Walking the parent consumerism line: how much is too much?

Guest post by Jasmine
Photo by Flickr user Stéfan, used with Creative Commons license.
Photo by Flickr user Stéfan, used with Creative Commons license.

In this day and age of smaller homes, environmental conscientiousness and consumerism gone wild, it can be difficult to decide where to draw the line when it comes to what to buy and what to leave on the shelf. I chose to wait until the final few weeks of my pregnancy to buy anything — up to that point, I loved going through the pregnancy and parenting magazines, circling a variety of items, and making mental lists of what I’d buy.

The first time I hit the shops with my mother, I felt so overwhelmed that all I came away with was a cinnamon donut.

Bassinet, cradle or cot? Co-sleepers, cuddle nests and co-sleeping pillows? Stroller, pram, sling? Will a bath seat make a difference to bath time? Which car seat? Which bouncers?

It’s a minefield out there, and that’s not even looking at toys and clothes and smaller items!

Each new magazine seemed to have new improved items, newly developed products – I can still remember the horror I felt when reading about breathing monitors for newborns — the testimonials swearing that without the monitor’s alarms, their newborn would no longer be with them. Well crap, I’d have to get one of those too! But where was I going to find the money for all these things? I just didn’t have the budget – or space! – for all this stuff.

Ultimately, I went right back to basics. I asked my mother what she had found necessary when I was a baby. Her suggestions? Plenty of changes of clothes for the many, many accidents baby was bound to have. Plenty of nappies. Plenty of sheets – again, for the many accidents baby and mum were bound to have (I still ended up having to buy more).

We got by with a car seat for my mother’s car (I don’t drive), a cot, and a sling. A friend gifted me with an inflatable baby bath in the shape of a duck; another friend lent us the Tetra snuggle bed, promising it would come in more handy than I might think (and she was right – I lugged that thing from room to room, from house to yard. When my son wasn’t in it, my cat was. Sometimes they both were).

Photo by Flickr user pfly, used with Creative Commons license.

There are very few “must haves” for your new baby, and even many of those “must haves” will be debateable, varying with the needs of different parents. If you live in an apartment complex, you might find it necessary to have a nappy bin that conceals nasty odours until you have time to take the rubbish out. You might use cloth nappies and not need a nappy bin at all. For my part, I live on the ground floor of a small block of units, and have had no problem dashing outside to throw dirty nappies straight into the rubbish, so I never had a nappy bin. Everyone has different needs.

Similarly, I lost count of how many people told me I’d need a stroller or pram, that I’d regret not having one, that I’d change my mind as my son got bigger and heavier, particularly as I’m a single mother and don’t drive. Wrong! I’ve managed just fine without. But, when a neighbour offered me her son’s old stroller, I accepted it – and gave it to my mother, who did struggle to carry my son as he got bigger.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all, working to a tight budget, living in a tight space, or just don’t want to buy into the consumerism of it all, just start with the absolute basics. Ask yourself what your parents — and what many women in less developed countries — deem “essential”. In this case, you probably will need a little more than love — but not by much!

Comments on Walking the parent consumerism line: how much is too much?

  1. We felt the same way about things for our baby. We didn’t buy much until we were almost due, and then we bought a little bathtub (from IKEA) and all our cloth diapers, a moby, and made some receiving blankets. We slowly collected some things, but only about a bin or two worth, some of that toys from when we were children! We wanted to wait until we needed something before getting it- we had friends that bought three of everything for their son and never used any of it. Our daughter is the first grandchild on both sides however and so we received a great many things that we probably would have eventually bought (stroller, car seat) and a few we probably wouldn’t have (a crib- it will be used more as a toddler bed I think) Luckily for us many of the toy things will go to friends that are having their first baby now.

  2. A friend of mine (who has a child) always tells me that all our baby is going to need is “boobs, diapers, and blankets.” I am afraid that I’M going to need a little more to not make me crazy/constantly in backache mode. I found a book at the library that’s been pretty useful (and has kept me from buying what would likely turn out to be unnecessary items): “The Girlfriends’ Guide to Baby Gear: What to Buy, What to Borrow, and What to Blow off” by Vicki Iovine. It’s good for us parents-in-waiting whose mothers don’t remember anything and whose friends are childless (or childfree, depending on which one you ask!).

  3. “There are very few “must haves” for your new baby, and even many of those “must haves” will be debatable, varying with the needs of different parents.” Yes! Yes! Yes! I have become one of those people when I get baby showers where I pretty much go, “Cloth or disposable?” and buy diapers. I have yet had a friend go “Elimination Communication” in response so I might be hard-up for a gift if it comes to that ;-)! Plus some kids love certain items and some kids hate them. My one niece loved this vibrating sleeper thing that she had, and it was one of the few things guaranteed to make her not cry (I would have bought that thing ten times over). One of my other nieces and my nephew? Hated it.

  4. Quick question…when people say that they don’t need a car seat, is this because they don’t have/need a car to travel, or because they just simply do not use a car seat? I realize the author of this post does not drive, but is that always the case? Just curious….

    • Well, it is dangerous and, in many places, illegal to transport a baby or small child in a car without using a carseat, so I’m going to wager people who don’t carseats simply don’t drive.

        • It’s definitely illegal in Australia, I’m not sure about the US/elsewhere. My mother drove Eduardo and I home from the hospital and elsewhere in the early months, so we had one. Eduardo’s nearly four now and still needs a booster seat in cars (by law), so I’ve got an inexpensive one in the wardrobe for the odd occasion when friends drive us some place, or when I go interstate to see my folks I’ve got it.

          • It’s illegal in the US too. The hospital wouldn’t even let us leave until the escorting nurse saw the car seat and made sure it was installed securely.

    • Just to emphasize that NO ONE is advocating driving without a car seat. It’s illegal. In fact, if you’re birthing the baby away from home, you CANNOT LEAVE without a car-seat.

      I don’t think even the most sling-loving offbeat mama would ever argue against car seats.

    • In certain parts of the US at least, larger cities (like New York, for example) have extensive transportation systems which make driving unnecessary. I’d assume that people who live in those sorts of communities probably wouldn’t find much use for car seats.

  5. Thank you for this post! We are currently expecting our first, and I’m trying to limit the “stuff” that everyone is CERTAIN we’ll need for our little girl. I’ve been operating by the basic rule of if she needs it to eat, sleep, or poop, she needs it. If it’s “CPC” (cheap plastic crap) we don’t need it around.

    I think our biggest challenge in this is overzealous grandparents and friends, who maybe don’t understand that we don’t want to fill our house with things we won’t use and don’t have space for, just because we are having a baby. I have several well meaning and generous friends who have tried to give me hand-me-downs that they are certain I’ll need, and I always feel bad refusing if it’s something that I think I really won’t. I am still trying to find a graceful way to refuse some of the “extras”, and am dreading having to refuse “stuff” from my in-laws.

    Does anyone have good suggestions for gracefully refusing extra stuff?

      • Yes! I have the same question. We don’t need a lot of stuff because I got really good deals on second hand items, and my mom is making flannel diapers. So many people want to thow me a shower. So far it’s 3 minimum!
        One of the showers is going to be with coworkers. This is weird because my department has 13 men and 2 women. The men won’t be invited to the shower. It’s going to be women from various other departments. I asked the other female in my dept to find a way to tactfully suggest just passing around a card, and say something like “Oh they don’t have a car seat yet.” She is going to make it seem like it was her idea. It might work for the guys…

        It feels kind of weird being all sneaky and asking for money….

        • We had someone who really wanted to throw us a shower, and we’re in the minimalist category when it comes to baby stuff, so we requested they throw a baby book themed shower. It was great! We didn’t get a bunch of stuff we didn’t want, but we got all kinds of great books to read our daughter (we requested only stories, no parenting books).

          We also had close friends do a blessing for us, and each person brought something to place in a birth altar for us, and tell us why that item was significant to them. It could be given or intended to be borrowed and given back. We did have 1 thing on our altar to give back, because it was a piece of art special to our friend. This was a great way of avoiding gifts, too.

      • I was actually just starting to write a post about gifts and consumerist crap that we will “most definitely need”. It’s been an ongoing topic/argument in another forum i’m in when i asked how to politely deny these gifts. Many people in my family think that my Husband and I are “too young to be out of touch hippies” and “need to get with the times!” so they buys us formula and disposable diapers and giant, overpriced plastic crap and…oh dear i’m about to rant again…i’ll email you my post!

    • arg, i hate this issue! My mother in law even scolded me, telling me that I needed to just smile and accept what’s given to me. That’s all fine and good if it was things that I needed, but as it is, the stuff she gives me just sits around my house taking up space until I donate it.

        • Yup. I have a friend who lost her home in a wildfire as a teenager. The family lost everything they owned, and the story ended up getting a lot of attention. She wrote a letter in school saying that what she missed most was her beanie babies. It ended up on the internet somehow, and she got hundreds and hundreds of beanie babies in the mail. Family, friends, and strangers all heard her story, and wanted to help. In the culture we live in, giving gifts is the way that many people express their support. Her family accepted the gifts for what they were- gestures of support and good will, wrote thank you notes, and donated anything they didn’t want to goodwill. I think that seeing the intention behind the gift “I love you and want to support you in this big life change” without feeling tied to the physical item is key to gracefully accepting your communities love without being burdened by the things.

          It’s the same story with wedding registries- people will give you gifts, not because they disagree with your thoughtfully chosen low-impact lifestyle, but because they love you and “things” are the way that they know how to express that.

    • Say you already have it or that someone else told you they were going to get you one. Several times I have gotten out of taking items from well-meaners by saying something like, “Oh, you know, he DOES have one of those, thanks anyway!” or “My sister said she’s bringing him one when she visits, but thanks for offering!” That way you’re not making a judgment on what they wanted to give you.

    • I got a lot of really nice hand-me-down clothes that we didn’t care for, so I sold it at a baby consignment store, and got over $100 in credit.

      If you get stuff you don’t want, look up your nearest consignment store, or your local mom’s group, and sell it!

    • All you have to say is that “your friend has already offered her “X” to give/loan you” and then be done with it.

      We really didn’t buy very much for our baby, and even then, we just bought mostly secondhand from a little re-sell shop in our town. Re-sell shops/consignment shops are amazing. Nearly new stuff for really cheap – how can you go wrong? (I’ve never purchased anything from a big box baby/kid store. Went in once and lasted about 6 minutes. *shudder*)

      I think the best way to try things out is to ask to borrow from a friend!! I borrowed a wood playpen, jumperroo, bouncy seat, swing, doorway jumper, and lots of other things that I wanted to try (some worked out great, and others were mega-horrible) from friends whose older kid was beyond needing it, but who were saving the items for their next baby. Plus, even secondhand, a lot of this stuff takes up so much SPACE and the kid only uses it for a few weeks/couple months MAX, so it’s best to just scrub the drool off and give it back!!

    • We luckily have the excuse of living in a small apartment which helps discourage people but when they are really insistent I tend to repeat this over and over in various ways. “Thank you so much for thinking of us and wishing to buy us [item.] At the moment we don’t think we’ll need one, plus a lot of people are offering used ones that we can try before our loved ones spend a lot of money on a new item just in case Baby dislikes it. It was really kind of you to want to help us though, would it be okay if I let you know if we need [item] in the future?” I often would throw in a joking comment about how you can ALWAYS use more diapers and wipes to indicate that we really were okay with $40 in diapers as opposed to a $100 swing.

      I also enlisted close friends and my mother in telling people that we really were trying not to stock up too much since you never know how big baby will be (so you may or may not need all those newborn diapers!) and to encourage people to do gift cards along with a small gift like a book if they wanted to spend more.

      We really tried to use the angle of “It was so kind of you to want to get us something we will use so please don’t get this thing that we might not use and end up wasting your money.”

  6. we didn’t see a need for the co-sleeper, the bassinet, or anything fancy for the baby to sleep in. We splurged on the “life stages” crib. It’s very high quality and transforms from crib to toddler bed , to day bed and then into a full size bed. Many of my friends with older children did the same. It’s so much cheaper in the long run. Everything else was bargain or second hand.

    • We did this too, although ours only goes from a crib to toddler bed to day bed but it also came with a dresser and change table for $250 [on sale it’s usually $400 @ Zellers]

  7. As soon-to-be first time parents, we were freaking out a bit about all the stuff babies everyone thinks that babies need to have, and the shear variety of it all too. But then we checked out “Baby Bargains” from the library on the recommendation of a friend. We kept it for a week then went and bought our own copy because of how useful it is. It covers nearly every baby product and discusses things like utility, safety, quality and ease of use. They then make recommendations based on these things. They go over what to look for in a particular product and what to avoid and which products to avoid all together. They don’t just recommend the cheapest product if they know it’s going to fall apart on you after only a couple of months of use. And they don’t automatically recommend the most expensive either. I’m going to recommend it to all newly-pregnant friends now.

  8. Apart from true essentials, I say wait till the kid gets here then see what you need. I was so sure that I was going to use the baby carrier/baby bjorn thing, but my girl hated it and I could never get it on by myself anyway. I think we used it twice. I also just knew we didn’t need or want a swing because they take up so much room and are so expensive, but someone bought us one and my girl loved it! When she outgrew it, we sold it.

    The kid’s seven now, and I’m still trying to convince the grandparents to buy less stuff.

    • Eduardo will be four soon and every year I ask people not to buy him toys for his birthday – clothes and books are much handier if they feel they HAVE to get him something. I think this year I might just ask people to bring a plate of food for his birthday party or something similar.

  9. As the daughter of a horder, the best way to gracefully ‘refuse’ stuff is to re-direct them to stuff you’d like anyway. It’s a fine line between asking ‘them’ (whoever they are) to buy you things and hinting at where you want them to shop.
    I say things like:
    “The boys love to go to the book store, I’ve thought about giving them gift cards so they can ‘shop’.”
    “We’re going to _________ (name of only one store- preferable a stand alone- not connected to a mall) for school clothes, would you like to come along. You can see what they are into.”
    “_____________’s b-day is coming up and all he can talk about is Transformers.”
    “We don’t know the gender of the baby, so we’re only buying neutrals (or primary colors) for clothes and blankets”
    “We’re having a baby welcoming party after the baby is born so that we’ll know what we actually need.”
    “We’re running out of room at our house, but you can create a special box with these nice toys for when we visit your house.”

    Most overbuyers really won’t get it though and you’ll have to put your foot down at some point.

  10. I will be honest, my kid has a lot of stuff. But we also have a fairly ample home, and a flexible budget. However, 99% of the big items like crib, stroller, changing table, etc were either bought used or hand me downs. At least half her clothes are from older kids or thrift town. And when it comes to the other stuff, I try to keep my self in check by only buying something that can also be used when we have another child. That means it has to be durable, safe, and gender neutral.So when Im buying a toy,I may be spending a little bit more on a wooden toy than the same toy in plastic, but the wooden toy saves me money in the long run when its still in good shape to give to the next kid. We bought one of those high chairs that can be used up to 100 pounds, and the car seat converts to a booster too.I bought one-size fits all diaper covers so that when my 1st baby is potty trained, they will fit a newborn with just a few adjustments with snaps. Sometimes making one big purchase saves you from making several small purchaes.So, while less is more, make sure the MORE stuff is durable and useable for a long time. And share and trade with other parents too!

  11. I went nutso with my first pregnancy… I have a dual reaction of wanting to laugh and blush at all the stuff I thought I needed to take care of a baby. Most of it sat in the baby’s porta crib until it became obvious I would never use it. And yep, there were things I thought were a little silly that ended up being really useful (one, for example, was the little baby care clock where I could time how long it had been since the last feeding, diaper change, etc… because I just could not keep that shit straight in the beginning!) I remember doing the baby-magazine browsing, too. I remember all the peaceful looking babies enjoying their (insert cpc) and how I thought: if I have all this junk my baby will be so happy! Of course we had a colicky baby who we couldn’t set down in a single baby-contraption.

    The second time around, we made a registry for people who really, really, REALLY insisted on buying gifts… the list consisted of glass bottles and cloth diapers. And people bought clothes instead. I understand the practical stuff isn’t as much fun to shop for.

  12. When we first got pregnant we made a giant list of stuff that we “needed”. Now that we started buying stuff we realized that all we need is a crib or place for baby to sleep, diapers, blankets and clothing. We got a stroller and a car seat/carrier thing, we don’t drive but everyone else does, plus we can use it as a carrier so it does double the work and stroller is really awesome because I don’t think I will be able to carry the carrier and groceries on to the bus.

    I definitely agree that it really depends on the parents and they see necessary.

  13. My son is two. And I admit that I fell into the hole of registering for swings, cribs, pack-n-plays, strollers, highchairs, bumbos, boppys, etc… The list goes on and on.

    Just a few months after he was born I realized right away that most everything we had received was just in my way! I gave the swing, crib, pack-n-play, highchair, etc… I am sure all the stuff works for some but just not me. I wish I knew then what I know now!

  14. Yeah, you can never “un-buy” something later on, but you can always buy something if you really do need it later.

    We shouldn’t have bought a crib, in retrospect. He slept in it all of 2 days. He slept with us in bed, and then on a twin mattress on the floor and then he graduated to his big boy bed, which is the antique bed my mother and I slept in as children. 🙂

  15. We got bombarded with baby stuff from family and friends. Much to my displeasure, it’s a mark of pride for one grandmother to buy as much stuff as possible.

    Of literally more stuff than we were able to haul home in a load after the baby shower, all we’ve really used were some blankets, clothes and the carseat. We bought ourselves some cloth diapers, but we mixed that with EC, so I’m not even sure I’d buy those again. Daughter was breastfed, bedshared, carried/worn, and EC’d, so most of the baby stuff was just useless space absorption in our house.

  16. I love this! I think people around me are disappointed by how uninvolved I am in buying tons of baby crap, but I honestly don’t feel most of it is necessary at all, and I couldn’t live with myself if I registered for a bunch of plastic crap at Target like the other 20-something new moms I know. Glad to hear it reinforced that I’m not crazy, that “must-haves” are most likely not.

    • I think as plenty of people mentioned above – it’s just a case of getting the basics, and then going out and buying more as you need it. I had fully planned to breastfeed but Eduardo ended up rehospitalised for massive weightloss a few days after birth because my milk just never came in as expected, so I ended up having to go out and buy a massive number of bottles, a breastpump (in desperate attempt to ‘force’ my milk to ‘come in’) … it had never occurred to me that this would be an issue, but it wasn’t a drama going and getting it once I realised I’d need it.

  17. I will say this on people with different needs “needing” different things: I have IBS and its nice to have somewhere to park your infant when you need to poop, so, a hammock, rocker OR swing is good for a baby 0-4 months (not all 3 items in the same small house though), and an exersaucer is good for a baby 4 months to about 10 months (but if one of your friends has one have your baby try it out before you bring one into your home because my nephew HATED his)
    Ever since she’s been old enough to sit independantly, she’s been accompanying me to the bathroom though.

    • Yeah, this is what I mean about different people/needs. I had no problems whatsoever lugging my son around on my hip until he was confidently walking, but my mum is just shy of five feet tall – it didn’t take long for him to get too heavy for her to carry, so the stroller was necessary for her.

    • That is such good advice: I suffer IBS pretty badly, and am working towards getting pregnant, so this kind of info is greatly appreciated.


  18. We took the “wait and see” approach with everything but the car seat and the co-sleeper (I found a deal used and was worried if I waited we’d have to pay full price. In actuality, we could have waited.) Our house is small, and I didn’t want to add more clutter. Especially because it’s so easy to get sucked into buying it all. We had diapers, some clothes, and lots of blankets that I’d made during my crazy nesting phase.

    As we’ve discovered things we’ve needed we’ve purchased them. Some used, some new, depending on what it was. Some stuff we used for a week, and then sold. It’s all been kind of a crap shoot.

  19. I’m 8 wks pregnant and two weeks ago I took my first trip into a baby store. Omg I was overwhelmed, there were so many things I didnt even know existed. I kept picking things up thinking “what do I do with this?”

    I feel like I should be buying lots of things, getting everything ready for baby, but I have no idea what I need and what I dont.

    I think I’m going to take most of the advice given here and just get the cot/pram/car seat/bedding and leave the rest till I need it.

    Thanks for the post!

  20. I just had this convo with my mom the other day. I’ve decided when we do get pregnant I want my shower to be mostly hand-made and hand-me-down stuff. With a few exceptions (carseat, breast pump, nose sucker, etc) I’ve already gotten hand-me-down clothes from friends and we’re not even pregnant yet LOL I’ve been downsizing my own belongings trying the 100 Things Challenge and will try to keep baby’s things to a minimum too.

  21. I’m totally dreading the onslaught of stuff, especially the CPC and all the pastels, which I can’t stand. My sister just had a baby that will be one year old when ours is born, so we can have all her stuff hand-me-down – but I just know all the grandparents are still going to go BONKERS.

    I loved this blog post on low-impact child-rearing from Offbeat Mama Sayward Rebhal: http://bit.ly/aB1XJC

    I’d SO appreciate an article on how to manage the stuff and gracefully steer your well-meaning loved ones – I’ve been pondering on the best way to word it in the baby shower invites in order to not sound ungrateful…

  22. When I first got pregnant, I wanted all the “must haves” and then when it came time to buy stuff, I realized we didn’t need it. I argued, passionately, against buying a crib and nursery decorations. I knew we would cosleep and I figured that it’d be a waste of money. Guess what? TOTAL WASTE. Never used. We only used a handful of all the stuff we were given. But people were happy to gift what they could and later, I gifted forward what I could. At least, in the end, all that stuffed helped someone!


    My midwife says all you need is a blanket and a breast, and I agree. Everything else is icing. I’ve realized that most of the things you “need” are intended to mimic having a parent’s comfort. And these things don’t do a very good job.

    We have acquired some things in the year since our daughter was born, and they were things we discovered we really wanted. I did end up getting a stroller, because I wanted to walk the mile to the farmer’s market to do our shopping, instead of driving. It was used and super-cheap.

    I really think having a baby is only as expensive as you make it (excluding, of course, medical care!)

  24. My friend called me a couple months ago (because I’m the only friend she has with a baby) to ask what to get her friend for a baby shower. She didn’t like the stuff that her friend registered for. I told her a gift certificate for a massage or a restaurant that does take out. I would have loved that!

  25. We decided not to have a shower or register for anything. In our view, we decided to have the baby so why should we be asking others to fund our decision? Also, people tell you that you need everything ahead of time because it will be impossible to get it after the baby is born, but that’s not true at all. We got most everything used off of craigslist, which has made it fine that some items were useful and others went right back on craigslist.
    I wish someone had told me that my baby might hate slings, moby wraps, and co-cleeping. So much for the attachment parenting guarantee! But the co-sleeper has been a fine crib for 7.5 months with the 4th side up. And she eventually came to like the scootababy carrier. (That and the keekaroo high chair were the only things I couldn’t find used, and are really awesome. I called in mom to finally buy something like she’d wanted :D)
    I’m glad I loosened up my standards for awesome baby clothing and got everything used, because with growth spurts and inconsistent sizing, your baby may wear your favorite things only once or twice.
    Toys are the hard thing- hard to find used, and you never know what they’ll like. I’ve bought only a few toys (colorful wooden ones) that I think are awesome and she could care less about. She loves the $5 plastic stacking cups my aunt got her and the spatula from the kitchen. It’s true when they say that your baby will play with pretty much anything, but you probably wouldn’t want them to (injury to them, damage to the item) so toys still seem necessary.

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