Kathleen was hyperventilating while I was pulling strollers off the shelf at Babies ‘R’ Us and pushing them around a bit. Kathleen hates big stores, and is generally distrustful of the employees1. She has about an hour of tolerance before she starts to go into panic attack mode. We were well past an hour by the time the salesman gave us his spiel on why Chicco strollers do such and such, but Graco strollers do this and that, and make sure you know the difference between the infant car seats and the convertible car seats, oh, and by the way, have you thought about baby carriers? We knew Babies ‘R’ Us was essentially Strategic HQ for the Parental Industrial Complex, but we headed into the fray so that we could see what we were up against. At first, I started taking notes about things on my phone, but then soon decided to get one of those registry guns. Turns out, it’s easier to succumb to the tyranny of the baby registry than it is to blindly wander around a baby superstore and parse the glut of information.
As we filled out the registry form, the salesman made sure to steer us away from registering for “Clearance Items.” He explained thusly: “The Clearance Item may not be available by the time people go to purchase it, which is frustrating for them. Then they have to find a replacement which will be cheaper than the one you wanted. People spend more money on you if you give them items that are available. It’s just a proven fact.” This statement caused me to raise my eyebrow up past my hairline. It was as if this man believed we were working together on a secret plan to extract as much money as possible from our friends and family in the form of overpriced garbage.
The salesman handed us a guide. The title of this guide is “Your Dream Registry Guide2.” On the cover is a woman sitting cross-legged in a plushly-appointed girls’ nursery with a vacant stare and a fake smile while holding untitled pink book in her hands3. Inside are such helpful “articles” such as “Create your perfect nursery” (p. 10), “Gear up for baby” (p. 30), and “Learn all about layette” (p. 56). It’s all of the highest journalistic integrity, naturally.
Registries Inspire Greed
Family members will want to buy you stuff. This is a good thing! Car seats, strollers, and baby carriers are expensive, and it’s nice to have the support of grandparents, uncles, and aunts who want to pitch in to help you, new parents-to-be, get your household baby-ready. But there’s something unsettling about the concept of a baby registry. Having that scanning gun in your hand turns you into a shopping-crazed monster, scanning barcodes of a more expensive stroller or car seat than you’d actually buy for yourself. Worse still, you inevitably add unnecessary stuff that will just end up as clutter in the corner of a closet.
Would I take a top-of-the-line $870 UPPAbaby Vista stroller? I suppose I would, but if somebody was really insistent on spending that much money on Creature, I’d rather they just buy us our diapers for a year. It’s not a flashy gift, but it’s way more useful than an super expensive baby gadget.
Taking advantage of your family’s enthusiasm and generosity is nothing but acquisitive, self-gratifying greed. A friend of Kathleen’s recently insisted that we needed registry because, as she put it, people will want to get us things for the baby. I have zero problem with accepting friends’ generosity, but if they really wanted to be helpful, I’d prefer they ask specifically what we needed. Not everything we’re going to buy is going to be something particularly interesting4. At a certain point there’s no marginal comfort or value added to our lives because three of Creature’s great aunts all wanted to buy us car seats.
Must-Haves and Good-to-Haves
In the back of the registry guide is a list of “must-have” items for new parents. These things that Babies ‘R’ Us insists that every parent needs include such such superfluous crap as:
- Baby bath towels and baby washcloths5
- Two diaper bags6
- At least three DVDs7
- At least three “music”8
- Changing table9
- Diaper pail10
The even-more egregious “good-to-have” list is filled with absurd, money-wasting products like a baby food processor, a diaper stacker, and a wipes warmer– an item so dumb it appears on just about every list when you Google the phrase “useless baby products11.”
If you take the advice of Babies ‘R’ Us and register for all of their suggestions, then you’ll just end up with carloads of junk to drop off at Goodwill. If you really are registering for stuff like a Diaper Genie, you should really consider just having your family donate money to a charity. At least that way they get a tax write-off.
The Things You Actually Need
Babies don’t really require all that much stuff. As long as you provide the environment for them to eat, sleep, and, poop then you’re probably on the right track for the baby essentials. You obviously need diapers; we are going the disposable route because I don’t care about the earth enough to clean dozens of poop-stained cloth diapers on a daily basis12. And unless you never plan on putting your baby in car under any circumstances, you need a car seat, which turns out to be a racket of a different sort. While car seats inarguably save lives, many of the additional”safety features” offered up by premium car seat manufacturers are, in fact, unsubstantiated marketing ploys designed to prey upon parents’ overblown, unassuageable fears about child safety.
So then, yeah, a stroller13. But you want to carry your baby around, too, so a carrier is probably not the worst thing to acquire. And a place for baby to sleep is probably useful. I imagine blankets to keep baby swaddled and warm are good things to have, too.
Of course, there are is a long list of things that are nice to have, but most of the extras can be hacked together through items you already have around the house. If you have something that can do double duty as an adult/baby item, don’t have someone buy it for you.
Kathleen and I are still surveying the landscape for what we actually need before Creature is born. We’re reasonably confident we can take care of a child without every piece of baby gadgetry on the market, but I’m also aware that I don’t know what I don’t know about baby stuff yet.
What things did you find out you needed after you brought your baby home? What stuff ended up being useless?
- It’s a rare circumstance in which Kathleen’s cynical distrust of a systemic infrastructure outpaces my own.
- Emphasis theirs.
- At first I thought it was a notebook for her to take down ideas, but upon closer inspection, it’s some sort of published work. Presumably, pregnant women read gender-specific themed books while sitting on the floor of their ready-for-prime-time nursery? Like she’s getting ready for baby, I suppose? I’d like to chat with marketing consultancy that put this together. It’s is all very confusing.
- Seriously, I’d take a $40 gift card for diapers any day of the week.
- Because the towels of various sizes you have are for adults only, evidently.
- Uh… I have a backpack, thanks.
- So you can zombify your children with useless “educational” videos.
- Probably Mozart, in spite of the fact that the idea that classical music aids in baby brain development has been debunked as junk science.
- We actually received a changing table handed down from friends, but we certainly wouldn’t have bought one given that all you need is a flat surface. It’s telling that they gave it to us in spite of the fact that they are due for a baby three weeks before we are.
- You mean a trash can with a lid? I have one of those, too.
- Like this one, this one, this one, and this one.
- Tragedy of the commons, I know. (shrug)
- But wait, do I want a travel system? A lightweight stroller? A jogger? You can easily spend $500-1000 on this if you don’t do some research