this would somehow make me a wonderful parent someday.

Babysitting, however,  in no way prepared me for parenting whatsoever. Except the part about  learning that if you give kids a bucket of water and some paint brushes they will be happy for several hours.

When we went to the hardware store to pick up some parts for the pergola we’re building, I was sure to pick up a handful of cheap paintbrushes in assorted sizes. We had several buckets leftover from Isobel’s Bubble Party, making this one of the cheapest forms of entertainment this summer.

For the first hour we played with them inside the house, no water at all, “painting” the cupboards and the floors while I did the dishes. When we went outside I filled her bucket with water and she instantly got to work.

Oh man, she thought it was awesome.

We painted the ground for awhile before I showed her how to paint the fence. We’re working on her Tom Sawyer skills now so she can rope the neighbor kids into helping us paint the house when it’s time.

Jupiter was curious, but really no help at all.

When cousin Victoria came over, they added chairs to the equation.

Isobel tried painting Victoria, but she was not having with that.

Victoria thought this game was the best ever.

After Victoria left, we tried out the brushes in the pool.

Kingston came over, and was an enthusiastic painter.

I love that they wanted to paint the outside of the pool, too.

This cost maybe three dollars total and Isobel plays with it at least two to three times a day, not counting the times she asks to play it. Her absolute favorite toys right now are the bubble buckets, the paint brushes, and the Dollar Store chairs. Hooray for thrifty parenting!

Thrifty Living: Dollar Store Chairs

7 Jul

We’ve made many trips to various home improvement stores in the last few weeks while building our pergola and installing a new lawn. Although I haven’t been shopping for outdoor furniture we inevitably have to walk past it on the way to find whatever it was we needed to find. Each time I’d pass by miniature versions of patio furniture that I’d wistfully imagine Isobel using in our revamped backyard. It’s just not in our budget right now.

I started thinking a lot about patio furniture for Isobel, though, as she keeps struggling to sit in our grown-up versions and never looks comfortable. I decided that since the expensive versions are not an option right now, perhaps the plastic ones I’d seen at the flea market as a child would do the trick.

Keeping that in mind, I did something very foolish the other day. While we were waiting for cousins to come over for a long-awaited playdate, I decided to fill the two hours we needed to kill with a surprise. I had been saving some of the toys she got for her birthday to give out over time in moments just like these. On the invitations we asked for contributions to Isobel’s college fund so we weren’t inundated with toys, but she still received enough that Anthony and I quietly stowed away some for future need for distraction.

I told Isobel I was going to get her a present from the closet. She was very excited. The last gift I had squirreled away was a fancy Playdoh set from the Waltons. She helped me spread the tablecloth on the table and I went to the bedroom to fetch her surprise.

I looked. And I looked. In all the shuffling around of things we had to do when getting our new carpet, I had moved it. I hadn’t a clue as to where it was. I searched the house while Isobel followed me saying, “Mama has my Isobel’s present?” Determined to make good on my promise and fulfill the desire for outdoor furniture for Isobel at the same time, we went to the dollar store to look for plastic chairs.

They are just as I remembered them. Decorated with ambiguous anime-style animals and hilarious Engrish sayings, these chairs did not disappoint. My favorite is YOU OVER THERE. Because who doesn’t need a chair that is kind of shouting at them? Adorable.

These chairs are versatile, stackable, and light. If you don’t believe me, here’s a picture of a baby lifting one.

Oh, and did I mention that they are wonderfully suited for a kiddie pool?

As if these chairs could not get any better, they are stamped with the number 5 recycling symbol, so if they break because Mama sits on one, I don’t even have to throw it away. I can toss it in my blue recycling bin on collection day.

Isobel was thrilled with the chairs from the moment she spotted them. I picked up extras not only for playdate purposes (you can imagine the toddler brawl that might break out over these babies) but because they are toys in their own right. Isobel played with them solidly for over an hour when we got home. In the driveway.  She did not even want to wait to go inside the house to play with them, and since the weather was nice, I let her sit in the driveway, stacking and unstacking, arranging and changing to her heart’s content.

Also we were watching some crows makeoutfight over Corn Nuts, so there was free entertainment. Ah, the glamorous life I lead.

Four chairs, four bucks total. Not bad at all.

Thrift Store Score: Tambourine

8 Jun

I’ve been putting together a collection of musical instruments for Isobel. Not all of them have been thrifted but I’ve seen many available second hand so I could have easily put a whole set together while thrifting. Last Christmas her Grandparents gave her a drum and we bought her a little piano. Over time we’ve gathered whistles and bells and little egg shakers. Here she is dancing to “Life Goes On” while alternately dancing and shaking some maracas. She can’t hande doing both at the same time, so she has to frequently pause to switch. She’s only about a year old and it is nearly fatal levels of cute, so watch at your own risk.

Recently we found this awesome tambourine for a dollar while yardsaling. It’s missing a few tiny cymbals but it works great. I love that it’s not a toy, it’s a real tambourine, so it chimes pleasantly when you shake it. When my Uncle stopped by for a visit he pulled out his guitar and played “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” for an hour or two while Isobel sang and shook the tambourine.

That dollar was well spent.

Scrapbook: Toys

4 Jun

Drawing by Anthony.

DIY Kitchen Set

11 May


We haven’t gotten around to getting Isobel a full-on kitchen set yet. I know she’d love one, since “cooking” is one of her favorite pastimes, but kitchen sets so expensive. I keep an eye out for them every time I go to yard sales but I haven’t found anything yet. When my Aunt Patricia visited at Christmas time I asked if she’d do me a favor and draw a few burners and a kitchen sink on a couple of large pieces of construction paper. I could laminate it, I thought. She could set it on the coffee table and put her pots and pans on top of it. It’d be neat, I though.

My Aunt Patricia is an artist, you see, and a type A one at that. She wasn’t going to just make a 2D kitchen on a piece of paper for her favorite great niece. Pfff.

The last time my Aunt came for a visit she toted along these two toys she threw together in an afternoon or two.

She molded the faucet and handles (and look at that! a little spray faucet! It comes out so she can use it to clean!) out of self-hardening clay, then painted them a metallic silver, then glazed them. The handles turn like a real faucet. She made the drain out of a lid and the strainer out of a bead and a found item from her studio.

The stove is so fantastic. She made it with working knobs that move a red circle around so you can turn the burners “on” and “off.”

Isobel decorated it with crayons, as you can see. This means she approves.

The knobs are made from wine corks. Genius.

It’s the details that make this set so awesome.