Last week a reader sent me this question:
I recently found it I am pregnant and my first thought was of ALL. THE .STUFF… My husband and I are not the type to fill our house to the brim but we have no experience to tell us what’s a waste of money and what we’ll really use! I’m hoping with your experience raising a family with lots of different babies you can give me a basic idea of what I actually need?
Our youngest is almost five years old now, so it’s been a few years since we’ve had a true baby.
And I know there are new things that come out all the time, so I’m not aware of the latest baby must-haves.
But I think the basics that we all find to be really useful are fairly constant.
So I’ll tell you what we loved and used the crap out of. Things that saved us time or money or kept the kids occupied and weren’t able to be passed down to anyone else because we used them until they fell apart.
But first I’ll share some of the things that weren’t worth it for us:
1) diaper genies — just another thing to clutter up the kids room, plus you have to buy special bags for them, and they don’t totally keep out the poop smell. Instead, we recycled plastic bags from the grocery store and other plastic bags (like the ones loaves of bread come in) to dispose of dirty diapers.
2) wipes warmers — more clutter and more stuff to keep plugged in.
3) a bathrobe for a child under 24 months old — they are super cute. Especially if they have hoods with little ears on them. But you will probably never put that thing on your kid.
4) A child carrier hiking backpack — apparently we had plans to hike all over the East Coast. But that thing just collected dust in the basement.
5) toys that make noise — DON’T BUY THEM. EVER.
6) easels — in theory, your kid will enjoy hours of artistic fun using one of these. But for us, the kids would use them (I say them because we got one, never used it, got rid of it, and then got another one. And never used it !) like once or twice, and then they just took up space and annoyed the crap out of me and ended up on the side of the road with a “free” sign on them.
7) baby papasan chair — I remember the first time I saw this chair. It looked so comfy. And cute. And I knew my baby would LOVE it. But none of the kids liked it at all. And with each kid, I’d hold onto that chair because I was sure the next kid would like it. But that never happened.
Here’s the stuff we found very useful with each child (or at least the majority of them):
1) a Pack and Play — We used this with all the kids when they first came home from the hospital and slept in our room with us. Later on we used it outside and inside. We used it for naps, for trips, as a crib when we were traveling. SUPER USEFUL.
2) a Baby Bjorn — We used this with all the kids. A LOT. My husband and I both used it. So helpful if you need both your hands free. I also used it a lot when I went grocery shopping, especially once we had more than one kid, because putting that car seat carrier in the cart takes all the space up and then there’s no room for your stuff!
3) a baby swing — different from the papasan chair because it moved. This thing was a lifesaver. With every kid.
4) a “bumper jumper” — all but one of the kids loved this. I’d put them in it and they would bounce around for fairly long periods of time. It can hang in any doorway in your house that has trim around it, which is good, because you can move it to different rooms if you want and they can bounce while you do laundry or make dinner or whatever.
5) an exersaucer — LIFESAVER. The only problem with this thing is it takes up a lot of space. And the kids loved it so much that even when they were like two years old, they still wanted to play with it. Assembling it is a pain in the ass, so if you can get one that’s used and in good shape and already put together, go for it!
6) white noise machine — a huge help at nap/bedtimes.
7) black out curtains/shades — these aren’t cheap, but believe me, they help. You’d be surprised by how much earlier the morning light wakes your kids up! The difference between how late your kids sleep on a rainy morning and a sunny morning is crazy. I got our shades from Pottery Barn. They were an investment, but they are heavy and sturdy and cute. (Put those on your registry so you don’t have to fork out your own money for them ).
8) a humidifier — You don’t realize you need one of these until your kid wakes up in the middle of the night barking like a seal and you are sure he’s on the verge of death. Hopefully you won’t need to use this often, but there’s nothing worse than your kid waking up in the middle of the night with a serious case of croup and not having one. Trust me.
9) a “baby gym” — this occupied the kids quite a bit up until they became mobile.
10) a boppy — I used this with every kid when I was nursing. I also used it a lot to just prop the kids up or help them sit when they were a few months old. I loved my boppy!
11) a baby monitor — back in the day with the older kids, there weren’t video monitors — there were just the walkie talkie style ones where you could hear the kids. They’ve come a long way in ten years, but this one was 2016’s favorite according to babycenter.com.
12) a breast pump — I didn’t work outside the home when I had any of the kids, so I didn’t really need to do a whole lot of pumping, but I did try a manual pump first, and it was a total pain in the ass, and I ended up getting this one which was awesome.
13) a good jogging stroller — I used one of these to run when the kids were little all the time. But even if you aren’t a runner, I highly recommend one of these. It worked so much better for me when going to other things like fairs and parades and anywhere where you might not be walking solely on a sidewalk or pavement.
14) a kids’ table — you won’t need this until your baby is a little bit older, but a small table for kids is so versatile. We used the crap out of this one (we still have it — lasted through all 7 kids) to do artsy stuff (used way more than the easel) but having a small table like this that could be moved easily was also helpful in the kitchen. The kids ate meals and snacks at it all the time, and it was also great because we could bring it outside and it was super easy to clean.
15) a decent stepstool — this is again for when the kids are a little older. But you’ll need one of these whenever someone has to wash their hands or brush their teeth or if they want to “help” in the kitchen. This is a must have! In my experience, the stool always ends up getting wet. And the ones we have gotten that weren’t made of solid wood but MDF or something like that inevitably fell apart. So just keep that in mind!
As far as toys go, stick with the basics. The stuff you had when you were a kid. And stuff that doesn’t require batteries. Oh yeah! Stock up on batteries. You will go through massive amounts of batteries once you have kids! (Get the rechargable ones). Our kids loved (and still love) the toys we loved when we were kids: Lego blocks, regular old fashioned wooden building blocks, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Fisher Price barns and parking garages and people and animals, Mr. Potato Head, and puzzles. All the basics.
One other piece of advice would be if you can get any of these things handed down from friends or family, do it! A lot of things, like the baby gyms or the jumpers or the exersaucers are only used for six months or so, and then your kid outgrows them. I know it’s nice to get something shiny and new, but it’s also expensive!
Also, this is the stuff that worked for us, but all kids are different. If a friend will let you test drive any toys/contraptions you think you might like, you might want to consider trying that. It sucks to blow $100 on something you are sure your kids needs only to have it sit unused and taking up the corner of your living room indefinitely.
There you have it! My list of must haves.
Is there something I don’t have on this list that your kids loved or that you found to be helpful? If so, please share!
And good luck with that baby!