Nursery Decorating Tips From A Mom Who’s Done With Babies

By Sarah Powers

This week I put the finishing touches on the last nursery I’ll ever decorate (sniff!). Lucky for me, moving to a new house (in a new state!) when my last baby is a year and a half old means I get one final chance to do up a baby’s room however I want. In another year or so it’ll be a full-fledged toddler bedroom, but as long as she’s still in a crib, a nursery it is.

As I fussed with trinkets on the shelves and hung pictures on the wall last weekend, I realized how much I’ve learned about making a baby’s room cute, comfortable, and functional. Between new babies, moves, and room-swaps, I’ve decorated and organized a total of six nurseries for three kids (including one nursery-in-a-closet, but that’s another story). Some things, like socks living in the top righthand drawer of the dresser, have never changed; others, like how I fold and put away the clothes – or don’t – have evolved with time.

If you’re a first-time mama setting up your little nest now, you might be overwhelmed by the perfect Pinterest / Pottery Barn / Restoration Hardware images, the cost of a glider, and the “must-have” lists telling you that you MUST HAVE a wipe warmer (spoiler: you don’t). It’s natural to fixate on creating a perfect space for your new babe, so I think part of the fun is in the dreaming and the pinning and all the rest. But it’s easy to get carried away, too, with color schemes and bumper fabric, and to forget that much of what makes a baby’s room special is all the living and growing that happens there: the midnight feedings and the bedtime books and the nap battles and the piles of outgrown shoes in the closet.

And it’s from this perspective, looking back, that I share a few nursery decorating tips and organizing ideas I’ve picked up over the years.

Don’t Ignore The Floor

Before having kids, most of us don’t spend much time sitting or lying on the floor unless it’s in the yoga studio on top of a mat. But babies, and parents of babies, log a ton of time on the floor. It’s great for playtime, tummy time, diaper changes, practicing cool skills like rolling over and sitting up, and maybe best of all (especially for those of us who have ever accidentally allowed our baby to topple off the changing table or a bed): a baby can’t climb up on, or fall off, the floor.

So when you plan your nursery decor, put some thought into the floor. If you don’t have carpet, a soft area rug that covers most of the room can be a great statement piece. If you do have carpet and it could use updating, before baby arrives might be a good time to have it professionally cleaned or even replaced. I’ve also seen area rugs layered right on top of wall-to-wall carpeting, which lets you add color or design without totally starting over.

Plan For Books

The books you see in staged catalogue photographs of nurseries are usually artfully stacked first editions of childhood classics. The books that ACTUALLY live in a baby’s room are, um, not. As your baby’s library grows, you’ll have boxy little Sandra Boynton favorites, oversized Elmo board books with those musical buttons (the stuff of nightmares!), odd-shaped lift-the-flap books with the flaps all ripped out, and all kinds of “interactive” baby books with tails sticking out or plush puppy dog ears hanging off the cover.

I realized early on that the pretty white bookshelf I’d repurposed from my college days was not going to work well in a nursery. Its shelves are not very deep and only a few of our baby books fit on it. Even if they had, babies like un-shelving books as much as they like ripping the flaps out of them, so we needed a solution that offered quicker cleanup.

I’ve found that large baskets work well for books of all shapes and sizes. If you’re feeling organized, you can line up the books spine-up; if you’re in a hurry or have a toddler helper, just toss ’em in! We also have a wall-mounted rack where story books can face forward, which I use more as a decorative piece for the prettier covers. 


Make Space For Clothes That Don’t Fit

Oh, the satisfaction in folding tiny onesies and pajamas and filling each drawer with adorableness! I think it’s my favorite part of preparing for a new baby. What you realize almost immediately, though, is how quickly babies outgrow each clothing size. It seems like by the time the piles of laundry are done, the clean clothes that come out of it are already too small.

One thing that has helped me is to have a dedicated place right in the baby’s room for “too small” and “too big” clothes. That way it’s easy to toss an outgrown outfit right from the clean laundry into the too-small bin, and you always have a larger size at the ready. Even if you have a seasonal clothing system like Meagan’s for the rest of your family, I recommend keeping baby’s outgrown and “next size up” bins right in the bedroom – at least for a few months at a time. 

I keep a small laundry basket on the floor of the closet for outgrown clothes. I don’t discriminate when tossing things in in terms of what will be donated, passed down, or turned into rags – I just throw it in. When it gets full, I go through and quickly decide item by item what to do with it. I also have a dresser drawer and a bin in the closet dedicated to “just a little too big” clothes – perfect for those times when it seems like baby grows overnight.

Don’t Get Too Attached To Your Color Scheme

When I was pregnant with my first baby I envisioned a nursery based around a soft, purple-gray color (oddly, not unlike the color of the room my youngest has inherited in this new house, which was like this when we moved in). But when I went shopping for fabric to make the crib bedding, I found two different prints I loved that didn’t go with purple at all. So I bought the fabric, made the bedding, and we painted the room pink to match.

I never loved the pink walls. I always longed for that soft grayish-purple. And it would have looked fine. Lesson learned.

It’s so easy when browsing the catalogues and stores to find a theme or color and just go with it. Especially with those who aren’t design-minded naturally, it often feels easier to just stick with a scheme. But once baby arrives, so do a multitude of colors. Toys and books and blocks add bright accents to the room. You may get a beautiful quilt or framed print as a gift that you love – despite its total nonconformity with the rest of the room. So while it’s helpful to start with a couple of colors or a theme, I’ve learned over time that a well-loved and lived-in room looks even better than a perfectly coordinated one.

Want some colorful nursery inspiration? Here are two I love from Girl’s Gone Child and my friend Jess of Stellar Day.

Take The Long View


See this chair? I’ve sat in it every night for over six years. I’ve spent some nights rocking in it all night long. I’ve read the same books over and over in it. I’ve nursed 7-pound newborns and consoled big, squirmy toddlers in it. I love this chair.

And at the time of purchase, it was the single most expensive piece of furniture in our home. In fact, I think it’s still the most money we’ve ever spent on a piece of furniture all on our own.

I’m not suggesting that expensive furniture is always the way to go. Baby and kid furniture gets tons of wear and tear, and sometimes something from the thrift store does just as well. But if you’re on the fence about spending more money on a quality piece you really love, remember: you’re in this for the long haul. 

When I was expecting my first baby, I had a hard time envisioning anything past the first few months. It never occurred to me that my infant would be a toddler in the blink of an eye, and that by the time said infant was a toddler, another infant would be on the way. So I can’t even take credit for taking the long view with regard to the glider chair – but I’m so glad I did. 

(You know what’s funny? That little table next to the chair has also lasted us six years on wobbly legs, and it cost $25 from the clearance bin at Home Goods 🙂 ).

Moms of big kids: what would you do differently if you were decorating a nursery today? New mamas: what’s your favorite part of your baby’s room? 

About The Author


  1. Meagan Francis
  2. Jessica Williams
  3. Jennifer (aka Hint Mama)