Baby “Essentials” You Can Actually Live Without

JumperooPlanning and preparing for a new baby can be absolutely overwhelming.

On top of preparing yourself for parenthood mentally, spiritually, and physically, there’s the matter of all that baby stuff. Cribs, car seats, strollers, et cetera. There is just so dang much stuff involved in having a baby!

Or is there?

Since Lydia made her appearance in our lives, I’ve come across a number of lists of “essential baby items for the first year” — some useful, some decidedly NOT.

I thought about doing one of my own lists of baby needs (UPDATE: find mine here). But I realized that the one useful thing I haven’t come across is a list of things you don’t need.

So here you go.

The Trouble With Baby Stuff

Just so you understand: I have a guiding question when it comes to buying stuff for Lydia: what can I get away with not owning?

See, you have to understand something about me before I begin: I HATE BABY CRAP. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Strollers, bottles, soothers, Exersaucers, Jumperoos . . . I just hate the very sight of it. I dreaded the thought of filling my house with all that primary-coloured plastic.

Part of my hatred for baby crap stems from my intense aversion to plastic.

Most baby stuff tends to be made of plastic. I could cite all kinds of rational, responsible, ethical reasons to avoid plastic (It’s made from unsustainable resources. It’s toxic. The production of plastic wreaks havoc on our eco-system. It doesn’t last long and fills up our landfills and waterways.  Et cetera). But when it comes down to it, my main reason for avoiding it is because I find it friggin’ ugly.

(By contrast, baby items made out of rubber, wood, metal, and fabric tend not to fall victim to my ire).

Aside from that, I hate that baby stuff is useful to you for such a short span of time. Why crowd your house with junk that’s only going to be useful for a matter of months . . . sometimes weeks?

So, knowing that, you might find that my list of non-essential baby items is a little . . . crazy long.

Now, a few important notes before I begin:

1) Just because I’m saying it’s possible to live without these items, it doesn’t mean I think they’re never useful or beneficial. I’m sure many of them are handy and make life easier, depending on your circumstances and personal preferences.

2) I acknowledge that the relative usefulness of these items will vary widely, depending on your lifestyle, your home layout, and your baby’s temperament.

For example, if you’re returning to work at any point in your baby’s first year, you’re probably going to need some bottles. No way around it. I only want to point out that just because you have a baby doesn’t mean you automatically need them.

3) I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t own any of these things. But if you’re planning for a baby, I would encourage you to reconsider whether you actually need all the things our society assumes you need to care for an infant.

Finally: all of the items I have listed fall under one of the following criteria:

a) I bought one, borrowed one, or was given one, and found it utterly useless.

b) I never owned one, and never missed it.

So without further ado, my list of non-essential baby essentials, and some suggested alternatives (i.e. things you probably already own).

Baby “Essentials” You Can Actually Live Without

 

[SLEEP]

Item: Crib (along with crib bedding, bumper pads, etc)

Alternative: family bed, co-sleeper, playpen

Like most North American parents, we bought a (used) crib before Lydia was born. We set it up in our bedroom months before she arrived.

Five months after she was born, we finally took it down and put it away. I was using it as a shelf.

How do we manage without? We found that the best arrangement for us was to keep her in our bed with us. It made night-feedings a cinch, and facilitated elimination communication at night.

If you don’t feel comfortable with that (or if you bottle-feed — bottle-feeding parents should not sleep with their tiny babies), you could use a co-sleeper or playpen, which would work double-duty.

(UPDATE, June 24, 2012: I’ve been reading about Montessori homes, and they recommend a “child-bed” — i.e. just a low mattress, like a futon, on the floor. Sounds like a decent idea to me).

Item: Bassinet

Alternative: family bed, co-sleeper, playpen, folded blankets

We never owned a bassinet, and never missed it.

How do we manage without? Like I said, at night she shared our bed, right from the start. For naps when she was a newborn, we just put her on some folded blankets on the floor in whatever room we were in.

Of all the things on this list, this is one thing I probably would have liked to have — it would have made it easier to move her from room to room. But we managed.

 Item: Baby Monitor

Alternative: Proximity

We’ve just never owned one, and so far haven’t needed one.

How do we manage without? We just always have our baby near us. She sleeps in our bed with us and takes naps in whatever room we’re in (usually in her stroller). Easy peasy.

[FEEDING]

Item: Bottles

Alternative: Boob

If you’re breastfeeding, it’s totally possible to go without bottles. We did buy two bottles (dummies!) for emergency use, and I borrowed a breast pump from a friend. We’ve used it two or three times. Meh. One would definitely have sufficed.

How do we manage without? We take her pretty much everywhere we go so I can breastfeed.

Item: Baby food/baby cereal

Alternative: regular food

Since babies don’t need (indeed, shouldn’t be given) solids until they’re at least six months old, it’s actually quite easy to just skip purees altogether. At that age, they can start putting food into their mouths by themselves and chewing on it with their gums/teeth.

How we manage without: We practice baby-led weaning, which just means that when Lydia was about 6 months old, we started sharing our food with her. We just put little bits of it (cheese, meat, veggies, whatever) on her high chair table and let her munch on it as she pleased. No special recipes, no jars, no pureeing, no spoon-feeding.

(It goes without saying, then, that you also don’t need special equipment for pureeing or storing baby food).

Item: Baby utensils

Alternative: Baby’s own hands

If you’re foregoing purees, there’s no need for special baby utensils. Baby can feed herself, right off of her high chair tray.

We do own a couple of baby spoons, though, because Lydia ADORES yogurt and we haven’t found an efficient way for her to feed that to herself yet (Although it’s hilarious to watch her try to suck it off her tray).

Item: Sippy Cups

Alternative: regular adult cups, drinking straws

I’m sure sippy cups come in handy, and we’ll probably get one yet, but so far we don’t use one.

How do we manage without? Currently, Lydia drinks water out of an adult glass (with help), or through a straw. And she still gets most of her fluid intake in the form of breast milk.

[OTHER STUFF]

Item: Soothers/Pacifiers

Alternative: Boob

Blech. I hate the sight of plastic in a baby’s mouth. But maybe that’s just me.

I avoided putting anything in Lydia’s mouth for the first month to ensure she got a proper latch for breastfeeding. After she was a month or two old I bought an all-rubber soother in case, well, I needed it. All babies need soothers, right?

Nope. She never got the hang of it and I never pushed it. I find soothers a pain in the butt because they’re always dropping onto the floor and needing to be cleaned. (Interestingly, boobs don’t have that problem).

(Benefit? Strangers will delight in being able to see your baby’s unconcealed smile.)

How do we manage without? I let Lydia nurse both for comfort and for feeding, night and day. This is especially easy since I have her in bed with me at night. It’s really no big deal.

I will admit that there were a handful of times when she was a newborn that I wished I could plug her mouth with something other than my boob so I could get stuff done. But looking back, I’d say it was a small price to pay for never having to wean her off of it.

Item: Conventional Wipes

Alternative: Cloth wipes and wipe spray

You can’t imagine how many times I opened up a gift from a sweet friend to find a carton of baby wipes inside, accompanied by the words, “You can’t have too many baby wipes!” The truth is, you can. I’ve been giving cartons of those of smelly wet cloths away at baby showers and I still have a few unopened packs sitting in my closet.

They are useful when you’re out and your baby poops, so we did open one carton. We’re still working on it. (Lydia is 9 months old).

How do we manage without? Since her birth, I’ve been able to rely on 20-30 basic baby washcloths that circulate in and out of the wash. I have a spray bottle beside the change table filled with water, a little bit of castile soap, a touch of olive oil, and a few drops of lavender essential oil. I just shake it up, spray it on the cloth, and voila. It works great. The cloth then goes into the pail with the dirty or wet diapers. Nothing ever goes into the garbage.

Item: Big ol’ Baby Swing

Alternative: Your arms, a sling/carrier, a baby bouncer

Again, some people claim baby swings are godsends. We never owned one (I find them a terrible eyesore) and didn’t notice the absence.

How do we manage without? I wear her a lot – in a Moby Wrap when she was a tiny infant, and in a ring sling or Ergo carrier now that she’s older. We also borrowed a very streamlined Baby Bjorn bouncer when she was young, which was nice when I wanted to work in the kitchen unencumbered.

Item: Baby shampoo, lotion, powder, etc.

Alternative: water, castile soap, coconut oil

I honestly just had to google “Why use baby shampoo?” because I had no idea what its value was. We’ve never used it. (I didn’t find a satisfactory answer from my search.)

How do we manage without? Warm water  is generally sufficient for washing babies. Every now and then I use a drop of castile soap, which is a gentle, all-purpose soap I use for anything from mopping the floor to bathing the dog. Sometimes I’ll use a drop of adult shampoo on her hair. If her skin gets a little dry or her bum gets a little chafed, I use a dab of coconut oil, which I use for everything from cooking to making my homemade deodorant and toothpaste.

Item: Baby toys

Alternatives: Anything in the house that’s safe for baby to handle

Lydia has been given several baby toys in her 9 months on earth. She has liked all of them . . . for about a week. I find it is just not worth it to spend your hard-earned money on plastic that will just clutter up your house.

Some of Lydia’s enduring favourites include: our fridge magnets, her little hairbrush, a medicine dropper, and a wet cloth to suck on. On special occasions, I put the tub of Tupperware lids on the floor and let her go to town.

A handful of carefully-chosen items that can be used for a long time would be nice. We recently got Lydia a xylophone from a yard sale for her to bang on, and I’m waiting for Ben to make her a set of wooden blocks.

* * *

I could go on and on. I find that babies require very little beyond some clothes, diapers, blankets, and your loving presence. (Oh, and a car seat. *Grumble grumble grumble.*) Everything else has gotten so little use.

Many people go without change tables, baby bath tubs and high chairs, too, though we like ours.

How about you? What would you add to this list? What did you find absolutely essential?

UPDATE: here’s a list of baby items I did find useful.

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Comments

  1. But, Kathleen, what about a wipes warmer! Everyone NEEDS a wipe warmer. And special trays that slightly resemble ice cube trays to freeze homemade purees. But it’s not an ice cube tray. It’s different. You need that too. I’ll stop making fun. Anyways, great article. I’ve never owned a baby monitor. I mentioned that to my friend the other day, and we found it odd because I have had three babies now. Then I realized that the sheer volume of my children really makes the monitor redundant. I can hear them no matter where I am on the property, and we live on a half acre. I was given a bunch of bottles with baby #2, and then gave them away within a month. Wish I would have kept them for Hosanna’s dolls. Oh well, live and learn. I don’t know what I would have done without my bassinet or crib, but then I guess I would not have had babies #2 and #3! Just kidding. We did go without baby foods this time, duh. It took me two to catch on. Which is ridiculous because I am against convenience foods and processed stuff whenever possible. I cannot get over difference Hosanna’s palate. She eats WAY more than both boys put together, and a WAY bigger variety of foods. Coincidence? I think not!

    • I decided to not even get started on the blatant nonessentials. There would have been no end to that list.

      Ahahaha, Sandra . . . yes, yes, I’ve heard all the jokes about bedsharing preventing more children. :) The interesting thing is, most families that I’ve heard of who bedshare had lots and lots of kids . . . apparently they found a way around it! :)

      You can’t blame yourself for not catching onto the baby food scam right away . . . it’s such a part of our culture, it’s hard to think outside of how everyone else (including our own parents) do things. I’m sure I wouldn’t have thought twice about it if I hadn’t heard of baby-led-weaning from a blogger I followed. When I read more on the subject, I thought the same thing — “Duh!”

  2. I love this so much. I just finished registering for “baby” stuff, as my little one is only about 6 weeks away. I had a time sorting through “registry recommendations” on all the websites. Such crap they want you to buy! I’m hoping I’ll actually receive the things I’ve registered for even though a lot of it doesn’t look like baby stuff. “No, really! I DO need coconut oil and castile soap when I have a baby.” haha. And I felt the need to give the ladies in my church a “please do not buy me” list, just in case they thought I might WANT a baby swing or bottles. Blech…
    Christiana recently posted..A newsy update and some pregnancy photosMy Profile

  3. This is a great list, Kathleen, and I love that you explain the alternatives. I can’t think of anything to add to it offhand. It will be interesting when we (hopefully) eventually have our second, because we now live in a place that’s 2-3 times the size of our apartment when we had Miriam. So now for example I wonder if a monitor would be handy, say if the baby is sleeping on the second floor (so Miriam doesn’t wake it) and we’re in the basement.

    But since my husband is like you and HATES most of that baby stuff (particularly plastic) and is certain it’s all a gimmick to sell you stuff (he’s mostly right, don’t you think?), we probably will not get much more.

    Oh, and I have to second the cup thing and the pacifier thing. Miriam started drinking from a cup as soon as we started solids, and I am so glad getting her to give up a sippy cup has never been a battle for us to have to fight. And you are so right that people love getting to see an actual baby smile instead of a hunk of plastic in their mouth! I always want to pluck it out when I see other people’s babies, so I can really look at their face – but I’m pretty sure neither the parent nor the baby would appreciate that!
    That Married Couple recently posted..Let’s start with the shoesMy Profile

  4. I will keep this list in mind while doing my registry and shopping for my baby! I like your ideas. And I have a feeling that Lydia knows how much she is loved when I see and hear about how much you and Ben do for her.

  5. My 2 cents – a playpen with bassinet level attachment was great for the first three months of cosleep (we slept with H. in our room) until we felt comfortable with moving him into our bed where he co-slept 100% until about a year. He’s been in his crib for a few months now – which was pretty much his own choice – (though we’re happy to bring him back when he’s having a rough teething night or we just need a little more closeness). I think we’re either going to go directly into a bed or do the mattress on the floor thing in a few months.

    Utensils – H. figured out food pretty quickly and that came with a “I want to do what your doing” need, which meant he wanted silverware to have even if he couldn’t use it – so around 12 months he got his own little fork and spoon and has been content with meal times ever since – our regular silverware was just too big originally, though we tried. We let him try out the regular ware every couple weeks and will switch him to that completely when the time is right.

    Bouncer – Loved our little bouncer, but sadly my little chunk reached it’s weight limit before 9 months. We received a play-bouncer and it was great to have on hand to give him somewhere to sit while I did things like switch over laundry or make dinner – that being said I think we used it all of 6 months and if we hadn’t been given it probably wouldn’t have bought own – we liked it, but I definitely recommend it as a borrowed item.

    Babyfood – I will not feed any of my next children the rice/oatmeal cereal I was recommended all it did was constipate H. and i found by the time he was interested in food he only had a month or two where he really need anything close to the puree form.

    On round two I hope to be doing more babywearing, breastfeeding and less pacifier.

    Great list – I’ve been meaning to do my own!
    Molly W. recently posted..The Summer Bucket ListMy Profile

    • I would love to see your list, Molly!

      We also borrowed a play bouncer (a Jumperoo) and came to the same conclusion you did: it was very nice to have for a little while, but since it was useful for such a short time, we were so glad we hadn’t spent our own money into it. We were happy to give it back to its owners after Lydia was done with it.

      That’s neat about H eventually wanting utensils of his own. My list hasn’t taken into account things that might change as Lydia gets closer to a year old.

  6. If you’re like me though and feel very sad and trapped in the house when the hubby gets to go work on stuff outside, a baby monitor is an absolute essential. I can be outside and helping all the while not having the burden of going inside and listening every two minutes to see if the baby is awake. And baby wearing while doing most forms of yard work is not very handy.
    And even though some baby stuff only helps out for a little while, I still appreciate most of it. We haven’t had to buy anything really, it was all given to us through our shower or borrowed from others. It’s not like I have everything on the market, obviously some of it is useless and just to make them more money. But the honest truth is, I don’t see the problem with most of the things you mentioned. I don’t think that makes me a bad parent, just different than you.
    But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading your opinion on these matters, its does make me question things a little more and I appreciate that. =)

    sue

    • Thanks for your comment, Sue! I can definitely see how a baby monitor (and many of the other things I’ve listed here) could be very useful in certain circumstances. I sure hope I haven’t implied anywhere that owning these things makes you any less of a parent!! I agree that there’s nothing wrong with owning these things per se — I just chafe at the unquestioned assumption that every baby NEEDS all of these items.

      • I know I’m in the minority on this one, but I songrtly believe babies cry When They need to have. Even though It May Be a huge inconvenience, if your child needs you by HIM I think That You Should Give to Him. You can try getting a sling so he can nap while you still move around. While it Requires Sacrifice When They are in little (that’s the Meaning of parent I think LOL!) It is very good for your future relationship. It builds a bond, Rather than communicating to your child who needs you for some reason, That You are unavailable and will not need to answer When He has. I know there are a lot of people who believe this is teaching a Child to be selfish, but, HAVING done it Both Ways myself, I very songrtly disagree. Their children will learn to exercise what we call During the terrible 2 s (3 s and as anyone with a 3 year old will tell you). Before That, When They Cry, They need to have. Their actions are natural responses to Their Needs.

  7. Great list.

    With my last two I had to pump to bring-up my milk supply, which didn’t seem to help all that much, but I had a pump and a few bottles. This time I will be encapsulating my placenta which is supposed to take care of a low supply. Hopefully I won’t need a pump and bottles. Although, I’m not opposed to having one or two kicking around just in case of a date night.

    I’ve also never used a baby monitor. I get weird looks from friends when I mention this.

    I’m hoping to do more baby wearing this time around as well. With that said, one of my favourite things that was given to me for my first baby (and I used it for my second) was a little chair they could buckle into (not a swing, we were given one of those and I passed it along very quickly). I’d cart it all over the place (like the bathroom when I showered) so I could have baby near. I’m hoping to borrow the few things that I think I’ll actually need. Our church is currently on a baby boom so there is no shortage of car seats or baby carriers floating around.

    I’m a big fan of wood or fabric toys and, like you, have huge aversions to bulky plastics…with the exception of Lego and Schleich. I try to get second hand wood items and then when my kids are done we pass them along to friends or the thrift store.

    One thing that I learnt the last time around was that we didn’t need a change table at all. A friend gave me a little soaker pad from a hospital and I just ended-up throwing that down and changing baby wherever. It was great.

    I’m excited to see how much we can do without for this baby.

  8. Nice list! While I’d agree with some things, other things on your list I really appreciate having. I did go into this with a very minimalist mindset. I got pregnant right after a huge purge of stuff from our house. I didn’t want to clutter up the house with things that weren’t really useful.

    We do have a crib, but all the bedding is made by me. The crib currently serves a couple purposes. It is a place for Ana to play while I fold her laundry or wash my hands after a diaper change. It also makes a very nice cat bed :D I try to keep the cats out, but they just love the crib. I do anticipate moving Ana to the crib when she is older. At least it is a convertible crib so if she doesn’t use it as a crib, it turns into a toddler day bed thingy complete with a rail. Um, if she doesn’t use it by then, it also turns into the headboard and footboard of a full size bed. So yeah, we haven’t really used it much, but it looks so cute in her nursery!

    As for bottles, I didn’t think I’d need them and didn’t want any. We were given a set of three glass bottles (as part of a disposable diaper cake so everything was opened and we couldn’t return it. Nobody listened to us when we said we were not using disposable diapers). I actually found those bottles useful. The closest family lives 2 1/2 hours away, so we make that drive a couple times a month. If I express into the bottle, then I can feed Ana without taking her out of the carseat and thus without having to stop the car (DH is driving and I sit next to Ana in the back). It’s also nice to have an ounce of expressed milk in the fridge for DH if Ana starts to freak out while I’m in the shower or something. It gets used very rarely, but we are both glad for it when we need it. Along those same lines though, I find a pump absolutely useless. I have one I was given (manuel) and couldn’t get a drop of breastmilk out with it. Yet I can hand express 4 ounces in about 15 minutes.

    Pacifier, yeah, gross. We were able to return the one that was given to us.

    Wipes, I had wanted to make some cloth wipes but ran out of time. We used the packages of disposables that were given to us but I just hated them. So I ended up buying some cloth wipes on Amazon and they were worth every penny. It is so easy to clean her with them and then toss them in the wet bag with the diapers. I don’t actually use a solution though, just plain water. I do have a recipe I found for a solution that is water, aloe vera gel, and tea tree oil that I’ve been meaning to try.

    I love your comment about the baby swing. That’s the one item we kept off our registry that my mom gave me the most grief about. We registered for a bouncy seat and I didn’t see the need for both. Plus the fact that those swings are huge. Anyhow, my mom went on and on about how much my brothers and I loved ours. We ended up with one anyway because there was a baby at church who had just outgrown his when Ana was born, so they gave it to us. She used it a few times but was just as happy in her bouncer so the swing was relegated to the basement. She sat in it a few more times when I was moving laundry from the washer to dryer and that’s about it.

    We have some baby shampoo (J&J) that was given to us. At first we just used water, but then my parents commented a few times that her hair looked greasy so DH started using the shampoo (bath time is also daddy time).

    Love your post though! Gotta go, DD just started fussing in her sleep. Oh yeah, love my monitor because I can respond to DD before she gets to the point of crying loudly. It’s something we didn’t ask for but where given anyway.
    Michele recently posted..Baby Projects Reviewed – Blanket & Baptismal GownMy Profile

    • Hi Michele! I love hearing other people’s experiences!

      As for the crib, we set ours up on the main floor in our living room and we also put her in there to play sometimes, so I agree that it can be useful! And I started using the disposable wipes for the first couple of days and hated them too — that awful chemical smell! Rubbing that gross stuff all over my fresh little baby’s skin? No thanks!

      We actually started using some all-natural kid shampoo after my brother kept commenting that Lydia smelled “weird” . . . isn’t it funny how we’re so influenced by people’s comments?

  9. Emily W says:

    I have two beautiful little sisters who were adopted from Guatemala when I was in college. The youngest, Elissa, was 18 months old when she came home. One of the things that really stood out to me was how unaccustomed to toddler gear she was; it was great! She didn’t want or need a special potty, special cup, special bed or special anything. It was the first time I realized how much we Americans/Canadians coddle our kids by buying and using special stuff for them that is unnecessary and maybe even detrimental to them (and definitely, like you said, to the environment and the pocketbook!).

  10. Thank you thank you thank you so much for this post. I’ve been having bitter arguments with family and friends about not having a shower. They just don’t get it. Aside from many other reasons (guilt for having a registry and asking others to buy me things, party full of girls, center of attention), I just don’t want people to buy me things because I know I’ll end up with way more than I need. And by need I mean require, not would be nice. Of course, there’s always the comment, “Oh ok, well you’ll see!” as in I’m wrong and I need to get with it. I think, that’s right, I will wait and see. No need to start filling up an entire room plus the rest of the house with stuff I and the baby don’t want and probably don’t need.

  11. We are on baby #7. Wish I would have thought about all this back with the first one. I felt so guilty not having *everything* for baby. Most of it I had to do without because of money/cost. With #7, we hardly had anything “baby” at all in the house, as we moved and everything was in storage and I wasn’t about to re-buy all of it. (Couldn’t afford it anyway.) I breastfed all of my children and at my baby shower for our first child, all I received was bottles and blankets. I asked for other things, but that’s all I got and 3 diaper bags. With breastfeeding, we do the family bed. We started out with a mini-crib with #1 next to our bed, but when baby would cry, I would take him into bed and was too tired to put him back into his crib. It was just easier to have the baby in bed with us. We’ve had 7 babies in 16 years. Same mommy, same daddy, same family bed :)

  12. Unnecessary?
    Crib, change table, any kind of baby “furniture,” (bouncy chairs, cribs-mine all slept on my bed–they all fell out ONCE, when they got mobile, and that was IT–, playpens, bassinets, swings, booster seats, high chairs, baby tubs, etc) soothers, sippy cups, bottles (babies, even newborns, are very capable of lapping breastmilk from a medicine cup, or small type of vessel, if necessary) baskets and baskets full of uncomfortable “adult type” clothes, “baby food,” “burp cloths” (tea towels/receiving blankets work well) diaper bags, “baby” soap/laundry detergent, powder, lotions, etc, bum wipes (cloth with warm water, anyone???)
    Honestly, you don’t NEED much of anything. The only reason why people go buy out the departments stores is out of competition, really. And to get “me time” which, really, you should figure you are going to lose (a lot of!) when you have a child!lol! I will never understand that….people try to get pregnant, then they spend nine or so months excited, waiting for their little arrival, thinking, fantasizing, waiting, waiting….then two weeks after this precious, precious, long-awaited bundle arrives they are trying a multitude of “things” to pawn the baby off into.
    And, oh yeah, LEAST necessary iten OF ALL TIME? A Bumbo seat!
    Mar
    ON, Canada

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