I’m not going to lie to you.

We have too many toys.

It happened even after carefully curating their playroom, allowing some items to enter our house, some to go straight to the donation box. Yet, they creep up on me.

What’s my excuse?

Chick-Fil-A. Grandparents. Amazing consignment store sales.

All these toys keep my kids entertained for a while. But the truth is that they will go on to the next, and the next, and the next. What’s happening is that they are looking for the next best thing.

Trying to find time together

With a husband in medical training who works long hours, weekends, and holidays, I find our young family craving time together.

We took our family to Disneyworld last winter. You know that a resident’s salary meets our basic needs but doesn’t cover extras like “Disney family vacation.” I churned cards to get cheap flights and hotels and managed to save for the rest. It took a lot of sacrifice.

When we came home, what did our son say he missed the most?

He said it was our time together in the pool.

Well, buddy, I got news. We don’t need to hop on a plane to Florida to get in a pool!

Creating meaningful experiences

I’m craving simplicity, focused time, and connection just like we had in that pool. It was perfect. We need to create more of these memories together.

Dr. Laura Markam from Aha Parenting describes why simplicity makes meaningful connection and says:

“Happiness comes from connection, meaning and contribution, not from things.”

It rings true for our family. I bet it does for yours, too.

Instead of having to spend a lot to travel afar to have this, I’ve come up with this list that I think will help your family create meaningful experiences together.

Experiences

1. Memberships. Memberships to the zoo, aquarium, museum, and indoor playground usually pay for themselves after just 2-3 visits. They are the best places to take your kids when your spouse is on call or when it is snowy out.

2. Tickets to an event. Movies, plays, concerts, and sports are really fun.

3. Classes. As I mentioned in my story, our family loves the pool. We consider swim lessons to be basic life lessons. There are also art, piano, riding, and drawing classes for whatever your kid is interested in.

Reading

4. Books. We have a few Usborne books from friends who are consultants and they have really enjoyed them. But you can get books from the library for FREE.

5. Magazine subscriptions. National Geographics Kids and Highlights are winners in our house. Our son is enjoying a fun version of Highlights for ages 2-6 called High Five.

6. Family photo book. If you sign up using this link, they will send you a coupon for a FREE 8×8 photobook, which you can fill with photos of mom, dad, siblings, pets, and themselves as their first family photo album.

Lessons

7. Piggy bank. Budgeting and saving are life skills. This one has compartments for saving, spending, and tithing.

8. A watch. Kids learn about responsibility when they have the ability to tell time themselves. Timex offers loss protection so it will replace it for FREE.

9. Insect kits. This butterfly kit lets them see a butterfly metamorph from larva to butterfly.

10. Animal or bird feeder. I can’t tell you how much my kids love to watch the squirrels and cardinals in our backyard.

11. Compass. If your kid is interested in nature, this one is a must-have for land navigation.

12. Binoculars. These are good for exploring the city and nature or when you have cheap tickets on the balcony.

Art & Crafts

13. Room decor. Oopsy Daisy has gorgeous wall stickers like a mural-like solar system that will spark the imagination. If you’re in training and transient like we are, you can put them up and take them down easily as you move.

14. Subscription box. Make every month like Christmas when a box for them comes in the mail. Kiwi Crate focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, music) and Little Passports on culture and travel. We have tried and love both. There’s also Surpriseride for reading and Groovy Lab In A Box for STEM (without the A for art).

15.  Art and craft supplies. Put together a craft kit with scissors, paper, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, markers, and paint.

Imagination

16. Dress up clothes. Repurpose your dresses, ties, play silks, and baby blankets so they can play “House.”

17. Superhero capes. There are boy and girl superhero versions.

18. Old purses. I used to enjoy my mom’s old purses. Used gift cards make them super real.

19. Play fort clips. These are just right for small hands but strong enough to hold blankets.

20. Sleeping bag. I love memories of falling asleep in my sleeping bag in front of the Christmas tree.

Things that cost very little or FREE

21. Time together. The best if them all. We like to hike, go to the playground, picnic, and swim together.

22. Kitchen toys. Repurpose your colander, pots, pans, and pipe cleaners to keep them entertained. Each time we moved, we unpacked the toy box last, so our kids were just as happy with these.

23. Music. Make a playlist on YouTube, Spotify, and let them listen to their favorite hymns or songs.

Money

24. Sponsor a child. Kids understand when somebody else needs help. When you involve them in helping another kid, they learn to be more empathetic.

25. 529 contribution. If the kids get cash or checks for Christmas, you can put it in their 529 college savings account where it can enjoy tax-sheltered growth.

What do your kids LOVE that isn’t a toy? Share with us!