Calling B.S. on Minimalist Parenting
But here are the seven essentials without which I couldn't live.
Minimalism looks so sweet and attainable on Instagram. Blogger and author Erin Boyle raises a family — two kids by the way! — in a 500-square-foot apartment. It looks like a bento box: a willowy-brunette mommy roll, a flannel-shirt dad sashimi and a huggable baby mochi. I remember thinking when I was pregnant, “How hard can it be?” We have a 700-square-foot place; who needs baby-specific crap, anyway? Can’t my rug do the same thing as squishy floor tiles? My husband went so far as to wonder why we needed a sleeping device at all: “Wouldn’t a bottom drawer left open overnight do the trick?” (He was 60% joking.)
Our son Lalo is now 2 ½ years old, and I’m calling bullshit on the minimalist parenting thing. Well, maybe not bullshit, but minimalism is incredibly difficult for us mortals. Let’s instead adjust our expectations: Tightly Curated Parenting is the best my Marie Kondo-loving self can hope for. The truth is that parenting does require a lot of stuff but you don’t need it all at once. Here’s what I learned when my son arrived.
Sleep is non-negotiable.
I reluctantly turned to a rock-n-play when my son refused to sleep in his crib for more than 45 minutes at a time. The first time he did a 6-hour stretch in that concave bed I was euphoric. I think I maybe even loved him more (20% joking). My own parents might not have had the luxury of a bouncer that simulates being rocked in the womb, but I’m sure they would’ve appreciated it. Plus, we’re lucky to live in a world where tricked-out doesn't have to mean everything looks like giant R2D2s. There are so many sleekly designed options now.
Don't tell your child that old toys go to a "farm."
Our space constraints mean we are constantly donating items or giving them away to friends and neighbors. It’s a little like Tetris or, as one friend put it, like living at sea, “When one item comes on the boat, another must go out.” This has its own issues, like when Lalo sees some random puppet I thought he had outgrown in the hands of our neighbor’s child in the elevator. Facepalm. But the pros outweigh the tantrums and it’s worth it to make room for other tricked-out, complicated kids’ crap. That crap honestly makes parenting easier.
Don't skimp on lighting.
When I was pregnant a friend suggested I buy an LED lamp with a million different settings. At first, I thought she was nuts. I have a regular old lamp, thank you very much! But I eventually broke down and bought one. Boy, I'm glad I did. It never gets too hot, so I don’t have to worry about it burning my toddler. The different settings give off such low, natural glows that it became a lifesaver for night feedings. The last thing you want when it’s 4 a.m. and you’ve got a semi-sleepy baby is to shine an overhead light or a bedside lamp in his or her face.
Keep it moving, people.
You need a bouncer or lounger (or, geez, maybe even both). Most parents probably know this but it was lost on me in my minimalist fog: You can’t just put a baby down on a blanket or in a Moses bed and expect him or her to be happy. Nope. Babies are not that different than folks at a U2 concert: They need to see crap floating in the sky above them and want to feel part of the party. Many designs today are truly inoffensive and really soothing for babies. In other words, they are The Holy Grail.
Walkers-slash-anything with wheels that puts them in the driver’s seat are also great. YBIKEs are a genius alternative to the traditional Fisher Price walkers. Smooth, silent wheels, simple design and — this is the most important part — kids love them. They are particularly great for urban parents who roam hallways in apartment buildings for “walks.” (That would be me.)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is smaller than a giant stuffed animal.
There is truly no such thing as too many books — and the best part is they make fantastic gifts. If you want to avoid getting random things at birthdays and holidays that don’t fit your definition of “essential,” put these on registries or ask for them exclusively when friends or family inquire about presents. You can’t really go wrong.
Who doesn't love a fake carrot?
Even the most devout white-food worshippers adore pretend vegetables and kitchens. It’s really quite magical how these simple, scaled-down toys provide hours, days and months of imaginative play. Months!
And watch as we make it disappear.
Glorious, wonderful bins and baskets make cleaning up slightly less of a chore. Throw whatever you find in them. (Pre-organization is optional.) With the right storage, you might even be able to fool future-parent friends into thinking you’ve got the minimalist thing on lock — or at least how to make it look like you do Instagram.
Olivia Villanti is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Follow her on Instagram @oliviavillanti.