Both my parents and in-laws had their first children (my husband and I) while they were in school and living in one bedroom apartments. When we found out we were having a baby, I didn’t quite know how we would stay in a one bedroom place. However, over time I’ve learned that it’s definitely possible, and even pretty convenient. Plus, it’s kind of fun to defy the norms of society by living on a budget in a small space with a family.
My husband and I have grown closer together in times where we have had to make do with what we had. For example, when we got married we had about $500 to our names and no car, were in the middle of our undergraduate degrees, and were also working. We both love the memories of riding our bikes to the grocery store in the winter (we were married around Christmas time) and carrying back groceries in a bike basket and our backpacks. I still have frozen in my mind the visual of my wonderful husband carrying a huge bag of laundry on his back while we rode bikes to the laundromat. It’s these times that can bring people closer together and bring out the creativity in you. So I encourage each of you to be creative in your use of space and work together with your spouse to create a home for your new family.
One of the best things I think you can do to prepare to have a baby in a small space is to condense the amount of things you have. This means going through your closet, bathroom, living room, storage space, etc. and reducing the amount of stuff you have to what you actually use/need. For example: donate old clothes, get some under the bed storage for winter coats, clear out old makeup and hair products, sell or donate old books, put DVDs in cases, etc. Once this part is done, it makes it so much easier to see where you can actually put all the things your little one will need.
After I cleared out my closet, I measured the space left and went to get some storage bins. Storage bins make it a lot easier to organize all the things that will stay in your closet/storage area. Here’s what I got at Walmart, which you could probably find pretty much anywhere:
- Collapsible storage cubes– They are available in multiple sizes and colors, plus they are easy to collapse and pack up when you have to move.
- 4- Clear 12 qt storage tubs– Use one for each size of baby clothes (Newborn, 3-6 Mo, 6-9 Mo, 9+ Mo). Label them using sticky notes taped on so that you can change the labels and use them for bigger clothes as they grow.
- Hanging storage– I like the 6-section hangers, the shoe storage hanger, and the 4-pocket hanging organizer, but there are honestly so many to choose from! Any of these organizers can be used for baby diapers, burp cloths, swaddles, etc. Plus, you can use them for some of your things, too.
- Under the bed storage– I think these are really handy for storing things like winter coats, extra clothes (instead of using a suitcase), and any other random things that you don’t use often.
So, what do you actually need for a newborn?
Registries and stores try to influence you to buy their products. To do so, they attempt to make you believe that you need each baby accessory known to man. Obviously, you do not need every item. For example, the pack and play, bassinet, crib, bouncer, and swing. What I did was pick out what I would use right at first. In my case, I planned to use a bassinet for baby to sleep in and got a simple baby bouncer seat so that I could put my baby girl in it while I showered, cooked, etc. The crib, pack and play, and swing would have to wait for later.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants sleep in the same room as their parents, but on a separate sleep surface, for at least the first 6 months of their lives, or preferably the first year. For this reason, I decided to use a bassinet until my baby is big enough to move on to a crib or pack and play. Therefore, I did not need a crib right at first.
- Diapers. Newborns go through about 10-12 diapers a day, so I got a supply of about 200 to start. The thing about newborn diapers is that you never know how fast your baby will grow out of them, so I wouldn’t get too many to start with. I got some size 1 diapers just in case my newborn will grow out of the newborn size really fast. Also, most stores will exchange diapers for a different size (unopened packages), FYI (I exchanged a box of diapers for a different size without a receipt no problem at Walmart)
- Swaddles/blankets. Some parents prefer swaddle blankets and others prefer the swaddlers that have velcro to wrap up baby. I just got a couple (3-4) swaddles for my baby and I have some heavier blankets that some friends/family made for me. The bigger blankets are nice for covering baby when she is in her carseat (because you can’t put the blanket under the buckles), for using on the floor as a play mat, etc.
- Burp cloths. Newborns spit up. I recommend getting thick burp cloths that can absorb a lot. Something like cloth diapers. You can find ways to make them look cuter by sewing flannel on the edges or down the middle.
- Baby wrap/carrier. I love these. They help baby sleep and encourage being close to Mom. I love the Ergobaby carriers because they reduce the strain on your back by placing the weight on your hips. They also have a piece that can help hold baby’s head while they sleep. It’s easy to take on and off when you are out and about or traveling, too. I like my baby wrap for wearing around the house because it’s not so bulky. A sling is nice because it’s easy to take on and off, but I don’t really like using it for big outings. I’d recommend getting your baby carrier in a lightweight fabric because it can get pretty toasty in there with the shared body heat of a baby.
- Basic bathing items. For my baby, I got a hooded towel, a pack of six washcloths, a baby bath lotus, bath soap, and lotion. It would also be easy to use one of your own towels and some washcloths without having to buy any extras. Babies won’t notice the difference 🙂
- Baby nail clippers, a thermometer, a bulb syringe, diaper rash cream, baby acetaminophen (aka Tylenol) and ibuprofen (aka Motrin). These are small items that are pretty useful when baby comes. Nail clippers specifically for babies are really handy because their fingers are so tiny, yet those little nails grow fast! You’ll want a thermometer to check baby’s temperature when she gets sick. I have found that babies hate anything under their arms, so I’d recommend getting a temporal artery (the one you run over their forehead) or tympanic (ear) thermometer for your own sanity. Call or go see your provider to get exact guidelines for what to give your baby when they are sick, but having these simple medications around (in a secure, locked place) will help your little one feel better (*always get instructions from your child’s pediatrician before giving baby any medication).
- Car seat and stroller. In order to legally be released to take baby home from the hospital, you have to have an approved car seat. All car seats have expiration dates, so make sure that yours is not expired. Just like helmets, I would personally never buy a used car seat because I never know what kind of life it’s been through (for example, it may have been in an accident). As far as strollers, at first I thought of a stroller as an optional item, something that I would get once my baby was older. However, after some research, I learned that strollers that can hold baby car seats are so useful. If your baby is asleep in their car seat, for example, you don’t have to bother trying to take them out and not wake them while transferring them to a carrier. I keep our stroller in the trunk of our car to minimize storage space taken up in the apartment. I got the Chicco Mini Bravo Plus travel system and absolutely love it! (*Tip: You can get really good deals on big items like the carseat and stroller at Buy Buy Baby with a 20% off coupon if you sign up for their email list).
- Baby clothes. This is the part that I felt like I had the least control over. Since this was my first baby, I had no idea what she would fit into at first and how fast she would grow out of it. I got a few basics for each stage (newborn, 3 mo, 6 mo, 9 mo) and planned to just see how things went. My baby was eight and a half pounds and she fit into her newborn clothes for about a month, but it really depends on the baby as to how long they will fit what size.
- Some sort of bouncer seat or swing. Having one of these to me is really important for my own sanity. They are really nice to have for when you need to put baby down while you cook or take a quick shower.
Don’t forget, mom will need a couple basic things as well:
- Nursing supplies. Nursing bras (I’d recommend getting a hands-free pumping bra as well), nipple cream, nursing pads (the washable ones hold more liquid and are a lot comfier), Breast pump and equipment, nursing covers, snacks, water bottle, nursing pillow, etc. I made a little dollar store tote into a holder for all of my nursing supplies. That way, I can just move it around the apartment with me to feed baby.
- One item I have used a ton is this breast milk catcher. When you have a let-down of milk in the breast your baby is feeding on, you will have a let-down on the other side as well. This catches the milk so 1) you can save it and 2) you don’t soak your nursing pad.
- Comfy place to nurse/hold baby. In a small space, it can be hard to get a nice big chair or glider. However, it is really helpful to prop up your feet and recline a little while nursing, so there are some other things you can use to create the perfect nursing spot for you: 1) I found a foam sleeping wedge on Amazon that is so nice to sit up against in bed to help me nurse baby. 2) Use a back support pillow behind you on the couch and prop your feet up on the coffee table or a small storage ottoman. Whatever you choose, it will be really helpful for it to be a space next to a side table where you can put your breastfeeding supplies.
- Postpartum supplies. There are lots of good lists out there of what to get for postpartum care. I recommend getting or recycling a small box that fits on the back of your toilet or a shelf next to the toilet to keep these supplies in. Some things I had in my box included: maxi pads (I liked the Always overnight or maxi pads), disposable underwear (ex. Depends, Always Discreet, etc.), witch hazel pads (Tucks or no name brand), Dermoplast spray, docusate sodium (aka Colace), and flushable wipes (I recommend getting the big pack because I used these for at least 4 weeks afterwards).
- One thing I wish I had made more of were “padsicles.” Basically, you take a maxi pad (overnight size) and open it up, saving the plastic/paper for the wings. Then, mix witch hazel with essential oils (essential oils optional, but I liked the cooling of peppermint and also used tea tree and lavender) and pour it generously over the pad. Then, spread some aloe vera on top of the pad. Finally, fold the pad back up and freeze it in a plastic bag. I made 15 and wished I had about 5-10 more.
This list may seem like a lot of things, but honestly it doesn’t take up that much space. Especially if you have organized your belongings and prepared with storage bins to organize the new items in. Remember, people will try to convince you that you need all the supplies in the world, but you don’t. And you can always send a friend to the store or order something online later if you find out it is a necessity.
Basically, focusing on what is most important, that is, inviting a newborn into your family, is the most important way to prepare. The physical items are great, but will not be the determining factor in your child’s success in life. Personally, I am so grateful for the opportunity to simplify my life down to the necessities in our small home. I feel like it has helped me see the greater picture and focus more on becoming a good person in preparation for raising a child. I hope these tips are helpful! Feel free to comment below with any other ideas you may have!