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.