I hate feeling like a pack mule. Before children, my husband patiently listened to many a rant regarding the oppression of carrying purses. As if women’s pants were made with enough material to have real pockets, we wouldn’t be able to afford them.
Now that I have a baby, not only am I expected to carry all of my own assortment of pens, lipsticks, feminine products, wallet, bobby pins, spare change, and blow dryer, but I also have to haul around everything under the sun my baby could possibly need, too?
Just give me a straw and call me a camel.
What if it didn’t have to be that way? What if I took that “diaper bag checklist” printable you just downloaded and ripped it up before the ink had even dried?
Would you like to know how to save time, money, and literal physical pain?
If you like being the family pack mule, go ahead and close this page. On the other hand, if you’re tired of long shopping lists and “Everything You Need” posts, keep reading. In this post, I’m going to help you simplify your outing inventory into one simple, minimal diaper bag system so that you only cart around what you truly, actually need.
Just so you know, I incorporate affiliate links, from which I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you, to help showcase products I personally own and love, as well as to illustrate certain points or product features.
The Problem with Typical Diaper Bag Checklists
While nesting, I wanted to research all the things, plan all the things, organize all the things, and buy ALL THE THINGS. I was completely obsessed with all things baby, and of course one of the fun things to plan and organize is a diaper bag. (Kind of like the “back to school” shopping high, but with pregnancy hormones).
The problem is that most diaper bag checklists play into your craving for preparation. We want to be ready for anything that could happen, and to compound the problem, first time moms have no clue what to expect. The result is that we end up with waaaay more crap in a much larger bag than we actually need.
Checklists are also very satisfying. They make us feel good, and organized. The more items checked off the checklist, the more prepared I must be.
I was (am…) no exception. My diaper bag was stuffed full of so much, well, stuff. But then when I actually did need something, like, I dunno, A DIAPER, I couldn’t find it because there was so much else in the way. That defeats the purpose.
You don’t need a product for everything
I mean, just think about it, Mama. What if WE carried everything we might need “just in case?” It’s possible I could throw up all over myself, but do I put a full change of clothes in my purse? It’s, possible one of my bra straps could break, so should I carry an extra bra everywhere I go? It’s possible I could remember I want to paint my nails while I’m out, but do I need my top seven most used shades of nail polish in my purse every time I go out? It’s possible…well, you get the idea.
But suddenly, we’ve got a baby (who, by the way, will never need less in life than they do right now), and we go nuts buying two of everything because WHAT IF WE NEED IT and we DON’T HAVE IT!? Spoiler: you don’t need an extra crib sheet to get groceries at Walmart.
The world will not implode if you leave home without extra nail clippers or cough syrup or snot suckers or baby jackets in three different weights and colors. And if your bag is so overstuffed with the things you most likely don’t need, you might not be able to tell when it’s time to restock the things you actually do need. Like DIAPERS.
I’m going to let you know right now…My diaper bag system isn’t super exciting. I don’t have bags in bags in bags, although I know that kind of organization feels really satisfying.
Because the truth is, there’s so little in my diaper bag, I don’t need that kind of compartmentalization. I basically just carry diapers. And that in itself might be revolutionary.
What do you REALLY need in Your Diaper Bag?
None of the items you see are sponsored in any way. Any brands pictured are things I bought with my own money because I like them.
Here’s a quick bullet list of what’s in my diaper bag:
- A changing mat (cuz public changing stations be gross)
- My wallet/keys/phone
- An essential oil disinfectant spray
- Feminine products
- Non-toxic sunscreen
- Plastic shopping bags (can be used as wet-bags, trash bags, etc)
- Washcloths (because they’re so multifunctional)
- A mommy snack (optional, but sometimes errands run long and I dislike fast food)
And that’s it. Pick your jaw up.
At various other times, it might also transport assorted teethers or an occasional bottle, but that’s the great part about keeping it light: there’s actually room in the bag when we need it. If Baby has a runny nose, for example, I can add a snot sucker and/or tissues. If we go for a day trip, we can add water or the sling carrier or whatever. But these aren’t things I need to lug around all the time. For shorter outings, like errands, I don’t need to be prepared for anything and everything.
Because the chance of anything and everything happening is very slim.
It turns out we mamas are pretty resourceful. If something wacky or unusual does happen, we’re pros at making-do. The solution might not be ideal, but your baby will survive, and whatever odd or embarrassing thing you might have to do, they will not remember (or care).
(My Dad once held my then-toddler brother’s Thomas the Tank Engine underpants out the window of the car as we drove down the road to dry them because he’d had an accident and we didn’t have a spare. We were mortified, but hey, it worked.)
You might have noticed I didn’t list things like a spare change of clothes, or blankets, or burp cloths. Keep reading.
The Car Stash
Aside from my wallet and keys, if you completely took away my diaper bag and all of its contents, I’d be fine. (Obviously if you formula feed, you have a couple of additional necessities, and I understand that.)
How on earth can that be? Here’s a really simple hack, Mama.
Keep a back-up kit in your car. Use it to store extras of your essentials plus all of the items you don’t want to lug on your shoulder.
When I first went to the store to pick out the box for my car kit, I thought I wanted a cute plastic baskety bin in a fun color, but I realized it wouldn’t be the most practical option. It would dump easily, I couldn’t stack things on top of an open basket, and if something liquid spilled or dripped, the contents would get messy. (Picturing a tray of raw chicken dribbling into the spare diapers–bleh!)
What I chose was not as ‘grammable, but way more functional. I picked just a plain 20 quart plastic tub with a lid. That way, nothing can spill, I can stack groceries and other stuff on top of it, and not have to worry about the contents getting wet. Maybe eventually I’ll decorate it with stickers or washi tape or something. The look is less important.
Depending on the reason for your outing, you might need to add a few additional items to your diaper bag. And the beautiful thing is, you won’t have to cram them in there because you have plenty of space. Here are some of the things I need to add to my bag when I’m doing more than a short outing or routine errands:
- Bib, for when we plan to eat out
- Water bottles and a sippy cup, if it’s a hot day or we’ll be out a long time (water can also go in the car stash)
- Swimsuit and swim diaper, if we expect to get wet
- Haakaa manual breast pump and baby bottle, which I mainly only use on long drives to lessen stops
- Living Well Planner, when I know I’ll need to make appointments (like at the doctor)
- Teething toy
- Wrap or sling, if I expect to need to wear the baby
- Jacket, for cooler days
In the winter, you might also need:
- Extra socks
- An additional/thicker blanket
- A hooded jumpsuit or warmer jacket
What is the BEST Diaper Bag?
The best diaper bag is one that:
- Is comfortable and easy to carry
- Fits your budget
- Is not too big
- Your husband will be seen with
Comfortable/Easy to Carry
I like a backpack style because it doesn’t get in my way when baby-wearing, or when my arms are full from not baby-wearing. I have THIS diaper backpack, but in hindsight, I wish I had gotten THIS ONE.
Fits Your Budget
A diaper bag doesn’t have to be expensive. Some mamas have pricey, designer diaper bags, and if that’s what you really want, then save up for it or ask for it as a gift. If you couldn’t care less, there are plenty of other options out there for you. In fact, you don’t even have to get a designated diaper bag. Any bag bigger than a diaper can hold diapers.
Not Too Big
When I packed our diaper bag the first time, I felt like I needed to use all of the pockets and pouches. If we see ‘extra’ space, our natural tendency is to want to fill it. We want to maximize the space we have. Even if you don’t overpack to begin with, stuff has a way of accumulating all on its own. You can combat these problems by simply choosing a smaller bag.
Will Your Husband Wear It?
Your husband might confidently tout a stylish feminine purse-esque bag in diamond-studded rose gold, or he might force it down the garbage disposal. If you don’t choose one your husband likes, too, you might find that you are always the only one carrying it. Involve your hubby in the process. He’ll appreciate that you thought of him.
Things I Don’t Have in My Diaper Bag or Car Stash
- Nursing Cover – Carrots won’t use one, so I don’t bother carrying one
- Formula and bottles – We personally don’t need them since we breastfeed
- Nail clippers – I can barely cut baby nails at home…what makes me think I’ll be able to cut them on the go?
- Diaper rash cream – It can wait until we get home
- Baby lotion – Part of our nighttime routine
- Burp cloths – Carrots’s spit-up is unpredictable. I find that a couple of baby washcloths take up less room in the bag
- Pacifiers – When Carrots used a pacifier, it was on a tether attached to her person at all times
- Spoons and Purees – We are Baby Led Weaners! We don’t need spoons and purees because Carrots eats finger foods
- Stain remover – It can wait.
Final Thoughts: Packing a Minimalist Diaper Bag
Just because these are my diaper bag essentials doesn’t mean they have to be yours, too. You might have more, you might have less. The point of this article isn’t to tell you what you should and shouldn’t have in your diaper bag.
The whole reason I wrote this post is to help you think about what you really need and what you can do without. I want to encourage you to pare your inventory down to the essentials and build back up from there. Mamas are resourceful–we don’t need a different product for every single thing!
Have you started your diaper bag yet? Does it have more than you need? Could you make do with less? Let’s talk about it in the comments!