While we're always trying to be conscious of not accumulating too many things it can be hard when you have a little one and are constantly evaluating and making micro-adjustments to your environment to help support their growth.
These are some of the items we've used consistently during the toddler years, some of which have significantly improved our life experiences (eg. that ride-on suitcase is really an incredible invention!) We also love things that can be used in multiple ways, or that stay relevant for a long time.
Child-Sized Round Jute Rug by Ferm Living
One holiday our son specifically asked for "a rug that's the size of me". He was 3 at the time, so this was the rug I came up with.
Made of natural jute and organic cotton, the round shape and 39" size make it perfect for breakdancing (the 3-year-old version), yoga with Jaime, and dumping out and then scoping back up his Legos back into their bin (we call it the "burrito method").
After 1.5 years of heavy use in our living room, some of the threads holding the woven sections together are coming loose, so it needs a little repair. But the rug and fibers themselves still look great. This is definitely one of our favorite kids' items that isn't necessarily a "kids'" item :)
Woven Open Top Storage Bins by Sea Team
While there's a seemingly infinite number of ways you can choose to try to store your child's toys–which unfortunately seem to pile up and multiply on their own when you're not looking–we've been most happy with these simple woven bins that don't scream "toys" and could actually be used for anything from blankets to magazines to hats and mittens (which we also use them for).
We originally got our black ones here, but they don't consistently carry them, so this is a link to similar ones in a similar size.
The open tops make it easy for your child (and you) to remember what's in each bin... Magna-tiles? Duplo? Matchbox cars? Stuffies? And the softness and handles make it easy for your child to drag it around wherever they need it :)
Water Wipes by Water Wipes
I was always kind of dreading entering the world of baby wipes with their unusual scent and weird additives. Originally we stocked up on some Babyganics wipes because they seemed the most innocent, but of course had the dreaded smell and extra stuff.
When we finally discovered Water Wipes it was such a huge relief. They have zero smell and the only thing besides water is a smidge of citric acid which also provides some additional cleaning benefits while still being natural.
Of course, they are now a family staple for everything from cleaning the car, to quick crafting cleanups, to cleaning up buffalo wing fingers (mine!). Definitely recommend ordering by the case :)
Mini Stainless Utensils by cb2
While these stainless steel utensils are technically designed for coffee, cocktails, or appetizers, Silas also loves them and has basically claimed them for his own.
This covers two things we support... 1) kids getting to use real things (utensils, tools, etc) instead of everything only out of plastic, and 2) something that serves more than one purpose... when Silas wants to use regular-sized utensils, we'll still have these for espresso and cheese plates :) Price is for a set of 6.
Color blocks by Grimms
When you want to play with a toy as much as your child, it's probably a winner.
Part decoration, part epic castle builder, this smart set of colored blocks start as squares and increase in size by increments of one. The subtle gradient of beautiful hues also makes for a pleasing pop of color in any space.
We've had this for over 4 years and it still gets used in one way or another at least once a week.
Easy Clean Window Crayons by Stabilo
I have to say I was skeptical about these crayons actually coming off easily before we got them, but they really do. The colors are bold and they glide smoothly.
And then, even if the drawings have been up for many days, it comes right off with a wet wipe. You'll still need another round of wiping with another cloth or sponge depending on how much is on there, but you don't have to use much muscle and the child can do it on their own too.
Super fun if you have glass at child height in your home. Price is for a set of 10 w/ sharpener.
Small Wood Stool by Ikea
Another great multipurpose item that works well for kids without screaming "kids live here!".
These stools ship flat and assemble easily without tools. They work equally well as a toddler desk chair, toddler step stool, or bath stool and they have a coating on them so they stand up pretty well to a little water, crayons, food, etc.
The Shape Trilogy Books by Jon Klassen
The covers of these books are so simple and striking... there's a reason you see them in so many highly stylized kids' rooms in magazines and catalogs.
The actual stories themselves are equally minimal and unusual, each open to a bit of interpretation and additional thought. These are by the same illustrator as the hat books.
Yoto Player by yoto
A combination of a friend having a Yoto and liking it and the incessant Instagram ads finally led to us asking for this for Silas for the holidays, and I'm so glad we did.
All parts of the design, from the controls to the charging, are done so that the child can completely control the device easily without help. And I love how the changing of content is a tactile, analog experience through these special cards, not purely a digital one.
While the stories are currently his favorite type of content, he also loves one of the cards that came with it called "Storyshed" which is a podcast–so it's basically a never-ending story which is kind of amazing. Now at bedtime if Silas is not totally sleepy yet after a few books, he just turns on his Yoto and is usually asleep within 10 minutes. It's really made bedtime so much smoother :)
Kids Ride-On Suitcase by Stokke
I can't even tell you the number of times this suitcase has turned what would have been a long and tortuous journey from car to plane, into a complete breeze.
The ride-on functionality of this suitcase for toddlers works great, and our son is so excited to ride it that he doesn't even need convincing. The suitcase itself is pretty small, so if we're going on a longer trip we let him pack it himself with toys and books.
The top of the suitcase comes off and is designed to flip over with a little sliding piece that extends to turn any airplane seat into a kind of kid's bed. There is a custom "mattress"/bumper that fits in the suitcase top to make it more comfortable, but we took that out and just use our own blankets/scarves if we use it for this purpose at all. We even dressed it up as a chariot for a Halloween costume one year!
The wheels have held up great so far to a few years of travel. Definitely worth the investment for the saved time and reduced travel stress. It comes in a few fun colors too :)
Moon Light by Acer
Silas received this 3d-printed RGB moon light as a gift and it gets used every single night.
The size and brightness make it just perfect for a warm glowing nightlight in his room and is also just bright enough for me to still be able to read him a book by.
You can turn it on and off and change the color just by tapping it, and this version also comes with a fancy little remote. We keep it plugged in by his bed :)
Collapsible Wagon by Mac Sports
Whether you find yourself toting groceries or kids gear or picnic supplies (or all of the above) this is definitely the little wagon that could. It folds down small, travels well even over bumpy surfaces, and even has a little flip-up drink holder/phone holder/tabletop.
This has turned what could have been exhausting experiences, into fun and joyful ones, just with four wheels and some clever engineering.
We also like to throw a sheepskin or Mexican-style blanket inside for extra padding. We've even cable-tied an umbrella to it in the rain :)
Rechargeable Table Light by Marset
In photos online it can be hard to figure out the scale of this light. It is quite small, but it's also a powerhouse and incredibly adorable.
The top of this rechargeable light can be tilted, which makes it great for providing directional light for book reading, or even for taking a dramatic photo.
Kids' Interactive Exercise Bike by Fisher-Price
To be honest, we really weren't looking to add any plastic Fisher-Price items to our home, but this really is an amazing product that's on a whole other level than your standard playhouse or ride-on.
Basically the Pelaton of the kidverse, the magic of this bike is in the great apps that come along with it. It feels like a mix of Mario Kart with a side of iPad learning games, plus some actual exercise which is so very valuable especially on rainy days. My mom hunted this down for Silas for Christmas and it's now a staple of our house, getting used multiple times per week.
They also seem to introduce newly skinned games every so often with recognizable characters to get the kids excited about it again (the favorite ones right now are the Shimmer and Shine and Spongebob versions). It's also very reliable and Silas can get it connected on his own with no problem. Pro-tip which my mom figured out... if you put a regular chair behind it it's possible for an adult to take turns too!
Toddler Pedal Bike by Cleary
The world of kids' bikes can be a little bit daunting, but we've been really happy with the function and utility of the 2 bikes we've gotten so far.
Silas started out with a balance bike a few months before he turned 2, and still plays with it now that he's almost 5. Then my parents got him this freewheel pedal bike for his third birthday because he was begging to try pedaling for himself.
Since he had started with the balance bike, the transition to pedaling without training wheels was pretty smooth, although it took a while for him to confidently start and stop (using the brakes) on his own. He's on the small side and started at 3 so we got him the smallest (12") size. Now it looks like we'll need to size up around his 5th birthday.
Mini Kids Piano by Korg
One day walking past a boutique toy store we spotted one of those adorable mini wooden kids pianos (it was red, by Schoenhut) and fell in love. We ended up buying one for our niece and nephews, unfortunately without thinking too much about the actual sound it made. It was just so cute!
Years later when Silas was turning one, we remembered that piano and thought we might want to get one for him too. But by this point, we had experienced the sound (more like a kind of creepy, out-of-tune harpsichord than a piano) so we did some more research to find if there might be a more piano-like version.
Enter: the Korg tiny piano. With the guts of a real digital keyboard but the form factor of a child's upright, this mini piano not only sounds like a piano, but it can also change to many other sounds or play its own piano music at the touch of a button. It takes batteries or can be plugged in (but make sure to get the AC adapter which is sold separately).
Also, the top makes a great place for resting an iPad. We recently found these instructional videos from Thomas Forsbach which are really clear and kind of entertaining in their own special way. There are also lots of Guitar Hero-style videos on YouTube with slow pacing.