Ohhhh boy, this is a very personal thing, it turns out. You’ll find that your lifestyle dictates what will be useful to you. Examples: my Manhattanite friends all have expensive strollers because you walk everywhere in Manhattan, in all kinds of weather; my stroller, in SoCal, is a simple $40 umbrella one because I don’t walk everywhere and I hate having to store some big behemoth in my house. I had one designated changing station in my 2-story home; my friend had a portable changing box on every floor, and the reason is becasue my house is entirely hardwood floors and hers is carpeted. For me, with bad knees and after a c-Section, kneeling down with baby on a hardwood floor to change him was worse than just carrying him upstairs. You won’t really understand these things for yourself until you have the baby–who will also make demands based on their individual personality.
I’ll give you my best advice, but I doubt you’ll take it (chuckle): Don’t buy anything until the baby arrives. Exceptions: carseat, crib, diapers, swaddle, “food” (bottles + formula if you ff; a breastpump if you bf), baby thermometer and aspirin (you rarely would need baby aspirin/Tylenol, but when you do need, it’s one of those things that you’ll like to have NOW), and some sleepers. Otherwise, purchase as you go. Unless you live in the boonies, anything you need is a drive away, AND Amazon (for one) has free Prime 2-day shipping, and some stuff you can get day-of delivered.
Second-best advice: be very careful about “single use” items. There are some that most parents find useful–I wouldn’t give up the Bumpo, even though he only used it for like, 3 months–but just be strategic about the need.
Third piece of advice: don’t assume that your baby “needs” things. Here’s a list of baby “needs” and possible alternatives–that’s not to say that parents and individual babies never actually needed the “needs” (many find them useful); but that to call them universal “needs” is a stretch:
Breastfeeding pillows –> a regular pillow (I preferred a body pillow, personally)
Teething rings –> a washcloth, cut up into pieces, and tied into big knots (big enough the baby couldn’t swallow them), wet and then stored in the freezer
Spit-up blankets –> honestly, dirty laundry works too
Fancy swaddlers –> a swaddler is ultimately a big piece of fabric. I mean, you can *have* velcro and ties and muslin fabric and all that, but I guarantee that women in other countries make do with …big pieces of fabric. And some babies don’t even like to be swaddled
Wipes warmer –> hold the wipe in your hands for 10 seconds
Fancy “baby” soap products –> “fragrance-free” is fine, but also newborns can be bathed with just water (also PS–coconut oil will work fine for things like cradle cap, and it’s not going to cause problems if it gets in the baby’s mouth; also can be used for diaper rash)
Toys –> a plastic water bottle filled halfway with water; a ball of tin foil; an empty wipes wrapper; and a little (clean) hand-broom. Seriously.
Bottle warmer –> see if your baby will take it cold first. Ours never minded.
Noise machine –> iPhone apps; also your baby may sleep fine without it
Glider/rocker –> a chair or nothing–just put it in the crib
Infant bath inserts –> a sink. Or a laundry basket in the regular tub.
“Dump baby” apparatuses (swings, exosaucers, bouncies, vibrating chair) –> I do actually think these are necessay, although maybe not all of them. I would start with the vibrating chair for a newborn. But you could get by with just the crib and a couple of balls of tin foil thrown in there. For real 😀
If I had to tell you what I found were godsends beyond absolute essentials (like the carseat, etc.), I’d probably say: a soft-light low-wat lamp that won’t burn your retinas out when you’re changing diapers at 3am; hand sanitizer because washing your hands at 3am is a real drag; and Netflix or some other streaming service that will allow you watch reruns of “Grey’s Anatomy” and such, seeing as 42 min syncs up well with the average newborn feeding session!