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Old Soldiers and things in jars – a few thrifty toys

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THRIFTY! Den, den, deeeh, de den den dehhh!  (To the tune of “FOXY!” as sung by Wayne and Garth)

It is due to a mixture of cheapskateness and environmental consciousness that I have yet to buy Ramona a single new toy. She does have some new things, bought for her by loving friends and family, but only a handful. All the rest have come from charity shops, around the home and the side of the road. When I see the jawdropping cost of toys in real shops I am not surprised that the average spend on a kid in their first year of life is £9000. When you really needn’t spend a penny.

The BEST kind of toy for me is one that she, er, likes (such a loving mother) but also one that is nice to look at. Give me wood and old over plastic any day. (I know, I know it’s not about me.)

We have found some absolutely beaut things over the last few months and fortunately these are also some of Ramona’s favourite toys. I think she loves the pure simplicity of them. Here are a few:

Abacus- 50p from charity shop in Essex

Rainbow thing- £1 from car boot sale

Big Soldier – £5 from OXfam in Streatham

Soldier train – £5 from Kids Fara in Pimlico

This vintage pull along dog was sent to us from our lovely famdamily in NZ. And yes, the soldier doesn’t have all his bits.

This is my fave of Ramona’s toys- he actually plays his xylophone as he is pulled along!Puh, who needs an Ipad?

He was £5 from a charity shop. (Steep I know, but a musical duck!)


They are often in a different part of the charity shop. These soldiers were only £5 but for some reason were behind the glass under the counter.

Car boot sales – you are less likely to find vintage toys in amongst other toy stalls but more in amongst other antiquey/ junky stalls.

They may seem a little pricey, but compare it to buying new, and think about how long it has already lasted so therefore how much longer it is likely to last. Also remember you won’t need to spend any money on batteries.

When you get them home give them the driest wipe you can with either alcohol or Dettol – water will likely cause some damage.


I am surprised at how often Ramona spurns her fanciest toys in order to play with some thing that is, frankly, rubbish. The main reason I think she does this is because that something is fitting perfectly with her stage of development. When we flew home from NZ last month I packed an entire pull along suitcase with the coolest little toys. She spent most of the time just posting pegs and other small items into a drink bottle. She was intent on it – posting them in, tipping them out, posting them in again.

I have tried to do some googling on the stages of development and play but can only seem to find very commercial pages which aren’t very comprehensive. (Although I did find this excellent and immense resource all about learning through play.) I guess the best way is to observe what they most enjoy doing and then build on that. So with Ramona’s obsession with emptying and filling things, stuff that is working well for us at the moment is:

  • A few little (ahem, nice looking) containers around the house with a selection of random things in- some little animals, finger puppets, a music box, some fabric, juggling balls. I put one down on the carpet and she’ll look through it, take it all out, put it all in, add some extras in, chuck a few things in to the bin, try to eat it, y’know.
  • Jars with filled with stuff she can pour all over the floor – chess pieces, scrabble letters, dominoes, ribbons. Basically lovely things I find in charity shops and keep around the place. It fits with the style of our lounge but also a big treat for her.
  • When I am doing the dishes I also get her a bowl of warm water and plastic cups etc. This is quite messy in a watery way but she loves it. (In fact this week she chose to sit inside her little bowl of water which was sweet and comical but Next Level Watery Mess)

I would genuinely LOVE to hear the thrifty/ home made things that you have found your little ones love.

(Part of the wondrous Thrifty Families Blog Carnival- check out loads more ideas over at Baby Budgeting!)

26 responses »

  1. No kids but I had all non electric toys till about 12! I had a pram and pots like Ramona and lots of cuddlies my mum had made. I love that she enjoys playing with the simple uncomplicated stuff and goes on her own adventure each time she picks up a soldier!

  2. Those toys are beautiful. I picked up a wooden abacus in a charity shop the other day too. Wood is def best, unfortunately my girls seem to have en eye for plastic tat x

  3. £9000?! that’s nuts. bravo for flying the thrifting flag – it’s deeply reassuring ! X

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  5. fab, with you all the way. far better than brightly coloured chunks of plastic. Also, they are the things in our house that have a much longer life (20 years and counting for some of the stuff).

  6. this is great, sometimes it takes the inspiration of others to have the confidence to do this with (in my case) God-children, niece and nephew.

    Although the toys you’ve posted are lovely and beautiful, what about when they are a really small baby? I would imagine lots of the £9k spent is on equipment, and what about mobile toys and things suitable/safe for a 3 month old to be left with?? 🙂

    • Hey Jo, great to hear from you.
      Personally when people give Ramona stuff they found in a charity shop or hand me downs for a pressie, I LOVE IT. Some of her best things have been picked out from second hand shops by friends and family who know her. (Apart from the Barbie my sister gave her- banned. ha)

      I think you are right about the big spend being on equipment for the tinies and I think that is because parents are sold the lie that children deserve the best and the best is brand new.

      We were given lots of things like a car seat, we found a buggy by a bin but also we chose a parenting model that wasn’t “thing heavy”- we cosleep so no crib or nursery stuff needed, we wear her in a sling so no pram (until we found one buy a bin and she just sees that as a fun ride ha), do elimination communication so no nappies! and breast fed/ baby led weaning so no bottles/ baby food.

      Shivers, all sounds a bit smug, reeeeally dont intend that but just want to suggest there is another way, even for tinies.

  7. Hi Lucy,
    Loved reading your blog your ideas are very similar to the Montessori way of teaching young children, Letting them do what they need to do in order to fulfill a need that they have in them, and then repeating it over and over. I don’t know how much you know about montessori but look it up on the internet or let me know and i’ll try and share what i know. The small objects ie the scrabble pieces links in with what Montessori described as the a Sensitive period for small objects this is a time when the child is drawn to small objects to investigte and experiment with.

    • Oh that is so interesting I really should look in to out more. I don’t know enough really but what I have seen has really impressed me, they seem to really nurture creativity.
      Thanks so much for mentioning it I will definitely look in to it.

  8. Fab post thanks so much fo rlinking to the thrigty families blog carnival. I actually used to teach child developemnt, best tip in the world watch and observre meet your child where they are at and keep adding extra dimensions.

  9. Pingback: February’s Thrifty Families Blog Carnival | Family Budgeting

  10. What a beautiful post and stunning photos.

    Ramona is indeed a very lucky little girl!

    When my daughter was smaller (probably younger that your R) I made her a ‘treasure’ basket full of sensory items. she adored it, basically like your jars if was filled with stuff from charity shops. A huge glass marble, wooden balls, ribbon, a brass bell, pine cones, feathers etc. x

  11. This is a lovely post! I think I’ve seen one of your photographs on pin interest too!
    Love all of your wooden toys! But the jar of scrabble pieces and chess pieces JUST genius!

  12. Pingback: Vintage Toys and a mother’s second hand strategy « Lulastic and the Hippyshake

  13. Oh she is adorable especially when the cheeky monkey has a little toy soldier in her mouth aww!!! I’m gonna do the jar thing I had loads of jars and have been wondering what to do with them!!! That’s a really cool idea!! I find I need a notepad when I sit down to read your blog as its packed with ideas!! Thanks!!

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  15. My eldest used to spend hours putting tupperware boxes in and out of the washing machine. If you asked him what he was doing, he’d just stare at you very earnestly and go “‘chine! ‘chine!!!” Alas, I did give up with reusable nappies for his brother at around that time. I had to, though. There was no space in the ‘chine.

    • Hehe Ramona is obsessed with the ‘chine (honestly have no idea where her passion comes from) We’re always finding things she has squirreled away in there. Can’t wait to give that to her as her chore 😀

  16. Pingback: Ethical Christmas Toys for Children « Lulastic and the Hippyshake

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