I’ve seen a lot of baby stuff guides, but I’ve seen precious few for minimal baby gear. I love my kids, but I do not love that our culture believes that babies need endless gear to make it to their first birthday. So what do you get if you don’t want to buy everything on the planet? As we start to divest ourselves of our baby gear, here’s the minimal baby gear that worked for our two kids.
Caveat: This stuff worked for us. We don’t subscribe to any particular “system” for parenting like attachment, unparenting (except maybe the CTFD method). I recommend trying things out and trusting your own judgment when it comes to your kids. YOU know them best, so do what’s right for YOUR family.
Our choices were neither the least expensive or most expensive. We often got free stuff second-hand, and I’m a big believer in consignment for kid clothes, too. What’s below is a pretty exhaustive list of what we used (though memory is a faulty thing), to try to give a real idea of what our minimalist-style approach was.
Deluxe Rock ‘n Play Sleeper – Neither of our kids thought sleeping flat on their backs was a great idea when they were newborns. Both had colic/reflux, too. The Rock ‘n Play saved our bacon – it made them feel snuggled, it kept them on an incline, and it rocks. Both kids slept really well and safely in it until around four months of age when they outgrew it.
Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light – Although we had a regular crib, our kids didn’t like it. Tiny used it for about 3 months, and Boo rejected it after one week. So we sold it and bought this crib to use until they were ready for regular twin beds (we’re forgoing toddler beds). It’s portable, safe, simple, and stores in a closet if you need more floor space. For people who are space-constrained, not interested in clunky heavy furniture, or who travel, this is a highly recommended piece. We have 2 gray sheets for it.
Swaddling: We used 2 SwaddleMe bags in small/medium for 0-6 months and 2 Aden & Anais muslin sleeping bags for 6-11 months after they broke the swaddle. Our oldest used the Miracle Blanket but I like the SwaddleMe better. Our kids refused to use anything past those ages.
Electronics: We bought the Withings Wi-fi baby monitor and DON’T EVER EVER BUY IT. It wasn’t reliable. Our plainer, cheaper Infant Optics one is great. Near the crib is a plain LED nightlight and a white noise machine. In winter and for colds we use an elephant Crane humidifier.
ThinkBaby Thinker System – It starts as a bottle and converts to a sippy cup and then a straw. Our elder daughter has had the same bottle for three years, and we’ve ordered replacement sippy cup tops twice. We started each kid with a 3-pack of Playtex Nursers with replacement bottle liners while we dealt with colic and reflux. At six months we switched over to the ThinkBaby system, and it’s resulted in a lot less waste. We just have one bottle per kid, and wash it each time, preventing the need for storing extra bottles.
Glad FreezerWare Containers, Small – Squeeze packets are all the rage with pureed infant food, but we made most of our food and froze it. These days you can buy your own packet-producing tools, but we bought 20 of these Glad freezer containers and it’s worked like a charm. That plus a 6-pack of Gerber soft-bite infant spoons and we were set.
Ikea KALAS plasticware – For graduating infants (and toddlers) we’ve used Ikea’s Kalas plates, cups, bowls and utensils. Just one whole set for $8, 2 kids, no breakage, no problem. The kids like choosing their own colors.
Miscellany: I made 12 baby bibs using a Purl Soho pattern and got a 10-pack of Gerber Prefold diapers for spit-up. We had the Boon Grass dish rack, but honestly, a regular dish rack works fine. I didn’t use a nursing cover, because dear public, I’m nursing, get over it. I was given a Medela portable breast pump which I used for baby #1 because I was working at an office, but I didn’t use it for baby #2, because althoug nursing is great, breast pumps are one of the things I hate most in the world.
Diapering & Bathing
Boon Naked Collapsible bathtub: I’m nervous about water so I wanted a safe tub, but everything I saw was huge and hideous. Except this tub. It has two positions for different infant stages, sits nicely in our kitchen sink and our tub, and folds up and slides away into a narrow space tidily. Expensive, but worth it, particularly for the space-constrained.
Bathing: We use Baby Bee fragrance-free shampoo & wash for both kids, and have $10 hooded bath towels for each child from Target (whale and dinosaur!). My mom bought Anna a couple of rubber duckies to play with, and the kids like plastic kitchen cups.
Diapering: I highly recommend that future parents assume nothing about what their baby will need. We tried every natural diaper, cloth diaper and half-reusable diaper out there with the result that our elder daughter got a lovely horrific series of rashes and raw spots. The only diaper she tolerated? Target brand. No, I’m not kidding. And our younger pees through every diaper brand overnight except, somehow, Target brand. I came to enjoy the total lack of branding, also. Disposable diapers aren’t minimal, but my natural diaper ego isn’t as important as doing what lets everyone be healthy and sleep well.
Our changing station is a Summer Infant pad on an Ikea Koppang dresser with magnetic safety locks where all the diapering supplies and baby clothes are stored. We have 2 changing pad covers.
We use biodegradable Honest wipes. I attempted to get my husband to use cloth and water, but he was too grossed out. For rashes, Baby Bee ointment and Honest Diaper Cream. I try to avoid petroleum byproducts. We did get a Munchkin wipes warmer as our luxury item, and boy did the babies love that. I use regular nail clippers and combs. We don’t use other skin products.
Toys with Batteries: We restricted our purchase of items like these to just three and used them for both kids. The Baby Einstein Baby Neptune Activity Center, Baby Einstein Baby Neptune Ocean Orchestra, and the Leapfrong Animal Adventure Activity Table. The activity center and activity table worked really well to help our kids develop body and leg strength. It was also nice to have something to keep them occupied for three seconds so we could get something done. All three are great for the amount of music they incorporate.
Miscellaneous toys: Our children’s toys fit into two Ikea Torkis green baskets (Lego and blocks), and two Sprout Canvas Storage Bins (animals, miscellany). For baby toys we had a Skip Hop Activity Gym, a few teethers and rattles (some homemade and some which were mine!). It’s our experience that babies prefer to explore and experiment with regular stuff, so we let them if it’s not dangerous. For example, we have a lower kitchen cabinet without anything breakable in it that they are free to open and explore. We regularly pare down kid toys/junk.
Books & Art: We have a small selection of touch-and-feel books and board books. We make heavy use of the library for books. Boo has recently graduated to playing with washable crayons on paper.
Car Seat: These are (legally) necessary, so we got the Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat and car base (just one because we have one car). It’s worked great! The cover comes off easily for washing, and the kids were comfortable in it.
Stroller: We got the Bugaboo Bee stroller after seeing one perform like butter in person in SF’s Crissy Field one day. It’s small and navigates easily in tight spaces, folds easily, and has attachments for different car seats. The toddler seat pops in easily when you’re ready for it. We did NOT want a stroller that looks like a tank. My one complaint is that it needs better wheels for off-roading/curbs. I made a baby blanket for outings.
High Chair: We’ve used our Inglesina portable high chair to death, both out to eat and at home. We get compliments on it from service staff at every restaurant. We have an Oxo Sprout high chair, but it’s unnecessary, and if I had to do it again I’d just get the Inglesina. The Inglesina cover is fortunately washable for that time your kid smears avocado and baby drool liberally over the thing.
Diaper Bag: We use a 2-compartment backpack. We carry a Waterfield gear pouch with one pair of pull-ups for the toddler and 3 diapers for the baby. We carry a Huggies refillable clutch (with other wipes), 2-3 Wet Ones sensitive wipes, and Aveeno Baby 50 SPF sunscreen. For eating trips we take a bottle with powdered formula, a thermos of warm water, a spoon, an Oxo tot snack cup with mixed snacks, and a couple of Glad containers of food. If it’s a long trip, we might take an extra outfit. We also take a homemade activity pack.
Extras: When they were tiny I used a Mamma’s Milk baby sling. I didn’t like any other carrier. We carry a towel and a Skip*Hop fold-up water-resistant blanket with insulated cooler for our frequent (occasionally rainy) impromptu trips to parks. The towel is for messes and wiping down wet park equipment, the blanket for refrigerated snacks, parent butts and baby crawling.
My family loves to buy my kids clothes (thanks Mom!) but when it’s my turn I hit the consignment stores. Here in Portland we have the SuperKids bi-annual consignment sale, so I pretty much buy everything we need twice a year, and haunt local consignment stores for shoes. I also sell our outgrown stuff at that sale. I got some small hangars for coats when they were on sale, but most baby stuff I fold and put in the dresser–and I limit their clothes and pajamas to what fits in the drawers.
The truth is that you can get by without a lot of specialized stuff if you need to. Minimal-style baby gear is definitely possible, and a lot of the cutesy extras are unnecessary (mobiles, for example).
We bought things as they were actually needed (such as a humidifier when the baby got a cold and was snotting everywhere and waking up 8 times a night). We did not buy extras of everything (2 at most). We keep on top of washing food and cloth items (bottles, sheets, changing covers).
We did not get a rocking chair or much furniture, or things like shopping cart covers, nursing covers, multiple blankets and towels, special bottles or sippy cups. I made most decorations for their room (curtains, wall art with Ikea frames) and baby blankets myself. Sleeping is a big deal, so we chose to invest more in that. We were pretty relaxed and go-with-the-flow about all of it, once we learned to trust ourselves and our instincts about our kids.