Updated: Sep 18, 2021
Creating a sustainable minimalist lifestyle requires some time and thought. First, identifying what we need, not what we think we need. Working out what serves us best, and then we can find sustainable options to meet those needs. Once we've found our flow, it is a lifestyle that's simple to maintain and can reduce a lot of the mental load we face in our daily lives. But what happens when we have a family? Kids are "stuff" magnets. How do we start a minimal, sustainable life surrounded by baby stuff? Here are some ideas to keep our family life both sustainable and minimal.
Preparing for the Arrival: Because it's suggested does not mean we have to buy it.
In the new-born stage, when we googled "New-born items?" or "What do we need for a new baby?" we were immediately confronted with page-long lists of everything from bottle cleaners to wet wipe warmers. Thousands of pacifier options, bottles, sleep aids, and it goes on and on. It was overwhelming and, to be honest, for the most part, we found it all a bit unnecessary. Before running out to buy everything or putting it on a gift list for our family and friends to buy, we sat down as a family and thought about what we really need. Our baby needed a cot or crib, clothes, nappies, bottles, and transport. That's it. I'm not kidding; new-borns need very little to begin with. A place to sleep, clothes and a way to be fed. The rest is marketing, don't get me wrong, some of it can be useful, but we wanted to make sure it's a need and not a whim. Do we need a bath thermometer? Possibly not as our elbow did the same job. Does the baby need warmed wipes? Our house maintains a comfortable temperature, so we found it best just to stick with normal temperature wipes. The idea here was to narrow it down to what we needed and what will serve our household best. For anything we weren’t sure of we reached out to friends with kids and talked to them about what they found most useful during the same stages. We focused on buying what benefited us and our household, not what a baby company told us was needed.
New Baby Presents
Aside from the parents, no one was more excited by our new baby than our family or friends. Get ready for an avalanche of tiny human related gifts. To help make sure the gifts we received were both helpful and sustainable, we sat down and talked to our family and friends. We expressed that we were trying to keep things minimal and sustainable. Discussing with them what we were going to do for nappies, colour schemes, and how we wanted wooden toys over plastic. We went into detail so everyone was aware of the lifestyle being created for our family and could help make it happen. With our friends who had kids already we shared the idea that we would love hand-me-downs if they have any. After deciding to cloth diaper, we told our close friends and family, so they knew this was a great gift idea if they felt they wanted to buy something. By being open and honest it helped our family and friends give gifts that were deeply appreciated and suited our lifestyle. Our families were desperate to spend on the new arrival, so we helped with practical and useful suggestions. We discussed how instead of material items we were opening a bank account in the baby's name and they could deposit into it. We asked for help over items, asking them to help decorate the nursery or bring cooked meals after the baby arrived. Our family and friends wanted to help and learnt that there is so much they could do that supported us and our new family without adding to the material items in our household.
The Basics: What to look for and where to find it
Second hand is our friend. It is a great way to buy sustainably, and there's so much out there. Anything and everything can be found second hand; there are a few exceptions which we will cover in a minute. There's a wealth of places to find second-hand furniture, clothes, and toys. Facebook marketplace (and baby groups), eBay, sites like Gumtree or Craigslist's and second-hand shops. Op shops (opportunity shop or thrift store) and charity shops often have huge kid's sections and they are worth looking in. A quick online search brought up hundreds of items like cot's, prams and furniture like rocking chairs to furnish our nursery with. They are usually in excellent condition and need nothing more than an extra wipe down at home. The number of new items we have bought because people have changed their minds or found something better is amazing. All second hand but essentially new. Op shops are also great for toys and presents and make it easy to swap out as they usually only cost a few dollars. When decluttering, we often donate our gently used toys to op shops and choose a couple of new “to us” ones. New toys in sustainable and cost-effective way.
What's worth buying new?
There are two main Item's it is worth buying new. While we love the sustainability of second-hand items there are two things we recommend buying from the store, mattresses, and car seats. Mattresses for cleanliness and safety reasons. While a second-hand mattress may look fine, it could be hiding allergens from pets or cleaning fluids and could also not be up to code regarding current safe sleep requirements. Car seats need to be new for safety reasons and they are heavily regulated in most countries. When buying one second-hand, there is no way of knowing if it has been in a crash or its safety features are still up to code. The technology is often updated so for everyone's safety, we recommend you do your research and buy new car seats. That's not to say we didn’t buy with sustainability and with minimalism in mind. We research the best sustainable brands and made sure we knew the car seat guidelines in our area. For example, in Australia babies and children stay in car seats until they are 7 years old, meaning both of our car seats were chosen to grow with my children. Find the local authorities’ guidelines and work within them when choose a car seat that can grow with a baby instead of needing to be replaced at different phases of life.
When we think of a child's birthday party, we most likely think of balloons, noise, colours and presents. A celebration of a milestone reached and fun for everyone. It's so easy to get caught up in the piles of gifts, balloons, and plastic cups & plates. It can be hard to step back and work out how to make birthdays less consumer-driven and more sustainable. Start with the guest list, who is coming and what will be needed. Parties often mean lots of plastic cups, plates, and cutlery. The good news is there are small companies popping up everywhere where we can hire dining sets, use them, and then return them. An excellent option for staying sustainable, ensuring minimal rubbish and no storage needed. Decorations can also be hired or consider making them from paper, fabric or using flowers instead of balloons. Presents these are where we can end up with mountains of new toys. To avoid this, noting on invitations, “No presents, please” really helps set proper expectations. For the relentless “gifters” who cannot be dissuaded, present them with options which are experiences or items that have longevity. Like a yearly membership card to the local attractions or presents that stand the test of time and can be donated once outgrown like Lego or Duplo. For wrapping, fabric or recycled paper are a great option and if receiving, try and save the wrapping paper to use on a future gift.
Libraries and More Libraries
To help maintain a minimal lifestyle and support sustainability, checkout the local library and toy library. It is so important for babies to be exposed to as many books as possible however books take up space; the local library is the perfect solution to this. They also often have events and programs just for babies and children, find their website or drop in to and speak with a staff member about what they offer. We found that local libraries in Australia offer Rhyme Time and Storytime so our children can socialize, learn and borrow books. It also gave me as a new parent the chance to meet other families. Toy Libraries are also wonderful; these are just like regular libraries but for toys. Parents or caregivers can go and borrow a few toys for a couple of weeks and then return them and borrow other ones. Toy libraries have strict regulations for cleaning and maintaining the toys ensuring they are all in great condition. It's a great way to have a variety of toys without having to keep them forever. Lastly when we planned on baby wearing, we discovered there are baby wearing libraries. These are where people can go and try out different options before buying the one, they are most comfortable in. Often, they will let families take home a sling or wrap for a week or so to ensure it suits them. We found our baby sling this way and highly recommend it for all families.
Babies grow faster than you can believe and that includes growing out of things. While they seem long at the time, the phases went by so quickly. To keep in line with a minimalist lifestyle while ensuring we had all the items needed for each stage, we made sure to declutter frequently. If it got too small, our baby didn’t use it, or it was not getting played with I decluttered it. If it served no purpose to our family, it did not need to stay in our home. We found it a new home where it would be used and serve a purpose. I found the easiest way to rehome our items was to post it on my Buy Nothing Facebook group, sell items on Facebook Marketplace or donate them to a friend or Op Shop. We found it easiest to do as we went
Sustainability and minimalism with babies and children does take some work. Luckily once the habits are created it is easy to maintain and is a great way to teach and share the values of our household with its newest members as they grow.