since we announced we were expecting a baby last summer, the question “have you started shopping for a new house yet, harhar?” followed pretty quickly on the heels of most people’s “congratulations.” i guess, for many people, needing to move on from a small city house or apartment once babies arrive feels inevitable. but this assumption really fired me up when i was pregnant (grrrrr!) and it still does, because people still say it! well, we’re eight months into this whole parenthood thing and we don’t feel cramped in our small space at all. in fact, i would buy another house this size or smaller when we move next year in a heartbeat.
i think our ability to live in a small space comfortably with a baby boils down to abiding by just a few rules:
- we buy as we need. we don’t “buy ahead” any toys, clothing, etc. because we’d only have to store it and we don’t really know what size she’ll actually be wearing next summer anyways. amazon is always open, so if we do find we need something — about a month ago we decided a travel crib would be useful — we can always buy it. but we try not to anticipate problems and solve them with gear before we know whether we even have a problem in the first place.
- we don’t buy or accept gifts to excess. we have a pretty good idea of what frankie needs at any one time (e.g., about a dozen tops means she always has something clean to wear) and so we don’t overstuff drawers with thirty onesies even if they are the right size/season or super on sale because she’ll never wear that much clothing before laundry day, ever. if we receive a gift that we love, we’ll put it in rotation happily, but it usually means retiring (consigning, donating) something that doesn’t get worn or played with as much in order to make room for the new thing.
- we don’t keep stuff once she’s done with it. i keep one clear tub below the stairs and fill it with anything she’s outgrown and, when it’s full, i make an appointment at the consignment store. there are a few items i’m sentimental about, obviously, so i have a second clear tub of the same size where i save anything really special, but that tub represents my “for keeps” limit. so far, there’s only about ten items in there and — honestly — the bin could be pruned already. this rule is maybe a little tougher for families planning on more than one child to follow, but most people could stand to keep less for future brothers or sisters. in my opinion, about twenty pieces of clothing per size is probably enough because you know you’ll receive additional gifts with a second baby and want to buy him/her a few things of their own. plus, what are the odds the next child will fit into that “my first hallowe’en” onesie at the exact same time?
- no duplicates! there’s no “diaper bag sophie” and “house sophie” or six different baby carriers for different occasions. we don’t have an umbrella stroller, a jogging stroller and a regular stroller — we have a stroller and we made sure to buy the one that would meet most of our needs.
- finally — most importantly — we research the best gear for use in a small space! there is an indescribable amount of baby gear out there in the world and you don’t need about 90% of it. but you do need a little bit of it. or, even if you don’t strictly need it, it might make your life a little easier at 3:00 in the afternoon when you’d like to have your morning shower, so that’s really the same as needing it. luckily, there are some companies making some really attractive items with small space dwellers in mind. before i buy anything, i make sure to look into whether or not any company makes that item in a folds flat version. my report on the best stuff we’ve found for use in a small space is below!
best small space carrier: ring sling
i fell in love with a sakura bloom ring sling, but i was not in love with the price. the particular fabric/colour combo on my wish list cost a ridiculous $229. there are a dozen companies and hundreds of independent makers selling ring slings/wraps for way less than that, but i had my heart set on chambray linen, so i made the one pictured above myself (medium sized rings ordered through slingrings.com) for about $50. i have used it almost daily since we brought frankie rose home from the hospital, for naps in the newborn days and now for outings or quick errands when it’s a pain to bring the stroller (i.e., anytime i’m using the ttc). the ring sling is not at all complicated to set up (nothing a few youtube videos can’t help you with) and it has got to be the most compact baby carrier. it fits in my diaper bag, takes up no closet space, can be thrown in the wash, etc. and you never need to make/buy another one — if you make/buy a sling that is long/wide enough, you can use it right up until you literally cannot carry your child any longer. this, in contrast to carriers that have weight limits (i.e., you end up with multiple carriers to accommodate your growing child) or ones that take up as much space in your closet as a piece of camping equipment.
best small space chair/swing: baby björn bouncer, classic jolly jumper
in the early days of my pregnancy, i googled “minimalist newborn shopping list” and found one i liked a lot (and then lost the link, damn!). i polled a few friends with babies to see what they thought about the list and if there were any essentials missing. almost everyone said that, in addition to what was on the list, i would want a swing or a chair, somewhere to set baby down. i heard the word “swing” and immediately called to mind a motorized contraption that would take up half my living room. luckily, i came across the baby björn bouncer soft, which, yes, folds flat (!) when not in use. it has three height settings and frankie napped at the lowest height as a newborn while i bounced the chair with my foot. now, she bounces herself in it while i make breakfast, take a shower, etc. the fabric comes right off the frame and can be thrown in the wash. every night we fold it down and it gets stored in the narrowest of spaces — between her dresser and her wall. like the sakura bloom ring sling, i didn’t love the retail price on this item, but i got a barely used one second-hand off kijiji for $100 and i can easily resell it once we’re done with it.
by the time she was about 4.5 months old, frankie rose had good head and neck control and lots of energy to burn, so i sourced a classic jolly jumper (clamps over a doorframe) for $20, again on kijiji. i remembered my brother and i bouncing in one of these while my mom cooked dinner and it seemed like a good way to keep a baby occupied in a small space. when i first looked into a jolly jumper, i had an “oh no!” moment where i learned they came on stands now, which is exactly what i don’t have room for. but luckily jolly jumper still manufactures the “classic” and it works perfectly in our small space. when not in use it clamps over the rod in her bedroom closet, tucked between the dresser and the wall alongside the baby björn bouncer (you can see it sticking out of the closet a bit in the ring sling photo above). when she bounces, i throw a lambskin under her feet because she developed blisters on her toes from dragging them on the hardwood floors initially.
best small space tub: puj tub, boon naked tub
we hired a doula for frankie’s birth and we met with her several times over the course of my pregnancy. at one of our very last meetings, i brought that minimalist newborn shopping list with me and asked our doula if we really needed some of these things. one such thing was a baby bathtub. i was all, “why can’t i just bathe her in the kitchen sink?” and she was all, “buy something to bathe your baby in.” we settled on the puj tub, which is an expensive piece of foam (again, you can find used ones on kijiji) that turns into a sink cradle for your baby with the help of magnets. we give frankie a bath every night as part of her bedtime routine, so this got daily use for the first six months of her life. unfolded, it’s about 1 cm thick so we stored it on top of the fridge. as far as small spaces go, this is the best tub. unfortunately for us, our kitchen sink was a touch too wide for the puj, so we had to hold the cradle together using a thick elastic as well as the magnets and eventually her weight just made the tub too difficult to use. but, if you have a sink that’s the right size this is a great product. by the time your baby reaches the weight limit on this product, he/she is likely sitting up well on his/her own and you can transition to a straight-up sink bath.
by the time frankie had outgrown her puj tub she was able to sit unsupported in the sink for a bath, but her bedtime has settled at about 7:00 pm, meaning bath time is around 6:30 or 6:45 pm — prime dinner making time. like the rest of our house, our kitchen is small and sometimes it can’t even handle two people cooking, let alone one person cooking and one person giving a very wriggly infant a bath. so we decided to purchase a second baby bathtub and move her bath to the actual bathroom. we chose the boon naked tub, which collapses for storage. it is perfect for her at eight months old. she doesn’t slip at all and we use minimal water since we’re not filling the adult tub every night. it also has a recline position so it’s suitable to use right from birth. if i’d known about this tub earlier, i probably would have purchased it instead of the puj because i’d rather have one thing that grows with my baby than buy several separate things for different stages. but since it’s way easier to bath your baby in the sink at counter-height, especially when they’re super little and can’t sit upright, i am glad we had the puj for six months. but if you really only want to buy one baby bathtub, i would recommend the boon naked.
best small space highchair: phil & ted’s lobster highchair
the lobster highchair is marketed as a travel highchair (for taking to restaurants or thanksgiving dinner at grandma’s), but we have been using it as our daily highchair, attached to our dining table. instead of a bulky highchair, we have one that has no footprint whatsoever. it also — you guessed it — folds flat, so removing it from the table and putting it away for the night is easy. we’ve never done this because we have a dining table for ten, but if your small space also happened to contain a very small eating area (like maybe a tiny kitchen table for two) then i imagine it would be nice to put the highchair away fully once baby is in bed. as far as small spaces go, this highchair gets an a+. but, as far as frankie goes, she has long legs and a short torso and, in these early days of eating, her chin is barely above the tray and so i find it very difficult to feed her in this chair. so this is not the most glowing recommendation, but it’s definitely a solution if you need to fit a highchair in a small kitchen or dining room.
best small space nursery furniture: mini crib, ikea ribba picture ledges
the minute i learned about mini cribs, a number of questions popped into my mind: has the return period on our ikea crib passed? can i return an opened mattress to amazon? can i cancel my custom crib sheet order? alas, i was stuck with all of the things i had already bought, but if you are an expectant parent living in a small space then please — reap the reward of my belated discovery! it will save you 2.5″ on width and a whopping 14″ on length. i love love the babyletto origami mini crib — it folds flat, people! based on a completely unscientific survey (that is, instagram research), most of my fellow small space dwellers use a mini crib until about 18 months or so. at which point, they might upgrade to a standard size crib, junior bed or maybe go right to a twin. after i learned about mini cribs, we definitely considered putting frankie’s standard size crib, mattress and crib sheets in storage and buying this mini crib (and a specially sized mattress and crib sheets) for immediate use. but we didn’t, which means her bedroom has exactly one layout that will allow us to access both the door and the closet.
using picture ledges to hold/display picture books is not a groundbreaking idea — ikea might as well go ahead and move this product to the baby section of their showroom — but ribba picture ledges have been a game changer in our nursery so i had to include them in this roundup. i wouldn’t call it a weakness, but i have a lot of children’s books. i work in the industry and, even if i select very carefully what i bring home from the office or a trade show, that still adds up to a good number of books. i cleaned out my office for maternity leave, too, so i have lots of books at home right now that i consider “work books,” which i keep on hand more as reference material. the picture ledges keep the books flat against the wall and hold just enough choice. i read to frankie several times a day and switch out the book selection every couple of months. i keep the rest of her/my books spine out in the cabinet in her basement play area. many of these books will go back to work with me next year, but, for now, we have lots to choose from.
best small space baby gym: teepee baby gym
newborns don’t have much use for toys — like, one rattle will keep them entertained for the first three months of life — but a baby gym seemed like a great early “toy.” alas, most baby gyms are solid, one piece with detachable toys, that would need to stay out somewhere, even when not in use. so i used hardware store dowels and suede leather cord (diy post here) to make a teepee-style baby gym, which could collapse and tuck behind her bedroom door. i attached my own toys (a wooden cuff to practice grasping and a bundle of feathers) and set her up under this nearly every day until she was about five months old and started either rolling away from it or pulling the whole thing down on herself. i saved the wooden cuff, which she gnaws on these days, and recycled the rest of the parts.
finally, some baby gear is just not small space friendly. it’s impossible, for example, to find an exersaucer/activity centre that doesn’t take up a huge amount of square footage. but it is possible to find one that isn’t hideous. living in a small space, we see all our baby gear, so i refuse to buy anything that makes me cringe. three pears is a toronto-based company making natural, attractive baby gear and we bought frankie a bobbin, which can be used as an activity centre until she is walking and then the seat comes out and a chalkboard insert goes in and the bobbin becomes a play table. we keep this is our dining room and she plays in it while we eat breakfast and i also push it into the kitchen to keep her occupied during dinner prep time.
phew! okay, those are all my small space baby gear recommendations. this has got to be the longest post i’ve ever written. are there any really good small space products out there that i missed? or any other tips for keeping a small space svelte with a baby?