October 22, 2008

Request from the commercial universe

[Note: this post was all small and tidy, and then I started adding pictures and it got all big and complicated. Ah! Irony!]

So, Whitney just posted a NYT story about the number of families who are choosing to live, with their children, in small, dense spaces. The story is particularly about people who choose to stay in Manhattan, but I like to think there's a larger trend (maybe not much larger, but still) of people who are realizing that having a huge huge house is not necessary for family happiness. One of the things I like about my life is that it doesn't involve a lot of suburban sprawl: there are lots of reasons why I've made that choice.

But what I now need is some toy companies to understand this.

We just got a toy catalog in the mail yesterday--back to basic toys. It's a perfectly fine catalog, successfully walking the line between practical and affordable (it's not all hand carved wood or something) and aesthetically reasonable (it's not all battery-powered elmo toys). Most of the toys seem designed to ellicit activity and imagination. So, good, right?

But what I need is a "back to basic" toys that is filtered down for small spaces.

As I see it, small spaces need toys that have at least two qualities:
1: even if they get big, they can be stored in small containers
2: getting the toy out of the small container and putting it together is PART of the fun, and something kids can do themselves.

So, for instance, Elliot's wooden train stuff. This is not ours, but you get the idea:

Elliot has a mix of Thomas, Brio, and Ikea railroad tracks and trains, but they all fit together and they're BRILLIANT. When he's playing with them it is a BIG IMPRESSIVE TOY--they cover the floor of his whole room--but they store really compactly. He can put them together in any number of ways, and no one way is wrong or right, and then when he's done he loves to throw them in a box--they're basically indestructable.

Also, here's one that Nana got Elliot for Christmas last year, which has been a hit. It is BIG and exciting:

But it folds up really small! Really small. and then when you untie it, it pops out all excitingly. Great.

Compare to this:

Which I'm sure Elliot would love. But it's huge! And it's always huge. It is one big huge thing, always the same big huge thing. There's no stowing it away and bringing it out later when you need something new and exciting. It's just always sitting there, all huge, in my living room.

Anyway, perhaps there are already a number of "cool toys for small spaces" catalogs out there, and if there are, I wish someone would let me know. Because Elliot loves toys and I love to buy them for him, but I'm not willing to move to accomodate them.


Beck said...

WE have a big, big house (Not a monster house, but an old rambling farmhouse) and it is full of toys. I no longer love to buy toys for my ungrateful, messy children.

Hey, the small spaces toy catalog is a GREAT idea! You should start it!

w. wilson said...

I really, really want the learning tower kitchen thing for Graham (since he loves to help me cook and do dishes so much), but it would never, never fit in our kitchen. I want someone to invent a smaller, folding version. And then put it in your catalog.

Be Like the Squirrel, Girl said...

I'm also trying to figure out where to put all of the books I want to get for Penny...but the toys are going to be another problem when she gets older. We may have to start mounting things on walls. Look forward to your catalog! :)

Kelli said...

Although I still feel guilty that most of Darwin's "toys" are things like upside-down clothes hampers and empty shampoo bottles, it is a space saver -- maybe we could make a sister catalog, with "household items that double as toys for unsuspecting children of cheap, cramped parents." That's a little long for a title, I guess.

BTW, I just looked at the Back to Basics catalog -- Junior bagpipes! Maybe I can get them in time for Darwin's birthday party....

Sheree, J, + j said...

To Whit--The New Haven Ikea has a homemade kitchen playset (and its not pink!). It's a shelf in one of the showrooms, and could easily be a foldaway, dropleaf play kitchen. The burners are black spongey coasters, there's a drop in rubbermaid "sink", and drawer pulls serve as the kobs. I'm planning to make this kitchen for Jackson someday, I have a picture somewhere I could send you for reference.
Like Kelli, I was going to suggest the "found" toys! Containers (puzzles and bath toys), laundry baskets (playhouse, cage), the library (doubles as an awesome set of stacking blocks), couch cushions (huts), corrugated hose from the giant exercise ball pump (whistle), baseboard radiators-window sill-couch (playscape)... Its guilt free--we're fostering his imagination.