From reader, Katie:
We’re expecting our first baby this June and really struggling to find advice and guidance as to how to prepare for baby in a way that is minimalist and practical. We are lucky to have generous and excited family and friends! They are already asking regularly about what we need and where we’re registered. We know they would love to purchase items for us, and would honestly appreciate their generosity from a financial standpoint. However, we’re at a loss for how to proceed.
We’ve considered registering for the bare minimum – i.e. a crib, some clothes, a carrier or stroller of some sort and then just waiting to see what we actually need as time goes on. However, I’m concerned that if we don’t register, or register for very little, we’ll receive tons of extra items we don’t need or want and still be left to purchase the “essentials” out of pocket. On the other hand, I worry that if I try to anticipate our needs, and register for more, we’ll still end up with lots of extras to store, return or resell.
In short, we’d like to really think ahead and register for those things we’re likely to need over the next year. However, we don’t want a house-full of Stuff to store unused either. Any advice on how to approach preparing for baby with a minimalist mindset? What are the true “must have” items and how soon is each needed?
First, thanks for emailing, Katie. And props to you for having a good mindset about baby items now. I spent a lot of $ on things we didn’t need or never used.
I also spent a lot of time looking for lists of what you really need. And they were all different. Each one espoused a different number of sleepers, what must have baby amusing toy the author’s child loved and promises that a stuffed seahorse that glowed and played tinny music would soothe any baby to sleep.
Lies, I tell you! All lies!
The bad news: there’s no one list. Every baby is different and will like different things.
The good news: you don’t have to buy it all.
I’m going to tell you what my must-haves were, what I wasted $ on and how to find out what your baby likes without cluttering your home or breaking the bank. I’m also revealing a baby shower/registry strategy that’s a bit radical but also a fantastic clutter reducer.
- Baby Carrier: my baby cried. A lot. Unless he was in a carrier. We used a Moby type wrap for the first three months and have been using an Ergo carrier since. Both can be purchases second hand.
- Dozen sleepers or onesies: don’t bother with outfits in the early months. I just frustrated myself trying to put tiny jeans on a seven week old baby. Full footed sleepers for winter babies, mostly onesies for hot summer newborns. Buy second hand or take hand-me-downs – they’ll get ruined anyways!
- Dozen burp cloths: great clothing shields and in a pinch you can use a few as a blanket.
- High backed chair: We breastfed and my back was a wreak after eight weeks of hunched over nursing in our soft living room chair. I caved and got a glider second hand on Craigslist but if you have the right kind of chair at home already don’t bother. High backed, firm with arm rests. And make sure you have a table next to it for your big glasses of water, book and snacks. *Nursing pillow: we had one, I used it a lot, but you could get away with a firm pillow instead.
- The rest: yes, we had a lot of other things: breast pumps, a fancy stroller, bassinet stand for the stroller bassinet, swaddlers, four different types of pacifiers and bottles, the sleep sheep that promised to make my child sleep through the night, changing pads, cool modern crib, cute baby bath towels and wash cloths. But we could’ve done without all of it.
Our boy wouldn’t sleep in a bassinet or crib and mostly slept in his carrier during the day and our bed at night. Suggestion: research safe cosleeping before baby arrives, even if you think you won’t have your baby in your bed. Most moms I know said, just like me, that they would never bedshare but then ended up bedsharing during the early months.
Toys and soothing items were no match for being fed, having a dry diaper and being held.
I know, I know, you just want to get a list and get everything on it and be done. I wanted that too. But the lists and suggestions are never ending. Babies are needy, the first few months are stressful and beautiful and very tiring and you’re susceptible to any suggestion of a toy, swing or gadget that will bring peace.
Instead of what to buy, I have some strategies for you.
Slow down: try to slow life down a bit before baby arrives. Take the yoga class, get to your happy place and rip up long to-do lists. If you are taking maternity leave do not plan anything for that time. No home projects. Relax your cleaning standards. Accept any advance offers of food or help. If someone wants to clean your kitchen floors let them.
There will be a new rhythm to your home once this little person arrives. Fighting it will bring frustration and the clutter and wasted dollars of baby soothing paraphernalia. Accepting it will allow you to take that much needed afternoon nap, forget about vacuuming and find some patience when your three week old will only sleep on your chest.
Evaluate your lifestyle and home: what will your days look like in the first year? Will you need a stroller that can easily collapse into your car? Do you need a stroller you can grocery shop with? Is your home large and not baby friendly with lots of stairs? You might need a safe place to put your crawling/walking baby and a pack ‘n’ play might be the answer. Or baby gates.
Make friends: want to know what your baby likes before you buy it? Make friends with other pregnant ladies at a birthing class or prenatal fitness class. You’ll not only enjoy meeting up with your new mom friends once baby arrives, you’ll be able to – FOR FREE – find out what your baby likes. We had playdates at each others homes and let the babies try each others toys, exersaucers, bouncy chairs, etc. If your baby is loving the Jolly Jumper at a friend’s house you can easily pick one up from the buy and sell, a swap meet or Craigslist.
Borrow and Buy Second Hand: there are very few things I wouldn’t buy second hand for a baby. The exception is probably a car seat because you want to be sure it hasn’t been in an accident (I would buy or borrow second hand from people I know that could verify it was accident free).
Take a gander at your local buy and sell, Craigslist or Kijiiji, before you buy anything from a retailer. Most large plastic baby items go for pennies on the retail dollar second hand. One of my friends purchased an Exersaucer for her child for $25 on Craigslist, cleaned it up, and when they were done with it she sold it for $45.
Also note what brands have good resale value. Ergo baby carriers hold their value and will sell for 75% of retail second hand. Baby Bjorn carriers sell for 50% or less of retail. If you’re thinking about registering considering what will hold its value.
Register: go ahead and register for baby gifts. Make sure it is somewhere with a good return policy. Keep the things you know will be used – car seat, stroller – and return the rest for store credit. Hold onto your registry list and if you find you really need some of those things go back and buy them.
Some people may think returning gifts for store credit is rude or tacky. I don’t. Gifts are given with the intention of helping you and the baby. If the $60 swing is returned and you end of using the proceeds for diapers, the generosity of the gift is still felt. If you end up never needing to use your store credit, consider donating it to a charity. There are lots of parents out there that are having trouble paying for formula, baby food and diapers.
Tip: suggest experience gifts. If someone wants to pay for baby and me yoga, or infant massage classes, or a cleaner, let them. The money we spent on three visits from a cleaner and my twice a week Fit4Two classes were some of the good purchases we made.
Remember: our parents and grandparents grew up without all the toys, baby soothing devices and amusement centres we have today. They all eventually walked and talked and grew up to be fine adults. For all the fun battery operated toys my son receives as gifts, he is still quite content to play with plastic cups and bang the lids of pots and pans for amusement.
Want more tips for living with less stuff and stress with your newborn? My book, The Minimalist Mom: How to Simply Parent Your Baby (Adams 2016) has more great advice and ideas for living simply, getting more sleep and saving time and money.