Previously, I gave some advice for ways new parents can avoid becoming overwhelmed by baby-related clutter. Today, I want to discuss what I see to be the essential items that are always useful to new parents. Think of this as the bare-bones guide to stocking a nursery.
(Note: I don’t have any clothing, bibs, or blankets on this list because these are the items people will most likely give to you as gifts. If you’ve decided to go without a baby shower, then you’ll want to add a few of these to your acquisition list.)
- Portable crib with bassinet attachment. I recommend using a portable playpen with bassinet attachment with a portable bassinet attachment instead of a traditional crib. You can take this with you when you visit the grandparents, you can wheel it next to your bed when the child is sick so that you can keep a watchful eye, and you can do a hundred other things with it that you can’t do with a permanently located crib. Oh, and you’ll likely want two pair of corresponding sheets.
- Convertible car seat. Buy new, and get a “permanent” convertible seat that can be both back and forward facing as your child grows. I do not recommend buying a separate infant car seat because then you have to purchase a second car seat when the child gets too big for the infant seat. Also, I don’t like the models that snap in and out for dual use between the car and a stroller. Their unused parts are bothersome to store, they are more expensive over the long term, and I’ve found the safety ratings are usually higher on the permanent models. I know some people swear by the snap-in-and-out models, though, so use what is best for you.
- Stroller. I recommend buying the safest you can find that will grow with your child. I do not recommend getting a frame that snaps in an infant carrier for its seat for the reasons I mentioned in the car-seat entry. If you plan on taking paved trail walks with your child, strongly consider getting a sturdy exercise stroller with good maneuverability. These types of strollers are also great in the snow and slush. Some of my friends are foregoing the stroller and only using a sling/backpack carrier, but by the time their kids are two years old, I think they’ll want the stroller.
- High chair or booster seat (based on preference). We’ve recently discussed this topic in detail on Unclutterer. The comments to the linked post are very informative.
- Food service items. These may include a breast pump and assemblies (if applicable), bottles, and formula (if applicable). Make sure that the bottles have age- and purpose-specific nipples so that they serve your child’s growing needs. Also, you will probably want a baby bottle parts cage for the top rack of your dishwasher (you can buy one or make one out of two clean plastic berry baskets and twist ties). This will keep your bottle nipples and sealant rings from flying about the top shelf of your dishwasher. If you don’t own a dishwasher, then boil all parts of the bottle. Also, if you don’t have a dishwasher, you’ll probably want a bottle cleaning brush.
- Diapers and wipes. Whether you choose to use disposable or cloth, you need them before the baby arrives. Even if you go the disposable route, you will also want cloth diapers and wipes on hand for burping rags and spills. If you use cloth diapers and wipes, you will probably want a diaper disposal system or a trash can with a lid.
- Home safety items. These may include baby gate, window stops, drawer locks, knob covers, electrical outlet covers, fire ladder (if not on the ground floor) and baby monitor.
- Hygiene items. Baby nail clippers and/or emery boards, baby-safe body wash and shampoo, and a nasal aspirator.
- Health items. Baby digital thermometer, a baby pain reliever/fever reducer, gripe water (if your baby has colic), pure lanolin (for mommy, if breastfeeding), and a diaper rash cream.
- Child carrier. You might consider a front/backpack or sling, especially if you’ll often be in spaces where a stroller is cumbersome. The packs that range from infant to toddler will give you the most bang for your buck.
- Comfortable chair. You probably already have one, but if you don’t, you’ll want someplace comfortable where you can sit for more than half an hour.
- Electric fan. A 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics reported that a fan in an infants’ room reduces the risk of SIDS by 72 percent. If you don’t already have a fan, it might be worth it to get one.
- Diaper service. New parents have enough to do, and outsourcing the washing of stinky diapers to a service sounds like a sane idea to me. I’ve often considered this as a gift I can give to new parents.
My friend Krystal also recommends checking out the Baby and Kids pages on Craigslist to find out what you won’t need. The items most available are often the clutter-prone items.
Consumer Reports recommends buying new car seats, cribs, baby gates, strollers, and breast pumps since you don’t know the history of used items. The rest of the items on this list, excluding the consumable hygiene and health items, are great to find on the cheap over Craigslist or Freecycle. Do check the Consumer Product Safety Commission for recalled products before making any purchases.
Finally, by no means is this list the law. Think of it as a reference and as nothing more. Once you have your baby home, you may discover that he or she loves the neighbor’s bouncy seat and so you’ll want to bring one into your home, too. For some people, this will be all they have, and for others it will be a starting point.
This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.