The baby industry brings in billions of dollars every year. They'd like you to think that having a child means spending thousands of your own dollars on expensive furniture, clothing and gear that will make your precious charge safe, beautiful, and smart. It's just not true. You don't need that stuff.
When I brought my first child home from the hospital, I snuggled right down in my own bed with her and stayed there. We co-slept, and I wore her in a sling on my chest during the day. It was summertime, so she'd wear a onesy and a little hat and a diaper.
That was about all the gear she needed: a sling, a onesy, a diaper and a little hat. Truth be told, even the little hat was optional.
But her bedroom, a place she rarely saw the inside of during her first year of life, was overflowing with Baby Stuff. A mix of shower gifts, hand-me-downs and a few precious purchases, that stuff represented my dreams and anxieties as an expectant mother.
I pored over baby catalogs while I was pregnant, imagining what my life with my little one would be like. I spent hours carefully compiling a list for our shower registry, and hours after the shower making checklists of what I still needed for the kid. There were lists of what we had, lists of what we had extra of. In that limbo between leaving work on medical leave and actually giving birth, I made a lot of lists.
It turns out all that Baby Stuff was largely clutter. Here's a new list for all you expectant parents, after five years of motherhood, of baby things you don't need.
These little plastic boxes soak up shelf space and electric power and put out lukewarm baby wipes. Guess what? If your little prince happens to be one of the few babies who cares about the temperature of his butt wipe, you can get the same effect with a warm washcloth.
Some families prefer a crib, while others prefer to co-sleep. Baby furniture manufacturers have tried to create a middle ground with expensive bedside bassinets that attach to the parents' mattress. I have yet to meet a family who sang the praises of these contraptions. Most simply bring the baby into their own bed, following safe co-sleeping guidelines.
Whether you use a crib or not, someone will probably want you to choose a theme for your nursery. Your baby does not care whether you go with Winnie The Pooh crib bumpers or Safari ones. Put the $300 you don't spend on jungle animal crib sheets and matching curtains into her college fund and she'll thank you for it.
We got three of these as shower gifts. Some of these colorful little plastic tubs hold water on their own; others are just inserts that sit inside your bathtub and support baby's head while you wash her. Hot tip: every house I have ever seen has been equipped with a kitchen sink. It'll work just as well, and you don't have to worry about where to store it during the many hours you're not washing your baby.
Designer Baby Clothes
I have a friend who works at a clothing manufacturer, and she sends me samples from their new clothing lines once in awhile. She gets these for practically nothing, and they're often seconds quality with small tears or stains. What amazes me is the price tags I see on some of them: $90 for a baby's jacket, $60 for a six-month-old's dress. Your child will wear these items for less than a season. Because babies go through so much clothing, and don't do much in it other than sleep, you can probably Freecycle your way to an entire infant wardrobe. Save your pennies for when the kid is old enough to choose his own clothes.
Some babies love swings; many hate them. Either way, they can only be used for a few months. They take up a lot of real estate in your house, and don't do anything you can't do with a sling: rock the baby. If your baby turns out to be one of those fussy ones that needs 24/7 motion, you may eventually want to get a second-hand swing or bouncy seat, but this should be on no one's essential pre-baby shopping list.
Shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer. We use these things to try to recapture the softness and sweetness of babyhood in our own skin. Babies just have it naturally. All you need to wash a baby is warm water and, at the very most, a little mild castile soap.
The only things you really need for a baby are a place for her to sleep, enough clothes to keep her warm, something to catch the poop, and an ample supply of milk. You probably also want to be able to move the baby from place to place in a carseat or stroller.
Everything else is extra. You won't know which of those extras you want till you have the baby and encounter your own special parenting challenges.
When people ask you what you want for shower gifts, don't be shy. Ask for cold, hard cash. It takes up little space, needs no maintenance, and is easy to trade in for baby shampoo, swings, cute clothes or anything else on your list. It's the one thing you will certainly want more of in the months after your child is born.