When I was a kid, I couldn’t go into a store without hearing four little words from my mother: “I could make that.”
At the time I rolled my eyes, but having two children of my own has enlightened me to the economical, and often sentimental, importance of making things yourself.
Forget the cute baby booties and focus on things you will really need, such as: clothes, sleep sacks, swaddling blankets, hats for cold and for sun, loveys, changing pads (use PUL waterproof material, available at most fabric stores), bibs (adding an inner layer of PUL fabric will keep moisture off sensitive skin), burp cloths, crib sheets, and toys, such as balls, stuffed animals, cloth books, and textured bean bags.
Just google these items with “tutorial” and you will find many free patterns, complete with illustrations. Discount fabric stores can be found in pretty much any city; Hancock’s of Paducah is a deeply discounted online resource. In a pinch, scout thrift stores for gently used sheets – they can be transformed into curtains, crib sheets, baby blankets, and more.
And of course, your babies will suddenly need something that you never knew existed. One of my boys has tons of teeth and was chewing the side of his crib into a pulp. Crib rail guards are available to buy – but why? It was easy to whip one up. A length of quilt batting and some fabric solved the sawdust problem – now he’s munching on a soft, safe strip padding.
Babies and children, so new in the world, are interested in the things we adults often find mundane. Household items are fascinating for their shape, texture, and use. Starting at about 6 months, you can put together “discovery baskets” for your child with items from around the house. I like to make baskets with a theme. Some ideas: kitchen utensils such as measuring spoons and cups, varying (empty and washed) bottles and containers, fabrics of different texture, items that are red, and so on. Make sure the items can safely go in a mouth and be waved around a bit. Exploring a discovery basket is a great way to interact with your kids (and it is a good idea to closely supervise play with items not specifically made for baby).
Take it one step further and make simple toys for your little ones using household items that they get into anyway, like wipes containers and plastic bottles. This blog by a stay-at-home Montessori mom has more great ideas for toys and organization on the cheap.
Children love novelty. We keep a few toys out on the boys’ shelves in the play area, and stash the rest in a closet. Every so often, we rotate the toys, making sure to tuck away items that haven’t been used in a while and leave favorites on the shelf. It’s easier to clean up, and the kids get to experience something “new” without a price tag. It also lets us parents know what skills and interests the boys are developing, and keep their playthings in tune with their abilities.
The internet is begging you to search for sweet little projects to make for your impending bundles of joy. My favorites include a mobile, curtains (make sure you include black-out material), wall art, and crib sheets. Making a mobile is especially easy and fun – plus you can customize it! Start with fishing line and a wire hanger. The possibilities using felt, card stock, ribbon, even photos, are endless. Framed drawings by older siblings or cousins make a child’s room inviting, colorful, and special. A few black and white quilt blocks attached to a string with clothespins (pictured above) entertained my boys for months on the changing table. What a victory when they could finally grasp and pull them down! Visit Pintrest for more ideas and tutorials.
Pre-packaged baby food is expensive! Invest in an immersion blender ($20-40) and whip up your own baby food. It’s healthier than processed alternatives, doesn’t take much time, and will quickly allow you to sync up your infants’ diet with the rest of the family. Here is an awesome resource for recipes and tips to get started. Blend a larger quantity, and freeze several portions for later. You can also make your own teething biscuits. Need ideas on what to make? Take a cue from the professionals and duplicate the combinations you see on the supermarket shelves. My kids loved green beans and apple, baked peaches with butternut squash, and mango with oatmeal. Who knew?
Cards and Gifts
Now that you have kids, you never have to buy cards or gift wrap again. You have better card-makers than Hallmark right in your own home! Smaller pieces of art work can be folded to make cards. Stamps and stickers transform card stock into one-of-a-kind greetings. Brown paper bags from the grocery store can be decorated by wee ones and transformed into one-of-a-kind wrapping paper. Older children can even make birthday gifts for their friends, such as necklaces or wallets. If you are “sew” inclined, try your hand at a simple pattern for baby shower gifts. A friend gave me dozens of handmade burp cloths at my shower. A year later, we are still using them for moping up spills and wiping noses.
There are 5 things you need to make nearly every household cleaning product. None of them are toxic, and all of them are inexpensive: pure castile soap (such as Dr Bronner’s), baking soda, washing soda, vinegar, and lemon juice. While it’s a good idea to keep some antibacterial hand soap and dish soap on hand for flu season and potentially harmful messes, like raw chicken, you can do the majority of your cleaning for less with some DIY products (and feel good about asking the kids to help too).
Recipes abound for homemade laundry detergent. A simple solution of vinegar and water (1:1) works wonders as an all-purpose cleaner that is safe to use around kids and pets. (For extra shine and fresh scent, add a bit of fresh lemon juice.) Baking soda is amazing for it’s ability to whiten and remove odor. One of my personal favorite uses: Soak plastic bibs in water and baking soda to get rid of that cheesy smell. Infant saline drops are easy to make yourself using baking soda and salt. Castile soap is the best thing for washing bottles, as well as your babies; hospitals usually send new parents home with a few packets. It’s gentle on skin and tiny digestive systems.
The best DIY projects match your skills and interests. I don’t make everything. Sometimes it just makes more sense to purchase an item. If making something causes you to feel more exhausted, resentful, or overwhelmed, skip that project. It’s worth paying for something you don’t want to do yourself.
What do you make or do yourself? Do like make it or do it yourself projects?