Everything You Need To Know About Lighting Your Home

Everything you need to know about choosing lighting and light bulbs for your home

There are a lot of fun elements to consider when decorating a space, like the color of the walls and the kind of furniture you’ll mix and match. But one of the most important details that affect how a room feels is lighting, and it’s often so overlooked in homes! Because I’ve been pretty open about my crazy, detailed light bulb preferences on Instagram, I’ve had so many people ask me lighting questions— and I’m always happy to answer. Because there’s so much to say, and because lighting advice varies depending on the application, I knew I should probably write a blog post with some helpful information… But it’s very overwhelming to think about what a blog post about lighting should entail!

I took two college level courses on interior lighting, and I’m not afraid to admit that during one particular class I left to go to the bathroom and cry because it was so completely overwhelming. But if you’re just figuring out lighting for your home, you can certainly leave out all of the algebraic equations and candlefoot requirements, and just stick to the basics, such as how many lights should you have in a space, what type of lights should they be, and what kind of bulbs work best for which light?

Everything you need to know about choosing lighting and light bulbs for your home

What Kind of Light Fixtures Should You Use in Your Room?

Assess the activities that will be taking place in your room. For high activity zones like kitchen work counters, offices, or playrooms, you’ll want more light sources and in a variety of places so you’re never working in a spot shadowed by your own figure or by other objects in the room. You also just need brighter light in work zones to see what you’re doing, but I’ll talk about brightness levels later when I talk about lumens.

My personal preference for light fixtures in a room is to have a bit of overhead lighting such as surface-mount lights or can lights, but only a limited amount of them and always wired to a dimmer switch. Overhead lighting is not flattering for humans (it’s like the flashlight effect when telling scary stories, but in reverse), but overhead lighting is a great way to give general lighting to a space. I prefer to supplement overhead lighting with heavy use of fixtures that are placed evenly with where human faces will be in the room, like floor lamps, table lamps, and wall sconces. They’re more flattering for humans, but having a variety of dim light sources also makes a room feel very cozy and inviting. If you don’t have wiring in place for an overhead light, or don’t prefer to use them, consider wiring an outlet to a switch on the wall so when you enter a room you can flip on the switch and turn on a floor lamp or table lamp.

While I miiiight be wall sconces’ number-one-fan, they’re often tricky because they usually need to be hardwired. Hardwiring requires electrical skill but also means your lighting is practically permanent, so your furniture arrangement can’t easily be changed. This isn’t a big deal for some spaces like dining rooms, bedrooms, and hallways which may never be rearranged, but in other rooms such as a living room or office, you can use sconces that plug into the wall, rather than ones which must be hardwired.

Pendant lights are also great sources of light because they create more of a gentle glow closer to the height of human faces, but they’re also a permanent choice that should be used around built-in fixtures that won’t be moved, such as a kitchen island, a bar, or a built-in desk. When you use more than one pendant light, you can achieve a generous amount of light needed for a task, and when put on a dimmer, they create a beautiful glow in the evening.

One of my personal interior design quirks is that I typically detest can lights, AKA recessed lighting. But I will admit, they do have their benefits, though I have very limited ideas as to where they should exist. If you want the ambient lighting that can lights give, I recommend considering using eyeball lights or wall washers placed close to a wall with no seating below them. For me, I have some old track lighting in front of my fireplace wall (see first image in this post) that I decided to keep because I can point the lights onto the stone wall and still receive the boost in general lighting, but the light reflects off the wall rather than awkwardly skimming light down faces or causing annoying glare in eyes or off reflective surfaces. I do have a can light above my sink for task lighting as well as a row of standard can lights in the soffit above my credenza in my living room, but again, it’s not above a seating area and they’re on a dimmer, so the lights can provide more of a glow than a glare.

Everything you need to know about choosing lighting and light bulbs for your home

What kind of light bulbs to use

What Light Bulb Should You Use in Your Light Fixtures?

There are four things I usually consider when selecting a light bulb for my fixtures: The type (Incandescent, Fluorescent, or LED), the size, the lumens (brightness), and the color temperature. When I was younger, we always used incandescent bulbs in the home, and the only factors to consider was bulb size and wattage. It used to be that fluorescent lights needed large ballasts to work and therefore were only used in large, boxy overhead lighting, and LEDs only existed in electronic applications like alarm clock numbers and microwaves. These days, lighting technology has advanced to the point where fluorescent bulbs can be as small as incandescent bulbs (called CFL or compact flourscent lights) and LEDs can now throw light further and in various color temperatures. We have a world of lighting to choose from, which is great because we can control all elements of interior lighting now, without using as much energy or putting out heat like the now old-fashioned incandescent bulb.

Bulb Types

As I just mentioned, there are three main types of residential interior lighting: Incandescent, Fluorescent, and LED (light emitting diodes). Often people choose incandescent because it casts a warm glow without the strobing effect of fluorescents (where the light flickers, but faster than the human eye can perceive). I actually visited the GE Lighting Institute when I was in college and learned that the strobing effect of fluorescent lighting is more controlled now than it was ten years ago. So while in the past the rapid strobing was inpercievable to the human eye, the brain still perceived the stroping and it could actually cause seizures in epileptic people. In the newer, more advanced fluorescent light technology, the strobing is so fast that apparently the human brain cannot perceive it, so it can be enjoyed the same as a less efficient incandescent bulb.

Both fluorescent and incandescent bulbs are often preferred over LEDs because LEDs are light emitting diodes which create a bright light, but not necessarily a glow around the light the way incandescents do. That’s basically because incandescents are creating a fire-like glow, but it’s incredibly energy inefficient compared to other technology and also puts out a lot of heat, which can be inconvenient as well as unsafe. LED lighting technology is increasing by leaps and bounds, so it’s my preferred choice of bulb type in my home. LEDs are still young enough that it can be tricky to get all of your bulbs to match in color temperature, even if the bulbs in question are labeled the same. The minuscule color temperature variance might not bother most people, but I noticed when I bought the same color temperature and lumen bulbs, but from two different companies, one of the lights had a more greenish tint to its glow, while the other felt a bit more purple. I can’t tell you the amount of bulbs I’ve purchased and returned in order to be happy with the ones in my home!  (I did mention at the beginning of this post that I’m a crazy person when it comes to light bulbs!)

bulb shape and sizesabove chart from Bulbs.com

Bulb Sizes

When most people need a light bulb for their fixture, they head to the store and purchase an A19 size bulb, maybe stopping to take a look at the wattage and general light temperature of the bulb. But lately I’ve been getting a variety of sizes for my lights depending on the fixture.

The standard A19 size is great for general surface-mount lighting and table lamps, but for reading lights and some wall sconces the A19 bulbs available are often too bright. So I now have A15 bulbs that I use in those applications, and also in my pendant lights and chandelier in my dining room. (That chandelier has globes over the bulbs.) For larger lights with exposed bulbs, such as a basket light or large bowl-style pendants, you often want a brighter glow, but not a harsh light. So I’ve purchased G40 bulbs to use in those applications.

Bulb Lumens

Lumens refers to the brightness of a light. It’s a common misconception that a light fixture determines the brightness, when in actuality both the number of bulbs as well as each bulb’s lumen capacity is what makes a light bright or dim. It’s also a common misconception— and a holdover from the incandescent age— that wattage affects the brightness of a bulb, but really wattage only measure energy used by a bulb. You can make a light fixture brighter by purchasing higher lumen bulbs, but be careful about doing that because when a light fixture isn’t designed to provide bright light, it can be uncomfortable to look at a light with high lumen bulbs when it should have dimmer bulbs instead. Bare-bulb lights, mini pendants, and reading lights are all instances where you should use lower lumen bulbs.

The amount of lumens should you use in a space is sometimes just a personal preference, but there are some standards involved. For a small light, such as a mini pendant or reading light, I prefer around 200-300 lumens. For a two-bulb surface-mount bedroom light that is generously diffused, 800-900 lumens for each bulb provides a generous amount of light. You can use a dimmer to control the lumen output of a bulb, but not all CFL or LED bulbs are dimmable, and those that are will never go as low as a dimmed incandescent bulb. Another thing to consider is that many light fixtures are not dimmable, such as table lamps and reading lights, so it’s even more important to get the lumens right for those applications.

above graphic from The Lighting Practice

halloween toastBulb Color Temperature

The color temperature of a light bulb is something you’ve probably already formed an opinion on before ever reading this blog post. Most people prefer a “soft white” bulb, while others prefer the even warmer glow of a “warm white” bulb, or perhaps the more pure light of a “daylight” bulb.

A personal pet peeve of mine is when manufacturers label bulbs only with these layman’s terms for light temperature, when a more accurate way to present the information is with the Kelvin temperature of the bulb. The color of light is measured in Kelvins, as shown in the above graphic I borrowed from The Lighting Practice, but often bulb packaging says nothing about the Kelvin temperature—Very annoying to a detail-oriented shopper like myself! “Soft white” is a term invented by bulb manufacturers to give a general idea of the color of the bulb, but the exact Kelvin temperature of “soft light” bulbs can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Most often you’ll find soft white bulbs to be 2700 Kelvin, but that’s not always the case.

It’s also annoying to me that mid-toned bulbs (in between warm white and cool white) are labeled “daylight bulbs,” but the actual color of daylight coming from your window is never the same. The color temperature of window light varies depending on the orientation of your window (north, south, east, or west) as well as the season or the time of day. Bulbs labeled as “daylight” bulbs vary in color temperature even more than ones labeled “soft white.” I’ve seen daylight bulbs range from a more neutral 5000K all the way up to cool 6500K, which can look pretty bluish in my opinion.

In our old home, I purchased 4000K light bulbs because our home didn’t have a lot of natural light and I often had my lights on dimly during the day to make it feel like there was more of a natural light presence in our home. But if I went cooler than 4000K, the light from the bulbs felt abrasive and sterile in the evenings. In our new home, I have plenty of natural light, so I choose something warmer to feel cozier and more inviting in the evenings, since I don’t often turn on lights during the day. Of course I annoyingly had to choose a color temperature bulb more difficult to find in stores (3000K), so I have to order most of my bulbs online from Amazon. But the more readily available 2700K “soft white” bulbs just felt too warm for my preference, so for me it’s worth the hassle to get the look I want. (I did mention I am a crazy person about lighting!)

I try to keep all of the bulbs in my home the same color temperature, because as a photographer it annoys me to no end when I can’t properly set my white balance because of varying color temperatures in a room’s lighting.

Everything you need to know about choosing light fixtures and light bulbs for your home

Other factors to Consider

halloween toastLamp Shade Color

The color of a lamp shade will affect the color temperature of your light bulb. Whether it’s translucent or opaque, when the light shines through or reflects off the shade, it will take on the color of the shade. A trick of the trade I learned from a professor in college is to paint the inside of a lamp shade either a warm or a cool color to affect the temperature of your light. The bulb on my dresser in the photo above is the same color temperature as the others in this room, but it appears more warm because the inside of the shade is a warm ivory, not a pure white. The lamp shade is opaque, so I just need to paint the inside of it a pure white in order for the light color to match the rest of the room.

Wall, Floor, and Textile Colors

In the same way a lamp shade does, the adjacent colors in a space will actually affect the color of the light in your room. When a light is near a warm colored wall, it takes on warmer properties, the same way a light on a cool wall will cast a cooler glow.

Legrand Dimmer Switch

Dimmer Switches

As I mentioned in the segment about lumens, dimmer switches are amazing ways to control the lighting in your home! If you need a brighter light for tasks in the kitchen, but later in the day just want a soft glow for entertaining, the dimmer switch will give you what you need.

I have dimmer switches from Legrand, and three-way switches (switches where two switches control the same light) that have have master/remote locations, so when you change the brightness level from one switch, it will instantly match the brightness level of the other switch. You can also set up a control panel for all of your lighting with the ability to control all of your lights from your phone! Isn’t technology freaky great?

Smart Bulbs

There is also newer technology that allows you to control the lumens and color temperature of your bulb, without changing it to a different bulb! IVIEW is one of the manufacturers of this type of smart bulb, but there are other great bulbs like this too. This is obviously a more expensive feature to have in a bulb, but the expense it might make more sense for applications not easily controlled, like table lamps and reading lights.


There is so much more to say about lighting for residential interiors, but I think that I managed to cover everything that would apply to you and your home, without making it too overwhelming. As always, if you have any questions about anything I’ve covered in this post, let me know in the comments below and I’ll happily help as I am able!

Everything you need to know about choosing light fixtures and light bulbs for your home

Mandi Makes a Podcast Playlist

I’ve been a podcast listener since the first time I owned an mp3 player. Stories that draw me in make it easy to forget how many miles I’ve walked (Oh look, the kids are asleep in the stroller!) or how many miles of trim I’ve painted in our new house (Wait, it’s 1AM already?!). So many people have asked me about my renovation playlist, and while I am the avid listener to very specific genres of music, it’s really my favorite podcasts that have gotten me this far in my quest to transform our 1980s house into my dream home.

I wanted to share some of my favorite podcasts with you, as well as specific favorite episodes from each one. Some of these may be a bit cliché (This America Life, what can I say— I love it!), and admittedly I don’t often try new tv shows and radio shows, because I really know what I like and don’t like wasting my time. So if you have any new suggestions, I promise I’ll give them a look!

RadioLab is the perfect podcast for those who enjoy exploring their curiosities, from the human mind to the human immune system, from social constructs to social injustice, from Cuban punk music to the American judiciary system— the way the RadioLab team researches and compiles each episode is thorough and engaging. This podcast perfectly combines entertainment with learning opportunities, and just might be my absolute favorite! It was impossible to narrow down my favorites! So I’ll share my top six. (And I would share more if I wasn’t afraid of overwhelming you.)

Worth / “This episode, we make three earnest, possibly foolhardy, attempts to put a price on the priceless. We figure out the dollar value for an accidental death, another day of life, and the work of bats and bees as we try to keep our careful calculations from falling apart in the face of the realities of life, and love, and loss.”

The Buried Bodies Case / “In 1973, a massive manhunt in New York’s Adirondack Mountains ended when police captured a man named Robert Garrow.  And that’s when this story really gets started. This episode we consider a string of barbaric crimes by a hated man, and the attorney who, when called to defend him, also wound up defending a core principle of our legal s

ystem.  When Frank Armani learned his client’s most gruesome secrets, he made a morally startling decision that stunned the world and goes to the heart of what it means to be a defense attorney – how far should lawyers go to provide the best defense to the worst people?”

Patient Zero / “The greatest mysteries have a shadowy figure at the center—someone who sets things in motion and holds the key to how the story unfolds. In epidemiology, this central character is known as Patient Zero—the case at the heart of an outbreak. This hour, Radiolab hunts for Patient Zeroes from all over the map. We start with the story of perhaps the most iconic Patient Zero of all time: Typhoid Mary. Then, we dive into a molecular detective story to pinpoint the beginning of the AIDS, and we re-imagine the moment the virus that caused the global pandemic sprang to life. After that, we’re left wondering if you can trace the spread of an idea the way you can trace the spread of a disease. In the end, we find ourselves faced with a choice between competing claims about the origin of the high five. And we come to a perfectly sensible, thoroughly disturbing conclusion about the nature of the universe … all by way of the cowboy hat.”

Remembering Oliver Sacks / “When Radiolab was just starting out, Robert asked Dr. Oliver Sacks if he could help us, maybe send us a few story ideas. Over the years he has shared with us stories of chemistry, music, neurology, hallucinations and more, so much more. Because Oliver notices the world and the people around him with scientific rigor, with insight, and most importantly, with deep empathy. ?When he announced a few months ago that he had terminal cancer and wasn’t going to do any more interviews, we asked him if he’d talk with us one last time. He said yes?. So Robert went, as he has done for 30 some years now, to his apartment with a microphone, this time to

 ask him about the forces that have driven him in his work, in his unique relationships with his patients, and in his own life.”

Nazi Summer Camp / “Reporter Karen Duffin and her father were talking one day when, just as an aside, he mentioned the Nazi prisoners of war that worked on his Idaho farm when he was a kid. Karen was shocked … and then immediately obsessed. So she spoke with historians, dug through the National Archives and oral histories, and uncovered the astonishing story of a small town in Alabama overwhelmed by thousands of German prisoners of war.  Along the way, she discovered that a very fundamental question  – one that we are struggling with today  –  was playing out seventy years ago in hundreds of towns across America: When your enemy is at your mercy, how should you treat them? Karen helps Jad and Robert try to figure out why we did what we did then, and why we are doing things so differently now.”

Playing God / “When people are dying and you can only save some, how do you choose? Maybe you save the youngest. Or the sickest. Maybe you even just put all the names in a hat and pick at random. Would your answer change if a sick person was standing right in front of you? In this episode, we follow New York Times reporter Sheri Fink as she searches for the answer. In a warzone, a hurricane, a church basement, and an earthquake, the question remains the same. What happens, what should happen, when humans are forced to play god?”

I feel like this podcast might be the “Parenthood” of podcasts, which makes me slightly hesitant to put it so far at the top of my list of favorites, but hey! I’m not here to be cutting edge, just to be honest about what I enjoy listening to. And while my friends would chat about how they laughed and cried during the most recent amazing “Parenthood” episode (may it rest in peace), I would be over here asking if they had caught the most recent “This American Life” episode. Yep, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and your heart and mind will be a bit more open after each show that Ira Glass hosts.

Tell Me I’m Fat / episode 589 / “The way people talk about being fat is shifting. With one-third of Americans classified as overweight, and another third as obese, and almost none of us losing weight and keeping it off, maybe it’s time to rethink the way we see being fat.”

It Says So Right Here / episode 509 / “Everyone knows you can’t always believe what you read, but sometimes even official documents aren’t a path to the truth. This week we have stories of people whose lives are altered when seemingly boring documents like birth certificates and petitions are used against them. And a family wrestles with a medical record that has a very clear, but complicated diagnosis.”

Prom / episode 186 / “While the seniors danced at Prom Night 2001 in Hoisington, Kansas—a town of about 3,000—a tornado hit the town, destroying about a third of it. When they emerged from the dance, they discovered what had happened, and in the weeks that followed, they tried to explain to themselves why the tornado hit where it did. Plus other stories that happen on Prom Night.”

My Pen Pal / episode 246 / “Stories of very unusual pen pals, including a ten-year-old girl from Michigan who befriends Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.”

You may be seeing a theme, here. I love hearing peoples’ stories, and The Moth is such a fresh way to experience them! Story tellers stand up on stage and have a few minutes to tell their stories to a live audience. Sometimes it’s about a childhood experience, overcoming obstacles in life, or a fun story about adolescent phone calls with an actual rock star. Every podcast is such a fun, refreshing listen!

School Night / A teenager does a newspaper review of an Iggy Pop album and gets a surprising response.

The Pieties of Perspiration / Adam Gopnik battle liberal guilt with his son in a sauna.

I love listening to Fresh Air to get a glimpse into the hearts and minds of my favorite actors, musicians, and writers, but also to find out about interesting stories and people that are completely new to me. Giving people a space to tell their story and ask the questions we all have, or some that we haven’t considered, interviewer Terry Gross recently celebrated 30 years of on-air experience with Fresh Air. Here are some favorite episodes of mine that come to mind, but don’t neglect to scroll through the archives to see what jumps out at you! There’s a lot there to love.

Aziz Ansari– On “Master of None” and How His Parents Feel About Acting

Lynsey Addario– Twice kidnapped, photographer returns to war zone: “It’s What I Do”

Peggy Orenstein– “Girls & Sex” and the Importance of Talking to Young Women About Pleasure

Jeff Guinn– “The Road to Jonestown” Nearly 40 years later, Jonestown offers a lesson in demagoguery

If you’re interested in the human psyche and how it affects our personal lives and our society, or maybe you want to hear about some interesting true stories where differing personalities and ways of thinking dictated the plot, you must give Invisibilia a listen! It’s compelling, engaging, and kind of feels like a happy medium between RadioLab and This American Life.

Reality / “How is it that two neighbors can look out their window at the exact same thing, and see something completely different? This is a question many people in America are asking now. We explore it by visiting a small community in Minnesota, called Eagle’s Nest Township, that has a unique experience with the reality divide: some of the people in the town believe that wild black bears are gentle animals you can feed with your hands, and others think they are dangerous killers. This divide leads to conflict and, ultimately, a tragic death. So, is there a “real” truth about the bear, or is each side constructing its own reality? In part two we look at attempts to escape these self-made constructs. We follow one man’s epic experiment to break out of his reality bubble. And one woman’s epic-in-its-own-way experiment to break out of her species bubble!”

Flip the Script / “In this episode we look at situation where someone flips the script – does the opposite of what their natural instinct is, and in this way transforms a situation. Usually when someone is hostile to us, we are hostile right back. The psychological term is “complementarity.” But then in rare cases someone manages to be warm, and what happens as a result can be surprising. The episode starts with a story about a dinner party in DC, when an attempted robbery was foiled by… a glass of wine and some cheese. Then we travel across the pond, to Denmark, where police officers are attempting to combat the growing problem of Islamic radicalization with… love. And finally, we talk to a man who attempted to flip the script on one of our most basic animal functions: finding a mate.”

Do Listen Twice is a ten episode series created to promote the film Don’t Think Twice. This American Life Host Ira Glass teams up with comedian Mike Birbiglia to present his favorite stories that Birbiglia has told on the podcast over the years. This series had me laughing out loud while staining lumber for hours alone in my dining room.

Okay, so if you were on the internet at all in 2014, you’ve heard about this true-crime podcast. If you never listened to season one of Serial, what are you waiting for? The story explores the details of the murder of teenager Hae Min Lee and attempts to explore the possible innocence of the young man Adnan Syed who was convicted of murdering his ex girlfriend. I never got into season two of Serial, but season one consumed my podcast listening during the fall it was released!

From the creators of Serial comes the podcast series S-Town, which begins as a true-crime story about a possible murder cover up in a small Alabama town, but develops into an interesting look at the life of an eccentric recluse who befriended radio journalist Brian Reed and polarized the people in S*** Town, Alabama.

You Must Remember This is a podcast that explores the lives, scandals, and forgotten history of Hollywood’s golden age. Basically, this podcast was made for me!

I began listening to Snap Judgement last year, and was intrigued by the Halloween episodes. I also loved the recent one about the one-legged wrestler that I caught during a Saturday afternoon trip to the hardware store. It was definitely a parking lot moment. (All of you NPR listeners will appreciate that. Ha!) 

Malcom Gladwell explores history from angles other historians have forgotten or have left hidden through time in this podcast, Revisionist History

A friend recommended I listen to this podcast after we had been talking about myths and legends that we really hope were real. I loved listening in on the meandering conversations about The Mothman on Astonishing Legends, and my imagination is still running wild!

4 Ways to Fabulous(ly Cheap) Parenting

budget parenting tips

budget parenting

As a new parent, it seems like everywhere you turn there’s a new gadget or cute gizmo that your kiddos need. In the hazy excitement of my most recent positive pregnancy test, I found myself wondering, Should I get a Mamaroo? Oooh my baby would look so sweet in a precious little bonnet! And what kind of stroller should I get? Will I need a bigger vehicle to fit all this stuff?! Cue panic and budget crisis. I’ll be honest, even though it was my second, I found myself very tempted by all things baby this past time around the pregnancy block. If I didn’t have a budget laid out for me on paper and if I hadn’t been restricted by a certain number of dollar bills in an envelope marked “baby,” I could certainly see how this new little one might’ve cost me an arm and a leg.

For instance, I bought a pack of diapers this week for ten dollars and thought, Didn’t I just buy a ten dollar pack of diapers just a few days ago? Woah, that’s over $500 dollars each year potentially, or much more if my baby has inopportunely timed poops! Yikes! Kiddos are expensive! But then I remembered we’ll be switching our newborn to cloth diapers as soon as her thighs are chunkier, and then I relaxed a little. I remembered all the sneaky ways we’ll save money so I can afford a pretty baby bonnet here and a Natursutten pacifier there.

Yes, parenting takes sacrifice. No, children aren’t free. But do they cost a fortune? Only if you want them to! (Okay, we’re not counting hospital bills here!) I’ve had some readers reach out to me for my honest take on how to plan for a new baby in a family budget. While I don’t have an exact monthly dollar number that it costs us to take care of our two littles, I do have some ideas on the cost of parenting during the early years and how you can be a fabulous parent without breaking the bank.

cloth diapers

reusable baby items

reusable baby items

The number one way we saved money on supplies for our children is to use cloth diapers. In these modern times cloth diapers really are a wonder! We use both velcro XS Bum Genious infant diapers for the early days and one-size Fuzzibunz that Lucy currently still uses. I love the Fuzzibunz because they have separate exteriors so if they become damaged (and they have), you at least can salvage the inserts and the replaceable elastic. Velcro tends to wear out, so I prefer diapers with various snaps that ensure a custom fit. Our Fuzzibunz diapers also have replaceable and adjustable elastic to customize the fit around the waist and legs. As I mentioned, they have inserts (cotton or super absorbant hemp) which absorb liquid while the fleece lining of the exterior keeps your kiddos bum soft and dry. When the diapers get dirty, throw them into a lined (with a reusable liner) trash can and wash them when it’s convenient for you, or subscribe to a laundry service.

Are they stinky? Yeah, they can start to cling on to the stink, and when they do, you just hang them out on a line and the smells and even the stains disappear like magic! Promise! Are they expensive? Yes— at first! But compared to the cumulative cost of disposable diapers, you will save lots of money with cloth. And you can even buy used cloth diapers to cut the cost significantly. We did, and I don’t regret it one bit! $350 for our entire cloth diaper collection. Just think about all the money you’ll save, plus the impact it will have on the environment by cutting back on waste.

cloth diaper supplies

reusable baby items

Similarly to cloth diapers, you can buy reusable wipes or even just cut cotton flannel into squares to make reusable wipes (more on that at the end of this post). You can purchase small wet bags for in your diaper bag and use an old wipes bin at home to store the cloths that you’ve soaked in a mild solution for using during diaper changes.

reusable baby items

My cousin introduced me to using cloth nursing pads, and while they didn’t work so well when I leaked a lot in the first month of nursing, they worked nicely further into our nursing experience. I went through over 60 disposable wipes (I like Lansinoh the best) in the first 4 weeks of this kiddo’s life, so you can imagine how the cost and waste of disposable nursing pads add up.

budget parenting tips

reusable baby items

reusable baby items

Unless you have money to burn, and feel the incredible impulse to do so, there is no need to buy all your baby things used! In fact, it’s borderline irresponsible, in my opinion. There are some things “they” advise you to buy new for the safety of your child, like a crib and a carseat, because you just don’t know the item’s history and wear and tear might make it less safe. Other than that, garage sales are the way to go, I’m telling you! Secondhand stores are nice too, but you’ll never beat the prices of baby things that you can find at garage sales, in my experience.

reusable baby items

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of being pregnant or adopting and wanting to buy all the cute things! There seems to be a product for everything these days— even cute little drying racks with grass and trees for airing out bottles after washing. (I use a dish towel on my counter, but that’s not to say I haven’t been tempted by the cute drying racks!) I thought it might be helpful to talk about what I ended up regretting purchasing and what I’m glad I splurged on. This goes beyond common sense things, like the fact that babies don’t need robes, special hooded towels, or custom-sized bath tubs (when you have a kitchen sink). Those are all cute baby gift ideas, but here are a few things a mom will really enjoy using!

best baby splurges

practical baby purchases

  1. Infant positioner- A seat like the Bumbo or the Baby Snug are perfect for helping little ones sit up straight when they have the desire but haven’t the muscle strength yet. They’re great with a tray for play time but are really wonderful for feeding your baby solids before she can sit well in a high chair. I found my Bumbo for $1 at a garage sale, believe it or not!
  2. Nursing Stool– I never understood why this was a thing until after long stints of nursing in the rocking chair. Their angled top is perfect for comfortably lifting your legs to create a nice surface to rest baby on and bring her closer to your chest while nursing. It’s one of those things that you’ll understand once you get it, and your back will thank you!
  3. Ergo Baby Carrier– It’s one of the most (if not the most) ergonomic baby carriers on the market that are designed best for baby’s body and for the wearer’s comfort. They are easy to strap on, unlike wraps which are sometimes a hassle to put on in public. Wearing a baby helps develop the bond between mother and child and is also wonderful for running errands hands-free and for getting things done around the house when all your baby wants is to be held. Just keep in mind that you need a special insert for babies 7-12lbs.
  4. Travel Bottle Warmer- Sometimes you need to warm a bottle but are stranded with only a vehicle and no way to acquire hot water. This bottle warmer plugs into your car and slowly warms a bottle (about 20 minutes ought to do it) so while it will take a little forethought, it will save you from a hunger disaster more than I can say! It has a timer too so you won’t overheat the milk.
  5. Baby Swing- People swear by the Momaroo for their colicky babies, but I found just a simple inexpensive swing from a secondhand store was all that our children have needed. I tried going without a swing for a while with our first child because I just didn’t want another big baby item in my house. But when I finally broke down and got one I was amazed at how it could put both of my children to sleep when I couldn’t.

practical baby purchases

  1. Boppy Pillow– It’s nice to have baby lifted by pillows of some sort while nursing, but you can easily just use stacked throw pillows. Or, if you have the money to buy a nursing accessory, do yourself a favor and buy the My Brest Friend pillow instead! It’s easily one of my favorite supposedly needless purchases and makes nursing comfortable for my and my baby.
  2. Stationary Baby Seat- I bought this Fisher Price vibrating seat from a garage sale, but end up using the swing instead or the Bumbo as they get older. While it is a nice seat, I’ve found you really don’t need to have both a swing and a stationary seat, and the swing is a life saver so it wins out in my mind.
  3. Breast Pump- Turns out our insurance would have paid for one, but I didn’t know that at the time. Agh! I did get a Madela Pump in Style and adore it, but I guess I could’ve saved my money for something else.
  4. Bottle Warmer- I still end up overwarming the bottle in the warmer, and find that microwaving a bowl of water and then submerging the bottle into it is the best way to go.
  5. Baby Food Freezer Containers- At first I thought I would just use cheap Rubbermaid containers, but these OXO containers are perfectly sized for appropriate mealtime portions and are great to drop into my diaper bag to take on the go. Also, their square shape makes it easier to pack a bunch into the freezer or to stack in the refrigerator. But you know what? I ended up just pouring the purees I made into ice cube trays, popping out the frozen cubes of food, and storing them in freezer bags. Then I could mix foods together (like sweet potatoes with avocado or apples with barley) easily without having to defrost an entire container and then mix into a new container.

 Multi-Use Baby Swaddle

practical baby purchases

practical baby purchases

One of my very favorite baby items are these Aden + Anais swaddle blankets (as seen on Juniper above). These lightweight and semi-stretchy square cloths are great swaddle blankets, but they also are perfect lightweight blankets to use in the summer, to lay underneath baby to protect surfaces from spit-up or leaky diapers, to tie around your neck as a perfect lightweight nursing cover, for draping over the carseat for shade or privacy, and they make a handy burp rag to drape over your shoulder after feedings. That’s six uses for just one cloth! Besides one nice, warm baby blanket, I’ve found the muslin swaddle to replace many of the other textile accessories that usually end up on a baby registry.

best baby activity centers

baby play stations

Soon you’ll discover that your baby wants constant entertainment and you might not be up for the task. That’s why it’s nice to have the following toys:

  1. Walker– Walkers are also a great way to help your child practice walking before she can do it on her own. But come on, she’ll be walking soon enough, there’s no need to rush the event (and the baby-proofing of your house)!
  2. Floor Mat– Great to encourage tummy time to build your baby’s muscles. Laying on a blanket on the floor can get quite boring, or so I’d imagine! But a basic quilted blanket will really do just fine, honestly.
  3. Baby Gym– A baby gym is nice for when your baby is relegated to laying on her back most of the time (because she can’t sit up), but then she’ll quickly want to be sitting up constantly, playing with any colorful gadget and gizmo you put in arms’ reach. It’s a great toy you’ll only use for a small window of time.
  4. Johnny Jump-Up– Johnny-jump-ups are fun for babies (and fun to watch), but your kid will never know what she’s missing if she doesn’t have one.
  5. Exersaucer– The exersaucer helps your child practice balance, lets her sit up, and entertains her with seemingly endless toys within her arms’ reach. But they take up lots of space and are usually eyesores.

If that sounds like a lot of junk to clutter up your house and cost you money, well— it is! I suggest selecting one or two and ditching the rest. I’d recommend getting a gym for the early days and then an exersaucer for the rest of her pre-walking days. If you can only manage to buy one, the exersaucer will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Here’s a nice toy that combines the fun of the jump-up with toys of an exersaucer. But again- you can save a lot of money by looking for something at garage sales.

DIY Baby Linens

diy baby supplies

diy baby supplies

The ultimate DIY baby food is breast milk*, but once you start your kiddo on solids, you’ll quickly see the dollars add up if you are buying canned or pouched baby food from the store. Yes it’s super convenient to buy baby food at the store, but it’s also not difficult to set aside some food from the adult dinner you make to throw into a magic bullet blender for baby. It’s also a great idea to set aside time once a week to make a huge batch of purees to pop in the freezer. While you’re waiting on food you have to cook before pureeing (sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, peas, apples, barley), you can use that time to blend up or mill food that can be pureed raw (bananas, avocado, blueberries, melon). You’ll be amazed at how much food you can crank out in a couple of hours.

*If you aren’t able to nurse your little one, did you know there are breast milk banks where you can receive donations?

diy baby supplies

As I mentioned before, you can easily make your own baby wipes or burp rags with flannel fabric, or you can make disposable wipes if you don’t have access to laundry facilities. You can also get into slightly more complicated DIYs like making bibs or bed sheets, which are great options for the selective mom who wants stylish or vintage bedding (made from deadstock linens) for baby. Here’s a list of DIYs I found across the internet that are super helpful:

  1. Disposable baby wipes from White House Black Shutters
  2. Reusable baby wipes from Amy Green
  3. Dish towel bibs from Mommy Savers
  4. Crib sheets from Spearmint Baby

diy baby supplies

These are things I haven’t gotten into making myself but would like to try soon! Apparently making these items will save you money, so here are some DIY posts I’ve saved for my own personal reference.

  1. Cloth diaper detergent from Elisa Loves
  2. Disinfectant spray from Clean Mama
  3. Diaper Rash Cream (safe for cloth diapers) from Diaper Wrecker

I hope this post has helped put the cost of parenting babies into perspective for you! If you have any money-saving tips or advice on what products to buy (or not buy), I’d love to hear them!