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Needing Stuff

Newborns, necessity, and the importance of fluid minimalism

Needing Stuff
Photography by Kewei Hu

When you’re a minimalist, admitting you need stuff is hard. Having a baby challenged my lifestyle choices more than ever and ultimately made me reluctantly admit that sometimes, there are things that we can’t live without.

Whilst pregnant, I was so overwhelmed by people telling me what to buy—families urging that “you can’t survive without this” and forums claiming that “your life will be easier with that.” This didn’t sit well with me as I only bought things I knew first-hand that I needed. I rarely parted with cash impulsively, I overanalyzed large purchases and always asked, “does this bring value into my life?” As soon as my husband and I found out we’d be adding a little person to our minimalist unit, we were excited to attempt to do so with very little ‘stuff’.

The new-mum ‘must-have’ lists would offer pages of items that were apparently necessary, but with no real lengthy explanation as to why. Breast pumps, state-of-the-art bouncers, fancy sterilization machines, patterned changing mats, orthodontic dummies, mountains of clothes, books, toys, nappies and wipes—was it all completely necessary? Or were there minimalist alternative solutions? I wanted to show the baby blogs that it could be done, that you could raise a newborn with as little as possible. I bought a handful of babygrows, a car seat, a few cotton nappies, and a basic cot. I refused baby gifts. I was focused and intentional. It felt good.

After a long labour and an eventual cesarean-section, I was beyond ecstatic to see my little boy for the first time. My birth didn’t pan-out the way I expected but I had no idea that the aftermath would be equally unpredictable. Within days, I was changing my opinion on almost everything I had wished to do as a new parent.

Attempting to navigate the craziness of the first few weeks with a new baby, all of the items I had previously dismissed crept into our lives. The whole thing was tough, and I repeatedly reached out for assistance. To say I struggled to breastfeed is an understatement, so I recruited help to feed my baby—this resulted in the daily use of expressing machines, nipple shields, nipple creams, bottles, sterilization equipment, milk formula, flasks, specialist kettles, insulated milk bags, and more. After diagnosing a reflux discomfort, an upright bouncer chair was a huge relief. After struggling with his frequent regurgitation and sick-stained clothes, my single pack of grows couldn’t keep up. After noticing, once he’d start to cognitively develop, that he’d cry without mental stimulation, toys were a big help. After falling asleep over a boiling pan of water for the umpteenth time one night, I immediately ordered sterilization equipment. After washing cloths and cotton nappies for the third time in one day, still struggling to find time to achieve even basic tasks for myself in all of the chaos, I quite literally threw in the towel and got myself a high-quality changing mat and mountains of disposable nappies and wipes.

Three days after giving birth, I looked over to the table in our home, which was now unfamiliar territory, overflowing with all of these items, and more, after 48 hours of impulse-buying online (what would I have done without next-day delivery?). I didn’t recognize our lounge and I couldn’t get out of the front door over the mound of cardboard boxes, which continued to grow over the coming weeks. And as time went on, our bank balances took a further beating and we started to get to know delivery drivers pretty well. Specialist anti-reflux milk formula, particular teats to improve colic, a proper changing bag to insulate formula bottles, the right-sized baby towel, orthodontic dummies, a specifically-designed bin to mask nappy stench, breastfeeding tea and supplements to encourage milk production, a special lightweight pram that I could lift because I couldn’t immediately use my sling or carry heavy objects due to the c-section. The list went on.

I think any new parents will agree that nothing quite prepares you for parenthood, especially the challenges of feeding, and looking back I originally felt somewhat naive for thinking I could manage without any help from physical items... items which have been such a welcome help, items which have made one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done that much easier. I never knew that babies could be so utterly complicated, so vulnerable, confused, completely new to the world and completely reliant on our help. The first couple of months with a newborn are a blur, and those newborn essentials can make such a difference—they can aid health and happiness, sleep and sanity.

Despite all of our frantic buying, our values have in fact remained the same. Everything that came so suddenly into our spaces was essential—just because it arrived with speed and volume does not make it excess. Our passion for living with only what is necessary remains and we look forward to sharing these views with our son when he is old enough to understand. We are also keen to teach him that every human is travelling slowly along a learning curve, meeting different versions of themselves along the way. Having a baby has taught me that minimalism must ride the wave, it must be fluid, and we cannot be too hard on ourselves as we continually take on new roles. As new parents, just like our children, we will continue to adapt, learn, grow, and change, and our values and passions must move with us too.

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