My husband and I knew when we bought our apartment that we were planning on fitting children into it. This being a prewar one bedroom with a separate kitchen and distinct dining and living room spaces, we thought we would simply turn one of the latter two into another bedroom. (During our search we were looking for either an affordable two-bedroom, or exactly this kind of one-bedroom set up.)
We felt that, one way or another, 900 square feet could easily house more than two residents. And in fact, we were able to carve an office/ guest room into the living room, which would serve nicely as our baby’s bedroom later.
After months (nine of them, in fact) of doing nothing but planning and imagining how our space-for-two could work for a family of three, we finally got to bring our baby home. Most first-time parents will agree: nothing can totally prepare you, or your home, for a newborn. We have never been as tired as we were during the first two months, when we were in survival-mode: Eat when you can, sleep when you can, repeat.
By the third month, we felt we had settled (somewhat) into parenthood and we were able to come up for air and evaluate our household: What was working? (The baby box! See below.) What was not working? (Nursing in bed.) At four months, we have now officially made it out of the "newborn" stage. So we're, like, totally seasoned parents now, right? (Yeah, right.)
Here are five things we’ve noticed about our apartment since the arrival of baby:
1. We have more space that we thought. But optimization is key.
Of course, babies are small and they don’t take up much space to begin with, but still, we were worried about the apartment looking and feeling overstuffed. But it turns out our bedroom has ample room for all three of us: We optimized it by buying a queen-sized storage bed—So. Much. Storage!—and emptying one of our Ikea Pax wardrobes contents into it. A quick and easy Ikea hack later, and we had a changing station that included storage for bulky items (huge boxes of diapers and wipes) as well as all her cute little clothes. The best part: It takes up zero extra space.
During the first few months, our daughter slept in her baby box right by our bed. The baby box, by the way, is something I stumbled across on the Internet and my husband and I were both immediately sold on it. I hadn't (nor had anybody I knew) heard of the baby box before, but it must have been trending already since now it seems everybody is getting one. (No, really, everybody is getting one. At least in New Jersey.)
We didn't want to buy a crib right away, or fully outfit a nursery before we knew exactly what baby needed. Getting the baby box bought us a lot of time to figure out our space. It meant we could keep the office/guest room as is, which was very important for not feeling overcrowded when the new grandparents visited during the first months.
We still have a quiet room for working from home, though I have gotten rid of the desk to accomodate a dresser to accomodate a crib later—apartment living sometimes requires the "furniture shuffle"). Skipping a traditional bassinet saved us money and space. And now that our baby has just transitioned to a full crib, we have a super-cute storage box instead of a bassinet we'd have to either get rid of or store. And because we were able to save space by not having a traditional changing table in the room, the crib fits perfectly and can stay in the bedroom for a good while longer. (The American Academy of Pediatrics says babies should share their parents' room for at least the first six months, and ideally the first full year to help prevent sleep-related infant death.)
We were also able to gain more space overall in the apartment by rearranging some furniture. For example, my office desk and our coffee table, in the home office and living room respectively, were moved to our basement storage. Who needs a coffee table? Apparently, nobody really does. I did like it in the living room, but I had to concede the spot was best-used for the baby's play mat. (Bye for now, antique moroccan tray table we scored at an estate sale!)
Instead of using a desk in the office, we built a shelf into a corner of the bedroom for me or my husband to use as a work station. (I wanted a designated spot to prevent the dining table from turning into a permanent work space.)
2. There's no such thing as too much storage.
Call it the New Yorker’s version of nesting, but about two months to go till the due date, we flew into a storage-creating frenzy. Our 38-foot-long corridor, previously nothing more than a walkway, got rows and rows (and rows) of storage for shoes, linens, kitchen stuff, and bath items. Everything had to have a place and had to be hidden behind doors that we would eventually be able to baby-proof. We were previously a household of open storage and things being kept in bins on shelves. Not secure (or that tidy-looking either, tbh) at all.
The dining room got similar treatment with the addition of a hutch and built-in cabinetry. We also rid ourselves of extra stuff at clothing swaps, on Craigslist, and through Freecycle.org
And still, we don’t have enough space to put everything. No matter how disciplined we have so far been with not bringing in more than we need (no pack-and-plays, no high-tech swinging baby chairs for us!), inevitably, baby things will spill over. And that’s fine. So far, our rule not to buy any extraneous toys or gadgets from the start—like said baby chairs that she may or may not take to, or may outgrow within months or even weeks—has served us very well indeed. But some very necessary items, like all our breastmilk pumping and storage gear, are handy to have out and quickly accessible. For now, at least, I actually love seeing cute baby stuff dotted around our home.
3. We have terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad floors.
We like to brag that our baby is a true New Yorker. She sleeps through traffic noise, sirens, car horns and alarms. In fact, it seems the only thing that manages to disturb her sleep is the creaking of our floors. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing your angelically sleeping baby startled awake by the monstrous creak of your floors with each and every foot-fall. Turns out, having original hardwood floors throughout the apartment can be a bad thing. There, I said it. To fix the problem properly requires drilling into and screwing the floorboards to the subfloor below, which would take more time and effort and money than we have to spare right now. The rugs we have throughout the apartment do not really mitigate the creaking.
4. We (or someone else we hire) need(s) to clean more. A lot more.
At 900 square feet, our apartment does not take too long to tidy and vacuum. But bringing a baby into the space—a baby who plays on a floor mat and will also be crawling in no time—made us take a hard look at our housekeeping skills, and at our finances, to see if we can afford a weekly cleaner. It’s amazing how quickly things pile up: grime on the window sills and shelves, so much laundry, and then the dust. Oh, the dust on everything, everyday! Unless we want our infant to subsist on a diet of dust bunnies, we are going to need help.
5. It takes a village (which is sometimes a co-op building).
With 60 apartments, our building is small enough to give us the sense of community we like and is large enough for some anonymity as well. But, it turns out, having a baby throws a spotlight on you. As soon as we brought her home, neighbors we barely knew would congratulate us, mothers offered practical advice, packages of onesies and diapers appeared at our door, and we received many earnest offers of babysitting services. Our super dropped by to give us a book on forming good baby sleep habits. And I do like my privacy, peace, and quiet. But like so many in this city, my husband and I are transplants with very little family close by. Having the building community be there for us is like having relatives around (some of our neighbors are kind of overbearing).
When you live in the city as a couple and then have a baby, people around you mentally start a countdown to when you’ll be moving to the suburbs. We know all the considerations: more space, more quiet, more bathrooms. But what would we do without our neighbor down the hall who watches our girl while her father is in the basement getting the laundry and her mother is grabbing me-time in the cafe around the corner? Or the many residents who open doors and help with shopping bags?
Right now it seems ideal to be here. Of course, it’s only been four months…
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