I guess I’ve known all along that introducing a baby into the family meant introducing a whole slew of stuff into our lives—much of it bulky, expensive, and—often—plastic.
But I’m fighting all the media and social cues to go on a shopping spree at Babies R Us. Instead, my husband and I decided to buy only one or two essential items new, like a state-of-the-art super-safe car seat. But, for the most part we’ve managed to “go green” as we’ve outfitted ourselves for pregnancy and parenthood—from used maternity clothes to garage sale furniture and non-material shower gifts. Our goal has been to reduce, reuse, and recycle—and to save money while we’re at it.
Here are three tricks that have worked for us:
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Identify the real essentials. As a pregnant woman I’m constantly bombarded with advertisements about all the stuff I absolutely “must have” to welcome baby. (On a side note, how does every baby product retailer even know I’m pregnant? I guess it’s because I signed up for email updates about my pregnancy from popular websites, and because I write about being pregnant on Facebook and Gmail…Our “digital shadows” are bigger than our real selves sometimes.) It’s easy to get carried away buying all kinds of baby things you don’t really need. And frankly, babies don’t need much—especially at first. We have relied on Consumer Reports’ list of absolute newborn essentials to cut through all the clutter and determine a real list if essentials.
We’ve even scaled back from this list a bit by asking people we know with newborn babies exactly what they use and don’t use. But this is a great starting place—reassuring new parents that you don’t actually need 50 sleepers and 30 onesies, etc. Figure out what you really need and resist the urge to buy anything more (because you’ll get more than you need at your shower anyway!)
Garage sales, EBay, Craigslist, thrift shops, and consignment. Babies don’t usually wear stuff out or even soil it irreparably—especially before they’re crawling or feeding themselves beets. (And pregnant women grow so fast they don’t have time to wear stuff out either, for that matter) That’s why there’s a glut of perfectly good, gently-used baby stuff (and maternity wear) on the second-hand market. Along with hand-me-down stuff from friends, we scored most of the clothes we needed from thrift shops and consignment shops. Designer maternity jeans that would have cost nearly $100 were a steal for $15. An organic baby sling that had been recommended to us by close friends was easy to find—in perfect condition and for half the price—on Craigslist. And I felt like a good Samaritan buying it from a single mom who likely needed the money.
Some people love garage sales (I’m one of them); others loath sorting through piles of junk in hopes of finding one real treasure. To streamline your search, look for garage sale listings that help you pinpoint exactly what you’re seeking (sellers often list their major items or let you know they will be featuring lots of baby stuff, for example). That’s how we scored a nearly-new, perfectly safe, high-end crib for a fraction of the cost of a new one. In fact, we paid $100 for a crib that retails at nearly $700. I got to the sale early (yes, I was one of those people) and fended off the other pregnant women who were circling me and the crib like sharks until I could snap it up.
Many people sell entire lots of clothes on eBay—this may mean a little less choice, but buying in bulk cuts your shipping costs and gets you through a whole season of baby fashion needs without driving around town to multiple stores.
Finally, when you’re finished using this stuff, sell it. Consignment shops give you cash or credit. Craigslist works well for the big-ticket items. You rid yourself of excess stuff at the same time you recoup a little cash for the child’s next list of necessities—or for their college fund.
Alternative gift registry. The obligatory baby shower is a celebration of motherhood that, like Mother’s Day, has become more about buying stuff than anything else. Everybody will insist that you register for the gifts you want, but the standard registries lock you in to a consumerist trap. A great resource for expecting parents who want to direct their shower down a more sustainable path is New American Dream’sAlternative Gift Registry. This site makes it easy to ask for used gifts, hand-me-downs, gifts from local retailers, and non-material gifts like babysitting, a diaper service, and help when baby comes—like home cooking or grocery shopping for the new family.
After my shower, a dear family friend told me that shopping at the thrift store for baby clothes was the most fun she’s ever had looking for a shower present. She couldn’t believe the adorable items she found for dirt cheap. She ended up buying at least ten sweet little outfits for the same price she would have paid for one or two new ones. She was thrilled; I was thrilled.
All this takes a bit more time and effort, perhaps, than a few trips to a big box store. And of course buying used items means that you have to be even more vigilant about safety concerns and checking for toxins or synthetic materials you want to avoid. But it beats paying full price and starting your baby’s life off by adding to the consumer waste in the world he or she will inherit.
If you have ideas for green baby shopping (or avoiding shopping in the first place), send them our way.