Apartment living with a baby: Keep it simple

Babies come with a lot of baggage that can overwhelm an apartment, but not if parents wrangle the clutter. One mom tackles spring cleaning with a mobile infant and an apartment you can cross in just a few paces.

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    This is an image of a 200-sq. foot cottage built by Doug Stowe, a woodworker and teacher in Eureka Springs, Ark.
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Most of us in the US are counting the days until spring, especially since daylight savings time recently gave us an extra slice of sunshine at the end of the day. With it comes the urge to do some spring cleaning. Bust out those bins of spring clothes, pack away the scarves, and start making piles of stuff to give away, throw away, sell, and keep.

This year, now that my 11-month-old daughter, and all the baby accoutrements, are part of the mix, spring cleaning is much less of an upheaval. That is because chaos would ensue in our small apartment if my husband and I didn't keep everything properly organized year-round.

Now that our daughter is constantly dashing from one end of our one-bedroom apartment to the other, putting every little dust bunny she finds along the way into her drool-laced mouth, I'm particularly motivated to stay on top of my home 'To Do' list. 

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My choice is to either keep the apartment really clean, or let my conscience deal with the fact that she’s eating tons of random bits of who-knows-what off the carpet as soon as I turn my back for a moment.

The small living movement has really gained traction in the last couple of years. Reports say that many people love the idea of being mortgage-free and having more breathing room in their budget, if not in their home.

I love apartment living because it’s faster to clean and keep organized. Also, our monthly rent payment doesn’t burden us financially, so we have room in our budget for travel and building our savings account. It's a simpler life, but we like it that way.

When I walk around my home – which takes only about 20 steps total – I often analyze everything I see, asking myself, “do I really need this item?” If the answer is maybe, I think about it for a few days, and then usually end up either selling the item, giving it away, or throwing it out. 

For instance, there’s a small bookshelf in my bathroom that had become an island for random cosmetics, jewelry, and scavenged hotel soaps. With a little reorganization, the shelf is gone, as are stubbed toes in the middle of the night. That small change made a sizable difference in our small space.

During my pregnancy, just about everyone who visited our apartment asked what we were going to do with a baby in such a small home. Many were shocked that she wouldn’t have her own room. I was worried about it, too, but I love our apartment and a big upheaval like a move did not seem appealing, especially as my belly got bigger. 

Once our daughter arrived and settled into family life, I didn’t pine for more space. Especially during those first few months, when she was mostly eating and sleeping, she fit right into our arms – no more space needed. 

Having a small apartment has forced us to prioritize what we really need. Do we need an automated baby swing, Exersaucer, and tons of toys and gadgets? No, no, and no. 

Staying put in our one-bedroom apartment has saved us money. With the economy slowly recovering from a long recession, most new parents have financial struggles after their little one arrives. We’ve struggled, too, especially with the ridiculously high cost of daycare, which absorbed over half my monthly salary alone. Eventually, we decided it'd be best if I work from home, continuing my writing and editing work part time. 

However, the financial strain could have been much worse had we felt compelled to buy a whole bunch of expensive, frivolous items for our baby. Having a small space is a great barrier to going overboard with baby gear.

We have learned that all a newborn baby really needs is milk, a few outfits, diapers, and the love of her parents. All the rest consists of “wants,” not “needs.” 

One “want” that we were able to make room for is a gliding rocking chair. I searched for hours for a compact one that I’d be able to wedge between the bed and a closet, with no prospects – until I found one that folds up. It’s the perfect solution, and I use it every night, gently rocking the baby to sleep.

When it came to creating space for a changing table, we cleared off the top of an IKEA dresser we’d had for years, slapped a changing mat on top – and voila – we had what we needed. 

Who has room for a stroller in a one bedroom apartment? Ours stays in the trunk of the car permanently. Beside saving space, I’m glad I don’t have to leave the baby alone in the car while I run inside to get the stroller. It’s just always there and ready to be used anytime we’re out and about. 

Nearly, all bets were off once our daughter started solids. Trying to organize all baby food paraphernalia – the little jars, silicone spoons, sippy cups, mini crackers, and bibs – was such a pain, regardless of space. Eventually, we figured a way to fit everything into the cupboards, though a few orphaned items have spilled over to the hall closet shelves. 

If you’re thinking of expanding your family, don’t think that means you have to expand the size of your home, especially during the baby’s first year. They won’t care one bit about having their own room, you simply don’t need the vast majority of the stuff savvy marketers try to throw at you, and your budget will benefit immensely. 

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