1) The Diapers. So after you've chosen your style, or found a couple of super great deals on Craigslist, or connected with the perfect shop on Etsy, the question arises... how many of these things do I need, anyway? My answer... as many as it takes to fill a washer load. Your answer may be different, but for me this thing is about saving money and I'm a stay-at-home mom. One thing I can do is Laundry. I dislike doing it, but I have the resources and the time. I could wash a load of diapers every day, if I had to and it made sense economically. But what I ended up doing is deciding how small a load I felt was worth the electricity and water and bought enough diapers to fill it. It turns out that lasts me about three days, so I'm doing a medium-sized (for my washer) load of diapers twice or three times a week. It's about 15 diapers, give or take...
2) Diaper pail. You definitely need something with a tightly closing lid. Preferably something with one of those pedal operated lids, where you can step and open. Trust me on this one. A $9 plastic kitchen trashcan from Wally World is fine (I dunno about the metal ones...). No liners, no wet bags, no fancy filters. No need to fork over $45 at Cotton Babies. The main key to keep it from getting stinky is vinegar and water. I pour in about a cup of vinegar and about 6 or 8 inches of water every time I empty the pail. The diapers soak as the pail fills and I dump the vinegar water right into the washer on wash day. It makes a HUGE difference in both the smell in the bathroom (where we keep our pail) and the smell of the diapers after washing.
3) Wipes. I'm conflicted about cloth wipes. They're definitely a money-saver, but boy are they a pain sometimes. The trick seems to be to set up a system for getting them wet in a convenient way. A friend suggested keeping a spray bottle in the changing table, but it doesn't seem to get the wipes wet enough for me. I've tried keeping a container of water on the changing table, but that inevitably gets knocked over. Repeatedly. I've tried wetting them at the sink before I go to change a diaper, but then there's always that sneaky poop that I didn't know was there and I'm standing at the changing table, with diaper half off and Jamie's legs hiked into the air, yelling for one of the kids to come get a wipe and wet it down for me. Not cool. So I tend to backslide into disposables often. Not that I'm recommending you lay down $75 for a wipes kit. No way. Not this cheap mama. Just do like me and chop up an old receiving blanket into squares-- you don't even have to hem them. That way you have them and maybe you'll use them more often than I do.
4) Fleece Liners. These babies revolutionized cloth diapering for me. Let's face it, the real problem people have with cloth diapers is Poop. It's stinky, yucky and we've had hammered into us since birth how gross it is to touch. *shudder* And along with cloth diapering comes a greater exposure to poop. You can no longer wrap a poopy diaper immediately up into a nice sanitary ball, unseen, and unsmelt, toss it into a trashcan and forget about it. No. Now you have to carry it to the toilet, unwrap it, dump it, swish it, slosh it, spray it and flush it down (hopefully). And then you have to take that dripping wet, disgusting mound-- still smeared with vestiges of poop-- and carry it back to the diaper pail. Blech. *shudderagain* But liners change all that. I'm pretty sure God created fleece specifically to repel poop. It's like a super power. The stuff just slides right off, plop, mostly in one piece. Even the worst messes submit to a couple shakes and maybe a little dip. Then you just drop the liner back into the diaper and carry it-- not dripping all over the place, because fleece doesn't absorb water-- back to the pail. Shazaam. It's wonderful. It also protects your diapers from staining and creates a dampness barrier. Remember, fleece is not absorbent. It's not a soaker or a doubler, it's a LINER. It will let the pee through to soak the diaper and keep your baby's bottom feeling dry. You don't even have to buy them! you can just cut up an old fleece blanket (I had several from Sofi and Judah's baby days) from Goodwill. Again, no need to hem.
5) Covers, Snappis. The final things you need are actually only on the list if you're using pre-folds and/or shaped/contoured diapers. Since this requires me to link to a bunch of my favorite brands and discuss some specific pros and cons of each, I'll save it for another post.
Believe it or not, this is really all you need to make it work. Now granted, all the other gadgets can be handy and fun, but these are the essentials. I'd love to have my other cd-ing friends chime in in the com box with their lists of "essentials". What else do you consider to be a basic need? What gadgets can you not do without?