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Long before this soon-to-arrive baby of ours had even entered our hearts and minds and hopes as a possibility, I’d decided that if I ever have a child, I’d try my utmost to still hold on to the same values I try to honor in all other areas of my life: material simplicity, low consumption and environmental responsibility. Starting with nesting for the newborn.

Well-meaning friends who themselves had children would smile knowingly: “Oh, just you wait…” One of them told me how, while pregnant with her first child, she swore she would only get “the essentials” for the baby, only wholesome, natural, non-toxic toys — and definitely not plastic anything made in China. Less than three months into parenthood and sleep-deprived to the point of insanity, she caved in and bought whatever vibrating swing, bouncer, or other plastic contraption from China would put her baby to sleep.

I realize that that may be me in a few months. But for the time being at least, let me give this parenting-in-simplicity thing a try. The truth is that I have thoroughly loved this period of nesting and preparing for the baby’s arrival, and I have particularly loved trying to find ways to do it in a way that feels right for me, rather than what the big box stores are telling me it should be. The nest I’m preparing is low-tech and low-cost, woven out of as many recycled and handmade and organic things as possible. Just in case some other mama or papa-to-be out there is looking for ideas for how to avoid excessive pre-baby purchasing, here’s what’s helped me:

Question mainstream lists of “must-haves”. A popular maternity website will tell you to budget $ 6,500 for baby gear for the first year. For how could you have a baby without brand new nursery furniture, a special nursing glider, a play center, and a thousand dollars’ worth of baby clothes? Now contrast that with the approach of the frugality blogger Mrs. Money Mustache, who actually asks: What do newborns really need? The list is not long, it turns out: a place to sleep, diapers, some clothes, milk, a car seat, and love. The Money Mustache couple got their gear mostly free from friends, or used from Craigslist, spending a total of $ 320 (and made most of it back by selling them again when no longer needed). Our budget is certainly going to be closer to the latter example. Breastfeeding and cloth diapering are key to keeping both costs, and the environmental impact, low.

Say yes to used. This is easy to do: as the word spreads that you’re expecting, offers of hand-me-down baby clothes and other things will automatically come in from all sides. Given how fast babies grow, many clothes have only been worn once or twice, so they’re as good as new. Even if you don’t happen to have family or acquaintances who can help out in this way, there are now so many consignment and other used baby item stores popping up everywhere, including online, that buying everything new in the store just doesn’t make sense. All you’ll do is waste your own money and support the “buy and discard” mentality of the industry.

We let family and friends know that we’d welcome, and in fact prefer, used items for the baby. Instead of a traditional baby shower, my close friends organized for me a baby blessing party to which guests brought baby clothes, toys and baby gear that were either gently used and recycled, or handmade. Thanks to the generosity of family and friends, we have received—for free—

  • cloth diapers and baby clothes to see us through at least the first three months and much of the first year
  • a changing table, a crib, a stroller, a high chair, a baby carrying backpack
  • an assortment of blankets, receiving blankets, bibs, swaddle cloths, baby carriers, books and toys
  • almost all of my maternity wardrobe

nesting-2Do it yourself. Some of the most precious gifts for the baby are handmade, such as the little woolen things knitted by my grandmother and my aunt, and this awesome elephant quilt made by Dan’s aunt. nesting-3I’ve made a few things for the baby myself. My main project has been a co-sleeper in which the baby will sleep for the first few months. I wanted to avoid the flame retardants and nasty plastics that are in most commercial co-sleepers, but also didn’t want to spend the money on the few, pricey eco- and baby-friendly bassinets that are commercially available. The solution: a sturdy cardboard box elevated on a wooden trunk; organic cotton for draping; and an organic mattress. It fits snugly between our bed and the wall and is completely secure. I can share the process of making it in a later post if anybody is interested.nestingIf you’re going to invest and buy new, invest in safety. I can count with the fingers of one hand the items we’ve gotten new (apart from small things like bottles), and all of them were decisions made based on safety: a car seat (received as a gift) — although I would have accepted a used one if I knew for sure it hadn’t been in an accident; a baby bathtub that’s free of BPA plastics, phthalates, etc.; an organic changing pad (received as a gift); and an organic bassinet mattress for the co-sleeper.

Apart from the car seat, what I mean by “safety” is minimal amount of toxins in baby products. The Mindful Home’s incredibly thoroughly researched guide to non-toxic, eco-friendly baby gear has the scoop on the toxic chemicals that, incredibly enough, most baby gear seems to be pumped full of — and how to avoid them. They have two excellent recommendations. Firstly, try to avoid plastics altogether in baby products. And secondly, “if you are going to do just a few things organic/toxin free, it should be the bedding, mattress and sleepwear.  All of them are loaded with flame retardants, and mattresses have a slew of other things to be concerned about, like PVC and phthalates.” I followed that suggestion — hence the DIY co-sleeper with an organic mattress and bedding. Ideally, one would be able to find all the non-toxic items on The Mindful Home’s list used on Craigslist or the equivalent, but I haven’t had such luck. In fact, I find that the biggest challenge in eco-friendly nesting is making choices that meet both criteria: a) don’t involve new purchases, and b) are safe for baby. The majority of consumers who are passing their used items on seem to have taken the big box store, made in China, cheap and toxic route.

Any other ideas for keeping the carbon footprint of a baby as small as her actual footprint?