After 4 children, I feel pretty qualified on the junk/not-junk divide, when it comes to general ‘stuff’ to buy for your baby (or, someone else’s baby) in their first year.
Combined with my attempts to live with slightly less stuff everywhere (KonMari lite), I have thought about this pretty carefully, primarily because less stuff = less tidying up.
That is not to say that buying things for babies isn’t a fun activity in and of itself and if you have time on your hands, money to burn and space to store all your junk/not-junk then this list will be less helpful. On the other hand, if you want to buy things that you won’t regret buying, for a baby in the first year, then read on for my curated, tried and tested list.
1. A really great baby carrier / sling
I will straight-up admit that Marie Kondo would have a field day when it comes to my sling collection and I cannot bring myself to recommend only one sling.
In fact there are 3 excellent slings, all of which serve a separate and excellent function. So you will want – a stretchy wrap, for the first 0-6 months (I use an excellent boba one); a babybjorn front carrier, for the first 0-12 months (so tiny that you can carry it with you anywhere and also very quick to take baby in and out so excellent for when in transit, or using the tube for example); and finally, a semi-structured soft carrier like the ergo, for 3+ months (does everything that the babybjorn does and is much easier on your back but is bigger and bulkier than the babybjorn)
You will use all these slings many times and not regret buying any of them, even when your husband looks aghast at the idea of a third carrier. The babybjorn ones are often sold second hand as when your baby is 9ish months old you may find they are getting too heavy for extended use so they are a good lightly used second hand option)
2. Board books
Here’s the thing – babies enjoy and need books, ideally a variety of books. However – they really don’t need to be baby books. One or two black and white books like this or this are great for the first months.
But after that you can get plenty of decent preschooler stories in board book format – like the classic Julia Donaldson books – or this, or this – rather than having lots of extremely boring baby books that will eventually drive you demented from reading terrible rhymes. Is there anything worse than crap children’s literature? And there’s so much of it.
Anyway the good news is that you can have a fairly indestructible version of a book like Room on the Broom and only read a little bit of the text to a busy small toddler, then read the full story to an older toddler.
While we’re at it, here are some other good recommendations for excellent children’s books that you won’t already have.
I totally underrated these, first time around, because I didn’t have any decent blocks and thought they were just an iconic baby toy but not an actual thing. Then a friend gifted us an old set and I saw the light. Invest in some good quality ones like these rubber ones and your baby will enjoy chewing on them from 3 months, knocking towers that you’ve built from 5 months, building towers themselves from 6-9months and colour matching from 18months. My 7 year old still happily builds complex structures for our 8 month old to knock down.
Alternatively, I also really recommend these peek a blocks, or these wonder blocks that also look quite lovely on a windowsill.
4. Decent Muslins
There are so many lovely muslin designs out there now and they don’t have to be Aden&Anais (Although the A&A ones are very lovely, just not the thrifty option). Keep your eye out at TKMaxx and Amazon who often have great sales on these – and there are a number of companies that do the same large sized 100% cotton muslins that are equally as excellent. (We have these, as well as the classic A&A ones)
Useful for pretty much everything, from swaddling, lining a pram, covering a pram to help a nap, lying a baby on for a change, lying a baby on under a tree to watch the leaves, covering baby legs in the pram when the sun is out, mopping up spit-up, adding some pattern to plain cot sheets, and later on…some of ours are still used to make play tents and superhero capes. Multipurpose to the extreme.
Alternatively, you can use a large scarf for most of these purposes, which means I find it very easy to justify scarf purchasing. Never quite so pleasing mopping up spit up with your nice Whistles scarf, though, so that’s something to bear in mind.
5. A beautiful blanket
We were lucky enough to have beautiful blankets hand knitted by my mother-in-law but if you are not lucky enough to have a knitting genius of a mother-in-law, there are so many great ones out there – here is a good selection for the UK. Our children still have the blankets they came home from hospital in, on their beds like a throw – and bring them with us in cars, on airplanes, for travel, so they are putting some serious mileage in.
6. Natural Sheepskin
Babies love sleeping on sheepskin rugs and you can transfer them from baby chairs (incidentally, cannot recommend this one enough) to the floor / play gym / cot. You don’t need to get a specifically baby-cot one, just a regular sheepskin, and if ours hadn’t seen some serious action from 4 babies then it would be perfect for draping over a chair, once your baby was out of the lying around stage. Ours has, sadly, seen better days though so will likely be relegated to my cupboard, for me to cling to in the future, reminiscing while simultaneously gulping from a large glass of chilled white wine (cannot imagine how good this will be, after a near-8 year abstinence)
7. A classic mobile
No need to get something ugly and garish for over the cot / change table. Get something classic like this swallow mobile – I recommended it before but it really is lovely and in fairly perpetual motion, quite entrancing for adults and babies, plus the monochrome theme is perfect for babies.
1. Baby paper
Cannot say enough good things about this – a favourite toy from about 2-3 months and still being used at 8 months. Super portable and comes in an array of lovely designs.
2. A jigsaw with pieces that are good early toys
This Tidlo jigsaw comes in a variety of themes – farmyard, jungles, etc, and for some reason unknown to me their pictures online make them look quite dull. In reality they are lovely and bright pieces that babies like to chew on and toddlers can use in pretend play, as well as being a great first jigsaw, as their intended use suggests.
Obviously your baby will be too young to put duplo together in the first year but Duplo is a totally classic toy that even our 7 year old still returns to.
The pieces are light, easily grippable, colourful and non-chokable, so an excellent thing to have in your repertoire for your baby to enjoy (our 8 month old currently enjoys a pile of Duplo in an empty laundry basket to pull out and throw around)
4. Jack in the box
As with the blocks, a classic for a reason – all our children have loved these. I bought a Paddington one that I half expected to be reduced to a nice decorative object for our children’s bedrooms but in actual fact has been used more than I could have imagined.
Plus it looks nice on the shelf.
Things you will regret buying:
1. Too many rubbish toys and teddies
There are so many rattles and baby toys out there that if you aren’t careful you will end up with a pile of ugly and useless toys.
I carted around a rainbow monkey for months trying to convince my son to play with it but he just wasn’t interested. Stick to the classics (see above) and toys that will have more than one purpose.
Instead of lots of teething toys, for example, my 8month old loves a bowl full of Tupperware type containers which provide just the same variety of colour, shape and texture but are actual functional objects and so don’t just add clutter.
2. Too many clothes / clothes that aren’t comfortable
It is so tempting to buy piles of baby clothes but the reality is that they grow so fast that you won’t get chance to use them all.
Similarly, there’s nothing worse than baby clothes that aren’t comfortable for your baby. Stick to natural fibres if you can. And John Lewis do the best sleepsuits that have built-in mitts, excellent for newborns.
3. Baby board books that drive you insane
Look I don’t want to name any names here Sandra Boynton, but whichever books your children enjoy you will end up reading more times than you thought possible, particularly more times than you would ever have imagined reading in the space of an hour. So make sure it isn’t a book that’s going to drive you a bit mad.
4. Most things that make a noise
As with the books, you have to imagine whatever your baby is enjoying, on repeat. The toy playing a song that is slightly jarring on the first listen will be unbearable by the 50th. Limit the noisy toys and be aware that you will find yourself humming the tune years later.
So in case you were rushing out to buy something for the under 1s… there we have it: the first step to a house not full of junk. But still full of not-junk.