How Many Toys Should a 3Yr Old Have?

Updated on January 03, 2017
M.C. asks from Noblesville, IN
22 answers

Now that Christmas is over I'm wondering if my daughter has too many toys? Her dad seems to think she has too much. Overall I completely restocked her toys. I got rid of (almost) all of her old toys and got her new things better suited to her age and development. She had "baby" toys before. Now she has toddler toys that can grow with her. I have already cleaned out and donated her older toys that she's gotten too old for, to make room for her new ones. I don't but her anything else during the remainder of the year so Christmas is the one time where I actually buy her things. She only gets one big toy for her birthday. To give you an idea of exactly what she has here's a condensed list.

*Books (LOTS of books)
Stuffed Animals
Baby Doll
*Kids Screwdriver Set and Tools
*Magnets (animal, ABC, 123)
*Doodle Boards and Coloring Books
*Sit & Spin
*Educational Toys
(Learning ABC's, play phones, animal noises, toddler LeapFrog type tablet)
*Miscellaneous (rubber bath toys, play keys, and things of that nature)

* items she received for Christmas

And that's it! Completely it! She seems totally content with what she has and plays with each toy equally. She has no interest in playing with simple toys like spoons, pots/pans, etc. And since I'm a stay at home mom she's with me constantly so I've become a sort of toy to her basically. I play with her all day but she prefers to play with her toys, with me. Like she makes me breakfast, asks me to draw things for her, asks me to read her books, and asks to play hide and seek.

The reason this question surfaced is that I wanted to get her an outside playhouse for her birthday so she can spend more time outside and he seemed to think that she doesn't need it, and that she doesn't need any of the other toys that she has either. He thinks she should be content with a cardboard box basically. He doesn't even approve of cartoons which can be very educational when moderated (she's learned SO MUCH since I started cartoons) And he hates that she has her own TV so she can watch movies during quiet time (she's a very energetic child and the only way to get her to calm down and relax is if we watch a movie, her TV remains off during the other times of the day and tbh she hardly pays attention to it. She just likes the sound)

There's a HUGE difference between how we were both raised and it's made our parenting styles clash. He basically thinks she should be totally cut off from technology. He played exclusively outside with hardly any toys, NO TV, and his family was very strict. I was raised with TV's, computers, had lots of toys, watched Disney movies on repeat, and my parents let me do whatever I wanted (within reason). Maybe that's the difference between boys and girls?

To be completely transparent, he's her stepdad and this is his first taste of what it's like providing for a child. I don't think he ever realized how much it takes to make sure she has what she needs to learn and develop. I make sure all of her toys help her learn and evolve. She's just now getting into imaginative and pretend play, hence the desire to get her a playhouse for outside. So basically, does she have too many toys and do I have the right kind of toys that are actually beneficial to her?

What can I do next?

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answers from Washington DC on

How about little one and step dad building a playhouse together when she is a little older?Win win. They will bond with the process and she will learn a ton!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I suggest that you and your husband take a parenting class together. I'm not concerned with how many toys she has. Other perfectly developing, smart, healthy kids will have fewer, and some will have more. If you get a playhouse or some kind of outside climbing toy, she'll play with it for years - my younger is almost 7 and we just gave away the little tykes climber this past summer. If he's worried about expense, you can often find these at second-hand stores or on Craigslist, because those plastic outside houses/climbers last forever.

I am concerned that you are on completely different pages in terms of parenting style. Your differences in viewpoint are going to lead to problems down the line when it's time to decide when she gets computer access, when she gets an iPod or her first phone, when she can get her driver's license, how you are going to handle social media, etc. These are hard questions for all parents, and when you are starting with completely opposite points of view so early, your marriage is really going to be tested. So, take a child development and parenting class together ASAP.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

Your daughter is going to grow and learn and develop and evolve whether you get her all the "right" toys or not, whether she's exposed to tv and technology or not, whether she plays outside or not. As along as she is doing and exploring, she will learn.

There's nothing wrong with tv, but you can learn without it. I'm not a fan of having a tv in a child's bedroom. There are many studies about that show having a tv in the bedroom is a bad idea, and it can be a difficult habit to break if she is learning how to relax only when the tv is on.

There's nothing wrong with playing inside or playing outside. Both are very good, and she would probably do best if she could do both. She would also benefit from going to the park and interacting with other children. Many YMCA's and park districts have classes she could take that would allow her to socialize - swimming, gymnastics, art. I loved doing that with my kids, though it was more for my socialization than theirs :-)

Personally, I would back off on the technology. Some tv/screen time is ok, but it's too easy for little ones to become addicted to screen time.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I worked in early childhood ed and would sort of side with your husband on this...I'm a firm believer of 'less is more'.

Her own tv? We won't allow our son to have his own tv and he's 9. I think kids need to learn how to settle down in natural ways, because while it certainly appears that her behavior 'settles down' with tv, it's actually doing a lot in her brain. Mainly, releasing dopamine in some pretty nice doses. And while that does appear outwardly to settle a child, the removal of tv at the end causes a dopamine withdrawl. So, it can backfire. I'd suggest reading picture books and engaging her in conversation about the story. *That* is a way to help your child 'grow and evolve' instead of passive viewing. In my work with children, rarely ever was the tv on-- only if they were actually sick and needed entertainment to stay in bed/on the couch.

I'm a BIG fan of the cardboard box and I will tell you why-- open-ended options are invaluable! We grabbed up a big stove box a few years ago-- it was a cave, a cabin, a car, a boat.... the kids had loads of fun once, when they pretended to be campers and I was a silly raccoon, trying to steal their food.My son used popsicle sticks to create 'locks' for the door and windows. He was 5 then. (By the way, his favorite thing to watch at the time was a video of a guy in Alaska who built his own cabin. Kids love slowness and watching processes.)

One thing I didn't see in your list of toys was probably the most important toy in child development: blocks. LIke, real blocks, not interlocking ones. Those are fine, but building can be limited. Blocks became rafts, bridges for cars, beds for dolls, zoos for the animals, a balance beam, a safe haven from the 'hot lava' on the much imaginative play can be had with blocks. Looking at your list, many of the toys you listed have only one way to use them-- magnets can only be placed on a magnetic backing. Doodle boards are fine, but I would likely have bought a ream of printer paper rather than coloring books. Again, kids can use paper in myriad ways. Coloring books, not so much.

This isn't to burst your bubble, but there is SO much value in open-ended play. As a toddler and preschool teacher, I always offered open-ended options as well as some more straightforward ones. Another great item to have on hand is a sensory tub. This is basically a big bin you can put on the floor or table and fill with water (with color added or soapy or just as it is), sand/corn meal, or beans/barley--- anything that can flow through colanders or a funnels..... and simple items to find in there. Funnels, sink or float items, sponges, rocks, scoops, tubes... it's amazing what kids will practice doing when they have these items present.

This link says 'toddlers' but many preschoolers and early elementary students find these materials useful, tailor to fit your child:

The last is a wonderful article from Community Playthings, a company which provides furnishings and blocks for educational situations. I would strongly encourage reading this... just so you know how your husband might be viewing things.

No one has to get it 'right' or perfect, but I would agree with him that sometimes, too much is too much.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

My kids have a TON of toys..and honestly, I try and weed them out but it is really hard. Is what you have too many...? I don't know, it seems fine, but here's my unsolicited advice... :)

I hate to join the bandwagon focussing on the TV, but yeah, she doesn't need her own TV. I'm sure you're limiting the TV and yes, cartoons can be educational and watching TV is fine and I totally let my kids do it and you shouldn't let people shame you into thinking TV is some research about TV at that age, screen time, etc.

As far as an outside playhouse I say YES, yes, yes! Get that kid outside as much as possible. I'm also a big fan of pretend play, costumes, etc. So, I would say that those type of things are super important. At her age it would be so fun to have a play house and other structured outdoor toys, but also let her imagination flow too. Kids need to be outside, they need to get dirty and they need to be in fresh air no matter the temperature or season! I found that at 3, my kids mostly enjoyed actual outdoor toys...things like push mowers, tools, balls (so many balls), bubbles, etc. Now that they are older (9 and 7) they prefer to make up games, use sticks, repurpose toys to be something completely different for their game, etc.

The last thing I want to add is that you need to let her play by herself sometimes. You mentioned she always wants to play with you. That's normal and fun and you absolutely should play with your kid...but she also needs to know how to entertain herself, even at 3. She needs to use her imagination, play with dolls, color, play in the kitchen, etc. all by herself. She needs to learn how to entertain herself while NOT in front of a screen. It's definitely a skill and one that is falling by the wayside with a lot of kids!

Overall I really do think you're fine and she's fine, but as someone else mentioned you and your husband need to get on the same page and that's going to take compromise. You need to read some articles and share some things with him and as the SAHM you are going to have a better handle on the things she likes, does, how she's developing, etc. so it's going to put you ahead in that department but doesn't mean you can't completely ignore his thoughts and feelings too. (but I know that's really hard when you're with her 24/7 and he's not)

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I like that you have given her gender neutral toys (kitchen but also tools and blocks). I love that you read to her a lot. I think it's great that you engage with her so much.

I think your husband is struggling with being a parent and feeling he needs to comply with your school of parenting. You two were raised very differently, and while I think he is being very austere, I think you are going a little bit overboard with things like her own TV.

I think he has a point about playing with a cardboard box, but I know from my own experience how hard it is to find a big appliance box - stores just don't hold on to them for parents like they used to. But I do think you could hang a rope in the back yard and drape a sheet over it to create a tent, and make similar blanket forts inside.

I don't think a child should use a parent as a toy. I think it's great that she does make believe play (making breakfast for you) but I think she should not be asking you to draw for her. She has to learn to do things on her own without you being a living breathing doll for her. She needs her own personal time and needs to learn that you have stuff to do too and you are not her plaything. She'll fight you to begin with, but stick to it.

I am confused that you bought her a kitchen set but say she won't play with spoons and pots/pans. She will play with what you provide. By giving her everything "ready made" you will deprive her of the chance to develop creative and critical thinking skills.

She has a ton of toys, so I would rotate those in and out of her play space, putting some in the closet in a bin and bringing things out (and putting others away) every few weeks. I would also have a small box in the car of small, quiet toys that are perfect for (and only used for) restaurants and waiting rooms.

Do you do any kind of organized activity? I'd take her to the children's library at least once a week, either to a story hour or to use the computers there. Let her learn to take a book out and return it after a few weeks for another one. There's no reason to buy her tons of things - it's a waste of money when this incredible free resource is there in your town. She can also socialize with other kids too. Our library has blocks and a puppet area. There are also great books from "the old days" that have simple toys, crafts and science experiments that do not involve electronics or computers. Use them. Once a month, take her to the fire house if it's allowed - our firefighters are great at letting kids climb in the seat of the engine, explaining the hoses, etc.

I'd do a few things outside too, like
- sandbox with a lid and clean sand, but then simple kitchen toys like funnels and spoons and sieves or cheap beach toys like buckets and rakes. Find things at yard sales - not everything has to be top dollar.
- driveway chalk - create the fantasy or make believe environment you want
- nature walks with a plain old bucket and maybe a kiddie magnifying glass
- wheeled toys (kiddie cars, kid scooters, etc.) with helmet

Inside, I'd substitute a white noise machine or a kiddie CD player with a quiet calming music instead of plopping her in front of a TV. I absolutely would not give her her own TV - you can watch a movie on the weekends (with your husband) and allow 1/2 hour of cartoons a day. Don't focus on how "educational" things are - especially if you are trying to teach her academics. Kids really don't benefit from that especially if it's at the expense of other things. "Learning" is a huge category and well beyond vocabulary, letters or numbers.

I'd also get into a parenting program with your husband so you can both hear from experts what is necessary and what is not. The biggest problem I see is that your husband is excluded from the parenting process because he's the stepdad and because you were allowed to do pretty much everything you wanted. I think that's a slippery slope and you would benefit from some compromise.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

There's no right answer for this - everyone sets their own limits.
When I was growing up, with played with old pots and pans and a colander in the sandbox.
They weren't 'toys' per say but we could do what ever we wanted to do with them.
We also played with empty wooden thread spools.
Really - anything can be a toy.
Our nana made us some rag dolls and stuffed them with dryer lint.
Toys don't have to be expensive.

Her own tv at 3? That's not something we ever did with our son.
We have one tv in the living room and it's not on a lot.
We watched things together - he never watched anything when he was suppose to be napping or quiet.

It's easy to go overboard with the toys for the kids.
How about every time you want to buy something for her you put an equal amount into her college fund?
There's nothing wrong with getting toys at a thrift shop.
Some toys are nice but the most important thing for helping her 'learn and evolve' at this stage is her interaction with you and Dad.
YOU are her most important 'toy'.
Perhaps you and Dad can take a parenting class together so you two can get more on the same page.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Well you are both right. Her toys seem fine, especially by American standards, but of course she doesn't really "need" all of them.
How about building her a playhouse? That could be a fun and VERY educational project for the whole family.
I hope you guys figure this out soon because a teenage girl is a LOT more expensive than a three year old, this is only going to get harder with time, not easier.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

I think that buying all the toys she will get (save one on her birthday) at Christmas is a mistake. She doesn't just grow all at once, one time per year. She is constantly growing and her abilities are constantly changing, as will her interests. There is nothing wrong with spreading out the introduction of toys/playthings throughout the year. You might find that 3-4 months from now, she is ready for something more advanced. And in another 3-4 months after that, she is again ready to expand b/c her abilities have grown, and her attention span has grown.
Do you constantly need to be buying toys? No. But you don't have to limit it to ONLY her birthday and Christmas, either. Sometimes it's ok to get new things (new to you, not necessarily brand new from the store) when the timing is just right b/c of her skill set or the time of year. A wading pool for the summer doesn't make sense as a Christmas gift, ya know?

But I agree with the others who said her own TV is a bit much. I've never been a fan of TV in children's bedrooms anyway--even for teens. And the blue light affects falling asleep and sleep quality as well, negatively, I might add.

I also don't like reading you say that you are her plaything/toy. It's wonderful to take time to play with her. But you aren't a toy or her plaything. You're her mom. It's your job to take care of her, guide her, teach her. So just be aware of how your role with her evolves. If not careful, you might end up being bossed around or subject to tantrums if she doesn't get the attention from you she wants. Teach her how to play alone, on her own. Show her what she can do, or talk her through things. But make sure she doesn't always need/have you right there beside her actively involved in all of her play. Some, yes. But not most. Introduce her into a play group if she needs more interaction (and she will as she gets older).

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answers from Oklahoma City on

I think there are strengths in both your perspective and your husband's. I think it is about balance. Toys aren't bad but I think too many can be counterproductive. Technology isn't a negative as long as it is used in moderation. Blending families is really challenging. I would work with hubby on getting on the same page as parents. Work to compromise and pull from each other's point of view. Otherwise, these differences can develop into huge wedges between you two.

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answers from Dallas on

Doesn't sound like too many to me. My son is the same age, and our house is an explosion of toys, lol. The only thing I'd question is the TV; she could just watch on yours occasionally. She might be more motivated as she gets older if there is no TV in her room. Movies are fine for kids, though, as long as you approve the content and are limiting her screen time. It sounds like almost more of a marriage issue than a parenting issue, since your daughter isn't his biologically. You two might have to compromise to make your styles blend more, or you might benefit from some marriage counseling to help with your blended family situation. It depends on how big of an issue it is to you, and how much you feel your child will be affected by it. Still, having a healthy marriage in the long run is going to help your kid way more than having a particular amount of stuff. I don't know your situation, so these are just some thoughts. I hope they are helpful to you!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I tend to agree with him. She really does not need tv or cartoons. If you need a break and the only way you can take 15 minutes for yourself is to plant her in front of the screen - that's fine. But look at it as a mental health break for you. Because it has no benefit whatsoever for her. The cardboard box is in fact a FANTASTIC toy. We have plenty of pictures of my son playing in/with the boxes that his toys/car seat/etc came in. I would try to stop thinking of him as her step dad. Also - she really doesn't need any of these things (beyond books which you are reading to her at this point) to learn and evolve. If she didn't have all these toys (which there is nothing wrong with) - she would play with whatever was available around the house or outside and she would be fine.

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answers from Abilene on

Neither of you are right or wrong. I think it would be wise for the two of you to spend time on parenting discussions. I recognize he's her step dad, he's your husband first. If the two of you are going to provide a healthy environment for her, there will be compromises. You can isolate him by saying "she's not really your daughter so I have the last word". To me that is polarizing. I am a step mom and my husband never spoke that to me. I always told him, as her dad, I would honor whatever he decided, but he always valued my opinion. He knew I had most of the day to day stuff and he appreciated how much I loved her.

My husband and I were raised very differently. He brings a lot to the table. He was one of 4 boys who hunted, fished, worked the farm and grew up being self sufficient and required to help feed their family. I was raised in cities, love the arts, never went camping, etc. Our kids are a mix of our experiences and I believe are better because of it. He's taught them things I can't and I've exposed them to things and encouraged their creative side.

One of the things my kids enjoyed the most at your daughter's age was a water/sand table. We were outside a lot in their toddler years. If it was too cold for water, sand was in both sides. They had zoo animals, cars, shovels, sifters and sticks, rocks, etc. Played for hours. I loved it. I could watch from a distance and enjoy. We also had a lil tike slide and a swing set we built together.

I agree with the others on the tv. We still have only one tv in the living room.

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answers from San Francisco on

The question here is not does she have too many toys, or whether they are the right ones, or whether she's watching too much TV. FWIW, I think that's a great selection of toys and not too much at all, and that one kid appropriate movie a day is probably fine. But again, I don't think that's the issue. The issue IMO is that your husband, with no parenting experience of his own, is trying to control how you parent your child. On the issue of toys and play, his experience sounds extreme, and he needs to come to realize that it was not typical, and soften his position. But I suspect that this will not be the only time you have differences of opinion on parenting your daughter. It would benefit all of you for him to read up, take some parenting classes, and get educated on basic child development to start with. They're a bit dated, but I like the "Your --- Year Old" series by Louise Bates Ames. Take care.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

I am not worried about the toys...the tv in her room isn't something I would do but to each their own.

I am concerned that your parenting styles are so different. She is three and will bond to him just like a dad being so young that is awesome!!

I would look around and find a parenting class for you guys to take together. Most churches are starting up their Wednesday night activities in a week or so. Most will run an eight to sixteen week parenting class during the evening activities. It is usually free except the cost of the book and will provide childcare.

My husband was raised more like your husband and I was raised more like you. The classes we have taken several...have been great to get us on the same page with our kids.

They have really gotten us talking about things from three to thirty with our kids. And that is a good thing. You guys have to get on the same page. Good luck!!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Barbara on

Wow! That is a lot of money on toys for a 3 year old on one day/season.

I think you can get free/cheap hand-me-downs from a site like craigslist or some trade-store.

The items listed seem normal for a 3 year old. Do you have a reliable grandparent/relative to purchase a big item?

I do agree with him (and most professionals such as pediatricians would agree with his way vs. yours). A 10 year old child should be limited to 1 hour a day of electronics according to my son's doctor. That includes phones, iPads, video games and TV/movies. We do go over that amount (heck one movie is longer). Having a TV in the room is so 1990's (this is supposed to be funny and not rude, since most kids will watch youtube on a hand-held screen).

His way is ideal, yet your way is typical. I think he needs to spend a month in your shoes and realize these plastic toys and what not make things easier for you. It is true that they are no benefit to your child.

To answer your question: I don't think you have too many toys, as long as you have the space and can afford them.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I personally felt it was more important to get the kids out and doing things than looking for more things to do at home. My kids had plenty of toys and a TV with lots of movies and kids shows to watch, but those were for when we needed to be at home. Instead of buying a playhouse or swing set for the yard, I took the kids to the local parks, playgroups and the YMCA to play with other kids. Instead of spending a bunch of money on toys we bought memberships for museums, pools and zoos. We attended live concerts, theatre and cultural events instead of watching TV. I enrolled them in nursery school two afternoons a week. We went to the library for weekly story time and took out new books each time. To me those experiences do more for their development than toys. I do see value in some down time, but not hours a day.

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answers from New York on

For starters, I'm not sure what you mean by "the difference betwen boys and girls" - are you suggesting that girls should receive toys and boys should be left to figure things out on their own? (If that's your attitude, I hope your daughter never ends up with a brother who has to watch her play with her toys!)

As a general concept, I think this is your significant other's way of dealing with his feelings about having not been with your daughter since day one (since she is not his child). Realistically, how would he suggest you "solve the problem"? Throw out all of her toys and start over? He's just venting about the fact that the first three years of her life were all about your parenting style, because he was not in her life at that time.

Going forward, look for balance. Consult with him before buying new toys - IF (and only if) it seems like he will be involved in her life "as a dad" for a while now (no need to give his opinions too much weight if you are still her main parent).

In a year or two, she will start school, so most of her waking hours will be spent away from toys, and her parenting needs will change at that time.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Sounds like my husband. I honestly don't think you can have too many books, my husband thinks a couple is enough. For the toys, my husband would complain my kids had too many., But once they were all organized, you could see it wasn't (plus there were 3 of them at once). He saw pieces as a toy. 80 mega blocks, 80 toys. I would have to agree that parenting classes would be great for both of you. Make sure you take one that hits on toddler/preschool and above so it highlights appropriate toys and imaginary play.


answers from Boston on

Just please do not throw them away. Have a yard sale or donate to a thrift store.



answers from Oklahoma City on

I would tell him thank you for the input but you need him to understand that you are her mom and will make the final decision. Mean of me, right? You want to include him, he loves her. He doesn't really know anything about parenting. He's learning. But he is not there yet.

I do NOT have any bias against TV. We had TV's in the kids room all along and they had them on all the time. BUT they never sat and watched hour after hour. They were more background noise than anything. They'd sit down and watch a few minutes but as soon as a commercial was on they were back up and playing. They'd not go back to the show after the commercial either.

I have a friend who didn't allow TV, she didn't have cable or anything. Her kids would sit like zombies any time they visited anyone. They'd sit and watch Oprah for the whole hour with a slack face and drool coming out of their open mouth, well, not that bad but they were zombies.

My thoughts on this reaction is that TV was limited, it was taboo, so when they were able to watch it they just watched and watched and watched. For hours.

Our world today is different. Tomorrow's world will be even more connected via online activity and TV. I think you have the right idea. Some TV isn't bad. BUT all TV doesn't have to be educational. Don't you remember just sitting down to be entertained? Sometimes a movie or show is just to take us to another place, for enjoyment.

Since she is no longer a toddler but is a preschool age child I will advise you to reconsider her "toddler toys". They are not for her age group anymore. She is ready for pre-reading and pre-writing skills and can work on pre-math skills too. Google children learn as they play and then search for pre-school educational ideas so that you can move her into the things she needs to be working on at age 3.

Children learn a lot at her age and she is capable of doing more than playing with mommy and toys all day. You are not her playmate. You are her mom and even though it's fun to play with her all day she needs you to start moving towards her playing on her own sometimes. She will be going to school next year, I assume she'll be 4 and can go to Pre-K, so she needs to start her educational pre-skills things.




answers from Los Angeles on

Okay, so initially I can see why he says this. Now go back I time to my childhood, my siblings and I were very spoiled but raised to be good people/contributing citizens. We got lots of presents AND the kitchen. However, I will say this, I think you are good for a year with the presents you did get. I think I would wait and get her the playhouse in 1 year. No later than that though or she won't play with it as long to pay for itself. Now, in addition to that, I feel the stepfather need not say too much in the future. She's your child and while you live with him, are married to him, want to compromise issues, plan your future together, "work together".....he has no idea what it's like to have a biological child of his own and the love that goes with it. So maybe next year buy the same amount of toys but keep cost in mind since you're living together. Also, maybe don't get as much big ticket items at once like the computerized things.

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