Remember the good old days? When there was no such thing as a luxury stroller or designer baby clothes that cost more than mom's wardrobe? When a diaper bag was not an uber-expensive custom purse but any old tote bag? When *somehow* parents got by without shopping cart covers, splash mats and miracle hi-tech swaddlers?
It's no secret that consumer culture is king. I'm not a fan, but I'm guilty as much as the next person. What really gets me though, is how easy it is to fall prey to it as a new parent. In those first few sleep-deprived, insane months, throwing money at my problems seemed like the only way to get any kind of order back into my life: "If we could only swaddle him tightly enough, he could sleep. We must need to buy this special thirty dollar swaddling blanket that is guaranteed to stay snug", "If it wasn't so cold, he wouldn't scream at 3 a.m. when we change his diaper, we must need that wipes warmer"
Since then, I think I've really learned to think critically about what my son NEEDS vs. what he really doesn't. Here is my minimalist take on a few "essential" baby items (and a couple that really are):
1. Infant car seat: Most people don't even realize that it is optional, since they have become so ubiquitous. I won't lie, they're convenient. I would estimate there were a dozen situations that I wished I'd had one. If I had lots of disposable income, I probably would have purchased one, but you CAN put a newborn into a convertible car seat, and you will save about a hundred bucks by doing so.
2. Shopping cart cover: germs happen, people. This is just one more item to tote around and fuss with. If you're really concerned that your precious one is going to lean down and bite the shopping cart handle, there is this amazing invention called the receiving blanket.
3. Crib bedding set: This one is such a hot button for me. The only actual useful item in a crib bedding set is the fitted sheet. And they charge you over a hundred bucks for it. Crib bumpers are included in these sets routinely, but they are now not recommended because they increase the chance of SIDS! Blankets and pillows are also considered no-nos. This seems like such a no brainer to me- skip the frou frou bedding set and get a few crib sheets. They can even be pretty crib sheets and you'll still save a ton of money.
4. Baby carrier/wrap: The BEST thing I bought. For the first year of my son's life I could carry him around attached me and it was reasonably care-free. No maneuvering strollers or lugging a heavy, awkward car seat. For the first few months, it saved my life. I would put him in the wrap snuggled up to me and an otherwise colicky baby would sleep through restaurant lunches and all kinds of errands. Please note that Bjorn is not the be all end all of baby carriers, in fact they are really not tops for baby's spinal development compared to other carriers. I would 100% recommend making sure you've got a moby/sleepy wrap when baby arrives, and if you end up loving it (which is likely), a great place to shop for a heavier duty, all around carrier is paxbaby.com. They rent out carriers so that you can try them before committing to the full price, and the owner is VERY knowledgeable and helpful. I know they seem pricey, but they truly are worth it. I would spend the $100 for my Beco Butterfly II again in a heartbeat.
5. Toys: Less is more. We have a no batteries rule in our house and try to remember the adage "The more the toy does the less the child does". There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the best toys are simple and open-ended, such as a set of blocks. Besides, how much money do you want to spend on batteries, and how sick are you going to be of those cute little lights and sounds the 200th time junior pushes that button in a row? I have had people complain to me that my son doesn't have any fun toys, but he has lots of fun with his blocks, books, and wooden puzzles.
Okay, I guess I can hop off m soapbox now. I want to make it clear that I am not dissing anybody's parenting decisions here. It's a hard game and there are a lot of choices that only you can make for you and your child. I'm just giving my own opinion and try to let people know that this stuff is optional, despite what the suggested gift registry list at Babies R Us will tell you.