Making room for baby
November 18, 2005 8:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm pregnant. Joy! My husband and I live in a small apartment and have brainstormed many ways to make more space for the required baby paraphernalia, and the play space the baby will eventually require. But I wonder, is there a polite way to ask well-meaning friends and family to please not give us a lot of big, plastic clutter which will quickly eat up this hard-found space?

I understand that the kid will need space, particularly once it learns to crawl and otherwise move around. I think we've worked out a plan to make enough room, even in this smallish apartment. My efforts will be of no avail, though, if we are flooded with walkers and swings and too many big toys, etc. So, is there a way around this?
I feel a little uncomfortable with the idea of doing a gift registry because it feels too much like demanding presents, these EXACT presents. But is there any other way? And are there any items that may just seem like big plastic clutter, but that are, in fact, indispensible? I don't want the kid to be deprived...I just want him/her to have enough space. (Moving is out for the time being.) Thanks!
posted by leapingsheep to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There is no other way--you must do a registry. When MrsMoonPie and I got hitched, we were advised that, without a registry, we'd get fondue pots, a s'mores cooker, endless placemat and napkin sets, etc. We, too, have a small place, so we quickly put something on Amazon. Not all of our presents came directly from there, but everyone got the message that we didn't need or want more stuff. A registry is your only hope, I think.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:06 AM on November 18, 2005

As a pregnant mother-to-be you are given leeway for directly communicating your needs. Request what you need gently but firmly. They will understand.

posted by Taken Outtacontext at 8:12 AM on November 18, 2005

You could pose this same question to your friends and family. They'll ge the hint and know what kinds of gifts you don't want to receive (and the reason why). I don't see any reason why it would be rude to tell people that you just don't have room for large baby items.

Who knows, by presenting this question to friends and family, you might find out all sorts of tips on how to avoid baby clutter and/or the best non-clutter essential baby items.
posted by necessitas at 8:16 AM on November 18, 2005

Just be honest with people, they want to get you things you want. If they do end up getting you big stuff, remember, you can always return it for better, smaller stuff.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:16 AM on November 18, 2005

I commend you for being proactive. My wife and I were reactive in dealing with the abundence of crap that was thrown at our daughter. Some people experience that the birth of a child seems to be a license for grandparents and others to purchase large quantities of plastic crap. Once purchased, you are then burdened with what to do with it. You can return it, or exchange it for credit - depending on the store. However, my wife and I found that gifts were really a huge burden.

We developed a policy on gift-giving two months prior to xmas, wrote it up, and called it the "Xmas Manifesto". It included our opinions on the damaging effects of mass-consumerism, etc. But it also outlined some clear rules to our families. For example, my daughter was to receive no more than 2 gifts.

So far, things have worked out ok.

I recommend that you stand strong on the issue. In your case (with your small apartment), gifts - despite the intentions - could be a burden. Only you and your husband know what will work with your apartment and life.

also, cash/savings bonds doesn't take much space
posted by tom_g at 8:42 AM on November 18, 2005

Give them two choices: registry or gift cards.

Although I don't have kids, I have lived in tiny apartments. I don't think it's rude to stress how small your apartment is when you give out wish lists. And if you have family who don't live in the big city and don't understand how small is "small," send them all a couple digital photos for illustration.

A snapshot of our "galley kitchen" and bedroom-the-size-of-a-bed helped cement this concept for my family.
posted by MrZero at 9:22 AM on November 18, 2005

One of the things that people talk about when deciding not to have a baby is the cost of raising the child. I've found that as long as you have a circle of friends and an extended family, the cost is very little beyond basic sustenance. You have to make sure to communicate your needs to them, though.

Good strategies:

1) In January, tell your mother that her grandchild may be sweating a lot once the snow thaws, and wouldn't it be great if, say for Valentine's Day, the little girl got some Spring-y clothes with little hearts on them? Use forward thinking and otherwise-innocuous occasions to keep your child covered in clothing.

2) For Christmas and Birthdays, definitely go with a registry. The end-all be-all of registries these days for kids is Toys R Us, as they sell toys, games, as well as child-rearing equipment and clothing. You can do the online registry as well as the in-store. (I don't work for them, or anything).

3) For small apartment living, consider the Cubby market. Cubbies can come in various sizes, from various vendors. When we were living in similar conditions with my eldest son (then aged 0-3), we found some that stacked in shelves, and some that hung off the wall. We were able to then manage the space more effectively with the influx of toys.

4) As you progress, don't be afraid to give away or throw away toys and clothes that are no longer appropriate. Sure, you'll want to hold on to landmark clothes (baby's first shoes, baby's first dress/jeans, etc) so you can take them out when baby is at college and never calls you any more. Other than that, however, you'll need the space, and the clutter will easily overpower you if you're not religious about purging.

In all of this, it's necessary to get over the guilt of asking for specific things from your friends and family. They want to know what the best thing to get for your child might be. They have a similar fear: Buying what they think is just perfect and then finding out you've either got it already or baby just can't stand that sort of thing.
posted by thanotopsis at 9:28 AM on November 18, 2005

Will your givers react well to being told what to buy or not to buy? Do you know?

Between the two extremes is the opportunity to graciously accept the gifts that they want to bestow, then sharing them with others in your family or who have less than you do. There are certainly women's and children's centers near you who would love the things you're trying to get rid of.
posted by whatzit at 9:29 AM on November 18, 2005

Best answer: You also asked "are there any items that may just seem like big plastic clutter, but that are, in fact, indispensible?" This will depend on your baby. For many, a swing is indispensible for the first 6 months. I don't know if it was truly indispensible for my daughter, but it was definitely worth having.

But another thing that you should bear in mind is that most of the things you're concerned about are only useful for a limited period of time, and they're not all useful at the same time. That is, you wouldn't need a swing past the first 6-9 months (and our daughter wasn't even ready for a swing until she was 3-months old). You won't need a highchair or some other solution for eating until your baby starts on solids, i.e., around 6 months. So if you had a swing, you could keep it until 6 months, then get rid of it and replace it with the highchair. I realize that doesn't exactly address your question about gifts, since they tend to all arrive at once, but it's worth remembering anyway.

If you know other parents with babies, you may be able to pass things on to one another, which helps everyone deal with clutter. Our swing is a loaner from one couple and our pram is a loaner from another couple.

Finally, if you get any big items that you will need at some point but not right away, consider asking someone who has a lot of space to store it until you need it.

Good luck!
posted by dh65 at 9:45 AM on November 18, 2005

Definitely be proactive. When phrased correctly, it is not rude.

And as a father of a 2 yo daughter, it is amazing how much more efficient you can be with space when you are forced to do so. We have made several changes to our living space and then wondered why we didn't do that change years ago!

Also, babies under a year don't really take up that much space other than their furniture (crib, bassinet, stoller, etc). The rest of their accessories are so tiny they are surprisingly compact. After a year, toys can take up a lot of space if you are not careful.

Also, most of the large <1 yo toys (swing, play seats, etc) are used for a very short window of time (3-4 mo). so if you do want and space is tight, i recommend waiting until your child will actually use the device and then purchase it at a used baby stuff store. then it takes up space until your child moves and then you sell it>
We actually find that now, with a 2 yo, that her old stuff (clothes, toys, etc) is the most most surprisingly space-consuming part of the puzzle. We hope to have another kid, so we want to hold on to it. If you don't think you will have another kid then you can begin to shed stuff just as soon as your little one outgrows it. Otherwise you need to plan accordingly.
posted by Tallguy at 9:46 AM on November 18, 2005

She's been mentioned in ask mefi before, but has great tips on controlling clutter and, with the holidays coming up, many suggestions for clutter-free gifts. I highly recommend - flylady was a big help in keeping life sane while we moved (with a toddler). Ditto on what everybody above said - grandparents, etc., want to be given gift ideas. Don't be shy about making a wishlist or registry.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:53 AM on November 18, 2005

Best answer: Congratulations! I don't think it's rude to explain you are short on space. When we had our first child we had a pretty wee apartment. I've found people are usually good about asking what you want with baby things because they don't want to buy more of what you already have. That way you don't have to request "these EXACT presents" (it feels weird for me to do that also). It helps to have a bunch of ideas for small things (the kind of breast pump you want, the size of baby clothes you're short on, the baby has no bath toys or board books yet, consumables like soap and wipes to be ready for when the baby arrives, etc.) so you can say "No, I can't use that, but I could use this instead". The closest relatives will probably pass on the info to other relatives. When people asked or tried to hand down stuff like exersaucers or baby swings I'd just say "we honestly don't have room for large things, thanks anyway". After a few repetitions they stopped pushing items like that.

Having a small apartment was actually a really good excuse to get out of the piles of baby stuff. I also got quick with excuses like "we don't have the right sort of doorframe to latch that on to" (for the ten times we were asked if we needed a Jolly Jumper) or "since we don't have a lot of space, it's a lot easier to gate off a room for him to crawl around in, and it's good for babies to get a lot of time on the floor" (when we were asked how in the world were we going to keep this baby occupied without said piles of baby stuff). Many times people just don't know what to give a baby - that's how you end up with tons of stuffed animals - so having ideas on what you need will help a lot. I've made it known in the family that clothes and books are the best things to give my sons. (It also helps that I've talked strategically about how I raise my kids and it's generally accepted that I'm rather crunchy hippie and not keen on TV or loud electronic light-up toys and similiar.)

There is very little a child actually NEEDS, in a material sense, in my opinion. We got by on pretty little that first year. I accept most things handed down and I pass on what I don't need. Be vigilant about getting rid of and packing away what you don't need anymore if you're short on space. Think of smaller, multi-purpose solutions - I have a booster chair with a tray that attaches to a regular chair instead of a highchair; you can change a baby on the bed or on the floor, or on top of a dresser with a pad; and so on. Good luck!
posted by Melinika at 9:54 AM on November 18, 2005

Also in the immortal words of Christopher Lowell: If you can't build out, build up.

Use your vertical space. Cheap wall mounted shelving from Home Depot is a beautiful thing. Remember your little cherub will be crawling soon, and the bottom foot or two of all rooms will become his/hers. Then they're walking and you've lost another foot of space. Soon you can't leave anything on the edges of countertops... you get the idea. Fortunately this happens slowly over the course of a couple years so you can keep ahead of it if you realize it's coming.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:58 AM on November 18, 2005

As a guy I like to buy gifts that will be used. A registry is an ideal way to communicate what will be used and appreciated. It makes the gift giving much more enjoyable to me. And don't be afraid to add expensive things. Your friends and family can get together to purchase those.

I prefer the idea of a registry that doesn't require a trip to a particular store. How much better a registry online. That permits the givers to buy economically. Amazon is good at this, allowing the registry owner to add notes to the effect of "a swing similar to this would be great" -- so givers know that swings not identical to this will be lovingly accepted and appreciated.
posted by kc0dxh at 10:02 AM on November 18, 2005

Oh, and congradulations! My wife and I have had two babies in our little house of 620 sq ft. You *can* do it.
posted by kc0dxh at 10:02 AM on November 18, 2005

Speaking as a non-parent, but a frequent-flyer in the "baby shower gift" category - a good friend of mine once said "No new mother can have too many layette blankets." They get used for lots of things, they get spit on, shit on, stepped on, etc. They are compact, they are cheap. Register for lots of them.
Also, do find the closest used baby stuff store - they can be a gold mine of nearly new (or new) high-quality items at a fraction of the price.
Congratulations, and get some sleep now - while you still can!
posted by dbmcd at 10:13 AM on November 18, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I guess I was being a little too cautious about the registry. I'm going to convert my top secret amazon baby wish list to an available-for-the-asking baby registry, then sit back and enjoy the crunch hippy tv and flashinglight-less childrearing gifts! But I will reserve space for the rocking whale, which I have deemed to be a necessity.
posted by leapingsheep at 10:27 AM on November 18, 2005

On your wish list/registry: ONESIES, ONESIES, and more ONESIES. Long sleeve and short sleeve, of varying sizes (newborn-one year). My nephew seems to rip through those at an un-be-LIEV-able rate.
posted by Sara Anne at 12:33 PM on November 18, 2005

Best answer: I kept a simple registry and got lots of nice smaller things, including canvas bins (Koala brand?) from Babies R Us -- I packed a couple with diapers, wipes, a blanket, a pacifier, a bottle and nipple, and a baby-T and sleeper, and can keep one bin in the den, one in the master bedroom... I use the other bins to keep the clothes in order by size. They're easily shelved in the closet and can hold just about anything. I did refuse to register at Pottery Barn, and didn't register for a bunch of big stuff or go near the Fisher-Price juggernaut -- didn't want to turn my house into a primary-colored plastic hellhole. It worked, but my attempt at non-pink clothing did not. EVERYONE wants to buy a baby girl pink stuff.

In general, if you have a registry, and keep larger/uglier things off the registry, you probably will get what's on it, or something close to it, and not get big plastic stuff. Return what you can, as soon as possible.

My baby is 2 weeks old, and b/c she was 2 weeks late and nearly 10 lbs, she isn't fitting into the smaller onesies very well. So I'd shoot for registering for 3-month clothes rather than the very early newborn ones. I find the t-shirts better than onesies, especially for diaper-changing purposes. And you can never have enough elastic-bottomed gowns, for the same reason.

When in doubt, if anyone asks what you need, say "Pampers, size 1."

good luck!
posted by mdiskin at 1:11 PM on November 18, 2005

One last thing: memberships at zoos, aquariums, parks, etc. are always good things to ask for, if someone asks what you REALLY want.
posted by mdiskin at 1:13 PM on November 18, 2005

Don't feel bad about requesting specific presents. Your family and friends WANT you to have a registry so they don't have to worry about figuring out what you really need.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:43 AM on November 20, 2005

People will ignore you. In fact, some people (say, for example, parents in law, with mid-seventies Foxfire taste) may make big, difficult-to-transport, heavy, old-fashioned furniture from scratch for you and your child that will be intended to be a family heirloom, despite a beginner's woodworking craft level. They may ignore your well-stated design aethetic. And there may be not a damn thing you can do about it, because they're family and sometimes you just have to suck it up. Sorry.
posted by DenOfSizer at 9:36 AM on August 26, 2006

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