Friday, April 11, 2014

Minimalist Baby Essentials: What you actually need (warning: long!)

From the beginning of my pregnancy, I went a little crazy doing research for what we would actually NEED vs. what was just a fun extra. Since we live in a very small one-bedroom apartment, I knew that minimalist was the name of the game.

In case you're like me and have to read every dang thing ever written about a subject before making a decision, I wanted to share some of the excellent resources I found for creating a "bare minimum" list of baby essentials. Obviously I'm not speaking from experience here, since my baby isn't even born yet! But these are the websites I found most helpful in researching what I could (and couldn't) live without.

(By the way, it's embarrassing how long it took me to put text on that picture. Anyone want to teach this Luddite some basic graphic design??)

I started with this great post from Katrina called Five Favorite Baby Essentials. She says that all you really need is something for baby to eat, a place for baby to sleep, a carrier and something that makes white noise. Ok! We can do that!

Next I loved this positive post from The Minimalist Mom called A minimalist guide to baby essentials. She added clothing, burp cloths and a high-backed chair to Katrina's list, but mostly it was the same.

This Minimalist list of newborn essentials cracked me up because of this great observation:

You don’t need everything before your baby is born.

I know, right?! Who would have guessed? See, your baby won’t be able to roll over for at least three months, and probably won’t be crawling for at least seven. She won’t be able to grasp toys or sit up or really do much of anything for months. Which means you actually have tons of time to get stuff like rattles, play pens, baby gates and high chairs. (You might even find you don’t need them at all.)
This also means she won’t be getting dirty for months, either. You hardly need any clothes for the first few months. (After the solids start, though, look out: the laundry will start a-pilin’.)
The other thing is this: barring a natural disaster or zombie apocalypse, stores will still be selling baby things after your munchkin’s arrival. No kidding! So if you all of a sudden realize you need a soother or a hairbrush or baby nail clippers, you can buy them then. After the baby is born.
Somehow that incredibly obvious observation never occurred to me! I love it though. Now Frank and I quote it to each other all the time: "The store's not going to sell out of strollers. They're not going to stop making diapers. We can always buy this stuff after the baby is here." Such a freeing thought! That list added nursing bras and pads, receiving blankets, a bathtub and a car seat.

I enjoyed this list of 5 Baby Gear Essentials for Living With Baby in a Small One Bedroom Apartment—right up my alley. We ended up taking her suggestion for the portable, "grows with your baby" crib (more on that in a later post). The comments are great too.

Now for my favorite posts in this whole list—a 7-part series on Baby essentials that aren't. This series was fascinating! I especially loved the posts on why you don't need a crib, don't need an infant car seat carrier, and why you don't need a stroller. Even though we ultimately ended up getting all three of those things (all were gifts), I found that series to be eye-opening and incredibly helpful.

I also stumbled upon two discussion threads that were very helpful in that early stage of gathering information. Mothering.com has a great forum called Bringing Baby Home to a One Bedroom Apartment, and DCUrbanMom.com had a similar thread called Tips for Raising Baby in One-Bedroom Apartment.

I also enjoyed Grace's posts on favorite baby gear, 10 practical baby gifts and 10 more practical baby gifts, but since I knew we didn't have space for some of that stuff (like a high chair or exersaucer), I picked and chose from her lists rather than taking them as definitive. I love that she has tequila on the last one. That woman is my hero.

All this research led me to decide that we would try to co-sleep and breastfeed (only for the sake of cost and convenience—if they don't work out for us, I'll chalk it up to adaptive response and be fine with it.) So I also did a heap of research on those.

I read (and loved) Prof. McKenna's book Sleeping with your Baby; his guidelines for co-sleeping are summarized here. As for breastfeeding, I read the La Leche League book (and I plan to pack it in my hospital bag for post-birth reference) and I bookmarked this article on ecological breastfeeding.

Ok, so after all that, here is the list I came up with for what we actually NEED:


Clothing (onesies/sleepers, hats, socks, etc.)

Swaddling/receiving blankets

Burp cloths

Somewhere to store clothes/blankets/diapers (currently the bottom drawer of my dresser)

Somewhere for Baby to sleep (options include snuggle nest, bassinet, small crib, co-sleeper or floor bed)

Baby carrier (options include ErgoBaby, Baby Bjorn, K'tan, Moby, ring slings, etc.)

Fold-up, portable changing pad for travel and general use

Cloth diapers: 24–30 all-in-one diapers (along with diaper sprayer, diaper pail and/or wet bags, and doubler inserts) plus disposable newborn diapers for the first week or two

Wipes (cloth or disposable)

Car seat (infant or convertible)

Nursing bras

Nursing pads

Something that makes white noise (options include a white noise machine, the radio, white noise websites, etc.)

Infant bathtub and/or bath sponge

Bath supplies (body wash, lotion, nail clippers, baby hairbrush, nasal aspirator, etc.)

Breast pump?

Cheap bottles?

Nice to have but not necessary:

Stroller (at least for the first few months—eventually you need one, right?)

Nursing cover

Nursing pillow (Boppy or My Brest Friend or Kushies)

Bath towels or bath wraps

Mobile with realistic images

Pacifiers or Montessori teething ball or Sophie the giraffe

Diaper bag (we plan to use a basic backpack)



Whew! That's a lot of information! Hope you guys don't mind me rambling on and on. This is basically a giant brain-dump of everything I've been doing research on for the last four or five months. Experienced moms, what do you think? Is there anything I'm missing on this list, or anything that actually is not essential?

The funny thing is, what we actually ended up with is quite different from this list. I'll be doing a post next week about what we actually have ready for Baby. Let's just say we're not quite as minimalist as I thought we would be!


  1. I'll jump in! You are so wise to wait on some of the bigger "equipment". I had a thought about your necessary list (and this only comes from my own experience, so take it with a grande grain of salt) but I never used a breast pump or bottles with a breastfed baby. Are you going to be away from baby often? If not, it seems unlikely that you'd have a use for a pump and bottles. Your cloth diaper number seems high to me, but that may just be because I've forgotten how many diapers are truly necessary. I just don't recall having that many. The more you have, the less often you have to wash a load, but then again - the more you have, the longer they are able to pile up waiting to be washed. Yuck. Which makes me think of something to add to your list (for when you start using cloth diapers) - a dedicated diaper hamper or container of some sort so that you don't have diapers mingling with your regular laundry. So excited for you!

    1. Colleen, this is great! Thanks so much! I'm pretty sure my cloth diaper number is higher than I need, according to most recommendations—I just hate doing laundry so I figured that would cover my bases. :P That's a great point about the pump and bottles. I think whether or not I need those is something I will have to wait and see with time. Also, GREAT point about the dedicated container for diapers! I'm thinking a hanging wet bag, but I have yet to acquire one, so that might be the next project on my list.

  2. Hmm, well, we only have 18 cloth diapers for two kids and we've never used a baby bath tub. But I couldn't live without a nursing pillow! I have the Kushies version, which is smaller than the two you listed. Looove that thing.

  3. Aww! We were in a one bedroom Chicago apartment when Jeffery was born (and for his first year and a half). I think the Ergo would have been my number 1 essential (well maybe after some diapers)- we were on the 3rd floor and hauling the stroller up and down the steps just wasn't worth it. Plus taking the stroller on the trains is a pain.

    1. Emily, it sounds like you are the person I need to talk to. 1BR apartments with babies, unite! I think that a baby carrier is also going to be our #1 essential too, living in a walk-up as we do. We actually have 3 different kinds (a story for my next post) so hopefully we will be all set... we'll see! :)

  4. Love it! I spent innumerable hours researching baby items before our first as well. I think you are wise to start out with just essentials and discover what you need with time (newborns just need a diaper, a onesie, and a mommy!). I found that many of the things I put on our registry were rarely used, and I discovered with time what we truly needed/ wanted. It really just depends on your lifestyle. I purposefully did not register for a stroller thinking I would use only my baby ergo, which I do LOVE and use ALL the time, however by the time our third baby came along I really did want a stroller. It makes trips such as going to the zoo with three kids much easier and enjoyable, if for nothing else simply for the storage under the stroller to keep coats, water bottles, diaper bag, etc. For a small city apartment I would consider getting a high chair seat that can be buckled into one of your regular chairs. I thought a nursing cover was unnecessary, but wound up buying one second hand simply because it was more fitting to our family culture. Ultimately, my list of "must haves for baby" is probably not identical to your list. Isn't it fun preparing for baby's arrival?!

    1. That's such a great point about how "must haves" differ from family to family and I love how you mention the "family culture." I'm really looking forward to seeing how our family culture develops over the years ahead!

      Thanks for the tips about the high chair seat and the baby carrier. I'm glad I'm not the only one who ridiculously over-researched in preparation for my firstborn. :)

  5. I'm flattered you included my list ... if it can even be called a list, ha! Just go with the flow :) I like your adaptive response.

  6. Adaptive response is huge! And it changes. My *must haves* have changed from kid one to kid two. There are things that have been essential with Lucy June that we never used with Jake.

    You mentioned wet bags which are essential and make sure you get a small one that will fit in your diaper bag. You've probably already thought of that...I got travel wet bag off of etsy. It's very cute which I think is important because it helps evangelize cloth diapering ;)

  7. Definitely bookmarking this. :) What an awesome resource!

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    I find this statement really funny after having two kids, plus one on the way now. Our newborns seem to go through more clothes than my husband and I combined--just in drool, urp, pee and poop. However such a tiny person can generate so much laundry is clearly beyond me! I call it the "soggy laundry phase" of childhood. We can get away with minimal clothes and doing laundry more often though. It is possible.

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  13. Hello- I'm a great aunt to twin girls (fraternal and different sizes) as well as a collector of needed items for moms without the means to buy them herself (and without other resources). And, yes, I have one son who is now 32 yrs old! I would add to the places baby can sleep a dresser drawer! Yes, it works, as does a laundry basket of any shape. Said drawer or basket can be set anywhere including next to your bed. I'd say that burp clothes are redundant when you already have the thin cotton recieving blankets.Just throw one over the shoulder. If you end up with an intense "erper". as I call them, you can get the waterproof backed ones later. Diapers--stop spending all kinds of money on fancy cloth diapers, insert and covers. Just get the pre-folded kind of cloth diapers about 3 to 4 dozen. As baby ages you'll use the diapers two at a time with one folded for the middle of the other diaper that you will be pinning. The only colorful diaper pins I've found so far are from Babys R Us. They come in purple, lime green, orange, red etc. I also use them for pinning thrift store clothing together as "outfits" for my fashion impaired niece and her husband. They need to grab outfits and seem not to be able to make up their own from tops and bottoms. Many of my friends seem not to be able to do without the little rockers/vibrating beds they sell now. In terms of HOW MANY clothes etc. It depends on if you have a washing machine. Persons in apts dont always have one handy so I give them more outfits. However, there is always the PAIL washing method. You get a bucket or pail like the size you wash floors with or even the 5 gallon ones you can buy for $5. Now, you have your washing machine and elbow grease will do the rest. Drying the items first by rolling them in a bath towel will reduce drying dry. Then, hang them somewhere or buy a clothes line for travel for your bathroom etc. My mother always said "We'll just have to make-do". So, make-do while loving up your baby.!

  14. Thanks so much for this list! This is definitely getting bookmarked. So useful 😄

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