You’re expecting a baby. Congratulations! In this post I’ll share some suggestions for preparing your small home for baby. I hope some of it is helpful to you.
Infant Safety Resources
Baby products are highly regulated in the US to ensure safety. I am not going to endorse specific infant products on this blog, although I will reference general categories of products. Whether your baby items are used or new, please make frequent use of these three resources:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which runs the parenting website healthychildren.org.
- The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which manages product recalls and safety standards. They can also help you assess if a product is safe for you to buy or sell secondhand.
- The manufacturer’s safety instructions, including height and weight limits. You should be able to find this on the manufacturer’s website if you receive the item secondhand without the manual.
The AAP website will also alert you to any parenting practices that may be unsafe. These recommendations evolve over time, so please consult with the AAP’s website, your pediatrician, or another trusted contemporary resource for the latest information.
Baby Items (Mostly) Belong to You
Your baby needs and wants YOU. The baby items in your home are primarily there to make your responsibilities as a parent easier, safer, and more fun. What are those responsibilities? Simply to nurture and nourish your baby. That’s it. And there are many ways to do that well. If a particular product isn’t safe for baby, if it doesn’t interest you, or if it’s going to cost you too much time, too much space, or too much money – feel free to say, “No thank you!”
Your baby may form a deep emotional attachment to one specific item – a so-called “lovey.” If so, please don’t ever get rid of the lovey, and safeguard against losing it. Otherwise, everything else belongs to you and baby, and you get to decide if it stays or goes. If you try an item and it doesn’t work for you, it’s okay to say, “Thank you!” and let it go.
When baby no longer needs an item, it is totally your choice whether to make it a keepsake for you to treasure, or a give-away. Your baby will agree with whatever you decide.
It’s okay if you don’t have a nursery!
When my son was born, we did not have room for a dedicated nursery. Instead, we set up functional nooks around our small apartment. If you have a nursery, you will likely locate most of these nooks in that one room. But you can do just fine without one.
Nook 1: Sleeping
Your baby needs a safe place to sleep. Choose one piece of furniture designed for infant sleep and be sure it meets contemporary safety standards. Put this crib near where you sleep to make nighttime feedings easier. 3′ x 5′ of floor space is more than enough for a full-size crib, and there are smaller options. No storage needs here, but I do recommend having one extra mattress cover stored elsewhere.
Nook 2: Diapering
Know that you can change baby’s diaper on any open horizontal surface. Just make sure it’s at a comfortable height for your back. If the bed, couch, or floor is uncomfortable for you and baby’s other caregivers, you can repurpose a low dresser or acquire a changing table. Some families purchase a special changing mat to help contain the mess and protect the changing surface. A folded towel will also do this. Finally, this is the nook where I recommend storing most of your baby things.
For your ease, locate this nook near where baby sleeps at night, or where baby is fed at night. Recommended storage:
- Keep a clean change of clothes, a few clean diapers, baby wipes, a tube of diaper rash cream, and a few thick washcloths on top of the surface or within arm’s reach. For safety, you want to be able to keep one hand on wriggly, fussy baby and still reach these supplies with your free hand.
- This area will generate a regular drum beat of soiled laundry and garbage. Some families walk these items over to the washing machine or an existing garbage can immediately. Otherwise, have a small dirty clothes basket, a small garbage, and (if you are doing cloth diapers) a small dirty diaper bag or pail. The garbage bin does not need to be specially designed for diapers – a small one emptied frequently works fine.
- Store clean clothes in the current size only and overstock diapers in the current size only underneath or near the changing surface. You may also have room for overstock burping cloths, blankets and your extra mattress cover here too. I recommend washing baby’s dirty laundry every day or two, as it will smell, so a 3-day supply of clothes and other washables is likely sufficient. Assume baby goes through 3 outfits a day. Note that some parents skip newborn-size outfits and just start with 0-3 months, even if they are a little roomy for baby at first. Your choice.
Nook 3: Feeding
This one is easy! It’s simply where an adult who feeds baby can sit. You can use your bed, the couch, or a comfy chair you already own – just talk to your pediatrician or consult the AAP about safe practices, especially for nighttime feedings. Some families acquire a rocker or glider, but this is purely a question of the adult’s preference and the family’s space and money budgets. It’s not necessary. Whatever you choose, I recommend having a small basket or box to hold a burping cloth and any other items you need to be comfortable. (I liked having my water bottle and e-reader on hand while feeding.)
Nook 4 (Optional): Chilling
Sometimes you’ll want to use both of your hands while baby is awake. This means you must be able to put baby down someplace safe. If your home is small enough, you can probably just place baby in their sleeping crib. Otherwise, some families acquire another piece of baby furniture for this purpose. A portable crib, bassinet, or baby bouncer are common examples. Whatever you choose, know that your baby will likely outgrow it in a matter of months, not years. Pay very close attention to the item’s safety instructions, including if it’s a safe place for baby to sleep or not. No storage needs in this optional nook.
- In the bathroom: If you choose to have a baby tub, you can just store it on the floor of the built-in bath/shower or lean it against the wall. Otherwise, you just need room for baby’s towel, washcloth, and soap here.
- In the kitchen: Products that help you feed your baby will never be put “away”. When not in use, they will be in the dishwasher, drying on your kitchen counter or packed in a bag. Clear some space on your counter and lay a towel there reserved for drying baby’s feeding things. Done!
- In the entryway: Have a designated place to stash your diaper bag (which can just be a backpack you already own). It will be easiest for you if it’s off the floor and this will help later when baby is mobile enough to get into anything left on the floor. If you don’t have an existing place (a chair, a table, a banister), just add a sturdy hook to the wall or the back of the door.
- On the deck or in the entryway, lobby, or garage: Have a designated space for your stroller – unfolded if possible! It will make your life easier. If you own a car, or if your baby will ever ride in a car, you will need a car seat. If space is limited at home, I recommend leaving the car seat in your vehicle and just moving baby. Otherwise, clear some floor space for this too.
- In the living room: Add a small basket on the floor for a few favorite books and toys. Have a blanket for baby to lie on too – you can store it folded atop the basket when baby’s not on the floor. A lot of parents find coffee tables to be a hazard with babies and toddlers. If space is tight, consider getting rid of it.
- Nearby: Note that toys, books, and blankets make cute decorations for shelves and walls. This is a great way to add storage for baby’s things if space is tight. Otherwise, you can tuck the rest of these items away in a large bin or basket. Store this bin in a corner, a closet, or a cabinet. Dig into it when you’re ready to rotate things out from the living room basket. Finally, designate a small box for user manuals, assembly/repair kits, and accessories related to your car seat, stroller, crib, and other practical baby products.
- Out of the Way: Store clothing that is too big in stackable bins grouped by size. Label the each bin with the size(s) it contains. You’ll only need to access this every 2 – 3 months as baby grows, so it doesn’t need to be “on hand”. The top shelf of a closet, top of your kitchen cabinets, basement, garage, or storage unit are all examples of “out of the way” storage. (We hung a deep wall shelf above either side of the bathroom doorway and put these boxes up there.) If you plan to keep clothes as future hand-me-downs, simply replace them in these labeled bins as your first baby outgrows them.
Donation Station and Treasures
Throughout your baby’s life, you’ll receive things you don’t want and buy things you later don’t like. This is in addition to the many things that your kid will outgrow. All of this is okay! You are not obligated to keep any toy, book, blanket, or onesie forevermore (unless it’s your baby’s lovey!). Designate a bag or box somewhere in your home as a “donation station.” As you identify items you don’t want to keep, place them here. I like to follow Marie Kondo’s practice of thanking the item for its role in my life as I drop it in the bag. “Thank you for reminding me how excited Mom and Dad are to be grandparents.” “Thank you for helping me discover what my baby likes and dislikes.” “Thank you for helping me keep my baby warm this past winter.” When the donation bag is full, give it to a friend or the thrift store, or sell it on a second-hand market.
That said, you are also not obligated to give away every toy, book, blanket and onesie. If you treasure specific items, keep them! At a minimum, give yourself a clean box or basket for your baby keepsakes. Keep it someplace that’s easy for you to reach when you want to reminisce about your precious time with baby.
You don’t need to have it all on the day your baby is born. For example, you might have noticed that my list doesn’t call for a feeding chair for baby. That’s because your newborn can’t use it! Feel free to worry about that later. I mention toys because you will likely receive some as gifts, but know that it will be a while before baby is inclined to play with things, and even then, almost any safe object will do – a burping cloth, a cup, their own hand, etc. They just want to explore. Finally, late in your pregnancy and throughout your child’s first couple of years, you will likely discover a village of fellow parents who will be so happy to give you their hand-me-downs, recommendations, and help. So just focus on the absolutely essentials before baby arrives.
You can change your mind. We initially said, “No thank you!” to a changing table. A few days after being at home with our son, we changed our minds. Out went the nightstands (making room in the space budget). My husband stopped at one store on his way home from work (time budget) where we often shopped and bought the cheapest one in stock (money budget). It did not match our crib and I still think of it with gratitude.
Decorating themes and color schemes don’t affect baby at all. They don’t hurt baby. They don’t help baby. If it’s fun for you and you have the time and money to coordinate this, go for it! Me? It wasn’t my jam. My dad’s cool cousin once described her home’s decorating scheme as, “Everything I like goes together.” I always thought that was a wonderful thing to say, so I declared my theme Baby and my color scheme All Colors. I used a mashup of hand-me-downs, gifts, and purchases and it was wonderful.
After reading this, do you feel more confident and calmer about welcoming baby into your small home? I hope so! Feel free to leave a comment below.
If you live in the Chicago/Evanston area and would like some in-person help, please contact me!