3-part system for organizing kid clothes and closets

My sister-in-law, Liz, was over at our house the other day and we were talking about rotating and storing kids clothing. How do you decide what to keep for a younger sibling and what to give away? And what about sentimental items? Then, once you’ve decided, where should all that stuff be stored? And how often do you need to go through this whole process?  

She asked me to share how I handle it with our six kids and I thought about it for a minute, and realized that over the years, I’ve developed a 3-part system. I’ll give a quick overview of each part, and then go into detail. Hopefully this will be helpful to anyone out there struggling with organizing kid clothes and closets.

The first part is Scheduling. I approach this two different ways. Twice yearly, in the spring and the fall, I set aside a few hours to go through the kids’ closets for a seasonal switch and organization. And I also make ongoing clothing evaluations on a daily basis as we live our lives and do the laundry.

The second part is Sorting. Everything is assessed and sorted into 4 categories: keep, donate, trash or repurpose. 

The third part of my system is Storage. We have specific places for off-season clothing, hand-me-downs, clothing-for-donation, and projects.

Here’s how we work it :

3-part system for organizing kid clothes and closets

1) My kids don’t have extensive wardrobes. And that’s intentional. Outside of specialty items (like choir uniforms or sports gear or specific weather-related clothing), I want their closets full of clothing they are actually using and wearing. I’m a fan of hand-me-downs, but really, I much prefer that a child completely wears out a pair of jeans versus handing down a barely-worn pair to the next sibling.

2) Because they don’t have extensive wardrobes, going through their closets isn’t very daunting, which makes it more likely that I’ll do it in the first place. And I don’t wait until the seasonal switches to make changes either — I’m sorting on an ongoing basis throughout the year. Which means, when it’s time for the seasonal switch, the job is pretty easy.

3) My kids’ closets have 2 parts: Part 1 is a hanging section and 4 drawers. This is where the clothes they are currently wearing go. Part 2 is an upper shelf. This is where off-season clothes live, and also hand-me-downs they have inherited, but are too big to wear yet.

4) I perpetually keep a Donate Bag in our mudroom/hallway. The donate bag collects items (both clothing and household goods) until it’s full, and then it’s taken to the car trunk, to be dropped off next time one of us drives by Goodwill. We easily fill 2 – 3 bags per month.

5) I like to tackle seasonal switch sessions when the laundry is done and put away, so I can get a full picture of what’s in their closets. 

6) During the seasonal switch, I look at each item in the main part of their closet and decide what needs to happen to it. My thought process looks like this:
– Still wearing it? Still in good shape? Still fits? Still weather-appropriate? Then it stays in the closet, ready to wear. 
– Still wearing it? Still in good shape? Still fits? But too warm or too cool for the season? Then it’s moved to the upper closet shelf where off-season clothing is kept.
– Worn out? Faded and pilling? Not worth fixing? Then it goes to the trash.
– Worn out? But worth fixing? Then it goes to the mending bin by the laundry.
– Worn out? But might make a cool quilt or stuffed animal or a work rag? Then it goes to either the textiles bin in the studio, or the rag bin in the laundry cupboard.
– Child doesn’t wear it? Still in good shape? Then it goes to the donate bag, or is placed in hand-me-down storage in the next sibling’s closet (more on that below).
– Too small? Still in good shape? Then it goes to the donate bag or hand-me-down storage.

3-part system for organizing kid clothes and closets

7) After we’ve tackled the main part of the closet, we take a look at the top shelf where off-season clothing, and hand-me-downs they haven’t grown into yet live. The storage shelf is typically filled with several piles. A pile (or two) of warm weather or cold weather clothes depending on the season. And a pile or two of hand-me-downs the child hasn’t grown into yet, hopefully organized by size — so there might be an 8-year-old size stack waiting for our youngest (who wears size 6 at the moment), but also a 10-year-old size stack too.

8) Again, we evaluate. Pretend it’s the spring, and we just added a stack of winter clothing to the shelf. We ignore that stack of clothes, because we’ve already sorted it, and we also ignore any stacks that we know are still too big. And then we go through the rest. For example, A stack of summer clothes in the right size? We go through each item and evaluate: 
– Does she like it? Does it fit? Then it moves into the main part of the closet, ready to wear.
– Does she like it? Is it still too big? Then it waits up top.
– Doesn’t like it? But in great shape? Then it goes to the donation bag.
– It waited on the shelf for the last two years? Thought it was adorable when I put it there? But now, with fresh eyes, it looks worn or sad? Then it goes to the trash or repurpose bins.

9) The kids work with me during the seasonal switch. They can run clothing to different locations or grab a donate bag as needed. And as they get older, I need their input on certain items — is this a donate? or do you actually like to wear it and I hadn’t noticed? Plus, they LOVE getting to try on hand-me-downs that finally fit, or even summer clothing they haven’t seen for 6 months. Does it still fit? Yay!

10) During the seasonal switch, I also keep my phone nearby so I can make a list of anything we need to shop for. This one needs ankle socks. Another one needs new underwear. And this one has grown out of all his long-sleeve t-shirts.

11) I mentioned that in addition to seasonal switches, I do ongoing evaluations throughout the year. And that’s true. The thought processes and decision making are the same, but it happens with just one or two pieces as I’m doing laundry. Or when I see the kids get dressed in the morning and realize they’ve had a growth spurt, I’ll ask them to change and put the too-small clothing right in the donate bag (or in a hand-me-down pile in a younger sibling’s closet).

12) As the clothes cycle through the kids, sometimes there’s an item I don’t want to donate or trash, but they’ve all outgrown it. In that case, I have a bin of sentimental items in my own closet storage. The bin mostly has tiny baby items — special blankets or blessing outfits. But once in awhile, in rare instances, another special item from the big kid years makes its way there too.

3-part system for organizing kid clothes and closets

Okay. That’s the full system. The main benefit for me is that even though I’m managing a whole bunch of wardrobes, it’s not a big time consumer. It’s typically only a few hours on a Sunday afternoon twice a year — and that’s with a whole lot of kids! Other benefits: the closets stay pretty tidy and accessible, and it’s easy for me to figure out who needs what at any given time.

I also should note, that once my kids have arrived at 14 or so, the system has to change. Their growth rate slows waaaaay down, and they’re no longer out-growing things every few months. But that’s for a whole other post. : )

Your turn. Is organizing and storing your children’s clothing a challenge for you? Or does this whole post seem like a mystery because it’s so easy for you? And do you have a system that’s wildly different than mine? I want to hear!