I find that living in a city with children is as good as it gets. You don’t have to go very far at all to have amazing experiences, and there’s always something to see and do. Moving from the suburbs to the city is a huge adjustment, and the sooner you can immerse yourself in life with a little one in your new city, the better. I dove right into city life when we moved to NYC with a 2 year-old daughter and a 6 week-old son, and it really made all the difference in the world. I’ve been meaning to write something about this for ages, as one of the questions I get often is how to prepare for family life in the city. I didn’t really have any friends in the city to help me through the logistics of city life with children before our big cross-country move, so thinking of other families who may be in a similar situation to my own back then, here are a few things I wish I’d known:
- Start as you mean to go. Perhaps the hardest adjustment for me initially with a toddler and newborn was finding ways to explore the city with children in tow. Being confined to a small apartment without ready access to a backyard or garden really helped me to get out of the house most days and explore. Get out and do things you love with baby in tow. When it comes to sights and museums, don’t worry about whether they’re too little to appreciate something or whether they’ll misbehave. If you start them young, they’ll learn the way to behave! My experience with strangers in museums is that they love to see children there. If they’re being too loud or having a hard time behaving, then just leave. But at least you tried! Similarly, don’t be a schedule slave to the point that it inhibits your ability to enjoy the day as it comes. One of my favorite things about city living is that there’s always something new to do and see. Allow yourself a little latitude when it comes to schedules, be prepared with a few extra snacks and nappies just in case, and your little ones will learn to be flexible and versatile in the process as well.One of the best bits of advice I had from a friend before Ella’s birth was: “Remember that she’s joining your family, so let her adapt to your lifestyle. Carry on doing what you love.” I have been very grateful for that advice, and it helped us live consciously from the get-go, and we never got to a point 9 months down the road where we looked at our life and home and thought “how in the world did we get here?” Eating out, travel, museums, we’ve just take taken the little ones along as they’ve come, and I’m so grateful that we haven’t changed our lives to cater to children. Obviously, there is a huge lifestyle change involved when children come into your family, but that doesn’t mean you can’t remain who you are.
- Use delivery services as often as possible: One of the benefits of living in a large city is that you can typically get just about anything delivered straight to your door (and usually for no additional fee). Groceries, laundry, prescriptions, dry cleaning, and of course online shopping can really simplify life when you don’t have to rush around running errands with children in tow. Do your research and find out which options best suit your style and budget, but city life is just getting better and more convenient. Before you assume you have to go out and run and errand, see whether your pharmacy delivers prescriptions for free or whether you can order an item online for same-day delivery. When I first moved to NYC in 2010 there were hardly any online delivery services, and I die laughing thinking of Costco runs with an infant strapped to my back and a toddler in tow and luggage to carry as much as possible home in a taxi. Now I really don’t even need to leave my house if I do a bit of advanced planning!
- When it comes to apartment living with children, less is more! Living in a city with children has taught me to be really picky about which products I bring into our home, and it’s hilarious to see think of all the gear I had with Ella (full size crib and changing table, rocker, swing, bouncer, multiple strollers, multiple carriers, loads of unnecessary toys) compared to what we had for Kate (mini crib, small bouncer, one stroller, one carrier). We bought less, but knew to invest in quality since we’d be using these fewer items more often, so we probably didn’t save a whole lot of money.
- Consider Quality: I never really realized that there should be separate distinctions for city vs. suburban when it comes to quality, but you really need to think about quality when it comes to city living. I used to buy cheap rain boots at Target, but after having them crack and leak after a few months’ use, we learned to invest in quality brands like Hunter. They cost double or even triple, but they last ten times longer. In suburbia, you walk from your house to your car, and then from your car into the dry grocery store. It’s the same for children’s clothing. I buy less, but spend the same because I purchase clothing with quality fabrics that will actually release stains and survive washing looking beautiful. It’s ok to prioritize your personal style and comfort above all, and
My recommendation is to buy only what you KNOW you will need for right now. Do not buy anything in advance that you think you might need, or items that others recommend you have. Only buy what you need to get by, and chances are you won’t need anything else.
When I’m considering a purchase, I always ask myself
- Does this have more than one purpose?
- How much use will I get out of this item? (Will I use it daily? For how long?)
- Am I comfortable buying this used?
- Will the quality stand up to city use, or do I need to look for a better version (or a used, higher quality item)?
Here are the items I’d recommend investing in initially:
1. High Quality Baby Carrier:
- Soft baby wrap, like Solly Baby Wrap: I love the Solly baby wraps because they’re functional and stylish and breatheable. The materials they use are absolutely gorgeous. My friends all love them, and so do Stef and Stacey! They also have gorgeous, cozy blankets. I want one! They wash beautifully and the quality is fantastic.
- As your baby grows (9 months+), I’d highly suggested an Ergo Baby Carrier. They are a wonder to behold! You can buy an infant insert, which is what we used for Kate, but had I known about soft baby wraps I would have used them in a heartbeat. So much more natural! I didn’t like wearing it around the house, it just didn’t feel super comfortable for just lounging around the house and trying to get things done. But what’s amazing about the Ergo is that you can use it on your back as well as on the front. Jones is nearly 6, and I can still carry him on my back! When my babies are about a year, I put them on my back instead of on the front because it’s so much easier and doesn’t hurt my back one bit. The carrier comes with a hood, so it will hold their little heads up if they’re sleeping, and it’s SO much easier on your body to put them on your back.
- General tips:
- Buy for now: I think people often look too far down the line when it comes to one baby. If you consider my second tip below, you can get something fabulous for now, and then if you end up with Irish twins you won’t feel locked into an add-on option for a stroller that may not meet your needs in two years. OR, you’ll have to suffer with having an extra large stroller now, which isn’t ideal in this city.
- Buy used. Since you’re in a huge city market, chances are you’ll be able to find the stroller of your dreams in brilliant condition for far, far less than new. And the added benefit is that you’re able to try it and see whether you like it, and then resell it if it’s not perfect for you. Craigslist is fantastic. If there isn’t a listing for what you want now, wait. Don’t compromise your style or color choice because it’s not available today. Just be patient and you’ll find what you’re looking for.
- Do you have room to store it in your apartment?: Consider where you’ll store it, and whether you’ll have space in your entryway to roll in a large stroller, or whether you can leave it outside your door or locked to a stairwell in the entry, etc.
- Consider how you’ll be getting around. Do you walk most often, or take public transport? In NYC you have to completely fold up strollers on buses, so I rarely use the bus with a stroller, but in London you can roll right on if there’s room, so we use them often Both here in London and in NYC, you can roll a stroller right onto the Tube/Subway, but most stations have a considerable amount of steps. If there is an elevator, it takes AGES if there are multiple levels and it can be a complete nightmare! So, if you’re going to be using public transport often and steps are involved at your most-frequented stops, be sure to get a stroller with large back wheels so that you can bump the stroller up and down stairs if necessary. Both in NYC and here, we’ve had two strollers: one for walking, one for public transport. But this is only when I have toddlers who are old enough to walk, if necessary. I’d hold off on an umbrella stroller until your baby can walk well on their own, if necessary, as you can typically have them in a carrier until this point.
- Wheels: Considering the above, for large strollers, get something with large rubber wheels, preferably non air-filled. We’ve owned both, and have loved the gel-filled wheels (or whatever is in there).
- Recline: If you plan to be out and about during naps, you’ll want a stroller that reclines partially or fully. This is something to consider later for umbrella strollers.
- Stroller as a bassinet: First, I’ll say that you don’t necessarily need a stroller immediately, particularly if you plan to wear your baby. But one thing you may not have considered is that you can use a stroller as a bassinet. Many strollers, including the Bugaboo Chameleon and the Uppa Baby Vista have a bassinet. I would never have thought to use it as a bed, but I had countless friends use it for the first few months. It’s the perfect solution because there’s no transfer from outside to inside and back, it’s completely portable, and you can easily rock it while you lay in bed (a huge plus, in my opinion!). You’ll have to sort out whether you could cope with having wheels outside/inside, but you can always remove the bassinet easily.
- Strollers we have owned and loved: Quality is HUGE here.
- We first owned a Chicco umbrella stroller when Ella was a baby (she was a suburban baby initially, mind you!), and it was fine for Provo, but a TOTAL DISASTER in London and NYC. We literally left it on the street next to a dumpster to be carted away. It was around $100, but not suitable for city living, and particularly cobblestone.
- Phil and Teds Vibe 2: We bought this full price in UT and wished we’d bought it used once we moved to the city. We loved it as a double stroller, but wouldn’t recommend it as a single stroller unless you use it for jogging. A total pain to fold for a bus or to put in a car with the double seat attached, but I understand that newer versions can be fully folded with the double seat attached. I also got a few flat tires, and quickly learned to buy a spare inner tire and know where the bike shops were. It was kind of a pain to fill the tires, but you can use a bike pump at home, and it’s easy. Just kind of a pain! We used this until Ella was 5 and Jones was 3, but most people don’t use it that long. We walked a ton in NYC, and Ella was quite happy to ride in the seat. Most children aren’t, and prefer a scooter or a wheel board. It was great for us for our first pair of simultaneous stroller users, but not for our second. So we sold it and bought something that was better suited for us.
- Maclaren Techno XT: we bought this for our summer in Europe with two children, ages 4.5 and 2. We attached a wheelboard to it for Ella, and it reclined fully for Jones, who was still taking naps. It’s built like a tank, and worth every penny. In fact, we bought it on sale for $225, and the resold it 3 years later for $100 here in London! Talk about resale value. It’s a bit heavier than other Maclarens, but the wheels are indestructible, has a full recline, and have a life of about a decade full of city use (you may have to replace the wheels eventually, like $20). I will never buy another brand of umbrella stroller. Seriously.
- Bugaboo Chameleon 2: these are gorgeous, streamlined, and lightweight (comparatively). We bought this because Jones refused to ride in the stroller and wanted to stand on a board instead. We bought this used for about $250 through Craigslist. This one bumps beautifully, and the wheel board hooks to the back for a second child to stand on. Jones often sits on it with his feet in the basket.
- General tips:
- Buy for now. We made the mistake of buying an heirloom quality full-sized crib and changing table that we thought we would for children, if we were able to have more. Our style changed, our space changed, and it ended up being a very poor fit for our city needs. We sold it in NYC for not very much at all, and it still makes me so sad! If you want a crib for sentimental value, then consider a Moses basket or bassinet that you can easily store or use for toy storage in between babes.
- Upgrade as your baby grows: As mentioned earlier, most people think long term when it comes to crib, but think of the short term. Can you borrow a Moses basket, or does your stroller have a bassinet that you could use as a crib for the first month or two? You can buy used and then resell your items as you upgrade to larger cribs and beds to suit your ever-growing baby. This way you don’t lose floor space you desperately need until it’s absolutely necessary!
- By used: I love the brand Ouef, and they have gorgeous, high quality cribs, but they’re pricey! I’d look for one used on Craigslist. If you don’t like the idea of a used mattress, buy a new one!
- Consider Mini Cribs: We bought an Alma Bloom mini crib (in coconut white) for Kate, and we ended up using from birth until age two. City babies love cozy spaces, and while you’ll read reviews that they only last 6 months in suburbia , find the reviews from city moms who don’t have a second bedroom or use a walk-in closet or alcove or office for a baby nursery. It’s absolutely brilliant, compact, rolls, and folds in an instant. We sold this last year when we thought we were done having children, and I wish we would have had the room to keep and store it. We bought this used with the organic mattress for $300, and then resold it for the same price here in London. If we have another baby, I’ll be buying another one similar to this one, which is compact, portable, and high quality.
- Pack-n-play: they aren’t super pretty, but this is a great option that works well temporarily until you have a more concrete idea of how your child’s sleeping space is going to work. There are mini varieties, and some even have a bassinet level as well. We owned a Nuna Sena Mini crib during our first few months here in London before our shipment arrived and we loved it. It was classy and small and worked beautifully in a small space. It also had a bassinet setting for new babies.
- Convertible crib/toddler bed/twin bed conundrum: This is one of those cases like the stroller, where it’s easy to get wrapped up in longevity…Kids can sleep in toddler beds until they are 4-5, depending on height. But remember that you can buy toddler beds separately, and if you’re planning to have more children, by the time your toddler is using a toddler bed, you’ll need the crib again. Also, when you buy something transitional you have to remember that you’re going to need to store the spare parts. If you are going to purchase something transitional, I love the idea of buying something that transitions from a mini crib to a full crib, something like this one from Ouef called the Fawn, or the Stokke Sleepi.
4. Changing Table + wipes warmer
- We started out with a giant wooden dresser with changing table on top, and completely regretted having it! It was too big! But it’s a must-have with newborns and babies, in my opinion, if you can make the space. I also love wipes warmers, and I think it really helps keep my babies dozy during nighttime nappy changes, and I’ve had one for each of my babies at least until they sleep through the night.
- Ikea hack: for this apartment, we already had a Kallax bookshelf, and it’s actually the perfect size for a changing pad on top. We strapped ours through the opening on the right, and covered it with one of those cozy minky changing table covers. We have one of their double drawer inserts for the diapers and lotions, creams, etc. in the top right cubby, a basket in the bottom left for laundry, linens go in the top left, and books on the bottom right. This is something you know you’ll use and can easily transition to something else once you no longer need a changing table.
- Crib/Changing table combo: If we had stayed in NYC, I would have bought one of these changing trays (used of course) to go on top of a full-sized crib.
- Consider a changing table cart, but be sure to buy a sturdy one! These are great for storing all your baby supplies beneath, within arms reach. And they are inexpensive enough that you’ll get good use out of it before you resell or give it away.
5. Simple bouncer
- I find that my babies sleep better and are generally more content with less gear. We had a swing and a bouncer seat with toys and vibrations and music with Ella and she was a horrible sleeper who needed to be lulled to sleep in her swing or rocked. I think this is because she was so used to being rocked or entertained in some way. With Jones and Kate, we used a simple bouncer that I borrowed from my mom and dad (used for Warren and Stef). There were no frills whatsoever, but it bounced when they kicked, and it was perfect for setting them down to do household chores. I love THIS ONE from Maclaren. My kids would nap in them as well when they were newborns.
6. High Chair (buy only at 6+ months)
- Portable seat: when the time comes for solids, consider a seat that attaches to your table (unless it’s a pedestal table, which won’t work). We loved this one from Inglesina. It’s portable and the quality is amazing. Looks new after frequent washing and nearly 3 years use.
- Investment: if you can find a used Stokke Trip Trapp or the like with a high chair seat insert, you’ll love it. These seats grow with your child and can be used by adults as well. We have one that matches our table so that it blends right in with the rest of the chairs.
UPDATE January 2017: We’re now back in NYC and expecting our fourth city baby.
It’s been interesting to read through this post with new eyes! Just to give you an idea of our approach to baby number four (starting from scratch since we basically got rid of EVERYTHING when we thought we were done having children), here are the essential items we purchased in preparation for baby number four. We kept with the mindset that we’re only making purchases that we KNOW we need for right now, and we’re leaving everything else until later:
- Mini Crib: Alma Bloom Mini, gently used with mattress for $100 off Craigslist
- Stroller: We are using our old Bugaboo Chameleon 2 that came with a bassinet
- Changing table: a changing pad and cover to fit on our current furniture, which is a large storage chest in our bedroom for now, and the Ikea bookshelf mentioned above once we move baby into the children’s room.
- Soft carrier:Solly Baby Wrap (borrowed from my sister)
- Baby accessories: Here are the only items I bought knowing what I would definitely need for a newborn:
- 3 pack of white muslin burp cloths,
- A small towel and wash cloth set
- Wipes warmer (I bought THIS ONE)
- A few packs of Pampers Swaddlers newborn diapers
- Burt’s Bees ointment to help guard against nappy rash (an alternative to petroleum jelly that we love!)
- Baby Magic lotion with a pump
- Lansinoh nursing pads, my favorite brand
- Baby Clothes: I have a few little newborn outfits and nightgown sleepers (the easiest for changing nappies at night, but I have learned from experience that it is best to buy only what you need now. Chances are, you’ll forget about items bought to be used later or your child will be too big/too small for the ideal season of use. So just buy what you know you’ll need for now, and then buy anything else as needs arise.