A couple of weeks ago, I read a book about minimalism and how it can be applied to having a baby. A minimalist lifestyle is essentially one that focuses less on stuff. Minimalists tend to focus less on what things they want and more on enjoying and using what they have. It helps save money, creates a lifestyle that requires less money, and thus allows people to live more freely. Spending time with family and friends and enjoying experiences together are emphasized over acquiring and spending money on material possessions.
When it comes to having a baby, the world tells us that we need a lot of stuff. It is absolutely essential that we have mountains of adorable baby clothes, fancy swings and bassinets, special pillows and seats and wearable blankets, the perfect stroller and baby carrier… the list goes on! Not to mention a perfectly coordinated nursery with matching furniture, bedding sets, and beautiful decorations. And those are just the essentials, they tell us. If we want to be really prepared, then we also need all of the newest, latest, and greatest gear and gadgets that promise to add convenience to our baby care routines. Planning to have a baby? Well then you’d better get ready to spend a small fortune on all of the stuff that you’ll surely need. That’s what the world tells us, at least.
Well, minimalists see things differently. The book I read gave this list of items that are actual essentials when it comes to bringing a new baby home: 12 newborn onesies or sleepers, 1 newborn hat, 6 receiving blankets, 2 bottles (if not breastfeeding), diapers, and a car seat (if you have a car). Personally, I would alter this list by removing the newborn hat, because babies really don’t need them once they leave the hospital or birthing center. I would also note that if you are not breastfeeding then you also need formula, and baby wipes should be added to the list as well. Finally, I would add some onesies or sleepers in sizes other than newborn, since some babies are too big for newborn sized clothes and nearly all babies will quickly grow out of them. But the point is, this list is pretty shocking when you compare it to the list of “necessities” that you’d find anywhere else. When it comes right down to it, most of what we consider necessities are actually just conveniences at best, and a waste of resources and space at worst.
Babies have several basic needs, of course, but meeting those needs really doesn’t require all of the complicated gear we think it does. They eat, they sleep, they cry, they poop and pee. A parent’s job is to take care of these needs and provide the essential ingredient of love. For a family who breastfeeds, co-sleeps, baby-wears, and uses cloth diapers and wipes, or even natural infant hygiene, the list of stuff that is necessary to accomplish this job is quite small. A safe place to sleep can be provided with some adjustments to the bed you already have, or if desired, a side-car sleeping arrangement can be created. Swings, bouncers, and other infant-soothing devices can often be replaced by a sling worn by mom or dad, since babies frequently find a parent’s embrace to be the most soothing place of all. Cloth diapers and wipes can be reused, eliminating the need to purchase seemingly unending supplies of disposables. Natural infant hygiene is even more frugal, since no diapers or wipes are required at all! Though this method will undoubtedly lead to many messes, in the end it results in a baby who doesn’t need diapers and later, a child who never needs to go through potty training. (I’ll write a post about what natural infant hygiene is later, but the point is that technically speaking, diapers and wipes aren’t even necessary). For a family that does all of what I just described, all that’s left to buy is clothing, a sling, and possibly a car seat. If this family also follows the minimalist approach to clothing, then they will only need plain white onesies, about 12 in each size. That adds up to only about $150 in clothes for the first year, or even less if they buy clothes at thrift stores. Add another $50 for a well-made sling, and $100 for a car seat, and the total cost for gear in a baby’s first year could be only $300. Compare that to the thousands (or tens of thousands) that most new parents spend on a baby in the first year, and the savings is incredible.
Now, what I just described is probably the most minimalistic approach possible, at least that I can think of. And while that may be an optimal approach for some parents, Cory and I simply aren’t that frugal. Sorry, we just aren’t. We believe in spending our money wisely and saving on things that we buy anyway, but we also enjoy our material blessings. Nice stuff is nice to have, and I don’t think that’s wrong. That being said, there is a balance to be found, and for us, the balance is somewhere between complete minimalism and complete excess.
Reading this book on minimalism inspired me to cut some unnecessary items out of our baby budget. Cory and I spent some time re-thinking our needs and wants for life with a baby. In the end, we were able to trim over $1,000 from our baby budget, and we’ve used some of that to make changes to our home that we feel will make it more fit for our envisioned family lifestyle. One of the major things that we cut from the budget was a nursery. We’d already been planning to co-sleep, so the room that we’d designated as Cody’s future nursery was going to get very little use. We decided to turn the room into a TV room and guest room, which has opened up our living room to be more welcoming and family-oriented. There is now plenty of space for kids to play and for people to relax and converse when we have guests over. An added benefit is that the television is no longer the centerpiece of our home. Child development experts recommend that children under age 2 not watch TV at all, and this arrangement will make it much easier to follow through with our no-TV policy. Finally, we used some of that extra money to spoil ourselves with new bedding and other refreshing changes to our bedroom. Since that is where Cory, Cody, and I will all be sleeping, we wanted that room to be a relaxing and pleasant space. In essence, we cut some things from the baby budget that would have brought our family very little benefit, and replaced them with a few purchases that have improved our home for everyone while still saving money.
Our recent baby gear re-evaluation also gave us the benefit of shrinking the list of what we still need to buy. As of right now, Cory and I are glad to know that we have most what we need for the baby. We could easily spend just a hundred bucks or so to buy the clothes that we need and then we’d be good to go. It’s refreshing to see it that way, after being told for so long that affording a baby is impossible! This new outlook is due mostly to changing the way we see what we need versus what we want.
That’s not to say that there aren’t still plenty of things that we want for the baby. A fancy swing would be nice, we’d certainly enjoy a comfy glider to rock Cody to sleep in, and an ergo carrier has definitely caught my eye. Some ridiculously cute baby outfits would not be the worst thing to have either! But hey, that’s what a baby registry is for, right? Cory and I enjoyed filling ours with fun things that it would be nice to have. And honestly, knowing that any gifts we receive at our baby shower or otherwise are purely for our delight and enjoyment makes it all that much sweeter. We don’t need them, they’re simply blessings to be thankful for and to add to the fun of having a baby.
Taking a minimalist view of preparing for baby has given us peace. We know that years down the road, Cody won’t remember or care that he didn’t have a nursery or that awesome new baby gadget. He’ll just remember that he was loved and cared for. He most likely won’t even think to ask for his own room until he’s past age 3 or 4, he’ll just be happy to go to bed every night safe and sound next to the parents who love him. And when we look back at his baby years, I don’t think we’ll be regretting that we didn’t spend as much money on baby stuff as we could have; instead, we’ll look back and treasure the memories of holding, snuggling, feeding, and playing with our little baby, whether or not he was wearing designer jeans and clutching a trendy giraffe teething toy.
Stuff comes and goes, but love will last forever; that’s what kids need the most. Minimalism in all of its levels is just one way to remind ourselves about what really matters. Not stuff, but love.
“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT)