My 3-Part System for Rotating & Storing Kids Clothes

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!

60 thoughts on “My 3-Part System for Rotating & Storing Kids Clothes”

  1. Sandy Glassman

    I recently learned that it is better to donate any clothing, no matter what its condition, rather than throw it away. Good Will and others that accept donations have ways to recycle fabric. Thrown away clothing winds up in a landfill and the amount of clothing and fabric in landfills is a huge problem.

    1. Good to know. If you have an article or something you could share, feel free to add the link here. I feel like I get mixed messages about this exact thing quite a bit.

      1. I, too, have gotten mixed messages on this! So I do place the very worn clothing in the donate bag hoping it will get recycled, but I feel guilty about it! I use our closet space for labeled bins by gender and size ex. XS boys, 8-10 girls. It doubles as off season storage and hand me downs for kids to grow into. Otherwise, my system is almost identical to your and I find it works great.

        1. In Europe, H&M have bins in their shops for old rags for them to recycle. I wonder if they have them in the US, too? I always hasitate to throw rags in the good will conatiner, it feels so undignified, but I am fine to give them to H&M (they accept anything, not only clothes from their own brand).

    2. Brenna Cervino

      Often goodwill and other thrift stores throw away tons of donations. Check out the dumpster of your local store. You will be shocked……

  2. Midori Ferris Wayne

    I absolutely love when you do posts like this, Gabrielle! So helpful to the rest of us who are eternally challenged by the bursting-at-the-seams closets of our growing offspring. My biggest take-away here has got to be the minimalist approach you’re modeling with quality over quantity, plus the discipline to make regular assessments of the situation.

  3. I have a similar system with my three boys. I try to do a thorough evaluation of their clothes about twice a year. They help me determine what doesn’t fit anymore, what they simply don’t like to wear, and what they want to keep. Then I evaluate what to keep for younger siblings, what just isn’t our style to donate, and what my smallest has grown out of to also donate. I keep sizes that aren’t in use in plastic tubs in their closet (labeled by size). We are pretty casual when it comes to clothes in our family so their wardrobes are pretty easy to care for and not very extensive. My older two keep most of their clothes in their dressers and my youngest has some shelves in their closet (they all share a room). We only have one hanging rod for all three of them for button-down shirts and jackets. Regular attention and a twice a year full evaluation works well for us.

    1. I found them at IKEA a couple of years ago. But last time I was there I didn’t see them so I suspect they’ve been discontinued. Which is a shame because they are awesome!

  4. My willowy nine year old daughter is 5’1″ and has typically grown out of everything she owns every 4-5 months. We assess her (small) wardrobe monthly because, while leggings become capris and dresses become tunics, I never know what I’m going to have to replace. Doing it more systematically sounds luxurious!

    1. Hah! Growth spurts are so challenging. Our Betty went through one between Christmas and Summer Break. By the end of the school year everything she owned was way too short.

  5. What to do when your adult son keeps all his T shirts and refuses to donate them. Yes, the T shirts are in my house.

    1. Hah! Good question. Not sure yet because we’re not there yet. Sell them on ebay? Let him know they’re being donated in one big batch unless her picks them up by Friday? Make a quilt out of them? Put them in a box in the attic/garage?

  6. Lots of great ideas here! I always struggle with seasonal clothing because in central Texas the “cold” season is just a few unpredictable weeks. My kids never let me put their shorts away. On the bright side, we don’t have to have very many bulky warm things.

    On the topic of big families and clothes, do you ever have trouble remembering which clothes belong to which child? I used to have trouble (especially with basic clothing like jeans when two of the kids were close in size). Then I figured out the dot system. I use a permanent marker to make dots on the tags: 1 dot for the oldest, 2 dots for the second child, etc. It makes it easy to sort clean clothes after doing laundry and it is easy to add a dot to the label when it is time to hand it down to the next child.

    1. The dot system is genius! I have 3 boys, 2 close in size. I put initials in undies (we don’t pass those down), but didn’t want to have to cross out initials in other clothes. Love his idea. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I’ve got 4 boys ages 8 to 2, so I have tons of t shirts, jeans, sweatpants, shorts and long sleeved t shirts. Jeans that get little holes get put into the play clothes drawer (to change into once they’re home from school) until the hole is big enough that the lower leg looks like it’s going to fall off. Our community does a free clothing (and household items) swap meet every quarter so I actually haven’t bought a pair of jeans in over six years now. It’s awesome.

  8. Wow, this was impressive. Gabby, I think you could do a re-org on the VA or Democratic party or run a small country! You really are a natural and it is inspiring to read the details.

  9. This is really helpful, although I will say this used to be much more of a challenge until my boys started school. Their local public school is a uniform school and IT IS AWESOME. The uniform is pretty flexible (navy, light blue, or white top and navy or khaki pants), but it really streamlines clothing selection and sorting. My only question is how do you keep pants from getting huge holes in the knees with active boys? This has been the fate of every single pair of pants we have ever bought. I eventually turn them into shorts, but still, it would be nice to have one pair survive the oldest child!

    1. Ha! If your boys are like mine, they won’t ever stop making the holes, lol! I did get fed up with buying new pairs mid-season and patched the hole by turning it into a monster mouth/face as a joke…he ended up wearing those pants constantly for almost two years! (He was a teen, and past most of his growth spurts.)

    2. Seriously though, you can make the knees more durable by adding a second layer of fabric in the knee area.

      If the pants were purchased, take them in to a fabric store and find some sturdy bottomweight fabric in a similar color and some double-sided iron on fusible interfacing.

      Turn the pants inside out, iron one side of the interfacing to the fabric you bought, then cut two patches that measure almost side to side across the leg, and extend above and below the knee by a few inches each way. Place the patches you cut on the inside of the knee area of the pants, and iron the second side of the fusible down.

      The second layer of fabric helps the knee area stand up to more of the stress that it gets from the constant bending. The fusible will help keep the patch from fraying. HTH!

  10. What great information! I’m curious, how do you help/encourage your children (especially your older ones) to recognize that less is more? I struggle with watching my daughter especially try to deal with so many clothes. She’s 23 btw, I’m just hoping to extrapolate, 🙂.

    1. Good question. I suppose they’ve never known it any other way. Hah!

      One thing that might help: My teen daughter, Olive, read the Marie Kondo book and immediately went through her whole closet. The book really helped her want to minimize her belongings.

  11. I really love this type of content- more, please!

    A suggestion: I would love it if you made a change to your blog navigation so that when you click on the link to read more, it pops you down to the additional content, rather than scrolling down through it again. Picky, I know, but it drives me nuts!

    1. Oh shoot! It’s supposed to do that already. Are you having the issue on a phone or laptop? Chrome? Safari? Let me know and I’ll see if I can figure out what’s going on.

  12. Agreed! my game changer for keeping on top of rotating clothes was getting a give away bin so I always have a place to toss something out of sight when I realize it’s past use for one of my children. When it’s full I put it in a bag to take to Goodwill…. and drive around with it for weeks.

  13. Love this post. My system (for five kids) is almost identical. I would love to hear about what you do for the 14+ group; those are the ones I am struggling w/ a bit a the moment – not entirely sure what size their wardrobe should be, as they aren’t constantly getting rid of outgrown things but I do want them to be able to add updated items occasionally!

  14. Kara Selinger

    We just had a documentary here in Australia called War on Waste based on a UK show I believe. One of the three programs in the series dealt with textile waste. A lot of poorer quality textiles can’t be resold and it costs the charities a lot to send this waste to landfill. It changed how I donate clothes and now I put cheaper polyester clothes or any with holes/stains in the bin as they will most likely end up there anyway at charities expense. The solution was to buy less clothes in the first place. The program was critical of fast fashion and talked about the global environmentally crisis it is causing.

  15. Katie Butttam

    I’d love to know your “shopping system” Gabrielle. Do you do big seasonal shopping days or is it more ongoing? Wait for certain sales? Only shop certain brands? Online or in real stores? How much input do kids have?

    1. Good question (and maybe it needs its own post). The basics: Our big shopping times happen in August for back to school, and December for Christmas. And we have a lighter shopping month in May or June for warm weather clothes. And there is also limited ongoing shopping when someone simply needs something and we can’t wait a few months.

  16. Wonderful! Would love a separate post on shoes–those do seem to collect, I don’t know how my youngest has an entire Rubbermaid tub full waiting for her to grow into them someday…

    1. Hmmm. I’ll have to think on that. Our system for shoes is pretty much identical to our system for clothes. I’ll ponder the details and if I have any particular insights on shoes, I’ll let you know!

  17. Love this post. I, too, do something quite similar for my two girls (ages 11 and 5). In addition to this and with concern to hand-me-downs, my sister-in-law also has two girls, so we are constantly trading clothes. Her two are in between my two. Unfortunately, since one of mine is the oldest out of the bunch, she gets the least amount of clothing. While my youngest is the youngest out of the four girls, so she gets an insane amount of clothing. At any given time, my 11 year old could have about 5 pairs of pants (she wears a uniform to school), while my youngest…I counted one time, had 33 pairs of pants. Thirty-three pairs!!! Insane! I probably only bought about 10 or so pairs of them (some as hand-me-downs from my oldest). Because of this, we have to go through them and decide what we truly don’t need (we don’t need 5 exact pairs of black leggings). It’s a pretty great system because we get to rotate so many clothes.

    We also donate all the time to Goodwill; however, if something is really worn out or damaged, and we can’t repurpose it, I throw it away. I’m worried about donating it, and then it going up on the rack, and someone buying it, not knowing that it is damaged. If I should still donate it, I’d love to know that for sure.

    1. I can totally relate! Because our youngest daughter has 3 older sisters, her hand-me-down piles have been pretty epic. But, for our oldest daughter, when we lived in New York, my friend Kathryn would give us AMAZING hand-me-downs from her daughter. She had the best clothes! So hand-me-downs have always played a big role for us, even without an older sister to inherit from. : )

  18. I’ve never commented before (I believe Ben and my ex-husband served together in Greece) so I’ve been a long time reader, but you have hit a cord with this! So, I feel like I use to have a very similar system that worked great for three kids. However, since the divorce with clothes going between two houses it feels like total chaos. We try really hard to have clothes at both houses so they don’t feel like they have to “pack” to go one place or the other. The clothes freely travel back and forth as they do. But, that makes it so much harder to keep track of what they need. Anyone have great ideas for two houses? How much responsibility do you place on the kids? How do you deal with the last minute, “but that shirt is at the other house and I neeed it”? How do you stop over buying because it’s not that they don’t have any shorts that fit, they have just all migrated to the other house? Funny enough I feel like kids clothes is the one thing I can’t get a handle on in an otherwise cooperative divorce where we are all healthy and happy.

    1. For my step son we have two sets at clothes at his mums and our house. We tried it many different ways but founds that this was the least stressful on everyone. If he comes to us in an outfit from his mums I wash it and put it in his school bag to go back, she does the same with clothes from ours. It’s not a problem if it takes a while to get back but it means he always has what he needs here but doesn’t have to pack a bag. He has a pretty minimalist wardrobe here (2 pairs of trousers, 5 t shirts, a hoody, a coat and a couple of pairs of shorts but it works and has felt less stressful since we adopted this system.

  19. Since I have just one kid in clothes (second is on the way), I don’t have an especially elaborate system. She’s 2 3/4, and so grows out of everything on a seasonal basis (even hats- this boggles me for some reason!). We have very limited space, so she shares half of a large closet with me. Her tops and bottoms are in bins on the floor (bonus easy access if she wants to pick something out herself or dress a stuffed animal). Dresses hang on child size hangers on a large wood hanger, sweaters and pajamas are in nearby drawers. Socks and tights in a basket in one of those hanging sweater things. Shoes in the main coat closet. I like to thrift shop, and shop ahead, and right now all the things to grow in to are in an (overflowing) bin on the closet shelf. Out of season coats and shoes to grow into are stashed elsewhere in the closet. It’s not a perfect system- I have no idea where I am going to put the baby’s clothes, but I know that it will take a few months before they need very much space!

  20. Thankyou for this! So SO helpful! I currently have a system that is not working so I am excited to revamp it with the tips I learned here.

    I do have a question you might be able to answer what do you do with clothes your kids have outgrown but you are still kinda growing your family.. I have two girls and a boy and when my youngest girl grows out of her clothes there is this small part of me that wants to keep it for the “what if” I have another girl some day… but now my infant son is out growing things and I just can’t keep ALL THE CLOTHES! (But I kinda want to;)

    1. Yes-I have one girl, then 2 boys. I kept a lot of her very special dresses for if we had another child. We did-but of course-a third boy :)

  21. (First comment on your blog from my phone. This is great reading material at the park.)

    My system is less organized than yours, but it’s probably because I only have two kids, not six.

    I keep the waiting-to-fit hand-me-downs and the occasional clothes-I-want-to-save-that-are-not-baby-clothes in the same bins. I also put the clothes that have the potential to sell to my local gently-used kids’ clothing store in those bins as well. Then, when I need to go to that store to buy something they need, I’ll take along the clothes I need to sell that they have just grown out of but haven’t trashed.

    I hand the clothes to the sell counter at the front of the store, and go shop for what I need. If they want to buy any of it when I’m ready to buy stuff already out on display, then they just take it out of my purchase price. Then I take the clothes they didn’t want to the local Family Building Blocks location, which is on my way home and drop them off there.

  22. Meredith Wilson

    Can you include pictures? I’m struggling to visualize the two parts of the closet and how you store the handmedowns that are still too big for the child. I feel like this area for us becomes a huge mountain of clothes, shoes, etc. And my daughters are fairly far apart in age, currently age 11 and 5. Thank you!

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