Sometimes being a minimalist with your baby stuff works out great. And other times, your baby ends up rolled up in a blanket on the floor crying when you tried to make do without a traditional nursery floor mat.
Clearly, I never really watched a baby flail their body around when I thought a blanket was sufficient. Even in the early newborn, potato phase, it was clear that I needed a better alternative to foam tiles than a random blanket, preferably something grippy and a little padded.
Initially, we combated the failed-blanket problem by using an activity mat that had poles to brace the underlying mat. But we live in a small space so we weren’t going to keep an activity mat set up when not in use. The set-up and break-down isn’t hard but it was one more step between me and putting a baby down. I only used it a couple times and we now have awkwardly shaped poles clumsily wedged under our couch.
As much as I love baby containment devices, their use needs to be balanced with open floor time where a baby’s movement is unrestricted (see: my approaching guilt if my kid ends up with baby container syndrome. So I needed a solution to open floor play that would work in a tiny apartment. Preferably one that I didn’t have to buy new.
Finding an alternative to traditional nursery mats
But this was a problem I hadn’t foreseen so I didn’t have lead up time to hunt for the ever popular foam tiles lining everyone’s nursery floors. The few used foam tile sets I saw went quickly. I was also leery of getting a soft and porous item that isn’t easily deep cleaned, especially one designed to protect the floor from baby goop. Also play mats like foam tiles are meant to be put down and left – not exactly the easy absconding our tiny space demands.
So what household item did I already own that was grippy and not easily grabbed by tiny baby hands? Yoga mats. I threw down a yoga mat one day on a whim when I just needed a place to momentarily put the baby without the hassle of setting up a chair or running him back to the pack-n-play. And yoga mats as an alternative to foam tiles worked great. It was grippy, a little padded, easy to wipe down, quickly rolled out and folded up, and readily moved around the house. Most yoga mats are also machine washable, making them quick and easy to deep clean. I now use two side-by-side yoga mats as our go to play space.
Why I love yoga mats as an alternative to foam tiles:
- Cheap or free – a lot of foam tiles run around $30, whereas many people already have a yoga mat around the house.
- Used options – there are a lot more used yoga mats floating around than foam tiles. I see yoga mats go for free or as curb alerts, and those for sale are often listed as low as $3. I think people hesitate about a used mat because of cleaning but since it is already in used condition and likely very cheap or free, throw it in the washing machine for a quick deep clean.
- Easy to set up and storage away – yoga mats easily roll, making set up and storage a snap.
- Portability – yoga mats are designed to be portable, carried easily to a yoga class and back. Light and easy to roll up, moving them from room to room is effortless.
- Painless cleaning – day to day dribbles are easily wiped down. Deep clean with your washing machine (for most yoga mats). To machine wash, use a gentle detergent (baby-ready detergents work well here) and run it through on the gentle cycle. I wash mine in cold but the internet says you can do it on warm too. Lay flat to dry. Obviously, I don’t know your exact washing machine and exact yoga mat so wash with caution.
- Yoga mat + a ceiling fan – as mesmerizing as any activity mat dangly toy! The ages when the activity mat’s overhead toys entertained my baby perfectly overlapped with the ages in which my baby was fully entranced by ceiling fans. One less baby thing to store in your house.