baby proof: buy nothing baby.

November 20, 2019

I know it’s the season to talk about gifts and buying them, and I’ve got plenty of thoughts on the subject forthcoming, but as I’m roundly (heh) in the need-to-pee-with-great-urgency-every-hour and wow-that-was-quite-a-sensation stage of pregnancy, I thought I’d chat briefly about babies and buying. Ahead of the madness of Black Friday and holiday wish lists and building of baby registries, here’s a bit about my own recent experience with buying next to nothing at all.

As you likely remember—and I can’t forget—I am currently pregnant with my third child. Earlier this summer, just a week before receiving notification from my body that it was preparing to grow a new human, James and I did a clean out of baby related items we were sure we didn’t need anymore: our infant carseat, our crib, our baby carriers and swaddles, a baby jumper we’d gotten second-hand and never used and now clearly wouldn’t be using. I sent off glass baby bottles and pre-loved and laundered items like cotton breast pads and swaddles to friends expecting little ones of their own. The list, though not extravagant, does go on. We decided to keep some special newborn clothes and items we were still feeling sentimental about, and a few other loved items were still with my sister, whose baby is a year younger than Silas and the recipient of some of my kids’ sturdiest hand-me-downs. But generally, we cleaned out the baby stuff and welcomed the big kid stuff: bunk beds; a desk; a little extra space to play. We were entering a new phase of life in this tiny apartment and we were ready for it.

Turns out, the new phase we were welcoming wasn’t exactly what we thought it would be and it was going to include another child. We were going to need some of that stuff after all.

For many young families living in the United States, it can feel like pregnancy and childbirth means being subjected to one very long and very exhausting (or, perhaps, convincing) marketing pitch. The pitches come not only from the companies selling the goods themselves, but also from peers and family members and strangers at the playground—fellow adult humans who report to each other on the efficacy of products with brand names that force them to speak in baby voices in spite of themselves.

The preoccupation with baby stuff often feels like it overshadows the baby itself and very often the person who’s carrying it. Instead of new parents having conversations about how to manage careers and finances and relationships and responsibilities and childcare once a new baby is on the scene, it can feel like priority is placed on discussions about which stroller model from among hundreds is the very best one, as if there’s ever going to be a definitive answer. Mostly, the preoccupation with baby stuff and the attending marketing pitches that convince parents they need more of it, means there’s a whole lot of baby gear floating around out there.

When I wrote this piece on the subject of baby gear nearly three years ago, I wasn’t tapped into my neighborhood Buy Nothing Project and all of its abundance. Still, I had the sense that if only the buildings around me were transparent, I’d see not one or two but many dozens of the bouncing baby chair that I hoped would let us free our hands for a moment while juggling a newborn and a toddler. We ended up borrowing one from a friend. It wasn’t the color that I might have chosen for myself, but it sure was helpful for a little while there and it sure was nice to be able to send it back home again.

This time around, I’ve been even more eager to tap into the sharing economy. So far, with the Buy Nothing Project by our side, we’ve been able to recoup a crib (this time in a more diminutive size), an infant carseat, and another bouncing baby chair. You can imagine my delight in finding all of that for exactly zero dollars and knowing I can pass it along to someone else when I’m finished with it. I’m not asking myself (or anyone) to pledge not to buy a single new baby item, but I am excited about the challenge and possibility of not needing to buy very much at all.

I humbly submit that at the end of the day, the time I might have spent discussing gear options with my spouse, or my family, or friends, was far better spent taking a warm bath, or figuring out how to parent, or talking about how we can get the folks in charge to support universal childcare and a federal paid family leave policy. The money I might have spent is better saved for childcare, or medical expenses, or, dare I say, a prenatal massage and an enormous hot chocolate. There’s no bouncing chair in the world that can substitute for any of that.

PS. Lest you think I fancy myself a saint, just this past weekend, having never had a pregnancy pillow in the past, I thought that perhaps I’ve been suffering unduly and bought one for myself to tuck between my legs or under my belly while sleeping, or to scream into when the going gets tough. We all have needs, and this weekend, mine manifested in the form of a moon-shaped pillow.

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  • Reply Kellyn November 20, 2019 at 4:28 pm

    Buy Nothing is incredible for baby gear! Hope you’re able to secure whatever other necessities you need before the baby’s arrival 🙂

  • Reply Leslie November 20, 2019 at 4:41 pm

    I’m expecting my second and have been recently sorting through all the stuff from my first child (who is currently 4 years old). While I never considered myself an over buyer over the last 4 years, I’ve been shocked by how much stuff we managed to accumulate. I’m trying to declutter as much as possible but I think I’ll have to do that phase by phase as we figure out what this particular baby needs. I just joined my local Buy Nothing Group in case acquisitions are needed and if I’m able to fulfill someone else’s need. I’m quite concerned about influx of Xmas gifts for my 4 year old and reading your and other’s blog for advice on how to discuss with grandparents. Sometimes I fear I’m too controlling around having too many toys but it is my space too and I just cannot stand so many brightly colored, plastic bits and pieces everywhere! Sorry for venting here!

    • Reply Liz November 21, 2019 at 9:52 am

      I can really relate to this – we’re trying for #2 and my sister’s also expecting, and I’m sorting through the baby stuff we saved from the first time around. I didn’t think I’d been an overbuyer either, and a fair bit of stuff has been decluttered along the way, but there’s still just so. much. stuff! I think partly it’s that the first time around you’re the recipient of other people’s decluttering efforts, and you don’t always know what’s going to be useful and what’s not, so you end up with unused things taking up space.

    • Reply L November 22, 2019 at 6:42 pm

      Oh my gosh, you wrote EXACTLY what I’m experiencing currently, right down to the age gap between my kids! (#2 is due in February, #1 is turning 4 in January). I’m amazed (and disappointed) by the sheer volume of stuff. I’m still waffling about how and whether to ask the grandparents to show restraint with Christmas and birthday gift giving. I think I’ll request that they try to stick to art supplies, books, and edible treats– dried fruits, oranges, nuts, etc. I just can’t stand the thought of more little plastic trucks… We recently moved to a larger house after living in 450 sq feet for the last several years, and everyone thinks we need stuff to fill it up! My mom recently visited and brought multiple giant totes full of plastic Halloween decorations, random toys, etc. I rushed it off to donate at the thrift store before my son could get his hands on it, but of course that doesn’t quite work at Christmas time!
      Good luck!

  • Reply Rachel November 20, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    “The preoccupation with baby stuff often feels like it overshadows the baby itself and very often the person who’s carrying it. Instead of new parents having conversations about how to manage careers and finances and relationships and responsibilities and childcare once a new baby is on the scene, it can feel like priority is placed on discussions about which stroller model from among hundreds is the very best one, as if there’s ever going to be a definitive answer.”

    THIS. This is so well-put! I’ll admit that sometimes I find your posts a little bit difficult to aspire to (i.e., I definitely use paper towels and single-use plastics and buy my kid unnecessary toys), but pregnant with my second I find myself subscribing to the idea that “less is more,” especially in a tiny NYC apartment. I really appreciated this post and your perspective.

  • Reply Claire November 20, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    It’s funny how letting go of things seems to coincide with making space for new opportunities. Last Spring, we also gave away the last of all our baby gear, except for a few special keepsake outfits, only to find out we were pregnant the following month. It had been five years since the first and surely that had meant we were done. We’re in a new city and my buy nothing group is sprouting into new groups right now. My fingers are crossed my past buy nothing karma will hold for this new group and help prevent the purchase of so many things we need for only 3-6 months.

  • Reply Liz November 20, 2019 at 7:54 pm

    I too adore my Buy Nothing group! I think what families need most when a new baby arrives is help, whether it’s a meal delivered, babysitting the older ones, taking care of laundry, etc. It’s not necessarily material things that get us through those first few blurry months. I’ll never forget my dad driving an hour to my house just walk my colicky baby around the neighborhood so I could shower. I wish the conversation around babies was less about gear and more about community.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 20, 2019 at 8:01 pm


  • Reply Marcia Le November 20, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    I have luckily gotten everything for my boys as hand-me-downs or second hand. The only issue is now I need to find someone who needs stuff. I even put it for free and no luck. Hopefully the second hand store will put it out and make someone’s day.

    • Reply Juliet December 2, 2019 at 9:38 am

      I’m not sure about the US but in the UK there are loads of charities who accept donations for little ones as they cater for families who may need a little extra help prepare for new arrivals – I’m already keeping an eye out for them as I can’t wait to pass on some of the hand me downs we received (and my daughter is only 10 months old!)

  • Reply Kelly November 20, 2019 at 10:16 pm

    Lots of love to your little (growing) family! I’m moving internationally while trying to conceive, and I’m fighting against the tide of acquisition, but it’s so hard when you want something tangible to hold when pregnancy feels untenable. Thanks to your blog, and your book (a constant reference!), I feel so empowered to keep things simple.

  • Reply Shena November 21, 2019 at 6:02 am

    I found that by baby number three, the only necessary purchase was a really good stroller. Most else,( including a crib for us as we put our mattress in the floor to cosleep) was just clutter. Diaper changes were done with a waterproof mat on the bed or floor . Actually we had a swing which was helpful when I had to put her down for a little while but she wanted to move. Congratulations on number 3. My number 3 is my nurturing and helpful one. Life is amazing with her in it. ❤️

  • Reply Danielle November 21, 2019 at 8:44 am

    I’m so excited for you and your family! It’s wonderful that you’ve been able to find so much you need through the buy nothing group too!

    Also I’ve been thinking of your previous post of books to read while pregnant/postpartum . I am finishing up a book called To Have and To Hold by Molly Millwood, and it has given me words for feelings I didn’t know how to express. Maybe you’ve heard of it too. Incredibly helpful and I wish all moms could read it!

    Thanks for all your posts about an alternative way to approach baby/parenting culture. I’ve been referring to you work a lot with my new daughter 🙂

  • Reply Jessica November 21, 2019 at 9:15 am

    Like you, I had an unexpected 3rd child when I had twins this past July. And even twins don’t necessitate as much as you would think. They share a crib. We use the car seats to rock them or have them join us at the dining table instead of bouncers or swings. Toys and clothes are hand-me-downs. After much deliberation about a new car, we just squeeze all the kids into our old Honda Fit like a clown car. It works! Also, thank you for sharing your authentic feelings about your pregnancy. The people who gave me space to mourn a “normal” pregnancy instead of pressuring me to perform were key to helping me process a high-risk, body-changing, life-changing period in my life. Congratulations to you and yours.

  • Reply Samantha November 21, 2019 at 10:19 am

    I’ve been challenging myself with this as well. We lent/gave a lot of things to friends and relatives with babies, so hopefully we can get some of those back! Congratulations on the little one – and good job on getting yourself a pregnancy pillow! They are truly magical and make nighttime a much better experience!

  • Reply Katharine November 21, 2019 at 10:30 am

    Buy Nothing is such a perfect way to handle baby gear, because so much of it is useful in 3-12 month blocks of time and then never again (unless another baby comes along, of course!) And there’s something so freeing about thinking “well, this is the one available, so that’s what we’re using” rather than trying to decide what is the BEST version.

    In a lot of ways, I think the focus on stuff is a replacement for the community we realize we’re lacking when we become parents. When there are no grandparents down the street stopping by to rock a fussy baby, picking just the right swing feels so much more critical!

  • Reply Jo November 21, 2019 at 9:33 pm

    I completely agree with you on all points and am doing the same with my baby girl. So much stuff is unnecessary with babies – all they mostly need is food, nappies, onesies, a safe place to sleep and love. But I have to vehemently disagree with going pre-loved on one item you’ve mentioned – the car seat.

    I’m a health and safety professional who investigates serious injuries, near misses and fatal accidents in my day job so I’m going to go to the dark place to explain why. Used car seats have two fundamental problems related to their integrity and age as follows:

    1. When a car seat has been exposed to the forces it is designed to withstand (i.e. been in a car crash) it is structurally compromised. It cannot be trusted to work properly ever again. They can and do fail to work as designed when in subsequent accidents. This is the case even in a relatively minor car crash and regardless whether a child was in the seat at the time of the crash. The problem with any second hand car seat from a stranger is that you cannot be certain it hasn’t already been in such a crash. It’s not worth the risk that the car seat fails to save your baby from serious injury or worse because it’s already broken.

    2. The plastic in car seats has the exact same flaw that the plastic used for hard hats, bicycle helmets and safety eyeglasses have. They all deteriorate over time and become brittle ESPECIALLY when exposed to heat and sunlight (which routinely happens in cars on sunny days in northern Europe let alone in hot places). Therefore these items have a expiry/best before date (typically around 5-7 years). This is not marketing bullshit – the plastic in any car seat WILL go brittle and WILL fail when it gets too old/heat damaged. Find out what the manufacturer recommends for the model you have – they shouldn’t be trusted beyond that point.

    According to the CDC the number one reason for accidental death and injury amongst children under 12 is car accidents (675 died in 2017 and 116,000 were injured). Half of those that died weren’t wearing a seat belt/in a car seat. That does unfortunately mean children can still die in a car seat. Some or many because the car seat they were in was mot used as intended such as already having been in an accident. I beg anyone reading this not to let your little one be hurt or worse by the very thing designed to protect them because it was too old or already compromised.

    It is literally the one baby thing worth dropping serious cash on.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 21, 2019 at 10:22 pm

      This is a car seat that hasn’t been in any accidents—the great thing about a buy nothing group is being able to actually talk with your neighbors about what you’re getting secondhand! It’s also just one and a half years old and years away from its expiration date, so we’re not worried about deterioration, and as we don’t have a car and are very rarely in them, our need for an infant car seat is primarily for coming home from the hospital, where in New York, infants are required to leave in a non-expired seat! I’m feeling good about this choice!

      • Reply Jo November 22, 2019 at 6:43 am

        (I am using the general ‘you’ here, not picking on you Erin) Just because you like somebody or share values with them does not mean they share the same understanding of tolerable risk. For example, they might say the car seat has never been in a crash but not ‘count’ to themselves (and by extension, to you) the time they were rear ended because they didn’t claim on their insurance or their kid wasn’t in the car seat at the time of the bump. Those instances would absolutely compromise a car seat though. That is why it is a risky choice – much like with a dog, if you do not personally know a car seats entire history then you cannot be certain how it will work under pressure.

        I know I don’t always have perfect judgement. I will not take the risk of second hand equipment because perfect judgement and understanding of risk from someone I don’t really know is asking too much. This is not only in my opinion but that of the fire service, every major safety and children’s charity, manufacturers and every relevant body of governments in North America, Europe and beyond.

        I admire and respect you very much, and genuinely hope that this isn’t something that you ever have to deal with or think about again. Genuine safety equipment needs much more nuance in its discussion – most people fit a car seat incorrectly as it is (even I’m not confident I do it right every time)

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 22, 2019 at 9:19 am

          Thanks. I don’t feel picked on but I do feel like I’ve weighed the risks and benefits here and I’m confident in my choice.

    • Reply S November 22, 2019 at 6:43 am

      Thank you for sharing this! My husband said something just yesterday about car seats having expiration dates (“we should have #2 before the car seat expires” ), and I definitely assumed this was a marketing scam. It’s not a banana! Thanks for sharing the research, and glad you found a great one – and so many other helpful items – to re-home, Erin!

      • Reply Sam November 23, 2019 at 12:40 am

        “It’s not a banana” just made me lol! 🙂

    • Reply Sid November 22, 2019 at 12:12 pm

      Just to provide a counter-balance to Jo’s comments:

      My opinion (as a parent who gratefully accepted gently-used, non-expired car seats from friends with both my kids): the biggest risk we take is in putting your child in the car in the first place.

    • Reply mado November 25, 2019 at 4:29 pm

      On an individual level, I know you’re totally right. However it makes me so mad that on a societal level we leave this issue up to individual responsibility. Therefore implying if you didn’t follow the rules to the letter it’s somehow your fault if your child is injured in an accident. Why isn’t the focus on making roads safer? (Not your focus personally, I mean the collective focus). If we know a certain amount of crashes are going to happen each year they aren’t even really “accidents”, there planned for. I personally found the carseat buying and installing process stressful and I was never totally sure I had it in right. How can everyone in NYC afford to buy a car seat when so many people don’t even have cars?

  • Reply Caitlin November 22, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    I truly loved my pregnancy pillow and felt it was a worthy item to own. Yours is much more aesthetically pleasing than mine was and could be used as a nursing support pillow, a floor pillow for anyone lounging around, or a bed snuggle pillow for a child after this pregnancy. I think I remember reading about other uses somewhere but I can’t recall them now.

  • Reply Vanessa November 23, 2019 at 11:03 am

    I so badly want to participate in my local Buy Nothing group, but do not have a Facebook account—they are a corporation I simply cannot make a concession for right now. Are you aware of other similar groups that don’t have this requirement?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE November 23, 2019 at 11:27 am

      Understandable. There aren’t any that seem to operate quite as smoothly but the comments of the original post have some ideas!

    • Reply Erica November 24, 2019 at 7:49 am

      Some Freecycle groups operate outside Facebook — try searching for one in your area!

  • Reply Wendy December 3, 2019 at 11:26 am

    I’d love to join Buy Nothing but my neighborhood doesn’t have one. Is it uncouth to join a group anyways? (For reference, I am in Hell’s Kitchen and the closet to me is one on the UWS in Lincoln Square.)

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 3, 2019 at 11:34 am

      i think it depends on the group! you have to request to join, so i’d just let the admins know your situation and see how it goes! (good luck!)

  • Reply Alexis March 25, 2020 at 9:51 am

    I loved reading this – I had my 2nd child while temporarily living across the ocean living in a studio apartment – we were living on the tiniest budget and knew we had to make it work – there was a bit of a barrier to using community groups – I spoke the language but communication isn’t just about language… so) we bought a little second hand crib and had a couple of wooden wine boxes for the baby stuff – when I felt like I needed something else I’d ask the baby “hey, do you think we need to go get this? Maybe we can figure something else out here” and made a game of it – it was liberating and allowed us to have a very complete and budget friendly experience!! Love this!

  • Reply Daniel Y. Ryans May 31, 2020 at 7:33 am

    Loved it.

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