Dear Boston Mamas: Minimalist Nursery

moses-basket.jpgToday's Dear Boston Mamas question comes from Katie via the Boston Mamas Facebook page:

Dear Boston Mamas, I am looking for ideas on how to incorporate a nursery/baby area into our guestroom/study. We don't have a lot of room, and this is my first baby -- what do I need and what don't I need? Where should I get things?

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Dear Katie,

Thanks for writing in and congratulations on your pregnancy! I hope everything is going smoothly.

Your question is an excellent one, because as beautiful as magazine-spread nurseries are, the reality -- particularly given that we live in a city where square footage is precious and expensive -- is that not everyone has expansive room for a nursery. Never mind the fact that there are a lot of items that are touted as "must have's" that aren't really necessary. My approach is minimalist and with Laurel, we were in the exact same situation as you are space-wise. And with my newborn daughter, we don't even have a room appointed for her (I'll address that issue below as well).

Here are my thoughts on the true essentials:

1. A place to sleep. We started Laurel in a Moses basket. It was the one splurge-type item I purchased (I bought a more expensive version than the one shown/linked to, back when Babystyle was in business) but it ended up being an essential because we could keep it in our room with us (co-sleeping didn't work for us since Laurel was a thrasher) or relocate it around our apartment as needed. And then we used it to help transition Laurel to her crib -- by placing the basket in the crib and then removing the basket once she was comfortable with the environment. So I recommend a Moses basket (the one I linked to here is very affordable), or you could just go for a crib straight out -- you'll need the crib itself + sheets, and you may also want a waterproof mattress pad or cover. A bumper, however, is not essential, nor are lots of other fancy bedding items.

2. Clothing storage. Because of all the frequent spitting up and diaper leaks, you'll need to access baby clothes a lot, so it helps to have a dedicated storage area. When we were expecting Laurel, I bought a large, wide dresser on Craigslist (3 smaller drawers in the top row, then 6 larger drawers -- 2 across, 3 down -- underneath).

3. Changing area. I think stand alone changing tables are unnecessary, particularly if you're cramped on space, but having a baby requires a lot of diaper changes so you will need an area where you can change the diapers and stow supplies. When I was looking for the dresser mentioned above, I searched for one that would be a similar height to a changing table so that we could use the top as the changing area. Then I simply bought a contoured changing pad plus a couple of fitted covers. It was the perfect space saving solution!

Now, a few notes on the three items above that are related to space-saving + our new baby. As I mentioned, we don't have a dedicated room for the baby at this point. We do live in new construction, however, with ample closet space and Laurel's room and our master bedroom are very large. So, first, we will use the Moses basket in our room and probably eventually set up the crib in our room for a while. Second, I reorganized Laurel's closet and made room for a set of these Sterilite stacking drawers. I reorganized the drawers of Laurel's dresser so that Laurel has three large drawers but the rest of her clothes live in the closet (shelving, hangers, new stacking drawers) and her sister's clothes and diapering essentials live in the remaining dresser drawers + one shelf of the closet. Third, the contoured changing pad has made its return to the top of the dresser. And if I need to change her sister while Laurel is sleeping, I'll just do it on a changing mat elsewhere in the house.

Optional things:

Literally, those are the only three items you really need to ready a nursery for baby! When we had Laurel we fit the dresser (with changing pad) + crib in a modest sized room with a guest bed + office desk. However, here are a few optional items that might come in handy (we had the first two bullet point's worth in our little guest room/nursery for Laurel):

  • You might want a hamper and diaper disposal system -- we had both with Laurel but are not bothering this time around. We'll simply toss the baby's laundry in Laurel or our hampers and we'll be doing a mix of cloth and disposable diapers so we'll either launder diapers or the disposables will go in the regular trash (or the real stinkers will go directly into our outdoor trash receptacle).

  • If you want to personalize your baby's room, artwork or wall decals are quick and easy solutions, and/or you could get a mobile for over the crib (I personally love HABA's mobiles and we'll be hanging Laurel's HABA mobile once we settle the crib).

  • Finally, this probably doesn't work for you space-wise (it certainly didn't for us when Laurel's room was also our guestroom/study) but one thing I would have loved to have with Laurel was a glider for nursing. But we survived without one, and will survive again without one. I thought about looking for a used one this time around but the space I was planning on putting it needs to be held for the crib.

    The totally unnecessary:

    As I mentioned earlier, there are an obscene amount of baby products that are marketed as must have's that actually are totally superfluous. I can answer additional questions if you have them (re: gear, etc.), but as relates to outfitting a nursery, I feel that all of the organizational helpers are completely silly...things like dedicated supply caddies, wipe warmers, and diaper stackers. My feeling is that if you can organize all of these things within your dresser, the items are out of site, easy to access, and you'll have less stuff around in general. As I mentioned earlier, you also don't need fancy bedding; in fact, experts recommend having very little in a baby's crib for safety reasons.

    Where to shop?

    I'm a big fan of online shopping so I included links to various recommendations above; however, you can also browse around for the above mentioned items at places such as Target or Babies R Us or even IKEA. And finally, if you have friends who already have had kids, I wouldn't hesitate to touch base to see if there are loaners you can use. I took this approach by having a secondhand baby shower this time around -- it was a fantastically practical, eco-friendly solution!

    I hope this information is helpful Katie! Let me know if you have other questions.

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    Have a question for Christine? Drop her a line! And of course feel free to comment in if you have recommendations beyond those made above.