The Baby Stuff Dilemma

by Jenni

As a first time mom, I have fears.

And I’m not even referring to the typical fears like labor pains, sleepless nights, and being responsible for  a tiny, vulnerable human who doesn’t come with written instructions. (Those are concerns too, of course, but that’s another discussion.) Nope, the fear I’m referring to is that of the Baby Stuff Takeover: the inevitable, systematic, room-by-room invasion of plastic, colorful, latest & greatest, must-have baby & toddler accessories, toys, gear, and for lack of a better word, junk. The Dilemma: On one hand, I strongly desire simplicity…but on the other, I like Stuff and it’s a challenge to discern what our baby will and won’t need. So I can envision the takeover all too easily, creeping into our house, bags and cars, until there’s cute clutter in every corner of our life.

by Hallie Burton for Real Simple

Now lest you think me a perfectionistic control freak who cares more about having a tidy house than a happy child, please let me assure you that my concern is not primarily esthetic. I shared my heart on the matter of moving toward simplicity and streamlining our possessions in last week’s post, (Confessions of a Recovering Consumer). The same reasons for wanting to streamline my clothing collection hold true here, with the added motivating twist of a new little life directly affected by my choices.

If you’ve seen the documentary “Babies” or travelled in developing countries, you are probably aware of the drastic variations among how cultures clothe, feed, and educate children through their first year. Last week Kara commented on the blog that with her second baby, she kept asking herself, “What did the pioneer women do about…? I bet they didn’t have … on the Oregon trail.” And I think these reference points–looking at other cultures and times to see how women have raised children over the course of history–are really helpful to expand our modern, Western, just-buy-the-gadget-at-Target mindsets. What Stuff have most women throughout the history of the world raised their babies with? Their breasts, cloth, a couple things harvested & produced locally, and the support of their community. All that to say, I have deep suspicions that raising children can, and perhaps should, be a much more streamlined endeavor.

As I’ve been preparing for motherhood, here are the Top Four Motivations I’ve landed on for keeping the Baby Stuff to a relative minimum:

Motivation 1: Focus. By keeping it simple and uncluttered, I will by default be freer to focus on connecting with my little man himself. I recognize this is theoretical for me at this point, but my instinct and experience in other realms tells me its true. Less stuff = Less to clean, store, and trip over. Less stuff = More peace of mind, flexibility & mobility, together time.

Motivation 2: Lifestyle. This choice aligns with my values and desired lifestyle. While I don’t consider myself a radical minimalist or environmentalist, we are more “naturally” minded than maybe the typical American family. I plan to have a natural, non-interventive childbirth, breastfeed, cosleep in the early months, use cloth diapers, and make my own organic baby food once the little man starts chomping. While I’m no expert on any of these subjects, I do believe that our bodies and creation are amazingly designed to provide and nurture,  I do value environmental stewardship,  and I do find it liberating to opt out of wasteful consumption. It’s a journey and I’m certainly not one to judge anyone else for where they currently land on this spectrum, as I hope others won’t judge me for my own gradual progress.

Motivation 3: Finances. There’s an endless supply of products competing for my dollars, many of them flashy and cute, but unnecessary. With each purchase I must ask myself, “Is this a need?” and “Is this the best way to spend these dollars?” Key motivations here include living debt-free, saving for the future (think: college fund), and freeing up more income for giving to causes we believe in and people who need it more than we do. As a Christian, I’m learning that any resources we “own” are merely entrusted to us by a generous Benefactor and we’re responsible to invest them wisely for good, not just blow it all on ourselves.

Motivation 4: Modeling. Kids learn by imitating. Perhaps most importantly, I want to be a good example to our son in these areas from the very beginning.

There’s the foundation for my philosophy. How will I apply those values? In keeping with the Top Four lists, here are the Top Four traits of the kinds of baby products I think are worth acquring:

Trait 1: Essential. I want products that are necessary, useful, helpful, will be used regularly, and serve more than one purpose. Because I am not a radical minimalist, I am going to count on more than just my boobs and a few clean rags to raise this baby. But those additional items will be expected to “carry their own weight” by proving highly useful.

Trait 2: Healthful. Healthy for baby & mom, healthy for those involved in its production, healthy for the planet. These kinds of products are often natural and/or organic, sustainably / locally made (preferably by a person, not a machine), and environmentally friendly. Bath products and toys are two key categories to pay special attention to.

Trait 3: Appropriately Valued. Quality is important and cheaper isn’t necessarily better. I will pay more for a product that meets these traits listed above & below. But for many products, I prefer gently used purchases and gifts. For instance, the cosleeper I researched online retails for around $200; I found a few of them for sale on Craigslist in Bend for $60-$80. For something we’ll only use a few months, buying used makes fiscal sense.

Trait 4: Nurturing. This category may be more vague, but it ties into my ideas about a child’s mental development. I will limit our little one’s access to technology. The surgeon general warns against allowing children “screen time” their first two years; sorry Baby Einstein and http://www.BabyTV.com. Instead of toys that entertain the baby (flashing lights & sounds, plastic moving parts) I would love to find toys that let the baby apply his imagination. And we’ll be right there along side of him, playing, reading, talking, singing, touching, and nurturing him as he discovers his world.

Whew! So there’s my list. I’m sure it will continue to be honed in the next 5 weeks leading up to Baby’s birth. And then once he arrives, we’ll watch and listen and learn even more about what we do and don’t need.

Your turn! What have you found to be the most essential, healthful, valuable, nurturing products for your baby? And…what was the first thing you tossed in the Goodwill pile? I look forward to reading your thoughts on this!

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