Before having a baby, my husband and I made a pact that we wouldn’t let our apartment become overrun with toys and brightly colored items. We had taken a lot of care in decorating our place, and while of course we wanted our baby to have toys she’d enjoy and items that we’d need to create a safe and fun play area for her, we didn’t want it to feel as though we were running a daycare out of our home. If we lived in a large house with a play room, we probably wouldn’t care as much (and I might even embrace primary colors for that one room of the house); but when you live in a small NYC apartment and your play room is also your living room, it’s nice to feel as though you’ve maintained some semblance of an adult abode.
Here are my top picks for items that don’t make your home look TOO much like a daycare:
(Note: These are affiliate links, meaning that at no cost to you, we earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase – more info at the bottom of this post.)
Baby Care Play Mat
I originally resisted getting one of these mats, even though several people in my moms group had recommended them. I thought they seemed too large and wouldn’t be as easy to put away as the puzzle piece kind if we were having company. But after doing a puzzle piece mat for a while, I realized that it really is worth getting a mat like this one. First, you don’t roll it up as much as you think you will, since you use it every day and it’s helpful to just leave it set up with toys on it. Second, your baby can’t start pulling the pieces apart, requiring you to constantly put them back together. Third, they’re much easier to clean because dirt can’t get trapped between all the pieces. They also look a lot nicer than the puzzle ones – some of the designs could even be called tasteful and look almost like a rug you might have in your living room, play room or nursery. I, of course, liked the most expensive mat the best (“sea petals – grey”), but I gave myself permission to spend the extra money on it because it would live in our living room for years to come, so I figured I should get the one I really wanted.
Baby Care Playpen
A playpen was another thing we thought we would never get. But once our baby could start rolling very quickly and I found her underneath the TV stand after turning away for just a minute to get a cup of coffee, we decided that it was important to be able to put her in a safe place where we didn’t have to worry about her and keep constant eyes on her. Most of these play pens are made of red, yellow and blue and make my eyes hurt. Baby Care makes one that’s white and blue and much more pleasant to look at constantly. I also resisted this for a while, because it’s more expensive than others; but it fits the large size Baby Care mat perfectly, is made well and is very sturdy, and has a door that makes it easy to get in and out of. And again, it will live in our living room for years to come, so I didn’t want to hate it every time I saw it. Now that we have it, I feel that it’s worth every penny and I’m very glad that I sprung the extra on the most tasteful one I could find. Still not sure why they don’t just make an all-white one or white and gray, but the white and blue is pretty much as good as it gets.
Wee Giggles Play Mat
Even though I just made a case for NOT getting a puzzle mat, I will say that I really liked this one before our baby got too mobile (up until about 6 months) and too curious about whether and how the puzzle pieces came apart. The low foam walls prevented her from rolling off it for a while and kept her toys contained. It’s a much smaller footprint than the large Baby Care play mat and play pen, which was nice before we really had to make the transition. And it also packs up into a small carrying case that we took with us on weekends away by car. This puzzle mat is also a lot easier to clean than the sticker ones that really attract dirt and grime, so you can just wipe it off with a damp cloth or Babyganics surface wipe.
BABYBJORN Bouncer Balance Soft
Our baby has grown out of this by now (probably by 7 months), but up until then it was awesome and we used it daily. That also meant we kept it out in our living room daily. It’s possible to fold it up and stash it in a corner or under the couch, but I liked having it out and set up, so I could easily put her in it whenever I needed to and know that she was in a safe place. There are definitely cheaper bouncy chairs you can buy that probably serve a similar purpose, but a lot of people (including myself) swear by this one for a reason – it’s very comfortable for the baby, it looks nice, it’s great quality, and it’s easy to clean. Once she got into the wooden toy bar and learned how to bounce herself, it kept her occupied and happy for long stretches of time. I also purchased a Janabebe cover for it so the chair was never out of commission if she had a poopslosion in it (just take off the outer cover and wash, while letting her sit on the regular cover, hoping she doesn’t have a follow-up poopsplosion in the next hour). The cover is probably a little overpriced and definitely a nice-to-have, not a must-have, but I felt it was worth it, and the gray stars made for a very cute photo backdrop.
Oribel PortaPlay Activity Center
You may have seen those jumperoos that are either like large tubs of brightly colored plastic or rides at an amusement park, with toys attached to the table, toys hanging overhead, lights, sounds – my head is spinning just thinking about it. While I certainly wanted my baby to experience the joy of bouncing and playing with toys that she couldn’t fling about the room, I just couldn’t deal with the idea of one of these in my home. Then I discovered exersaucers. They’re similar to jumperoos, but much more toned down. We went with the Oribel one because I thought the colors looked cool and liked the fact that it could be transformed into a small play table with the matching set of stools and paper roll dispenser once your child has outgrown it as an exersaucer. The Skip Hop Explore and More Activity Center is another good choice for a “tasteful” exersaucer at a slightly lower price point.
KidKraft Deluxe Activity Cube
There are a lot of different options when it comes to wooden activity cubes and most are pretty nice looking, so you probably can’t go too wrong. I looked into a bunch of them and thought that this KidKraft cube seemed like one of the best for craftsmanship, stability and price. I also liked the activities on the side – gears, the alphabet, a maze and an old-school abacus (I’m giddy just thinking about the learning possibilities). The Anatex Deluxe Mini Play Cube is similar and a close contender for me – it looks a little nicer and even less daycare-like, but is double the cost, so I’m still trying to decide if it’s worth it. Other favorites among my mom friends are the Hape Country Critters Wooden Activity Cube, ALEX Discover My Busy Town Wooden Activity Cube, and B. toys Zany Zoo.
Labebe Wooden Rocking Horse
If you’ve never seen your baby riding on a rocker, please do this immediately. Or maybe don’t, because then you will feel compelled to buy them one so that you can witness this adorable spectacle every day. These wooden ones by Labebe are very tasteful and modern looking, and take up less space (both physically and visually) than the big plush ones, which is especially nice in a Manhattan apartment where space is at a premium.
Teepee Play House
If I had room in my apartment for a teepee, I would be all over this thing. And let’s face it, I’ll probably end up making room at some point because it’s just so damn cool. Fort, reading nook, play space, meditation retreat (for me) (who am I kidding, I don’t meditate)…the possibilities are endless!
Mercedes Benz Push Car
I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with my baby driving a nicer car than I do, but if I must get her a ride-on car at some point, this is just about as tasteful as it gets.
The links contained in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that if you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. But rest assured, I did not get any of these products for free in exchange for promotion, so they are truly my own personal recommendations.