Now that we’re approaching Avery’s first birthday (next week!) I thought it might be helpful to do a year-end roundup of baby stuff. Specifically, I wanted to focus on how we live small (and somewhat minimally) while also accommodating a baby. As we’ve remodeled our home over the last 7 years, we’ve carefully selected every product and material and I like to think we apply the same (somewhat OCD) approach to baby gear. Now, this is specific to our situation and everyone is different – I think the best piece advice I could offer would be to evaluate your own needs and don’t just go for what’s trendy. Our general approach has been to limit the amount of stuff while also realizing that some things are either essential or well worth the benefits they afford. Could you get through the first year with less? Probably, but this has been a good balance for us. A few other general notes before we begin:
+ When in doubt, don’t buy it until you really need it (this is what Amazon Prime is for, right?).
+ Better yet, create a well-crafted registry, buy used or take advantage of hand-me-downs. (Almost everything listed below was a gift, bought used or heavily discounted.)
+ Try to find products that do double-duty or that will last for several years.
+ Buy things in neutral colors (an impossible task sometimes!) so that they don’t become an unwanted focal point and so that they can be passed down to future kiddos.
+ Accept that some baby products are ugly but they will work and that (sometimes) that’s ALL THAT MATTERS.
+ You don’t need special baby versions of everything. Be wary of marketing ploys.
Finally, with a small house you can’t always have areas that are completely off limits to kids. Therefore, our goal is to make our house reasonably safe (we’ve had to do very little baby proofing) and accepting of small kiddos.
Everything is designed, but nothing is sacred.
Now, the specifics: [I did a lot of research but obviously didn’t test out every product out there. We also weren’t paid to endorse any of the products listed here.]
Baby gear is some of the most valuable yet bulkiest purchases you’ll make. Fortunately, I think we found a good balance of first year essentials.
Strollers: We own a regular stroller (a BabyJogger City Mini) and carseat stroller frame (Chicco Keyfit Caddy). There are times when I wish I had a more lightweight umbrella stroller, but I haven’t been able to justify the purchase yet (maybe when we retire the stroller frame and I’m not having to store three different strollers!). I chose the regular stroller because it was reasonably priced and well-reviewed. It has lots of bells and whistles but isn’t terribly fancy. I bought it shortly after Avery was born but really, I could have waited till she was 6 months old or so. The stroller frame is more essential during the first six months (though I still use it on a regular basis) and is great for quick trips to the grocery store or shopping. (You can take it on more “rugged” terrain but there’s no suspension system so expect lots of bumpiness.) I considered buying a carseat attachment for City Mini stroller but it didn’t get great reviews and the whole setup seems rather bulky.
Carriers: Initially, we had a Baby K’tan and a BabyBjorn “Comfort” carrier. I loved the K’tan (easier to put on than the Moby) and used it all the time for the first 6 months or so. Once Avery got a little bigger, we transitioned to the BabyBjorn. It was fine and I liked that she could face in our out, but it is a structured carrier and not that easy to pack. Plus, it wasn’t that comfortable. A few months ago I tried a friend’s Ergo and was smitten. Originally I resisted the Ergo because I thought they looked frumpy. Funny how things change after you have a kid. I found a used brown one in good condition (seriously, what’s up with some of the new crazy patterns?). We use it mostly for walking around the neighborhood (Bailey is still not great at walking with a stroller) and travel. During a rough week of teething and separation anxiety, it was the only way to get her to nap.
Carseat: We went with the much-loved Chicco Keyfit 30. No complaints. She still has another inch or so to go before we’ll need to transition to a convertible carseat, but haven’t decided on exactly which one to get yet. I am looking forward to not storing the carseat in her nursery.
Misc. Gear: Most of the other things we purchased were for the newborn stage and were covered in this post and this post. I’m happy to say that the bassinet, swing, bouncer, bumbo and play gym are all packed away now. They were well worth the space and questionable aesthetics, but it feels good to have our space back (except for, y’know…all the toys and books that are now everywhere). We also own a Graco Pack ‘N Play that we use mostly for travel and store in the top of her wardrobe. (Due to our small bedroom, we used the bassinet during the first couple of months.) On a regular basis I don’t use a diaper bag (for short trips I have an emergency diaper and wipes in my purse), but I did finally get this one when she was around 6 months old. It’s sturdy and does the job, but really any medium size tote bag (preferably with a few pockets) would work just as well.
Things we didn’t need: A super fancy stroller system or any of the “accessories” marketed for carseats and strollers. If we didn’t own a car and relied mostly on walking or public transportation, I would have likely put more emphasis on the stroller, but for our needs a middle of the road option has worked out well.
Ahh, sleep. The category you will blindly throw money at. Our essentials:
Crib: IKEA, $129. Done. One year in and I have zero complaints.
Blankets and related items: When Avery was a newborn we swaddled her in Aden and Anais blankets and then discovered the The Miracle Blanket. Once she started rolling over we switched to a Halo sleepsack. Now that she’s older, we use either our Aden and Anais blanket or one of the swaddle blankets (we received two 4-packs and that seems to be plenty).
Monitor: We use this AngelCare monitor that also monitors movement. It’s peace of mind and allowed us to sleep better when Avery was still a newborn.
Soothers: We own two white noise machines and their purpose is two-fold: the soothing sounds help Avery fall asleep and they also mask outside noise that is inevitable in a small house. We have watched movies and hosted dinner parties while Avery slept. We used the Sleep Sheep (we actually have the smaller travel version) more during the first 6 months, then when it went on the fritz we switched to our Munchkin sound machine (it also has a projector, which we seldom use). It has a decent selection of music and nature sounds, but if I were to do it all over again maybe I’d try to set up an ipod docking station (or something similar) so we could create custom playlists. The other major soother for Avery has been her Wubbanub pacifier. Yes, we are a one pacifier family. It’s a miracle that it has not been lost yet.
Things we didn’t need: Lots of sheets (we have two and it’s been fine), a fancy crib, a mobile. We also had way too many lightweight receiving blankets (we liked the Aden & Anais ones so much we rarely used the others).
Mmm, food. This is the category that has evolved the most from birth to 12 months.
Nursing: Since this was Avery’s exclusive food source for the first 6 months, I felt it important to include here. Fortunately, breastfeeding does not require a lot of extras – the most valuable products for me were: our Monte glider, a Boppy nursing pillow and my iPhone. I know gliders aren’t for everyone, but I use ours multiple times, every single day. (Some quick math tells me that in the past year I’ve sat down to nurse somewhere close to 2,000 times!) And that’s where the iPhone comes into play…I didn’t use any formal apps, but it was a great tool for keeping track of feeding times and catching up on my social media. We didn’t rely heavily on bottles, but I used a Dr. Brown one during the first few months and then a couple of Lifefactory bottles after that. (I never needed anything more than the 4 oz. version but I bought some of the sippy cup tops and will try those with Avery once she’s a bit older and doesn’t rely on cups with handles.)
Solids: At six months we introduced solids and acquired more kitchen stuff. Because our house is small and we didn’t really have space for a stand alone high chair, we opted for a space-saving Inglesina table chair (installed on the island) as well as the Stokke Tripp Trapp. We use both, although I prefer the table chair most days because I like having Avery there while I’m prepping food or doing dishes (and I like to think she feels more included). It also stores compactly and is great for travel. We also took it to restaurants before she was big enough for the standard restaurant highchairs. As for accessories, I carved out half of a drawer for cups and utensils. (We don’t really use plates or bowls yet.) I try to stick with gender-neutral colors (which apparently means green!) and am still experimenting with different products. The infant spoons and bottle brush are OXO, the cups are IKEA and Lollacup and the drying rack is from Boon. (I bought 4 other types of cups, but those two are my favorites.)
Things we didn’t need: A fancy highchair with tray, a dishwasher basket (for small items it was just easier to wash by hand), a bottle warmer, 9 oz. bottles.
I’m lumping bath and safety together because I’ve found you really need very little (yay!) to get the job done.
Bath: As a newborn, we used an inexpensive bath sponge in our kitchen sink. As she got bigger and could sit up, we transitioned to the regular tub, using a non-slip mat from IKEA. (I did receive a Puj tub that I was really excited about, but then realized that our bathroom sink is too small and our kitchen sink too big for it to work properly.) Avery didn’t require many bath toys and was happy with these Skip Hop ducks (which worked well for rinsing) and some simple stacking cups. We received three hooded towels (I like this Aden & Anais one best because it’s a bit larger) but really a regular towel would work fine too for the 10 seconds it takes to get from the tub to the changing table.
Safety: I reluctantly registered for one of those cheesy baby kits and it has mostly been a waste (the only thing I use are the nail clippers, but they seem cheap). My advice would be to get a quality pair of clippers (I don’t actually own these but maybe I should just go ahead and get them), a good rectal thermometer (which I have fortunately not had to use yet) and a nasal aspirator. Now, these are the items that you want on hand before you actually need them – but other items could be acquired as needed (like a comb or brush if, ahem, you baby happens to have hair).
Things we didn’t need: A baby bath tub, special towels and wash cloths (although we do have them and yeah, the hooded ducky towel is pretty darn cute), lots of bath toys. We also have the Skip Hop whale spout cover, but it doesn’t fit on our modern spout. Because we have a relatively deep tub, the spout has actually not been an issue (yet).
+Finally, a few thoughts on clothes, toys and books. I know these categories will affect us most in the coming year and we’re already making a few tweaks to her nursery (post to come!) to accommodate these changes.
I don’t feel like this category needs much explanation – we’ve received a lot of clothes as gifts and bought most everything else at consignment stores or babyGap (so far this has been my best source for quality, well-designed clothes that frequently go on sale). My advice would be to take advantage of used clothes in the first year – it’s easy to find great 0-12 months options but as babies start eating solids and becoming more active, used clothes in good shape are harder to come by. I’m actually finding now that Avery is in this weird in between phase where she’s “too old” for cutesy newborn style clothes but also not ready for jean skirts and t-shirts with bedazzled kitties on them. Any advice, parents?
Toys and Books:
Although it’s so tempting to buy cute baby toys, you don’t need much during the first year and babies are easily fascinated by common household items. Right now, all of Avery’s toys fit in one of the felt bins under the media bench or in her wardrobe. So far I’ve resisted buying anything large and obnoxious. I know it will happen, but not yet. Many of the things she has were gifts, but in general we try to buy things that are well made and will be enjoyed for several years. This is relatively new territory, so I’d appreciate any suggestions you guys might have on the subject, especially as it pertains to books. Part of me wants to buy her all of my favorite children’s books, but she’s still in the destruction-of-pages phase (pop-up books are the worst, which resulted in the recent beheading of several Big Birds in a friend’s Sesame Street book) so perhaps we should stick with board books from the library? At any rate, toys and books are going to inevitably impact how we live in our small house and we’ll continue to share our tips and tricks as we go along.
PHEW! Did you make it? I know this has been incredibly wordy, but I relied heavily on blogs and Amazon reviews when preparing for parenthood so I hope this at least helps a few more people out. I’d also love it if you guys chimed in with your own suggestions and recommendations. More questions? Ask away! It takes a village, right?