We recently brought home our first child—a beautiful baby girl. They let us out of the hospital, and I suddenly realized that I had no idea what I was getting into. Really? We were allowed to take her home? No one was coming with us to make sure we passed our parenting tests? That we had the right stuff?
Being new parents is an experience full of uncertainty, worry, wonder, joy, and challenges. And in a small space, those challenges can feel even bigger. But babies are small and don’t need to take over your whole apartment or require a move into a bigger space if you plan a bit in advance and agree to live without every “essential” item on the baby registry lists. Here are just a few tips to make baby a welcome addition to even the smallest home.
The Crib – Prepare for a New Roommate
Little babies don’t need their own room. Don’t get me wrong—if you have the space, it’s fun to plan and decorate a nursery. But your newborn (or even three or six-month-old) won’t really notice whether he has a room all his own. Instead, think about setting up a baby “nook” in your bedroom; use a corner, the space next to your bed, or even try converting a walk-in closet to fit a cozy little bassinet.
Bringing your newborn into your room allows you to easily respond to his or her cries at night. You only need to reach over or stumble a few feet across the room. And the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated their recommendations to encourage parents to keep babies sleeping in the same room, but in a separate bed, for a full year if possible. Sharing a room saves space and reduces the risk of SIDS!
The Changing Table – Think Portable
Changing tables are a piece of furniture with a very short lifespan. Instead of buying and finding space for a stand-alone table, try using the top of a standard long/low dresser with just a changing pad adhered to the top. Be sure it’s going to stay in place for safety! Another easy option is to just change your babies on the floor. You’ll want something waterproof to protect your carpet or flooring, but floor changing has the added benefit of not needing to worry about your baby rolling and falling off of something. If your back can handle this option, it’s the best for space and cost savings!
For the diapers, wipes, creams, etc., I recommend either getting a small portable tote, stocked with the necessities, or hanging shelves at a convenient height above your changing space. Shelves mean you don’t take up precious dresser-top space, and they can be hung high enough to be out of reach of “helpful” little hands. A changing tote has the added benefit of letting you grab and go for changes anywhere in your apartment as well.
The Dresser and Clothes – Downsize
Baby clothes are adorable, and everyone loves to gift them to new or expecting parents. Many grandparents also love shopping for tiny onesies, booties, hats, and accessories. But realistically, most newborn babies can make do with only about four to eight seasonally-appropriate onesies, plus a couple pairs of pants, socks/booties, a couple pajamas or sleep sacks, a sun hat and a warm hat. The best way to choose how much you need is to think about how often you do laundry now, expect to increase that just a bit, and be sure to have one to two outfits per day between laundry cycles. If it turns out your baby is really spit-uppy or otherwise messy, you might need to add a few.
Baby clothes are small, so you can probably fit all of that into half of one of your dresser drawers—just downsize your wardrobe by a couple t-shirts and you’re all set.
Toys and Playyards and Stuff – Oh My!
This is where baby things can really explode. There are so many “must-haves”. I recently surprised some girl-friends when I put my daughter down on the floor with just a burp cloth under her head to catch any spit-up; they all had swings or baby loungers for their children to sit in. But my girl was just as happy on the floor, and I don’t have to lug big things around. That said, we do have a little play mat on the floor of the nursery. She loves looking at the dangling jungle animals, but we’ve been choosy about selecting only a few big things and watching to see how our daughter does. There are some she loves and we keep them. For the few she isn’t so fond of, we give them away to someone else.
For smaller toys, the littlest babies really don’t need anything at all. A few high-contrast pictures are nice for them to look at—you can print some out and paste them on cardboard. Rattles and small objects to grab are fun in a few months, but kitchen spoons and other household items can be just as good! Again, we chose just a few, making sure that when our small toy bin is full that we have to get rid of something before adding anything new.
Gifts – The Sneaky Additions
You can all the responsible choices in the world on your own, but when holidays and birthdays roll around, suddenly your child will be swimming in a dozen new toys and outfits. Oh no! While we can’t control others, we can try to explain our parenting philosophy. We tend to let our family know that we have everything we need, that we are trying to reduce the “stuff” in our lives, and that more stuff doesn’t always mean more happiness. We’ve encouraged gifters to focus on giving gifts of experiences instead of things. How many times have you seen a child open a new toy and get tired of it in minutes? Instead, they can spend time with friends or family members, making special memories together while you don’t have to wonder about where it will all fit.
What are your tips for fitting baby into your small space?