In this article:
- After a short-lived fad, fidget toys were written off as a dumb fad on par with pet rocks.
- Some even lamented that fidget toys are a class distraction and an annoying habit.
- What those critics failed to understand, though, is that fidgeting (and the fidget toys that help you do it) is actually helpful for neurodivergent people struggling to sit still and pay attention.
- What was a short-lived fad for many was a necessary mental health management strategy for people with ADHD, autism, anxiety, and other conditions.
Remember when fidget toys first came out? I do.
The fidget spinner was the first of many fidget toys to enter the mainstream. Trending in the mid-2010s, fidget spinners became the subject of a Cabbage Patch Kids-esque collection fever.
Neon fidget spinners, Guy Fieri t-shirt fidget spinners, even gold fidget spinners were introduced to kids, teens, and annoyed parents everywhere.
At the time, it seemed like fidget toys were the new fad of the 2010s. Like the pet rocks before them, these spinning chunks of plastic were the subject of ridicule because of how little excitement, if any, they seemed to provide.
Whether you had them, still have them, or hate them, you can’t deny that fidget toys rake in serious money.
The Fidget Toy Craze of 2017
Fidget toys reached the height of their popularity in May 2017.
There’s no clear reason as to why it started showing up everywhere. There weren’t any big-name celebrities posting or tweeting about their new solid gold fidget spinner. Nor was there any sudden push to sell fidget spinners as a solution for something.
The fidget spinner seemed to just show up on the internet and on shopping platforms following demand from school children.
Considering small kids were the ones who first got into fidget toys, it’s likely that they emerged as a playground ‘it’ item. The same thing happened with pet rocks, loom bands, and slap bracelets.
There’s no end to the deep-seated love and devotion school children have for the next inane yet trendy piece of colorful plastic.
Anyone who’s been in elementary school (which I hope is all of us) knows how these things play out. One kid brings a new, never-before-seen toy that other kids don’t have. Suddenly that kid is the coolest student on the playground because they have a toy everyone else doesn’t.
It doesn’t matter if the toy isn’t even that good. Monkey see, monkey want. It’s the same principle behind Instagram.
So what do these kids do next? They run home and they bug their parents about wanting fidget spinners.
Next thing you know, fidget spinners are a breakout search result on Google because frazzled parents of kids who won’t stop screaming about wanting a fidget toy are trying to figure out what it is and how to buy it.
Now that we have our Fidget Spinner Theory of Demand, there will, of course, be a spike in businesses trying to meet that demand. At the height of the fidget toy craze, you could just as easily buy a fidget spinner at a gasoline station or a 7-11 as you could a pack of gum.
The fidget toy gold rush made more than a few resellers a pretty penny. Fidget spinners could be bought dirt cheap on websites like AliExpress and Alibaba, both of which are popular sources of products for drop shipping businesses on Shopify.
These fidget toys could then be resold for several times their procurement price.
Resellers who were quick on their feet got into selling 2017’s hottest fad toy before fidget spinners fell from popularity.
Allam Maman and Cooper Weiss, who were just 17-year-old high school students at the time, were able to put up a company called Fidget360, becoming the first to mass-produce the fidget spinner.
Business was so good for the duo that they were able to make $350,000 in six months just from selling fidget spinners.
Remember what I said about monkey see, monkey want in the playground? Turns out that extends to businesses, too. Before you call me stupid, I know there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s actually smart to cash in on a trend while something is still perceived as desirable. The operational word here is ‘still’ because some fidget spinner resellers weren’t as lucky as Maman and Weiss.
Just take a look at this poor guy who is now literally poor after having invested all of his life savings into buying fidget spinners in the hope that he could resell them.
He likely saw everyone else make a killing around April and May and thought he could do the same. Except there’s one caveat: he started buying fidget spinners around the start of the summer season.
Summer is in June. June.
It just so happens June was when fidget toys started dropping in popularity. It was a dead trend, left to be forgotten along with 2016’s Pokemon Go craze.
With a drop in interest in fidget spinners and 6,000 pieces of the spinning chunks of plastic to get rid of, the odds were stacked against whoever this dude with the squirrel profile photo was. We can only hope he was able to recover.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one left burned by the fidget spinner fad. Catherine Hettinger, the toy’s actual creator, didn’t make a single cent off of her invention.
While companies like Fidget360 and hundreds of nameless Chinese factories were able to pump out fidget spinners en masse, Hettinger couldn’t afford to renew her patent for the fidget spinner.
But Hettinger has made peace with the fact that she’ll never be able to make money off of her invention.
Though she wasn’t and won’t ever get a cut of the revenue made from the thousands of fidget spinners sold worldwide back in 2017, she claims that she’s actually happy that her invention reached so many people.
Why? Because the fidget spinner that Hettinger designed and the interest in creating fidget toys that it generated has helped people with mental conditions self-soothe throughout their day.
Fidgeting Your Way to Mental Wellness (Or at Least, Okayness)
Kids loved fidget spinners and the inventor loved that they loved them. But school teachers? They were less than enthusiastic.
The fidget toy has been accused of being a classroom distraction that drew students away from focusing on their education and had them disrupting class with the sound of plastic spinning (and dropping to the floor).
Ironically though, fidget spinners were being sold to parents with the promise that it would help improve their children’s focus.
“Frankly, we’ve found the fidgets were having the opposite effect of what they advertise,” Kate Ellison, principal of Washington Elementary School, told the Chicago Tribune, “Kids are trading them or spinning them instead of writing.”
To the displeasure of fidget-loving students, the staff of Washington Elementary School brought down the gavel on fidget toys: they were banned from classrooms permanently.
The school sent out letters informing parents of the change.
This change in policy comes from a common attitude that teachers have towards fidgety students: if they look inattentive, then they’re not paying attention and aren’t learning.
If you have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, a.k.a ADHD, you’re likely already used to that. Children with ADHD often end up labeled as troublesome in school. Inattentive and hyperactive symptoms experienced by children and adults with ADHD are rarely looked upon kindly.
Many teachers feel offended by things that kids with ADHD just can’t help. The kids may look like they’re willingly ignoring them, but the ADHD brain makes it impossible for these children to focus in the way teachers want and expect them to.
You don’t have to have an attention regulation disorder to know classes are boring. That’s why you’ve likely tapped your desk with a pen, chewed the ends of pencils, and bounced your knee throughout the most mind-numbing parts of your academic career.
This impulse to fidget, while distracting for some, actually helps people with ADHD focus.
It sounds counterintuitive at first. After all, most neurotypical people do better when they get to focus on one task at a time. But for people with ADHD, doing the same thing they always do makes their brains tune out from an activity, sending their dopamine and norepinephrine, both of which are key to producing mental focus, crashing through the floor.
Medications used to treat ADHD are meant to address that, keeping levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain fairly stable. But you know what else gets similar results without medication? Fidgeting.
Instead of making simple accommodations for neurodivergent people, though, schools and other spaces tend to choose punishment or restrictive policies that make living with a less visible disability even harder than it needs to be.
While schools insist that kids can make do with spinning ballpoint pens between their fingers, you have to keep in mind that ADHD will turn that stimulation into boredom the moment a person gets used to it.
That’s why as fidget spinners fell out of favor, new fidget toys emerged to take their place.
Fidget Toys You Can Try
Fidget spinners aren’t all there is to the world of fidget toys. Though the original fidget spinner trend died out fairly quickly, it drove other creative inventors to come up with the next fidget toy to follow in the footsteps of Catherine Hettinger’s invention.
This new wave of fidget toys comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and types ranging from the flashiest to the most discreet. Check them out and see which would work best for you or, if you’re not personally interested in fidget toys, maybe someone you know with ADHD who would appreciate it.
These Colorful Infinity Cubes
Infinity cubes are toys made up of a set of modular squares linked together by elastic. Its flexibility means that infinity cubes can be modified into different shapes, kind of like a Cubist animal balloon.
The sheer number of ways you can alter an infinity cube make them a great toy for people with ADHD since it’s harder to get bored of a fidget toy that allows for different ways of playing with it.
Though there’s a ton of infinity cubes that you can buy, ranging from pastel shades to more traditional Rubik’s cube colors, you don’t actually have to buy them.
An environmentally friendly and budget-friendly way to get your hands on an infinity cube is to actually make one yourself. This video from YouTube channel LHack TV gives viewers a step-by-step guide to making their own infinity cube.
Can you imagine mixing glue and glitter for a living?
Samantha Zuwalt could and did. The then 15-year old launched her own slime company that produces slime for her store, Samantha Slime Shop. Though Zuwalt’s store has been on break since April 2020, the young entrepreneur’s store was one of the biggest slime sellers on Etsy.
Zumwalt’s mother was originally against the idea, believing there was nothing to be gained from the product but a fresh mess for their home.
But mom quickly became supportive when Zumwalt’s business started raking in $100,000. Despite Zumwalt’s apparent retirement from the slime-making scene, the trend has survived the 2017 drop in fidget toy interest.
Today, YouTuber Karina Garcia makes millions by vlogging about slime. Sometimes she makes them herself, like in this video where she DIY’s a batch of clear slime, and sometimes she’ll try out other people’s slime.
Either way, it’s clear what makes the big bucks on her channel. In contrast to her fashion and food vlogs, it’s the slime videos that consistently lure in millions of views.
The squishy appeal of slime draws its staying power from the sheer amount of ways it can be made. Each type of slime is unique in what properties it can offer to people looking for their next sensory experience.
Fluffy slime has an almost pillowy texture and a cloud-like appearance. Meanwhile, crunchy slime makes satisfying crunching noises as you squeeze them.
Slime also has another market. Aside from selling directly to consumers eager to play with their slime, slime creators cater to ASMR video creators who use slime in their productions.
When was the last time you received a package?
There’s a prolonged experience of dopamine and serotonin that you get from waiting for parcels to arrive. Aside from the obvious thrill of finally tearing into that long-awaited product that took three weeks to ship from overseas, there’s the added bonus of being able to play with bubble wrap.
You squeeze ’em and pop ’em. The satisfying sound they make almost makes you want to run out and buy your own rolls of bubble wrap to pop.
But you don’t have to because bubble wrap has been transformed into a fidget toy.
Pop-its emulate the feel and sound of the widely beloved bubble wrap. The best part? You can flip them over to pop the bubbles back out, resetting it for another round of fidget toy goodness.
There’s a lot of fidget toys out there and maybe you already have your own favorite. If you have ADHD, feel free to comment below on what your experience with fidget toys has been like.