Managing Children’s Clothing

If you have children, you are most likely dealing with the issue of clothing management. Having a system for migrating clothing into and through your space is critical because:

  • Children are always growing
  • New pieces are always coming in
  • Clothing that is not being worn can quickly overwhelm a space
  • Clothing that has been saved but can’t be located is useless

Managing the flow of clothing is much like organizing other belongings. It requires a bit of up-front planning and a commitment to regular maintenance. Here is what I recommend:

1. DESIGNATE LOCATIONS FOR VARIOUS TYPES OF CLOTHING

Clothing TypeStorage Location
Currently being wornDresser, closet, and/or on shelves near where the child dresses. Often, this is in a bedroom.
Too bigIn a bin, labeled with the name of the child by whom they will next be worn. For example, the shirt that is too small for older son Peter, but in another year will fit younger son Paul, goes into a bin marked, “Paul.” This bin should live in a location that is fairly easy to access, such as the attic right near the stairs, or a high shelf in a closet. (Note: If you are saving baby clothing, you may wish to have more than one bin, such as “Paul: 9 months” and “Paul: 1+ year.)
Too smallThe next wearer’s bin (see above), or a donate bag/box.
ShoesLarge, plastic container labeled “Shoes.” These tend to be a bit dirty, so better to keep them separate from other garments. To make sorting easier, you can tie laces together, hook straps within each other, or put matching shoes into zip-top storage bags.
Specialty Clothing
(e.g. soccer socks, dance clothing, uniforms, etc.)
Bins marked “Specialty” or, if you have a lot of this type of clothing, bins labeled by type. (If you only have a few pieces, one bin will do.) Remember, this is only for clothing. Sports gear – such as shoulder pads, shin guards, helmets, goggles, etc. – can live in activity bags and/or hang on hooks in a garage, mudroom, basement, etc.
Sentimental Garments
(e.g. pieces from a child’s infancy, varsity sweaters, and favorite t-shirts with meaningful logos)
A cedar chest, a cedar-lined box, or bin labeled “Child’s Name: Memorabilia.” It is okay to keep a few of these per child, but they shouldn’t be kept in the child’s primary clothing storage location.

2. TRIAGE CLOTHING AS IT ENTERS YOUR SPACE

Since children are always growing, new pieces are constantly entering the child’s space, typically in one of 4 ways:

  • Via a new purchase
  • As a gift
  • Handed down from an older sibling
  • Donated by a friend or family member

The key to preventing clothes from piling up and getting lost is to process them as soon as they arrive. Simply give items a quick review and put them into the appropriate location as outlined above. Remember, if you will NOT use a garment – because it doesn’t fit, your child has no need for it, or if your child simply won’t wear it– do not keep it. Instead, donate it so that someone else can wear it.

3. KEEP GARMENTS MOVING THROUGH YOUR SYSTEM

Just as it is critical to assign homes for new pieces of clothing, it is also essential to keep pieces moving once you own them. Items should be removed from a child’s primary clothing storage location(s) if:

  1. They no longer fit
  2. They are too damaged to wear

If a garment no longer fits, decide if someone else in your home will wear it in the future. Questions to help make this decision include:

  • Will it be seasonally appropriate by the time the next child fits into this? (e.g. don’t keep snow pants if they will only fit the next child in July)
  • Will it fit the next child’s body type? (for instance, sneakers may have molded to an older child’s foot and not provide good support to your next child)
  • Is there any reason why the next child might resist wearing it? (e.g. your younger child hates dresses)
  • Will it meet the taste of the next child? (more of an issue as children get older)
  • Is this item damaged, stained, tattered, worn?

Move any pieces you decide to keep into the bin named for the next child who will wear it. Anything that is no longer wearable can be disposed of, and anything in fair condition can be donated. It is a good idea to always have a donate bag in the house. A box/bag on the floor of a closet or in the garage are both good options. Be sure to label it “Donations” so everyone knows what goes inside.

One final caution: we often have the tendency to keep “everything,” filling our attics and closets with numerous bins of handed down clothing. The reality is that children don’t need extensive wardrobes. Keeping too much clothing can clog a child’s space with a possession that most of them care little about. Most people wear only about 20% of the clothing they own, so keep what you need and enjoy, but no more.

*     *     *     *     *

Keeping track of children’s clothing is a never-ending job. With the change of seasons, shifting activities, and growth spurts, it can feel daunting. Hopefully these tips will ease the task.

What has worked well for you in managing children’s clothing?

31 thoughts on “Managing Children’s Clothing”

  1. Seana- This is often a major challenge for many parents…keeping their growing kids’ clothing updated. You’ve described a great system for this. I particularly like that you mentioned the 80/20 rule. And with that, I’ll add that the less you have, the easier it is to maintain a system. While kids might need more clothing than adults because of the “getting dirty” factor, they probably need less than you think.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…How to Use “Dumpster Envy” to Get MotivatedMy Profile

    1. Exactly, Linda. There really is no “magic number” of pieces of clothing, and young children can go through garments at a rapid pace. Nonetheless, as with all belongings, life is just easier if we live within our space and out overstuff the storage we have!

    1. It may sound a bit overwhelming, but this can be a huge chore for parents, especially if there are multiple little ones. I remember being amazed out how quickly my children grew, and how much time I therefore needed to spend figuring out what fit, what didn’t, what to keep and what to let go of!

    1. Hope you find it helpful, Janine. Such cute clothes for the girls at that age that it can be hard to let any of them go:) I imagine they were very similar sizes, so at least you aren’t holding onto things for years and years…

    1. And sometimes with shoes, it isn’t easily apparent what matches what, especially if you buy the same shoe in a larger size each year. Pre-school is a great time to sort for sure!

    1. You are making me laugh, Janet! I knew that in the blogosphere – a place of words – most people wouldn’t love the equation. HOWEVER, it is has been one of my most successful posts, so you never know! In general, I think making things simple is important. I’m never impressed by people who make me feel stupid.

    1. That really could be a whole other post, Sabrina. I was going to put options for sentimental clothing into this post, but then it felt long. Framing pieces, t-shirt quilts, sentimental teddy bears… there are lots of neat options!

  2. I’ve been trying to stay on top of Bensen’s clothes lately and this is so helpful! Mine are all downstairs in boxes labeled “boy” and the size they are (NB, 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, etc.) but I need to go through all of the boxes because I know we have a bunch of gender neutral onesies that baby girl could wear and I want to make sure I have those ready to go so that I don’t buy too many new clothes unnecessarily for her. It’s so hard because depending on the clothing brand, some of his 9 month things fit him perfectly right now, others are way too small and with the 12 month stuff, some fit perfect and others still drown him. Sigh…
    Amberly recently posted…Four Boundaries to Set to Save Your Marriage from Your SmartphoneMy Profile

    1. It is surprisingly complicated, isn’t it Amberly? Even organizers “dread” this chore. As you say, each brand is different, and then there are size and gender issues, and time of year issues, and stuff that comes in from relatives. I hope this helps!

    1. I love when the timing aligns with a need! I am sending you positive vibes as you tackle this project, Gingi. I’m sure the results will be very satisfying:)

  3. Seana–Would you come to my house four times a year? Even as a Professional Organizer, I get overwhelmed by my kid’s clothing. I have been putting off going through my youngest son’s closet–it has my older son’s too small clothes, clothes from my nephew, and too small clothing for my youngest which will get bagged up and given to my cousin who just had twin boys. But, like we tell our clients–I’ll have to make an appointment with myself to tackle the task! Great comprehensive post for the overwhelmed parent. Will share!

    1. It is overwhelming, and as you say, you often end up with clothing from relatives in the mix… I bet we are both working with clients as seasons turn to go through it all! I remember it being daunting, and one of my clients recently said she had been trolling my website looking for a post on this topic and couldn’t find one, so I got writing:)

  4. I went through Scarlet’s clothes yesterday. It was intense! Why oh why did I still have 2T/3T underwear in there? Even Des is a 4T!
    I’m proud to say I finally let go of about 80% of it. And since you say we wear about 20% of our clothes (makes sense), I think this will really help. I have to keep it moving, of course.
    Tamara recently posted…Ten Ways To Get Your Home Ready for Back To SchoolMy Profile

    1. I remember finding old underwear in my girls’ drawers as well LOL! It really is a relentless task, never ending. Until they grow up, and then they leave and just want money to buy items for fun!

  5. Seana, I like your idea of naming the tubs with the kids’ names. I used to label the tubs with the clothing sizes. Using names makes it more personal and more interesting for the child.

    1. I think when you keep bins by size, you feel a greater pressure to keep everything. Some clients have the equivalent of a clothing store in their attics! When you put them in bins with names, you are free to say, “That might fit, but I know she won’t wear it, so I will let it go.”

    1. Isn’t it funny how we all gravitate toward the same clothing items over and over… and yet are reluctant to part with the seldom/never worn pieces? Having space in a drawer is a wonderful thing:)

  6. I have to admit, I do stay on top of my kiddo’s clothing. He has a window seat in his room where we keep the too big items that he’ll grow into and I have a donation box in the our guest room where the too small things go or I have a friend with a son two years younger than mine that I pass things off to. Having a system in place really helps you stay on top of their wardrobe. And it also helps that I have only one munchkin! 😉

    1. I think it is easier when you have one child, but you still have to keep it all moving through. LOVE the window seat idea… perfect place to stash a few pieces that you are waiting to use!

  7. Seana,
    Thanks so much for sharing with us at Brag About It! Keeping up with kids clothing only gets harder in my opinion as they get older! My boys, are responsible for their own laundry, which is a great thing and a bad thing. When I was doing their laundry, it was the perfect time to remove a garment that was worn out or out grown. They keep everything! And they don’t appreciate Mom going through their drawers. I suspect this will be the case until they pack for college! Your tips are wonderful for keeping children’s clothes in check! Pinning to share 🙂

    1. I totally relate – laundry time is when I remove what my husband should no longer be wearing!! When they go to college, they will take too much, and then when they go back the second year they will bring hardly anything LOL! I always suggest sending lots of underwear to college, as re-wearing underwear is not so great. Are you boys close to college age?

  8. Timely post for parents! It’s easy to see that tsunami of clothes that come in to all homes. It’s best to decide as you suggested right away where to store and how to use the clothes. Your simple approach makes it easy for parents. Now’s the time for this too during summer when your kids and you have the time.

    1. This is a good time to year to just go through it all and get a system in place so that when the craziness of the school year hits, you are ready to go! It is a major chore, so parents shouldn’t feel like they are somehow inept if they are behind the eight ball on this one.

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