First of all, I don't really care for the term "baby-proof". There's no such thing. It is absolutely impossible to baby-proof your house 100%. And just when you think you've achieved it, your little one will up the ante. So, I prefer the phrase toddler friendly. My house is not baby-proof, but it is toddler friendly. For the sake of clarity, I will continue to use the term "baby-proof" in this post as people are more familiar with it.
The first thing you should know is that baby-proofing is not a necessity. The Eskimo and I have spent long stretches of time at my parents' house, where there was no baby-proofing and we both survived. They put all the breakable items up and we kept an eye on him every second of the day. But let's face it, that's exhausting and stressful for everyone. No one likes to be followed 24/7 and I don't particularly care for following a toddler around 24/7. So, baby-proofing is a convenience that allows both you and your toddler a bit of freedom around the house.
When getting ready to baby-proof your house, realize that you don't have to proof every single room in the house. Decide where in the house your child will be allowed to play and concentrate your efforts there. For us, this was quite simple. We have a two story house with an open floor plan downstairs, so the Eskimo has the run of the downstairs. We have a sturdy baby gate at the bottom of the stairs. We started off with little plastic thingies in all the outlets, but that's incredibly inconvenient for everyone, so those have slowly, one-by-one, disappeared. We also have cheap plastic catches on all the kitchen cabinets except for the tupperware cabinet. This has been given over to the Eskimo as his cave of fun. That's it. That's all we've done. We have a huge box of baby-proofing items that were given to us that have never been used. We just haven't needed them.
Sure, we've removed the breakables from the downstairs. We also keep things like our laptops and phones out of reach. And there is a constant battle of wills between the Eskimo and me over him touching our TV. My goal in making our house toddler-friendly was not to create a bare, padded-room effect. This is our house. We live here. It needs to be usable space. My goal was to create a space in which my son could play with intermittent supervision while I go about my daily routines. He can play safely in the living room while I do dishes in the kitchen. He can climb into the tupperware cabinet while I vacuum. He has a bit of freedom (and in turn, so do I) and I don't have to follow him around saying, "No, not for the baby" all day long.
Most importantly, you do need to supervise your child and you need to flexible. Because just when you think everything is wonderful, they will take it to the next level. For example, today the Eskimo discovered that he can climb onto our dining chairs. This means he now has access to our dining table, formerly our dumping ground for items we didn't want the Eskimo to reach. And I have no doubt that by tomorrow he will have figured out that he can push those very same chairs around the house to reach other items formerly out of his grasp. So, today I will be spending the remainder of his nap clearing all these surfaces of items that are inappropriate for a 16 month old.
One last thing: when baby-proofing, remember that your child is not the only creature living in the house. For some folks, that just means figuring out what works for the adults, but in our case, we also have dogs and cats. We have tried not to make their lives miserable with baby-proofing wherever possible. For example, the baby gate we have on our stairs has a cat door built into it. Our cats need to be able to escape upstairs when they are feeling stressed out by the shrieks and advances of the Eskimo. The dogs are a bit trickier. I have to put their water bowl up every time the Eskimo is downstairs. But, I watch them closely for signs that they need a drink. Usually, they will go stand where the water bowl is supposed to be. Also, if you have any particularly tricky baby-proofing items in your house, be sure to explain them to babysitters and other visitors. What seems routine to you may be a complete mystery to grandma and grandpa.
Remember, baby-proofing, while annoying, can also give you and your toddler a bit more freedom throughout your day. This is a good thing!