Tip # 140: Brainstorm, don’t buy.
You probably don’t need new stuff. You just need a minute to think.
In finding a way to make a small space tolerable, it’s easy to head to the nearest computer and do a search for a miracle product. Guilty as charged. Especially when kiddos are involved. But time and time again, the easiest way to make life in a small space more tolerable is to not add anything new at all.
A recent example: Faye’s new bed. It’s a big-girl bed (read: twin). It’s a new thing we needed to add to our tiny apartment, and like other apartment additions, its coming into our home posed a few logistical challenges. There were toys that needed to be shifted and books that needed relocating. Questions about windows and bars. Pondering about dressers and footstools. For the time being, a lot of that is still a little free-flowing. We’re working on it.
But let’s focus on the bed itself:
We started off with it as a mattress on the floor. Who needs a bed frame? It looked so sweet and cozy snuggled into the corner of her room; like the perfect little nest. (An added benefit: She could climb into it herself!) But the reality of nests is that they’re unruly little things. Making the bed and keeping the room looking tidy became a daily challenge. And the mattress on the ground proved to be altogether too trampoline-like for a daredevil toddler. One very close encounter with a black-eye later, we decided to put the bed on a bed frame. And then came the question of how to keep a toddler from catapulting herself off that cliff. More benignly: How to stop her from accidentally rolling out of bed in the middle of the night.
The fastest solution was to head to Amazon and look up toddler rails and put one of the fifteen or so available mesh barriers in my cart and click Buy. For twenty dollars and two days of waiting I could have the answer right here in my house. Simple. But I hesitated. First of all, and no surprise, because they’re ugly. Second of all because how long would we really use it? Third of all because surely there must be a hundred of these things lying around apartments (or sitting in trash heaps) within a ten block radius of our place and the thought of buying a new one made me shudder.
I could DIY this, couldn’t I?
I began to think about soliciting my dad’s help and the use of his table saw to build a little barrier myself. I took to eBay. Vintage options, I figured, had to be less ugly than modern ones. (Turns out, no.) I didn’t find anything promising on eBay and the reality of building a barrier myself felt more than a little ambitious given the circumstances.
I began to figure that if I did find a used mesh barrier, I could make a simple linen slipcover to go over it. Hide the ugly, keep the safety?
Next I took to Pinterest where tutorials abound for homemade versions using foam pool noodles. But I wasn’t sure I wanted Faye cozying up next to a pool float every night and where would that end up once we were done with it?
A bolster pillow, I reasoned! Tuck that under the fitted sheet at night and make a foam-free barrier instead! I returned to the internet. $60 worth of wool batting and linen pillow cases later I had the prettiest and most expensive option all cued up.
Until it dawned on me: a blanket. Duh. A rolled-up blanket that we already own, tucked under a sheet if need be, for an innocuous and easy solution to help teach a toddler to stay safe in bed. Zero dollars. Zero new additions to our tiny space. Zero ugliness. Loads of use after the rolling-out-of-bed period comes to an inevitable end.
Sure, when it’s tucked in there, the bed looks a little like the snake that swallowed an elephant from The Little Prince, but if a kid’s room isn’t a place for literary allusions, then where else? Inexplicably, or maybe not, Faye caresses it at night and calls it Baby. I think we’re good to go.
For the curious: I think just about any fitted twin sheet would work in this scenario. We’re using a fitted percale sheet from Parachute Home and there’s plenty of room for stuffing and still allowing room for the sheet to fit snugly around her mattress!
Tiny Apartment Survival Tips #1 – 139, RIGHT HERE.
We did this too with our boys! A rolled up blanket under the sheet is so simple and easy, no purchases required. We also found that our boys didn’t need it for very long before they learned to stay on their beds in the night.
I’m very curious if this works for you! When my kids were about 6 months old, we traveled overseas and used this trick in twin beds for them since cribs weren’t readily available (and since co-sleeping with two wiggly babies was out of the question), but I worry about doing it now that they’re 15 months. They have heaps of daredevilish-ness themselves but a (worrisome) disregard for the words “no” and “dangerous,” and I have visions of them doing the exact catapult that you mention. Perhaps in a few more months….
15 months was a wriggly stage for us too!
Thank you for those two great tips! It’s all too easy to quickly purchase unnecessary objects online, and I make far too many trips to Goodwill because of it. I’m curious: why did you stop using the crib as a toddler bed? Did Faye roll out too many times? My daughter is a year younger than yours and we also have the Sniglar crib. I hoped that it would last us for several years to come but I didn’t factor in the constant movement of little bodies, all day and all night.
Obviously 100% dependent on the individual child, but in part we made the switch because we found that the toddler bed wasn’t really big enough for Faye.
Never had a barrier growing up, parents and grandparents would just put a pillow or two under the mattress (a lit bit out) making the mattress a little pulled up on the side. (Not sure my English is helping me to explain myself here!).
I’m so glad you didn’t went the shopping road. I used to be so sure, years ago, of all the things I needed, really needed. Turns out usually there are really great simple solutions just with what we have. These days I mainly just quote my grandmother and mother and I’m ready to go! :))
Agreed: a little look backward often helps me in the “less is more” department.
Ha! We also came to this solution 🙂 worked great until he decided that he preferred to sleep ON TOP of it – but the simple solution then was to move it to the wall side, and now he snuggles up to it every night and manages to stay in bed most nights.
Ha! So glad that worked!
Dear Erin, I have been a silent blog follower till now… although since discovering you about a year ago, you have been a virtual beacon for me, lighting the way through the halls of new parenthood and offering an alternative to all the STUFF that our culture would suggest is sine qua non for raising our children. But this post absolutely defines the greatest gift you have given me: the reminder to stop and think before every purchase. Our 11-month old has started to explore ALL THE DRAWERS these days, and just this weekend on a rare trip to TJ Maxx, I almost scooped up a packet of plastic door fasteners — only $1.99, I thought. But then, a few aisles later, eyeing them in my cart…. ugly, I thought. Plastic, I thought. And what will become of them when we’re past this stage (one day)? What about just rearranging the drawers and cupboards I can so that they are child-friendly places to explore? And for the others, tie the handles together with good old baling twine and a sturdy knot. Plastic fasteners went back on the shelf. I can honestly say I am not sure I would have done so without your example, and thinking to myself, “What would Erin do?” Thank you for the reminder of how to pause and think, and solve (when possible) rather than merely spend! Nicole
We did the same thing with cabinets! Thanks so much for such a kind note!
We did the same thing for Oak. Worked perfectly, and eventually…he got it. L
I love your way of thinking! Such a simple idea which saves lots of pennies 🙂
I’m so glad you shared this! We’re about to move our toddler into her own “big girl” bed and even though I have one of those big, ugly rail things, I was dreading using it because, as you said, they’re ugly…
So… Do I use it and make a linen cover to hide the ugly? Or do I donate it and use a rolled up pillow like you’ve shared here?
My $.02: if you truly are dreading it, then donate it to a family who really wants one, and go with the blanket method. Sounds like that will spark more joy! (clearly channeling my inner KonMari this morning…)
Oof, we are going through the same thing! We have Juniper’s big-girl-bed mattress on the floor, and I’m just figuring we’ll embrace the way it makes it feel like a slumber party every night, and how the quilt spills out over the edge onto the floor. Eventually, we’ll need to get bunk beds, so buying a twin bed frame for a few years didn’t seem worth it for us. She loves it, and loves being able to climb in and out on her own. She does still manage to wriggle out and find herself on the floor in the middle of the night, but is still mostly asleep, and just cries out for us to help her get back in bed, poor kid. Maybe we’ll try a rolled-up blanket under the sheet, too, and see if that helps! (Though she did manage to roll off the foot of the bed and face first into a radiator one night – big old bruise is still on her forehead – she is a wiggly sleeper!)
Next challenge will be when our 8-month-old outgrows his cosleeper crib in our room and needs to sleep in her room in the crib!
slipping quietly away now to stitch up a linen cover…
This is my favorite comment on this post! 🙂
I found myself cluttered with things I do not need nor use,. I bought these things when I though I would need them, but now I realize it has just been a temporary need not for that specific thing, but to satisfy my need for change, get something new. It was just bordem. Now I always think twice before i buy anything. DO I really need this or is it just the need to possess it. I often find it I can definitely do without this thing.
Our apartment is small, but I realized that is you clean up everything we do not need, it is not that small after all. Just full of unnecessary things. It is not about the money, but it is definitely a much better use if I spend the money traveling, getting my kids to new and interesting places, rather then buying stuff that are taking my space and my life over.
What twin mattress did you buy?
We bought one from Tuft & Needle and it’s great!
Erin….I literally went through the exact same dilemma with this issue! I was just about to buy a mesh rail for the bed but all in all, I didn’t want to spend money on that thing. So I played around with some ideas and ended up rolling two blankets up and put them under the fitted sheet. It works just fine!
See, our mesh gate–as ugly as it was–was a lifesaver as my guy would just roll OVER the rolled up blankets. Every. Single. Night. Lol!
He was truly an acrobatic sleeper. 🙂 When we finally got the gate , he’d sleep pressed up against all night. He was like that in his crib though too–I think it was just the sensation of having something solid to sleep next to?
Oh gosh! Totally kid-specific!
Excellent idea! We will be hitting this milestone soon and I’m so glad I read this beforehand! As always thanks for the very practical life advice + lovely photos! It’s the perfect combo – I look forward to your posts every day!
‘Brainstorm, don’t buy’ is just the best way to go.
It’s a little crazy to live in a world in which we actually have to learn that, and practice to get there.
But your blog is such a great place to do so. Thanks, Erin !
Not post related but I have say it here:
You have such a great audience here Erin and of course that is not untagled from your content. I love the spirit of community and great insight one can always find not only on your posts but also if someone scrolls down to the comments. I remember reading an article a couple of years ago on Design*Sponge about how people were no longer commenting online or at least commenting relevant things beside some (also sweet but not so substancial in terms of conversation) “great” or “cool”. Not here. You created a space where people still connect and I’ve noticed lately that the blogs I love the most are the ones where that happens. I don’t think it happens for no reason. I believe this is thanks to you, the posts you create, the simple messages you deliver, your writing spirit. It’s really wonderful to read both your posts and the comments!
We put a king sized pillow we already had under the fitted sheet, and turned it long ways. Works beautifully!
I wish I’d had your wisdom when my kids were little. But I will try to always remember to “brainstorm before buying.” So smart. Is it available on a sequin-encrusted fridge magnet? 😉
I love this solution and it’s perfect timing for me! Thank you for sharing the tip!
Great idea!! We used the foam thingies that fit under the sheet. As far as pool noodles go…….. cut them up and use them for
Your boots. One noodle gives you 1 1/2 pair.
Thank you! My 6 year old has a bed rail she still uses, and I really did NOT want to buy another one for my 2 year old…..solved!
I love that you waited and finally found something that you already had! I recently did some more cleaning out and organizing in our apartment and really wanted to get some organizational bins from the Container Store, all white and pretty and matching with bamboo lids, but I thought about for a moment or more and decided I needed to use what I had. It helped me actually to get rid of more stuff that I didn’t want to keep organizing. I ended up with just what we needed and a few baskets that I already had to store the items that I needed a place for.
a pool noodle also works well!
One of the delights and frustrations that I have found as a new mother is having to figure out (and sometimes buy) solutions to all the stage-specific (and fleeting) issues that arise. Too often I find myself researching down the rabbit hole of the internet late at night- while weighing the different options, Bad quality but cheap? Ugly but sensible? Expensive but a modertly less cringe-worthy design? Custom but exasperating DIY? Free shipping but dubious sourcing? Glad you found a simple and pleasing answer to your dilemma! And thanks for the nice encouragement to think before purchasing :-).
What frame did you end up choosing? Just curious, as I am looking for a very simple frame for my daughter’s new twin mattress as well.
We got her the twin version of the same frame we have! This one!
I really appreciate this story, as it’s just so easy to try to find the right product to meet every need of parenting. It’s hard to remember that you can do without most of what’s out there.
That said, to solve this very same problem, we bought one of these from Ikea (we live in Sweden, I can’t seem to find the product on the US site): http://www.ikea.com/se/sv/catalog/products/30099293/
It’s small, inexpensive, looks nice, and saves space in the bed for the kid.
What a wonderful solution! I love the simplicity and that, like you said, you didn’t have to buy something that you’ll have to part with or make room for! Great idea! 😀
Ha! Yes, we did a similar thing with a large, thick beach towel rolled lengthways and tucked under the fitted sheet along the edge of the bed. Simple, effective and no purchase required. The one thing I did buy for my toddler’s bed though was a brolly sheet for those middle of the night accidents – essential in my experience.
I love the mobile and it is something which can constantly be changed depending on the treasures found that week!! An evolving work of installation art….and you say she is two!!!?????
Oh man. This is so true. Yesterday I made the mistake of watching Dollar Tree Organization videos on YouTube. :/ I ended up buying some plastic bins to try to tame our messy medicine stash, but I knew deep down buying more was not the answer. Sometimes getting rid of things is, or like you said just stopping to think! Good stuff here. Thanks!
Love this advice to pause. I did the same thing–looking at ugly gates–and then decided to just wait and see. Our daughter was 2.5 and I thought maybe she’d be ok without a railing (and the bed is only about 15″ off the floor. So we put a thick duvet and a body pillow on the floor next to the bed. We left it there for a few months. She never rolled off. I’m so happy I didn’t drop $$ on something that would have proven completely unnecessary.
Hi Erin, I realize that this comment is 5 months late, but I would love to hear your suggestions for a Baby Proof : Birthday Parties your kids and other kids! Having been to 2 birthday parties this month – and expecting that it will increase as our son gets older and gathers more friends – what do you suggest for minimalist gifts? I’m all for using existing paper (not necessarily birthday themed) and yarn for ribbons (especially cute!), but what are some good ideas for birthday gifts for other kids? We have about 7 months to get ready for our son’s birthday in August, and I would love some tips for gently asking birthday party guests for 1) no gifts or 2) minimal gifts. What’s your take?
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