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I must admit… when the capsule wardrobe trend took over Pinterest, I was mostly uninterested. As a mom, I based my wardrobe much more on function and flexibility. Times like pregnancy and nursing required certain types of clothes and limited my options. Then, I discovered the concept of a kids’ capsule wardrobe. Freedom from endless laundry, shopping, and the great seasonal switch-out? Yes please!
I can honestly say, this is one “mommy hack” that changed my life.
The Great Laundry Monster
I used to joke that based on the amount of laundry I was doing, there must be people living in my house that I hadn’t even met.
Then I figured out the real problem:
Kids’ clothing apparently has the ability to reproduce. That was the only answer that made sense. I’d buy a couple pairs of jeans and a few dresses for the girls and suddenly the clothing monster was peeking out of every closet and drawer.
Of course, their clothes weren’t actually reproducing, but the kids were constantly getting t-shirts from community activities and hand-me-downs from friends and I’d keep everything “in case they could use it one day.”
Does This Bring Me Joy?
I’ll also admit that I rolled my eyes more than once while reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s a great book, but the idea of talking to clothing seemed a little unusual. I also realized that the great majority of things that are necessary to my daily life don’t bring me joy (laundry, kids’ toys, etc). I figured the KonMari system just must not work for moms…
But I was wrong to write it off so quickly.
It wasn’t until I was helping my kids deep clean their rooms at the change of seasons that I realized the value of the KonMari system. Their clothes may not bring me joy, but they loved certain items and were only wearing those items the majority of the time anyway.
I was sorting through piles of clothing from all seasons. It all fit in the drawers so I left it there in case they needed it (because where we live, you really can have all the seasons in one week!). But they were choosing the same 5 outfits most of the time and they were stressed out with all the clothes.
And I was stressed out with all the laundry. Something needed to change.
Switching to a Kids’ Capsule Wardrobe
I realized that all of the things that made a capsule wardrobe difficult for a pregnant/nursing mom made it perfect for kids!
- They changed sizes and needed new clothes at least once a year anyway.
- They choose the same outfits over and over.
- Having too many clothes was completely overwhelming them.
How We Switched
I decided to do a combination of the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge and Project 333 to pare down all of the kids’ clothes. Rather than going through stuff and seeing which items to get rid of (always tougher), I took everything out of all their rooms (very KonMari of me) and only allowed the things in that we were keeping.
Step 1: Make a List and Check It Twice
Instead of just looking through clothes and deciding if they liked an item or not as a criteria for keeping it, I made a list of what each wardrobe would contain. If something didn’t fit into that list, it didn’t stay. In other words, they kept two pairs of jeans for the spring and summer wardrobe. I let them pick their two favorite pairs of jeans and the rest were donated.
This list will certainly vary based on your own lifestyle, kids’ ages, school (uniform or not), etc., but this is what worked best for our family…
The Capsule Wardrobe Master List for each child included:
- 10-12 shirts
- 2 pairs of jeans
- 4-6 pairs of shorts
- 2-3 swimsuits
- 2 pajamas
- 2-3 dresses for the girls
- 6 pairs of socks (more on my sock system soon)
- dress shoes
- slip on shoes
- 10 pairs underwear
- 1 light jacket or sweatshirt
Full disclosure: I also kept a handful of other items that they can still fit into for a fall/winter wardrobe. I also kept a few items that aren’t worn regularly: a suit for the boys, wetsuits, snow suits, camo gear, jujutsu gi, and two pairs of much older clothes for camping.
Step 2: Choose a Color Palette
My kids typically chose to wear their 2-3 favorite colors 90% of the time. I focused their wardrobes on these colors. The boys both chose blue and red so I built around these and added neutrals like gray and white.
The girls all chose pink and aqua so I built around this with neutrals like gray and white. They also had a few dresses that matched the color palette. These could be worn alone or with leggings and a cardigan for cold weather.
Step 3: Get Rid of the Extra
If clothes didn’t fit into the master list, they were gone. This was the toughest part. Especially because it meant donating a lot of clothes before I’d filled in the gaps. But as soon as the extra clothes were gone, it was like the weight of the world (or at least the laundry) had been lifted off my shoulders and theirs.
I did this at the changing of the seasons last year (this is round two of seasonal wardrobes for us) and it was magical. I sorted the clothes into piles:
- Keep pile – Smallest pile
- Donate pile – This was by far the biggest pile. I only donated the clothing that was nice enough that I’d still want my kids to wear it.
- Reuse pile – Second smallest pile. I still have trouble throwing things away and wasting. We reused the clothing that wasn’t nice enough to donate or wear. We cut it into cleaning cloths, paint rags, and other household items.
- Sentimental pile – This was actually a small bin in our attic where I kept the few items that were sentimental to me. These included the baby outfits all the kids wore (that weren’t good enough to donate anyway), clothes I wore as a kid that they wore too (3 items total), and a few other small clothing items. This bin will stay in our attic and I’ll probably eventually turn these items into a quilt when my kids get older.
Step 4: Fill in the Gaps
This part was the most fun! Looking at the master list for each child, I made a list of all the items I still needed for each of them. I checked a local consignment store first and then turned to online shopping for the remaining items. The list kept me from buying extra clothes we didn’t need and made it easy to find the clothes we did.
Step 5: Kid-Friendly Folding
There is heated debate about if kids clothing should be hung up or folded. Obviously, this is based on personal preference. My kids prefer folding to hanging clothes up, so that is what we did.
These kids’ capsule wardrobes fit into a single drawer easily. I taught the kids the “KonMari” method of folding… or at least my interpretation of it based on her description. It basically means folding clothes and stacking them horizontally in a drawer instead of in piles. This lets the kids see every item so clothes don’t get lost at the bottom of the drawer. It also seems to be easier for them to put clothes away with this system.
I found secondhand and consignment clothes locally for many items. I also used three main online sources that for filling in gaps in the capsule wardrobes. They are:
- Primary: Hands down my favorite online resource for kids. They carry only high quality staples in solid colors and most are gender neutral. They have pretty good prices and were perfect for solid color shirts, shorts, leggings, etc. TIP: Use the code “AFF20PCT” to get 20% off and free shipping on a first order.
- Hanna Andersson: More expensive than Primary but I love that they have organic clothes for many items. Their leggings last forever and my girls love their jeggings over regular jeans. I get underwear, undershirts, and PJs for all of the kids here since this reduces their exposure to non-organic clothing by at least half. Their clothes also last a long time. I’ve had friends have their items last over a decade and for multiple children.
- Thred Up: An online secondhand store that is searchable. I’ve found great deals on some name brands on this website. This link will give you a $10 discount on your first order.
Benefits of a Kids’ Capsule Wardrobe
My only regret is that I didn’t start doing this sooner. Having these capsule wardrobes for kids have greatly simplified our life and laundry routine. This type of minimalist wardrobe is perfect for kids because:
It Tames the Laundry and Bedroom Messes
I’m not sure how the kid clothes managed to multiply and take over their rooms and the laundry, but they did. Since switching, this hasn’t been a problem at all. I’m washing much less laundry and the kids aren’t overwhelmed when putting clothes away.
More on my laundry routine soon, but I also found that keeping one laundry basket in each of the kids rooms simplified laundry. Now, the girls bring their clothes down, I wash it in one load and they take it back up and put away. Same with the boys. Their wardrobes don’t contain any white clothing (this was intentional) except underwear and undershirts. Because of this, I can wash all girls’ clothes together and all boys’ clothes together. There is no need for color sorting and it saves a lot of time!
I fact, it took me more time to photograph and write this capsule wardrobe post than it does to do my laundry now!
It Makes the Seasonal Clothing Changes Much Easier
I used to dread switching clothes with the seasons. I had to pull everything out of the attic, sort it, fold it, and it took hours. Now, I just evaluate which clothes will still work in the next season and add the items we need. Usually jeans, undershirts, underwear, and short-sleeved shirts can move into the next season if they still fit. With kids, we have to change out clothing every season anyway (or as they out grow it) but I actually look forward to it now.
It Simplifies Picking Outfits
My kids used to somehow always pick clothes that didn’t really go together. They’d end up with a red shirt and orange shorts or patters that didn’t mix. Now, everything coordinates and picking outfits is so much easier. The only rule they have to know is to pick one solid color and one pattern for each outfit or two solid colors. Jeans go with everything. (Secret bonus: I like all of the items in their wardrobes too so I don’t cringe like I did when they always seemed to pick the one shirt that I didn’t like and wear it constantly.)
We Have So Much More Space!
The kids’ favorite part about the new system? They can put their clothes away in under ten minutes and they have so much more space. Our girls’ room has a big closet that was always full of clothes. They always wanted to turn it into a playhouse and play in there but it always ended up a mess with clothes falling off hangers. Now, the closet is a playhouse and their capsule toys (more on that soon) are in there. They happily play in their new-found play space for hours.
Kids’ Capsule Wardrobe: The Bottom Line
I absolutely love this system and found the method that works perfectly for us. The specifics of our system won’t work for everyone, but the basic idea will:
- Choose clothes intentionally and of high quality.
- Absolutely use hand-me-downs and secondhand items when possible but pass on the ones you don’t need.
- Fill in any gaps with high quality items that you and your child both love and that can last and be passed down to other children.
Check out the details of our kids’ spring and summer wardrobes here:
- Cute and Functional Girls’ Capsule Wardrobe
- Durable Capsule Wardrobe for Boys
- Capsule Wardrobe for Babies and Toddlers
Final Tips for Kids’ Capsule Wardrobes
I learned these tips the hard way and they won’t work for everyone, but I’d personally recommend:
- Not including white in kids’ wardrobes except for dress clothes. Totally personal preference but it simplified my laundry with my tribe of tree-climbers and fort-makers.
- Spending a little more on high quality items that last. I used to keep all hand-me-downs and buy everything secondhand to save money. Except my stress level was through the roof and nothing matched. Now, I find we spend the same or less on staple clothing items that last longer and that the kids love.
- Use online discounts and sales to save money. I wait for sales from our favorite shops and combine with discount codes to get most clothing at 20% or more off retail (sometimes as much as 50%!). Our favorite shops are Primary (use this affiliate link to get 20% off as a new customer), Hanna Andersson, and Thred Up (use this link to get $10 off a first order).
Also, I’m the first to admit that I’m not a fashion designer or anywhere close. I don’t claim to have made perfectly fashionable wardrobes for my kids. These are just their capsule wardrobes that they like and feel comfortable in. I’m not giving fashion advice, just sharing what worked for me!
Whew – your turn! How do you handle kids’ clothing? Share your best tips for others in the comments!
Discussion (85 Comments)
This is what I do with our three teen sons. We began it about 9 years ago, when I realized we had purchased new items for our oldest son, passed them down to the middle son, and on to the youngest, and then on to others. With the tags still attached. Sigh. Money wasted. Now in the spring and fall, I hand them an index card with the items and quantity written down. They go through their own closets and drawers and let me know what is needed. I’m sure as they start working part-time jobs they will need to expand their wardrobe slightly, but reality is they enjoy the simple wardrobe choices as much as I love the simplified laundry.
Laundry basket in each kid’s room works (though my daughter (just turned 6) prefers the floor…) Both kids are in uniform for school (black socks for him, navy socks for her because I don’t want to spend my life matching sizes). I regularly get my kids to identify what they are happy to give away – I find that giving to a particular friends child works best. I wash clothes about twice a week and fold their clothes into their basket (colour coded). They are expected to put their own washing away.
How often are you washing each kid’s clothes? I wash clothes for my two (little) kids once a week all in one load. I don’t brother with separating and just wash in cold, so laundry doesn’t feel like a hassle to me. However, keeping their closets tidy is definitely a big challenge.
Katie - Wellness Mama
I wash once a week and wash all in one load (I don’t separate either). They fold and put away their own clothes.
How to you handle 2 pairs of jeans for each kid? Do you do laundry more than once a week?
Katie - Wellness Mama
In summer, mine don’t use jeans more than twice a week and usually stick to shorts. When they do wear jeans, it is often when we go somewhere and they don’t get dirty and can be worn again.
This is brilliant – thank you for the suggestions! We are switching our kids’ rooms this summer and it will be the perfect time to implement a capsule system. I love it!
I’m used to reading disclaimers about not giving medical advice. So your disclaimer about fashion advice cracked me up! Is there an FDA for fashion?! ? Maybe the fashion police are real…
Great post, you have given me fresh motivation to tackle this issue with my younger kids.
Gwendolynn St. Pierre
I love your “younger kids” addendum. I love this for my 9 and 4 yr old but simply cannot see my 13 year old girl going for it. Good news is she does her own laundry and room cleaning. Maybe she will see the benefits to herself in this and start in her own.
So how are you going to handle hand-me-downs? I see the benefit to this method, but if you are donating and not storing items older kids grow out of, won’t it eventually be more expensive to buy all new clothing again for your younger children? I guess the same question applies to toys too… donate or store for later?
Katie - Wellness Mama
I should add to the post that I do keep any clothes that are still in really good condition, especially neutrals. The younger kids have the next few seasons and sizes of capsule wardrobes started in small boxes in the attic, but I only store things that fit their master list as well so we don’t end up with extra.
What do you do with clothing that has been gifted? I feel like there are a bunch of pieces I’m holding on to because they were given as a gift, so I feel bad giving it away, but neither I nor my child prefer the piece.
Katie - Wellness Mama
I re-gift them to someone else or give away to St. Vincent dePaul or Goodwill… Life is too short to hold onto things we don’t like purely for sentimental reasons… 🙂
Put the kiddo in them, take a picture send picture to gifted then pass it on. Nobody will look for it then when you write a thank you note explain your policy on the kids clothes.
This is brilliant!
How do you deal with clothing given as presents? My MIL buys so much stuff for my daughter (2). It’s cute but too many pieces and the outfits often don’t go with anything else. I don’t like spending money but I do love shopping for my daughter. When I do shop I am very mindful of picking everything so the colors/styles work together – much like your process. She comes over pretty often so it would be obvious if all her clothes were absent lol.
Katie - Wellness Mama
That is tougher. I was just honest and explained our system. I had to do this with toy gifts too because relatives often gave toys that were single purpose, plastic or don’t really fit with our system. I asked relatives to try to stick to experiences instead of material gifts (or favorite items like Legos) and it has worked out well so far.
Katie, I’m assuming you have a capsule wardrobe for yourself as well. Would you mind sharing what pieces you have in your closet?
Katie - Wellness Mama
I do, and it is on the list to share, but is taking me longer to photograph, compile, etc.
I second that. I’ve been following your blog for a while now, and am currently working on an at-least-somewhat-capsule wardrobe for myself using your girls’ list as a starting point (I’m currently in the process of moving, so I used it as an excuse to downsize a bit and keep only what I actually wear -it’s the second round of downsizing I’ve done in the last 9 months, and boy, am I happy I’ve done it – I really don’t miss the things I gave away). As I’m no longer a kid (just turned 23) but not a mom or anything like that yet, I’m kind of at that in-between stage of needing a wardrobe that’s versatile and accommodates a wide variety of situations. I currently work in a job that requires me to wear casual pants or shorts, but, truth be told, I’d much rather wear a skirt with either a T-shirt or polo every day, with either sandals, sneakers, or hiking boots (mine are part of my regular wardrobe because I need the ankle support they provide) – kind of frustrating when trying to build a capsule wardrobe. Any suggestions?