If you’re like me, you want to provide your little one with the toddler must haves they need to successfully grow, learn and develop at home. At the same time, you still want your home to feel like the calm, attractive, adult-friendly oasis you worked so hard to create before your child was born!
After hours of research, trial, and error, I’m here to tell you that it is possible to provide your toddler with everything they need to stay stimulated while still maintaining a beautiful home. This extensive list of minimalist-friendly toddler must haves has kept my active and curious son (who is now home full time) plenty busy without making me crazy!
The best part is, toddler essentials don’t have to cost a lot of money or require a lot of space. This list of toddler must-haves includes options for free, low cost, or DIY alternatives wherever possible.
I hope that you use this list as inspiration while you prepare your home for your growing toddler – take away what makes sense for your family and feel free to leave the rest! And if you’re in the market for minimalist newborn essentials, I made one of those for you as well.
Food Prep and Feeding
By 12 months, most babies are eating a pretty wide variety of foods (here are my Zero Waste Baby Food Essentials). It was around this time that my son started experimenting with a spoon and quickly moved on to a fork and then a blunt knife for spreading. We also introduced plates and transitioned from bottles to sippy cups.
As my son started inching towards 24 months, independence in the kitchen became more and more important to him. The items listed below are things that made transitioning to proper meals as well as assisting with meal prep easier and less stressful (for me) in our home.
CONVERTIBLE HIGH CHAIR OR TODDLER SEAT
As far as toddler must haves go, a safe place for your child to sit and eat meals is essential. We have cycled through a number of infant and toddler seats but always come back to our favorite Ikea high chair. It’s inexpensive (also very easy to find second hand), SO easy to clean, light weight, and just the best. With that said, there are a number of popular options worth mentioning, a few of which include:
There are SO MANY types of sippy cups, smoothie cups, and durable toddler-sized glasses. The selection process can be completely overwhelming! Like with bottles, it might come down to trying a few and eventually landing on one or two that you and your child like best. Below are a few we have tried and love.
PLATES AND BOWLS
If you’re a regular reader, then you know I try my best to select items for my home that are made primarily from sustainable, recycled, or recyclable materials (jackpot if I check all three). Here are some durable, plastic-free options worth considering:
Instead of plastic silverware, I chose to invest in a high quality 18/10 stainless steel set that I know will last through multiple kids. This set holds up extremely well in the dishwasher and doesn’t come in ridiculous colors or shapes that feel crazy in our kitchen.
I’m not sure a dedicated placemat should make the cut on a list of “toddler must haves” because you can easily repurpose items you already own for this purpose (e.g. dish towels). But if you want to keep your dining table in decent condition and minimize laundry, I highly recommend using a wipe-able placemat. We own one placemat made by Gathre in a solid grey color and that it has been perfectly sufficient for us. Below are a few additional options worth considering.
STEP STOOL OR LEARNING TOWER
We waited longer than we should have to acquire a toddler learning tower for our son. After a few too many close calls on our foldable step stool, we finally received one as a gift from my parents and it was arguably one of our best toddler investments to date.
With that said, this doesn’t have to be an expensive investment. I have seen awesome DIY tutorials for toddler learning towers made on the cheap. Learning towers also don’t have to take up a ton of kitchen space. Below I have listed ours plus options that fold away neatly that would work well in small kitchens!
TABLE AND CHAIRS
This is definitely not essential, but very helpful when encouraging toddler independence. We purchased a modular table and chairs set that has grown with our son really nicely. His table is mostly used for snacks and crafts. It lives in our kitchen so I can set him up with an activity while I work on something else (although if I’m cooking or cleaning, he wants to participate right alongside me!).
When your toddler starts to sit and eat with you at the table, brace yourself for a good amount of cleaning up! As someone who greatly appreciates a clean home and efficient, time-saving cleaning systems, I have experimented with a handful of products that make my life a lot easier.
In my opinion, this is the ultimate in toddler must haves. If you invest in nothing else on this list, please do yourself a favor and invest in a cordless stick vacuum. My husband calls it a “life-extending purchase” because of how much time and energy it saves us!
TODDLER CLEANING KIT
Additionally, find ways to get your toddler involved in the cleaning process. I created a toddler-friendly cleaning kit using smaller sized versions of the items I already use to clean.
NATURAL CLEANING PRODUCTS
Because I allow my toddler to clean with me, I try my best to clean using cleaning recipes with natural (but still effective) cleaning ingredients.
I hope and pray that your child is sleeping through the night and napping on a nice schedule by the time they transition to toddlerhood! To keep things simple (and keep the sleeping peace) we didn’t change much sleep-wise from baby to toddler.
We chose not to transition our crib to a toddler bed or move our son to a twin bed (yet) during toddlerhood. This is because he was still sleeping very well in his crib and (shockingly) never tried to climb out! With that said, toddlers demonstrate readiness for this transition at different ages, so here are a few options to make it easier.
It wasn’t until around 22 months that we introduced a small pillow in our toddler’s crib per his request for “more cozy.” He’s still pretty darn wiggly in there, often waking up facing an entirely different direction than he was when he fell asleep. Because of this we still use a zip-up sleep sack when it’s cold. He also sleeps with a thin blanket or two regardless of weather.
Lastly, it may or may not be recommended by child sleep experts but we almost always let our son take a truck or one toy in his crib with him at bedtime (he’s almost 2). It usually gives him something to do for a little while before he falls asleep and keeps him happy for an extra 15-30 minutes in the mornings after he wakes up. That means extra time for me and my husband in the evenings and mornings – worth it if you ask me!
You should know by now what sleep aids encourage your child to sleep best, but the two items that we have had the most success with are a sound machine and blackout curtains.
As my son entered toddlerhood he became busier and more daring in the bathtub. Most of the bath items I recommend are not “essential” per se, but if you have a busy toddler who likes to stand or attempt trust falls in the bathtub (yep), they might be smart investments.
SAFETY MAT AND FAUCET COVER
My son is busy. He did not sit still in the bathtub… ever. When he first grew out of his baby bath, we quickly caved and bought him a baby bath seat. Then once he outgrew the seat he was still slipping around in the tub so we caved again and bought a bath safety mat. Followed quickly by a faucet cover.
We only used the mat for about 6 months until he was stable enough to handle a more slippery bath surface but it was worth the peace of mind until then! I anticipate we’ll continue to use the faucet cover for years to come.
Here’s the thing, I don’t consider dedicated bath toys to be toddler must haves. My son is seriously just as happy pouring water out of a plastic bottle over and over again as he is playing with the dedicated bath toys he’s been gifted. My recommendation is to repurpose items you already have in your home for bath time entertainment:
- Plastic, enamel, or stainless steel cups for pouring
- Turkey baster
- Basting brush
- Stainless steel funnels (we use these for SO many things in our home)
- Measuring cups
- Colanders and strainers
- Slotted spoons
After bathtime, we try our best to help our toddler help himself with the getting ready for bed process. This includes brushing his hair and his teeth and putting on his lotion before jammies. We set up a step stool in his bathroom so he can reach the sink where his hair and toothbrush are stored. A faucet extender is not essential but it’s helpful if the sink is still out of reach even with the step stool.
At some point before the age of three, most toddlers are ready to at least start potty learning. Here are a few of the products that have made this process relatively pleasant for us so far.
I read books with my son ALL the time. It’s one of the few ways I can get him to sit still nicely with me! We read before nap and bedtimes as well as in the mornings after breakfast.
Luckily, with free resources like your local library you do not have to invest in a big book library for your toddler. If you have an e-reader, sometimes Kindle will also offer free children’s book titles for you to borrow as well!
Regardless of how you choose to source books, below are a few favorites in our home.
Most of my toddler’s toys have been gifted from friends and family members, or handed down from friends with older children. We have been so fortunate in this way! But if it were up to me, we would focus our toy budget on Montessori-inspired toys for learning.
I wrote an entire blog post about the Montessori-inspired toys that we own and love, I encourage you to check it out for ideas! Some honorable mentions are listed below:
- Duplos, blocks, magna tiles
- Coloring / arts / crafts
- Matching games
- Printouts for tracing letters and numbers
- Dolls for mirroring mom/dad behavior
- Active toys for outdoors like balls, balance bikes
- Sensory toys like a sandbox or water table
- Cleaning toys – play vacuum, spray bottle, cloths, broom and pan
This section is going to vary wildly for you depending on the setup of your home. I live in a split-level floor plan with a LOT of stairs. That means we have multiple baby gates to prevent our son from getting into potentially dangerous situations. We still always have a watchful eye on him as he navigates our home, but the little bit of child-proofing we added creates a huge peace of mind.
Aside from purchasing these items, my favorite baby-proofing has come from minimizing our already minimal decor. We display very few fragile items within toddler reach and have little to no clutter left out at any time. Decluttering alone is a fantastic start to child-proofing a room!
Convertible Car Seat
When it comes to car travel, you most likely already have everything you need for your toddler from when they were an infant. If you chose to use a bucket car seat during infancy, then a convertible car seat is an absolute toddler must have.
Toddler Carrier (optional)
If you still like to carry your toddler, invest in a great carrier (if you haven’t already) so you can back carry. I have done this around the house a few times when my toddler is inconsolable. That way I could hold him and still get a little bit of work done hands-free.
As for strollers, just keep using the one you have if your toddler still fits. You could opt to switch to a lightweight umbrella stroller. If you do, I recommend saving money and purchasing one second-hand.
Parenting Books (not “essential” but recommended)
I actually don’t consider parenting books to be an “essential” category, but I’m listing the two that I have really enjoyed and received value from in case you’re a parenting book fan.
Additional Toddler Must HAves
There are a few toddler must haves that I didn’t mention in the list above. Namely toddler clothing and first aid. I didn’t go into details on these because I figure you already have your favorite sources for clothing and first aid doesn’t differ THAT much from infancy (not in my experience anyway).
In my experience, keeping my toddler both physically and mentally stimulated is the secret to better sleep and less behavioral issues. But if you’re a first time parent, this can be tough to do without a little guidance or inspiration from folks who have done it before!
Some free resources that I have found incredibly helpful include:
All of these websites / IG accounts focus on activities that encourage toddler independence. The less my toddler needs me to help him access the things he wants or needs (toys, cleaning supplies, water, healthy snacks, etc.) the happier he is.