As the birth of our first baby approached, my husband and I decided not to put our names on any store’s baby registry. It began as a challenge to ourselves: How far could we get before buying something new? Then, as we began to realize just how far we might go, it became a personal statement: We don’t want anything new, and we ask that you respect our wishes.
We didn’t think this such an odd thing to do, until we began to note other people’s reactions, which ranged from grudgingly accepting to mocking to openly hostile. The most loving response was probably intense curiosity: Why in the world wouldn’t we want to get all the cute items available for a newborn baby?
Among other reasons, we’d gotten married not too long before, and then we had registered. I wasn’t sure my husband would survive another experience like the one required to register at one of the big baby stores. Second, we just weren’t game for another onslaught of cardboard boxes, packing peanuts, and shiny wrapping paper.
Some of you reading this might be thinking, “How ungrateful!” Not true. We were amazed by the generosity of our friends and family—at times, even overwhelmed. However, when we found out we were going to have a baby, we agreed that we wanted do things differently. Our wedding had been a complicated affair, with heavy emotions and expectations from both of our families. This baby was just about us and our values as a new family, and we thought we should begin that family as we meant to continue: on our own terms.
WALKING OUR TALK
In addition, we live on a nature preserve at the heart of a nonprofit center for environmental studies. Our mail is delivered to a place where people, all day, every day, educate other people about the impact of their decisions and choices on the natural world, where they preach the importance of interconnectivity and of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” My husband and I live and breathe environmental stewardship.
So we decided not only to avoid registering, but to not buy anything new at all.
NOTHING NEW AT ALL
At first, I was a little afraid. It wasn’t as if we’d already had a child, and so already had everything. What if everyone else was right, and we did need everything on those registry lists? Were we being bad parents? A people-pleaser to the core, I don’t have much experience in sticking my neck out to make a point—I was a little worried that others might think we were extremists who’d gone off the deep end, and start to worry about our child. But my conviction was strong that we didn’t need all this stuff for our child; maybe, just maybe, I was already thinking about being a role model for this new being.
We set our guidelines. We picked two items that we really wanted (needed) that were fairly expensive—a high chair made not of plastic but of wood, and a really sturdy stroller (we walk everywhere)—and passed the word along to the friends who were throwing our baby shower. Other than that, we told anyone who asked that we didn’t want anything new.
ARE YOU CRAZY?
People seemed fairly supportive, if a little disbelieving: “Really? Are you sure?” Some told us that “Sometimes other people know what you need more than you do.” Others said, “People really want to give you something; just let them.” My husband was more confident in responding than I was. “We don’t want any plastic crap,” he’d say emphatically, with more than a little orneriness. “Our kid doesn’t need anything. He’ll play with rocks and sticks.” I’d get flustered, blush, and say, “Thanks. We really don’t need anything. We’re trying to do everything second-hand. If you have any hand-me-downs, we’d love them.” Then the reactions ranged from “That’s really cool!” to “Well, I haven’t had a child, so . . . what do I do?” to “Too bad—I already know what I’m getting you” to making fun of us for being “crunchy.”
But if you don’t like the sorts of gifts available from the websites, if you hate packing peanuts and shiny paper, if you don’t want to set foot in baby megastores or sign up on their registries—if you just don’t believe that you need all that stuff to have a child—see our advice below.
KEEPING IT GREEN
Don’t register. If there’s one big item—say, a crib or a stroller—that you’d like, let some people know that you’re interested, and organize your shower or a sort of mini-registry around it. Otherwise, there’s no reason you have to do it. Remember what your mother said: “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you too?” Don’t let others pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do. Your mother will be proud.
Go shopping for second-hand goods. You’ll be amazed at what you can find in a second-hand store—gently used and ready for you: everything from baby monitors to cribs to clothing—and so can your friends and family who are desperate to buy you gifts. Baby gear is cute, whether it’s brand new or has been used a couple of times.
When people offer you hand-me-downs, say yes. Your family and friends—and their friends—will have items from their own children’s infancies that they’re dying to get rid of, but don’t want to dump at the door of the thrift shop. They want to know that they’re going to a good home. Give it a good home.
Evaluate what you really need. Stores and their websites will present you with long lists of items that you simply must have for your new baby, but the truth is that you don’t need that much. Talk to people who’ve had babies and ask them what they think was truly necessary. Chances are you can cut that “must-have” list by at least half.
Prepare to handle some initial reluctance. Some people will find it annoying that you haven’t registered and won’t accept new items. While you may want to scream, “I’m saving you money!,” or get on your anti-consumerism soapbox, know that their intentions are good—they’ve just been forced a little outside their comfort zones. In the end, they’ll most likely be pleased with themselves when they find you a more creative and meaningful gift.
OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY SURPRISED US
We wound up being bowled over, first by the originality shown by the people we know, and then by what some of their gifts made us feel. When my mom gave me a pair of overalls I’d worn as a child, I burst into tears. When a friend had her children pick out their favorite books to pass along to our baby, I’m almost positive I saw my husband wipe his hand over his eyes.
Whether it’s a matter of personal intentions or personal finances, we’re proof that preparing for a baby’s arrival need not be expensive. There are ways to make your new life as a family both affordable and aligned with your values. We hope that we can inspire just one other couple to go a different route—to realize that babies all over the world are born without all this stuff, and get by just fine.
Jamie Kravitz is a mother, writer, and nonprofiteer from the mountains of Colorado who is idealistic enough to hope to instigate change in her community—and she’s really not all that self-righteous.