Minimalist Essentials for Baby’s First Year

Trying to keep *stuff* to a minimum with a baby?

The bad news? The entire baby gear industry is out to make you feel like you need ALL THE THINGS.

The good news? You really, REALLY don’t!

You may already be convinced that having fewer things is better for you, your wallet, and the planet. But if you need convincing, here are five reasons to keep baby gear to a minimum:

  1. It’s cheaper. Baby stuff can be ridiculously pricey!
  2. Most gear is unnecessary. Some things are convenient, but for such a short period of time that they’re not usually worth owning. Other things are just straight-up silly. Don’t fall prey to the marketing tactics that tell you your baby NEEDS all the stuff!
  3. Some gear is actually harmful. I’m mostly talking here about “containers”: seats, swings, bouncers, etc. There’s a big qualifier here—these things are definitely not harmful when used in small doses. But containers do restrict the kinds of gross motor movements that help baby’s physical and brain development. The best place for baby, whenever possible, is on you or flat on the floor. See this fantastic post from a pediatric OT for more on this.
  4. Babies outgrow things fast. This means it’s really easy to borrow or buy used for the things you do need, and cut down on waste and space-hogs in the process.
  5. If you discover a need along the way, it’s very easy to acquire something that will fill that need. But I’d recommend against starting out with too much. You’ll have a better sense of what you’ll use as you get to know your baby and your parenting style.

Marketing geared toward parents drives me bananas. I know very few parents who feel totally confident that they are doing everything right, or that they are fully equipped to raise a tiny human. So most marketing for baby stuff preys on this insecurity to make you feel like you’re doing your kid a disservice by not having certain products.

You guys. It’s bologna.

There are definitely things you can do to help your baby’s development. But almost none of them require you to purchase anything.

Talk to your baby. Read to your baby. Give them skin-to-skin contact. Snuggle. Be responsive. Give them loads of tummy time. They don’t need stuff. They need YOU.

Ok, so with that out of the way! Here is our minimal list of baby essentials:

  • A place to sleep
  • Diapers
    • If cloth diapering:
      • 14-20 cloth diapers
      • 2 wetbags
      • 30-40 flannel wipes
      • detergent specific to cloth diapers
  • 4-6 footie pj’s of each size (not of every size; more on this below)
  • 4-5 outfits
  • 4-5 onesies
  • A hat
  • 4 swaddle blankets
  • 2 sleep sacks
  • 8+ burp cloths
  • Baby carrier
  • Car seat
  • Stroller
  • Bath support
  • Thermometer
  • Baby safe soap
  • Nail clippers
  • Soft hairbrush
  • Bottles (5-8 if bottle-feeding exclusively; fewer if breastfeeding)
  • If breastfeeding:
    • Breastpump
    • Pumping bra
  • A few toys and books
  • Somewhere safe to put baby down
  • A chair for eating

A Place to Sleep

This can be anything from a crib to a bassinet to a Moses basket to your bed. The most important thing is to keep it safe—a firm, flat service with no doodads around: no pillows, blankets, crib bumpers, etc.

We’ve used a variety of things for our three kids, almost all of them borrowed. Graham slept in a mini crib next to our bed, then transitioned to a full crib. Margie slept in our bed til she was about a year old, then moved to a floor bed. For Bill we bought a secondhand Snoo (which is fine, but absolutely not worth the money in my opinion.)

Besides safety, I think the most important thing to consider is keeping your baby nearby (for about the first 3-4 months) and not having to bend over too much to put them down.

Co-sleeping is the ultimate minimalist baby sleep solution and we loved it, but two of our babies did not.

If you’re using a bassinet, baby will be ready to transition to a bigger crib between about 3 and 6 months (if you’re using a mini crib rather than a bassinet, they can stay in it longer.) Once baby is ready to move up, we’re fans of transitioning straight to a portable crib. Aesthetically it may not be as cute in a nursery, but it does eliminate the need for buying another thing.

We have the Lotus Travel Crib from Guava and it’s excellent. Because the mattress rests straight on the floor, it has a high weight limit and is super sturdy. The zippered entrance on the side allows you to lie next to baby, so it can be helpful in transitioning away from co-sleeping or if you like to lay by your baby to get them to sleep. It folds up compactly and is lighter than most portable cribs, too. If your baby is a picky sleeper and you ever travel or need baby to sleep away from home, it’s nice to be able to bring their familiar bed along.

(Want to see how we attempt minimalism? Check out this post to see how our family of 4 travelled for 2 months in 6 countries with only carry-ons.)

baby standing in crib

Diapers

We cloth diapered our first baby through potty training and our second for about 6 months. For our third we’ve been all disposable. I won’t go into all the reasons why in this post, but the TLDR is that I think cloth diapering is ideal if you can do it! And it can be really simple.

There are a lot of great blog posts out there that get into all the details of cloth diapering, and I won’t get into it much because I’m no expert. I will say that you can go down a lot of rabbit holes and end up with way more stuff than you need—cloth diapers can be real cute!

Here were our favorites that we used:

BumGenius One-Size Pocket diapers: These worked for our first baby from about 6 weeks through potty training. We had 16 diapers total, plus a bunch of generic flannel wipes. You can customize the absorbency by adding more inserts or using inserts of different materials. You do have to spend a bit of time stuffing the inserts into the covers (really not a big deal), but because the pieces separate, they dry much more quickly than all-in-one diapers.

The one-size pocket diaper is a great all-purpose solution if you want to keep your cloth diapering journey super simple. They’re also very cost-effective, especially if you’re using them for more than one baby.

Along the way we acquired some of these multi-size fitted diapers and they ended up being my favorite diaper that we tried. So soft and easy to care for. We used them with these wool covers, which are excellent, and some PUL covers as well.

There’s a bit more of a learning curve with fitteds and wool, and the initial cost is higher, but they were my favorite diapering solution and the easiest to care for.

baby in cloth diaper

Disposable

My favorite disposable diapers are Earth’s Best, but they can be pricey and sometimes hard to find.

With our third baby, we’ve been using Hello Bello. They send a box of 7 packs of diapers and 4 packs of wipes every 4-6 weeks (you select the frequency and sizes.) Even at the 6 week interval it’s been more diapers than we’ve needed, but it’s easy to delay a box or skip one. I really like the diapers and they seem to be a good compromise between healthy ingredients and good manufacturing practices and cost. Also they’re super soft, have cute designs, and don’t leak if the sizing is right (though the baby we’ve had in these does not have prolific output; your mileage may vary.) I have no complaints.

Clothes

I highly, highly recommend buying baby clothes on an as-needed basis. It’s impossible to predict what sizes you’ll need and when. Our oldest was only in newborn size clothes for about 2 days. Our youngest was tiny and stayed in newborn size for weeks. All three have skipped at least one size bracket entirely (usually the 6 month size) and always you can buy things a little big and use them longer.

For an infant, nothing beats footed, zippered pj’s. Zippers make diaper changes loads easier; built-in feet mean you don’t have to fuss with socks. (And forget about shoes. Baby shoes are just silly! Also sometimes adorable. But definitely unnecessary.)

In the early days, you’ll probably deal with more blow-outs and spit-up. I’d recommend having 8-10 pairs of pj’s in the first few sizes, then 4-6 pairs in later sizes, when baby will probably start getting dressed in daytime outfits instead of wearing jammies all the time. Add about 4-5 onesies and 4-5 pairs of pants, shirts or rompers in a bigger size and you’ll be golden.

The best, cheapest and most eco-friendly option is to borrow. I’m lucky to have sisters with older kids, so they’ve passed things along to us. While we lived in NYC, people in our parent group were constantly passing on bags of clothes their kids had grown out of.

If you don’t have access to hand-me-downs, hit up a thrift store or kid consignment shop like Once Upon a Child. Before our third baby, we bought 10 pairs of footed pj’s in newborn and 0-3 month sizes for about $2/piece and that was all the clothing we needed. And they were cute pj’s!

Babies outgrow clothes so quickly and are generally so light on them that you can get used ones in great shape. I’m not saying you should never buy a cute little new outfit, but it makes sense in every way to source most of baby’s clothes secondhand. Save money, save the environment. Huzzah!

(Traveling with baby? Check out our minimal list of gear for traveling with kids here!)

baby in a jacket

A Hat

If your baby will be out in cold or sunny weather, get her a hat. There is absolutely nothing cuter than a baby in a hat. Get one that makes her look like a gnome, or Baby Yoda, or an adorable Puritan.

Swaddle Blankets

A very multipurpose item, for actual swaddling but also to use as a regular blanket, carseat cover, nursing cover, in-a-pinch burp rag, chew toy, peekaboo prop, etc., etc., etc.

These Aden and Anais muslin blankets are light and breathable and hold up well through many washings.

For a really snug swaddle, these Copper Pearl blankets are awesome—large, soft and super stretchy. They also have a bunch of adorable patterns. We didn’t have them until our 3rd baby, but they quickly became our favorites.

There are all kinds of swaddle sack-like products. The basic idea behind them is that you strap down baby’s arms and then zip up the sack so they’re nice and bundled. These can be helpful (and save you a bit of time), but they’re definitely not necessary if your swaddle game is strong.

baby swaddled in copper pearl blanket

Sleep Sacks

Since it’s not safe for babies to sleep with blankets, sleep sacks are a safe and cozy way to get them warm. You can get them with or without sleeves (depending on the weather) and most fit a wide range of sizes. If your baby always sleeps in a sleep sack, definitely get two, since they will inevitably get pooped on. We like this Nested Baby one.

Burp Cloths

You don’t need anything fancy. These Gerber prefold diapers work great. Want something cuter? These and these are absorptive and soft.

Baby Carrier

Our ErgoBaby is the single most used and useful baby item we own. We have the original version because it has a higher weight limit. We’ve used it for rocking a one-day-old (with the infant insert) to backpacking with a 3-year-old and pretty much every day in between.

I can’t over-stress how helpful a good baby carrier is. Need to make dinner but baby wants to be held? Pop them in the carrier. Can’t get baby to sleep without being held? Keep your hands free by letting them sleep in the carrier. Need baby to nap on the go? Carrier. Going on a hike? Carrier. Don’t want to lug your stroller up and down the subway steps? Carrier. Traveling with a kid who *can* walk, but might not be able to make it as far as you need them to? Throw the carrier in your bag just in case.

There are many different kinds of carriers and you want to get one that fits your body well and provides enough support to carry baby’s weight comfortably. Something with padded straps and good hip or lower back support is key. Besides the Ergobaby, we’ve heard great things about the Tula. Though popular, we know a lot of parents who find the Baby Bjorn uncomfortable and unsupportive.

Many baby stores will let you try on various carriers. Take your time testing them out! They should have some kind of weight or baby-sized thing to put inside so you can get a sense for how carrying will feel. Test them on yourself and your partner if they’ll be using the carrier as well. Don’t settle for something that pinches or sits weirdly on your body!

A well-made carrier should last a long time, so it’s worth looking at used options. You can also opt for a soft wrap; they’re a bit more complicated to get on and not as useful for older kids, but they’re lightweight and adjustable and I know a lot of people who love them for newborns, especially.

(If you’re looking to do more hiking with your baby, here are 10 of our best hiking tips for families!)

hiking in american samoa with kids
baby carrier hiking in Acadia

Car Seat

Safety is the goal here. Car seat marketing can really get you, because of course you want your baby in the safest option. But every car seat on the market has had to pass the same safety standard, so don’t feel like you need to go for the most expensive option.

This is one area where you should probably buy new. Car seats expire 6 years after they’re manufactured (see this article for why). Any car seat that has been in a collision needs to be replaced. If you know the seat’s full use history and exactly how old it is, used is fine, but I’d only use one that belonged to someone I knew personally.

A bucket seat like this is the most portable, but you can also skip straight to a convertible seat if it’s one that works for infants (see more on this here.)

Stroller

Strollers really aren’t a necessity for every lifestyle, but they can be very handy and a lot of fun for outings.

Consider what you’ll be using your stroller for. Do a lot of running around in the car and want to be able to easily transition baby from car to stroller? Get a travel system. Love going for walks, especially on varied terrain? A jogging stroller might be your best bet. Use lots of public transportation? You’ll want something light and easy to fold. Live in the city and want to use your stroller to lug groceries home? A huge basket is clutch. Have multiple small kids? Maybe you want a double stroller, or one with a wheelie board attachment. Just want something light and simple that you can toss in the trunk or take on an airplane? Go for an umbrella stroller.

We have had sort of a silly amount of strollers over our 7+ years of parenthood, because our situation has varied a lot over that time. Buying used is great in this case, because we could get exactly what we needed and then sell it again when it no longer served us as well.

My pick for best all around? The Baby Jogger City Mini. Lightweight, super easy to fold, good basket size, large canopy for shade, decent suspension for a comfy ride, nice recline for naps—if you just need a solid, all-purpose option for one kid, this is a great one.

2 kids sleeping in uppababy stroller

Bath Support

Not strictly necessary—until baby can sit up, you can just lay her across your forearm over a sink and do the soaping and rinsing with your other hand. But if your baby enjoys the water and likes to hang out in the bath a bit longer, having a little bath support like this to pop in the tub is really nice. No tub? We used a big tupperware on the shower floor for our oldest and it worked great.

Once baby is sitting up on her own and doesn’t need a reclining support, we like to put a laundry basket inside the tub. It gives baby something to lean against and a smaller space to explore, corrals toys, and is less slippy than the bottom of the tub.

Thermometer

A good forehead thermometer is great for older kids. For newborns, we actually prefer a rectal thermometer, as they’re considered most accurate. When you’re trying to decide what kind of medical attention a fever warrants, it’s good to have the most accurate information possible, even if it means getting all up in baby’s business.

Baby Safe Soap

This is an area where I go as natural as possible. Skin is baby’s largest organ and I want anything going on it to have super clean ingredients. We like California Baby, Dr. Bronner’s and Babyganics, but there are lots of good options. Check the EWG rating to see how clean your chosen product is.

Also: plain water is fine, especially for the newest of newborns. Baby probably isn’t spending his days in a coal mine. Water on a soft washcloth will get the job done.

Post-bath is a great time to do a little baby massage. We usually skip all forms of lotion, but if you need a bit of moisturizer, either because baby has dry skin or because you want something to massage with, the brands above all have good lotion options or you can just use plain old coconut oil.

baby fresh out of the bath

Nail Clippers

Baby nails are SO SMALL and SO HARD TO CLIP. Get you a specialized pair of clippers to make your life easier. I still use our baby ones on our 7- and 4-year-olds, too.

Soft Hairbrush

Maybe your babies won’t have hair, like ours. It’s still cute to brush their fluff and important to keep their head-top from building up cradle cap.

Bottles

My first two babies never took a bottle. My third baby had major problems breastfeeding and needed to be supplemented with my milk, another mom’s milk, and formula. We had a steep learning curve getting into bottles and also wanting something that would support continued breastfeeding.

There are so many factors to consider with feeding and this isn’t the place (and I’m not the person) to dive into all that. But in case you want to know, these Mam bottles are what we’ve used with our third. We really like how easy they are to clean since every piece comes apart and configures into a little sterilizing pod for the microwave.

Whatever bottle you use, it’s very important to get a nipple that matches your baby’s stage. The lowest-flow nipples are the ones for newborns, as they’ll regulate flow, prevent gassiness, and help baby develop strong oral tone.

If you’re planning to breastfeed exclusively, it’s still a good idea to have one or two bottles hanging around in case you ever need to supplement. There will also probably be a time when you’ll want or need to give baby a bottle of pumped milk.

Breastpump

If you’ll be breastfeeding, you will almost certainly need a pump. It can help you build up your supply in the early weeks, give you relief from oversupply, and build a little milky stockpile for when things don’t go to plan.

The Spectra S2 is a fantastic one. Your insurance has to cover the cost of a breastpump (thanks, Obamacare!). It’s really worth getting a good electric one if you’ll be pumping much, and you’ll also definitely want a pumping bra so you can do it hands-free. From a mom who spent several months pumping literally around the clock, trust me—it makes a HUGE difference to have a good pumping setup!

If you don’t plan to pump, it’s still a good idea to have at least a manual pump or some containers for hand-expressed milk. Hand expression can actually be very effective, but it’s obviously a bit more work and you need to learn the technique. Alternatively, if you have enough supply to feed baby off of one breast per feed, you can use a suction breast pump, which you attach to one side while you’re feeding baby off the other (here’s my wonderful midwife Chloë’s tips on using this method.)

baby reading a book

A Few Books and Toys

Lots of household items can work as baby toys, especially as he gets older. But at a minimum, you want some dedicated chewie toys for teething. The teething and mouthing period goes on for a long time, and your baby will want something rubbery and easy to grip for gnawing.

Babies also need to be read to! For the first few months, high contrast images are most visible to baby, so they’ll be engaging and help visual development. Look for board books with black and white images, or any high-contrast images. As baby gets a little older, she’ll love to look at real pictures of other babies. We (and our 5-month-old) love this Global Babies book.

If you have the money, Lovevery ‘s play kits are really great. We have the 3-4 & 5-6 month kits, and everything inside is high-quality and engaging. They are really the only toys you need. (We purchased these kits and playmat ourselves; this is not a sponsored post.)

If that’s not in the budget (it definitely wasn’t for our first two kids), you can still use the Lovevery kits for ideas of what your baby will probably like at different stages. You can find cheaper alternatives or DIY some things.

Here are some other toys our babies have loved:

Sophie La Girafe: Is your baby even a real baby if he doesn’t have a Sophie La Girafe???*

Mortimer the Moose: All these Lamaze toys are great.

Comotomo Teether: This is the best teether!

Don’t Feed the Yeti cloth book

Ribbon Tag Blanket

*yes, definitely, you don’t need a Sophie. But we actually do love ours.

baby in a stroller

A Safe Place to Hang Out

The best position for baby’s development is flat on the floor. Work up to 30 minutes of tummy time per day in the first months, and up to 90 minutes by month 4 or 5.

You don’t actually need anything special for this—just a safe, flat space. A swaddle blanket on the floor is perfectly fine. But you can make the space more engaging for baby by suspending some things overhead and having a mirror and/or some high contrast images to look at. A baby gym makes this easy.

Though it’s more expensive than I wish it were, I have to say that the Lovevery one is really awesome. We had a playmat sort of like this from Pottery Barn for our other two and it wasn’t nearly as engaging. But we also didn’t add anything fun to it, which we certainly could have. IKEA makes a little baby gym that looks great. You could also easily DIY a frame for suspending toys from.

baby on lovevery mat

A Chair for Eating

The most obvious choice is a high chair. There are loads of options here, some of them monstrous, some sleek and design-y and mind-blowingly expensive.

Our preference is for a small chair that clamps onto the table. Baby gets to eat right alongside everyone else, it takes up almost no room and is easy to transport. We have this one from Inglesina and we love it. The only issue I have with it is that every bit gets crusty and covered in food, but that’s kind of par-for-the-course with any space baby eats in ;).

To Finish Up . . .

This may still feel like a lot of stuff. Babies do need some stuff, after all. But overall, I just want to encourage you to start small and simple, spend your money on a few key essentials, and borrow or buy used for the rest.

Don’t fall prey to marketing! Your baby needs you—and not a version of you that’s constantly stressed about not having—or being—enough.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money.

Your baby doesn’t have to have an aesthetic.

She doesn’t have to dress in linen pinafores and hand-knit cardigans. Or she can, because that sounds super adorable. But it doesn’t make you any less of a parent if your kid is decked out in hand-me-downs covered with cartoon figures and “Daddy’s Little Slugger”-type sayings. Don’t let perfectly curated online images of parenthood get you down. Honestly, we’re all covered in spit-up most of the time anyway ;).

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