Heirloom Toy Gift Guide // Preschool Edition

heirloom toy gift guide for preschoolers

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In an age of mass production and casual consumerism, it’s easy to go overboard with gift-giving at Christmastime. Not only can toy-loaded Christmases wreak havoc on your home’s organizational system, but they can lead to unhealthy consumer habits for children. Moms these days talk a lot about how to combat the influx of cheap-o birthday and holiday gifts, and I’m always interested in hearing everyone’s methods. Some of my friends ask their children to select some of their toys to donate every Christmas, while others simply wait ’till bedtime and thoughtfully decide which of their children’s toys stay and which ones go. I have mixed opinions on both of these methods, and I feel that neither of them help with the psychological habits of wanting new things and discarding old things. It’s becomes a consumeristic reflex that I personally struggle with, from having grown-up in an era of Saturday morning cartoons and all of the commercials that accompanied them. And I desperately want to protect my children from the same fate.

Obviously the best way to combat the mass consumerism of Christmas, and the resulting toy explosion in your home, is to limit gift-giving to begin with. This is actually very difficult when loving family members want to give children lots of toys, telling parents that they should remember kiddos are only little once, and gift-giving should be more about what the children want than what the parents want. But the problem with this is that while coming from a loving perspective, it’s disrespectful to the parenting choices of moms and dads and also implies that children know what’s best for their psychological development, which in my opinion simply isn’t true.

I’ve tip-toed and misstepped through the past five years as I’ve tried to thoughtfully advise family how to give gifts to my children. I don’t want my home filled with junk, I don’t want my children to develop bad habits regarding consumerism, but I also don’t want to be a super-controlling mom or an offensive daughter-in-law. I’ve watched in awe as friends have asked their parents and in-laws to only give each child one gift, ultimately revising that rule when the one gift turned out to be quite lavish. One of these friends perspective was that she and her husband wanted their children to focus on Jesus at Christmas, not on what gifts they’ll receive. They have similar concerns to mine about raising children in a consumeristic society, but they also have more children than I do, so the amount of toys in their home can quickly get out of control. They dealt with disgruntled parents initially, but since over the past couple of years, their family has settled into a new normal of what is expected from gift-giving at Christmastime.

I think the important thing in navigating gift-giving expectations in a family is to openly communicate about your concerns so that the people involved can understand your motives and be on your team. I’m worried that I offended my mother-in-law by suggesting gift ideas for Lucy when she was smaller. I had other family members ask for suggestions, so I made a list on Amazon, and sent it to everyone with a note that said something like, “If you’re unsure of what to get Lucy this year, here are some things I think she would enjoy.” Lucy was two at the time, so she had no concept of making a Christmas list, but the following year when she was three, I sensed that the impression I was giving Phil’s parents was that I was trying to control my children’s toy collection to fit my own personal taste. (Nobody came out and said anything to that effect, it was just an impression I felt.) An element of that is true— I do want to control my children’s toy situation to an extent. But I don’t think it’s wrong to want nice-looking high quality toys for your children in lieu of discount store plastic do-dads.

Making Nice in the Midwest- Mandi's Living ROom

I think about what toys I have kept from my childhood that still send a rush of pleasant memories and a vivid recollection of ways I developed my mind through imaginative play and developed my interest in learning about history and different cultures. These toys from my childhood were Sylvanian Families (now Calico Critters), wooden blocks, paper dolls from historic eras, the light-up tracing board my dad made for me to design costumes for my paper dolls, Prismacolor pencils, and all things American Girl (I was given Felicity and did work for family to earn money to buy Kirsten and Addy). Those are the toys that stand out in my memories, and rather than collecting lots of random things I saw in commercials and at the toy store, I preferred to stick to the toys I loved the best and expand my collection to make playing with them more interesting. I think this was something I learned from my cousins, who had excellent attention spans and great parents guiding their learning and playing. So every birthday and holiday I asked for something to add to a particular collection of toys, whether it was Sylvanians, American Girl clothes, or art supplies. Heck, I even had lots of books on my wish list as a kid! I’m not saying my childhood should be the prototype, and I want my children’s experience to be exactly the same, but there are certainly elements I’ve distinguished as ideal, and it would be foolish of me not to want the same for my children.

All of that being said, we love to give gifts, but we have focused on quality instead of quantity. I’ve stopped giving gift suggestions to family unless they specifically ask me (and they often do), but it can be awkward to suggest items that are pricier than the junk you can find at big box stores. If someone wants to take Lucy to the toy store, I always recommend a local store in North Canton called Toy Kingdom. This store in particular stocks high quality items and difficult to find brands like Playmobil, Plan Toys, Calico Critters, and many more. It’s always a good thing to support local businesses, but I also enjoy shopping online, so I keep a link list handy in case someone wants to shop that way as well.

This year I am making Lucy and Juniper a more child-friendly dollhouse type of toy (I’ll share that project in a week or two!), some well-made vintage Strombecker furniture (in a larger scale than the dollhouse I made, which is currently in storage until Juniper is older) as well as a couple of mini American Girl dolls to introduce them to the world of historic American Girls. The list at the top of this post includes some toys we have given the girls in the past that they love playing with (like the train track, wooden ark, Calico Critters families and convertible, and wooden kitchen toys), but I’ve also included some high-quality items that the girls will be getting this year as well as other things I quite like and am saving as ideas for future Christmases.

Making Nice in the Midwest- Mandi's Living Room

What’s your Christmas gift-giving strategy? Do you ask your family to limit what they give your children, and have you ever asked that family give experiences rather than gifts? We have that in mind for next year, actually!

Living Room Refresh with Tuesday Morning

Tuesday Morning Stores

It’s been five months since we turned the keys to our new home. Five months, and the living room has yet to be completely finished! I found myself in this odd stage of waiting to make this room feel homey, because there was still drywalling to be done beside the fireplace. But now with the holidays fast approaching I decided to fix up this room to make it feel cozy and special!

living room before

I partnered with Tuesday Morning stores for this design refresh, which means I was able to get a lot of beautiful decorative accessories for just a wee bit of money. Of course, we rearranged the space a bit, but the biggest decorative change I wanted to make was to warm up the room for the season by getting darker curtains. Curtains can be so expensive, especially when you’re looking for longer draperies (like I needed for this room), but I was able to get 3 pairs of high-quality drapes for less than $70!

Tuesday Morning Stores

Tuesday Morning Stores

I spent a good hour combing through my local Tuesday Morning store, trying to decide which cute accessories I couldn’t live without. Vases are always the first thing to jump into my cart (like this cute little pink one on my coffee table), but I audibly gasped when I discovered the amazing votive candle holder below. It looks like a mini retro-style fireplace! And since I can’t have the full-size version, the mini version will do just fine.

I also like to use decorative boxes on my coffee table to store remotes and other gadgets, like phone chargers). I found this gorgeous mosaic ivory box (above) and it fits right in with the rest of the room.

Tuesday Morning Stores

Tuesday Morning Stores

I just love how these beige curtains warm up the room and give the window more presence, which was definitely needed after moving the sofa in front of it. Because the curtains are darker, I think a white lamp looks great in front of it, and this one is perfect for reading. Snagged that at Tuesday Morning too!

Here’s everything I found at Tuesday Morning to whip up my budget living room refresh: 3 curtain panels, floor lamp, two throw pillows, one throw blanket, ivory box, pink vase, chimenea votive holder, and the Chanel watercolor art above the bar cart.

Which addition is your favorite?

Don’t forget to check out your local Tuesday Morning store to see what kind of deals you can find for your own home! Use their store locator to find a Tuesday Morning near you.

Tuesday Morning Stores

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Tuesday Morning stores. The opinions and text are all mine.

The Sunroom // Makeover Reveal

boho chic sunroom decor

Here it is! The first room I set about to fix-up in our new home, and I’m calling it done-zo. When we first viewed this house, before it became our home, Lucy and Juniper were enamored with this little room, closing the doors and declaring that no grown-ups were allowed inside. Now the space feels very grown-up, but the kiddos still commandeer the sunroom for assembling puzzles on the floor, for staging road-trips for their figurines, or for hours of play-doh fun at the table. I’m so happy this little room is a part of our home, and hey— I think my plants are pretty happy about it too. (Yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, Mr. Ficus!)

boho chic sunroom decor

The sunroom is adjacent to our living room, separated from the space by these two french doors. There was a lot of back-and-forth in my mind about painting these doors white, or leaving them wood, and many of you expressed strong opinions in favor of both options on my Instagram posts. In the end, Phil said he liked them wood, and it was just the tipping point I needed to make a decision I most certainly do not regret. These doors add a quality of warmth to both the sunroom and living room, and tie in with the shelving wall in our kitchen.

Above is how the room appeared when we first moved in. Full of bright light, a pleasant light minty blue color, and not-so-pleasant dingy shag carpet. It felt like it fit right in here in my Northeast Ohio suburban neighborhood, and that’s not exactly what I wanted. So, first things first, I ripped out all of the carpet the day we signed the papers to make this house our home, Then I set about painting everything a perfect shade of white, à la Benjamin Moore’s Super White. I used the same shade of white in the sunroom, living room, kitchen, and entryway— semigloss for the trim, and eggshell for the walls.

Sidenote: This was the first time in my life I have hired a painter, and let me tell ya— I felt très fancy. We had some very high ceilings we were working with (17′ in the entryway), and what would’ve taken me ages, and maybe cost me my neck, took my painter a couple of afternoons. Very much worth it.

how to build a storage banquette


After the floors were stripped and the walls were painted, I built my much anticipated channel-tufted storage banquette in the nook underneath the soffit in this small room with soaring ceilings. When we first moved in, the soffits annoyed me. But now I appreciate the dimensionality that they give to the architecture of our home, and I like to think I’m harnessing the full potential of the soffits in here and the living room.

channel tufted banquette

Because of the small footprint of the sunroom, I do feel like it’s a “you just have to be there” kind of space, but I hope that these photos do it justice! The banquette might not seem like much of a nook in these photos, but in real life it fits right into the soffited area in a space with such high ceilings— it feels cozy and the perfect way to treat an otherwise sparse and awkward space.

storage banquette

You can check out the full DIY at A Beautiful Mess, but suffice it to say I’m so glad I built this bench with ample storage, because we have since unpacked

 all of our games and puzzles, and this bench is now packed to the brim with fun things! I used hinges that stay open, so the girls can come in here during the day and pull out puzzles to work on, or ask my permission to get out play-dough. (That’s something we’ve had to work on… ha!)

boho chic sunroom decor


In our new home, I won’t be using plants as decorative elements in the same way as I did in our old home. Of course I still love my plant babies! But I’m drawn to a less junglicious design sensibility in most of the rooms of this new house, and now that I have this convenient sunroom, I can have a spot to escape to, full of plants, which also happens to be within view of our living room. It feels like a pretty good balance. (And yes, I still have some plant babies throughout the rest of our home too! Just scaled back quite a bit.)

marble top tulip table


The design for the sunroom has undergone some changes from my initial conception back when I shared my first concept sketches early last June. At some point, I decided on doing this ambitious channel-tufted wall, but originally I had planned on making it orange. YES, orange. Such a controversial color, but a great love of mine. Somewhere along the line I came to my senses and decided to use a calm neutral color instead. Oh— I remember when it was! I was trying to select the perfect orange or pink while standing at the store looking at upholstery fabric. And I felt suuuuch anxiety about all of the options, until I found this textural swatch of neutral fabric. Then I knew. Orange just wasn’t in the cards. Or at least, not for the banquette itself. But soon enough I would find my dream chairs in another delicious shade of orange!

Remember the post I wrote way back in June planning the furnishings for the sunroom? At the time, I had planned on using a (free) pair of white coated Bertoia chairs my brother said I could indefinitely borrow, but I was so enamored with the Thonet bentwood chairs I shared, and received such strong feedback about those chairs on Instagram, I was swayed to purchase these chairs on Etsy, and I will never ever regret it! They’re beautiful, but also so comfortable! I’m not sure I’ll keep them this particular shade of orange, but right now they feel pretty perfect in here.

Another change I made was deciding not to use the wicker pendant in my initial sketches, because I didn’t like how it took away from the bold banquette wall. What you can’t see (but can barely see in my before pics) is a ceiling fan hanging down from the vaulted ceilings in here. It is an eyesore (that I don’t notice anymore), which I will eventually replace, but it is also a source of light and a handy air circulator in the warmer months. I’ll most likely be using the wicker pendant in the playroom instead of the sunroom.

boho chic sunroom decor

I’m so happy with how this space turned out, and it feels really good to have one room completely finished in our house! Next up we’re finishing up the last details of the kitchen and sunroom, and I’m getting pretty excited to share those with you too. Thanks for following along!