Waste of Money

Is This New Baby ‘Essential’ Just A Piece Of Garbage?

I asked myself what I could do without, and I have one big answer in particular.

by Laura Fenton
Originally Published: 
A pregnant blonde woman looking at the essential clothes for her baby in a sunny room
Mint Images - Emily Hancock/Mint Images RF/Getty Images

When I was pregnant with my son, I’ll admit I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of preparing for his arrival. Like any nervous mom-to-be, I Googled what I’d need for my newborn. I consulted my more experienced mom friends. My also pregnant sister even shared a spreadsheet that some other mom had prepared of her “life saving” baby products. (We studied it like it was a sacred text.) But the more I read, the more I began to suspect that all those “must-haves” in articles and baby registries were really just a way to fool us new moms into spending the maximum amount of money on gear.

So, I asked myself what I could do without. I pared back to what I thought was a minimalist amount of stuff. There’s one thing that I avoided buying that I think may be the biggest waste of all: The changing table.

It was easy to cut the changing table from our nursery checklist because we had such a limited amount of space. I’d seen plenty of nurseries with a dresser used as a changing station, and there was no way I could fit a dresser and a changing table in my son’s small room. So we threw a Peanut on top of a dresser and used that until we potty trained. My sister who had her baby on the same day as me (crazy, I know!) was even more of a minimalist and she just used a travel changing pad for my niece. We did just fine without. Yet look up any article about setting up your nursery, and you’ll find links to buy changing tables.

Walking through New York City, I see changing tables set out with the garbage on the curb all the time. On the local Buy Nothing Group, there are families hoping that someone might want the one they are about to throw away – with no takers. It’s understandable that people would hesitate to use any secondhand furniture for safety reasons, and I am sure that there are others who hesitate to reuse anything that very likely was soiled by feces at some point. So, off to the landfill the changing tables go.

Aside from this reluctance to reuse, why do so many changing tables end up in the trash? The design of a changing table doesn’t lend itself to any other use after the diaper days are over. If you try to use one to store books, the shelf spacing leaves too much wasted space. Toy storage is better, you’re still not making the best use of the space the table takes up in the room

I’ve seen plenty of “hacks” on Pinterest that turn a changing table into a bar cart or a plant stand, but you’re not even starting with a good base. Most changing tables are made from cheap wood, or worse: Medium density fiberboard (aka MDF) which is made of a mixture of wood chips and resin bonded together and is bad because it is less durable than real wood and often contains formaldehyde, which can potentially off gas into your home. Plus in my experience, those makeovers that look so satisfying on Instagram are a lot less lovely in real life.

You might be thinking, “Who cares? My changing table only cost about $100 — it wasn’t expensive!” But when old-growth forests are being cut down to satisfy our desire for throwaway furniture and the U.S. sends 12.2 million tons of furniture to the landfill every year, I find myself wishing we could all just agree that it doesn’t make sense to buy furniture that we know has no longevity. So, if you’re a new mom reading this, cross that changing table off your registry list. I can almost guarantee you won’t miss it.

LAURA FENTON is the author of The Little Book of Living Small and a small space and sustainable living expert. She lives with her husband and their son in Jackson Heights, Queens, in New York City. You can find her on Instagram @laura.alice.fenton.

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