Managing Children’s Clothing

Children and 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
  1. 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.

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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?

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