Tamagotchis and other toys from the '90s are becoming popular collectibles for adults looking to reconnect with their childhoods. Gorlov / Getty Images Plus

Looking for an escape, more adults are buying childhood toys

Addie Costello Nov 29, 2023
Tamagotchis and other toys from the '90s are becoming popular collectibles for adults looking to reconnect with their childhoods. Gorlov / Getty Images Plus

The number of adults buying toys for themselves increased by 14% from September 2022 to September 2023, according to data from market research group Circana. 

But adults aren’t just buying themselves new toys, many are looking to rebuild their old childhood collections.

The recent increase in adults buying toys is likely due to increased nostalgia, said Jane Eva Baxter, an associate professor of anthropology at DePaul. That’s because people are more nostalgic during stressful times, Baxter said. 

Between a global pandemic, international conflicts, and threats of a looming recession people are looking to escape back into their childhoods.

“It’s like, well, everything else may not go well today, but my Tamagotchi is not going to die,” Baxter said.

The increase in adults collecting their favorite toys started during the height of the pandemic when people were looking for things to do while stuck in their houses and hasn’t slowed down. From January to October this year, people searched “antique toy” or “vintage toy” roughly 14 times a minute, according to eBay. Searches for vintage Star Wars toys were up 20% this year, and searches for vintage Star Trek toys increased by 30%. And overall, global listings for vintage toys are up about 10% this year on eBay, said vice president of Global Collectibles at eBay, Gene Cook.

Online vintage toy sellers aren’t the only ones seeing a boost in interest. 

Terry Taylor owns 1313 Mockingbird Lane Toys and Collectibles in Lawrence, Kansas. When he opened his store in 2017, most of his customers were other lifelong toy collectors.

Vintage toy collector Terry Taylor poses with his collection of Godzilla figurines.
Toy store owner Terry Taylor poses in his shop next to a display of Godzilla figurines. (Addie Costello/Marketplace)

But he noticed a shift during the pandemic when the store started offering curbside orders.

“While everyone was sitting at home, they rediscovered their love of their childhood toys,” Taylor said.

After pandemic restrictions were lifted, Taylor saw a new group of customers hooked on vintage toy collecting.

“It was just like people going all in. ‘I want to recollect every Masters of the Universe figure I had as a kid, every GI Joe figure I had as a kid,’” Taylor said. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that was another huge one.” 

And people aren’t just nostalgic for the toys they remember playing with, Baxter said. 

“It might be one of a sense of lack or deprivation. Like I never got to have a blank,” Baxter said. “I can name you a whole list of things I didn’t get growing up that I thought were essential when I was six.” 

Toy company revenue has grown alongside rising levels of nostalgia. Toy sales from adults buying themselves toys increased by $666 million from September 2022 to September 2023, according to Circana.

“Nostalgia is clearly on the mind of people who are trying to sell us things. And they’re playing into that very particular emotional state of us wanting to go back somewhere in time,” Baxter said.

Today, at Target you can buy brand new Furbies, Tamagotchis, and My Little Ponies. 

But toy collecting also requires adults to feel comfortable spending money on non-essential items. And there could be some headwinds coming for the toy industry. Growth in the toys industry has recently slowed due to consumers spending less on discretionary items, according to Circana. 

If economic conditions persist, adults are likely to pull back their spending on toys.

But for now, business is still steady for Heather Swanson, who has made close to $20,000 from selling vintage toys on Etsy. She started selling her childhood toys in April of 2022 to help move her mom into a new home and has had 275 orders.

 “You name it. I probably had it as a kid,” Swanson said.

Swanson said her fastest-selling items tend to be toys that are still in stores today.

“It’s a lot of stuff that still exists, but was in a different iteration in the ‘80s and ‘90s that sells the most,” Swanson said. “Because you still have ties to it, you’re seeing the newer ones now, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I remember having that as a kid’.”

She’s sold Cabbage Patch Dolls, My Little Ponies, American Girl Dolls, Legos and more. If you’re looking for an escape, her 1996 Tamagotchi is available in her store for $55.

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