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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 article has me inspired! I caught the very small mention of “capsule toys” which I am totally dying to know about. We have the opposite of capsule toys (or whatever I imagine that to mean) happening in our home right now.
This may need its own separate post but what brands of shoes do you buy for your kids? I purchased a pair of ‘mini melissa’ shoes for my daughter…before letting her wear them I looked up what they are made out of… turns out it’s PVC…needless to say they are going back. Most spring/summer sandals are either made of PVC or EVA… just curious what you have found! Thank you!!!
Katie - Wellness Mama
Good question. I will post on that soon 🙂
One question: how do you keep your kids from totally thrashing their jeans? My oldest (9) regularaly has holes and cuts in brand new jeans because he’s such a rough and tumble boy. During the summer it’s not such a big deal because he can wear shorts and that means it’s bruises and scrapes on his knees instead lol but during spring/fall it’s a necessity to have a pair of “play” jeans for every day of the week that I don’t mind being beat up plus a couple of “nice” jeans he only wears for special times. That takes up so much room, a whole drawer in fact, and I’ve got 3 boys in a small trailer bedroom and would love to cut down on the dressers.
Carharts they last forever my son has been wearing them since kindergarten and is now in college.
Same thing here in our house. We have nice pants and play pants because my kids play outside all.day.long and are rough on their clothes. I just noticed that most of my 6 year old daughter’s leggings have holes in the knees. Maybe buying better quality will prevent that? I don’t know because we have always used hand-me-downs and sales rack clothing. I’m thinking of readjusting my strategy…
Hi. I’ve been enjoying your blog for some time now and appreciate all that you do – especially the DYI posts! Thank you!
My youngest 4 daughters have a touring band – SHEL – and last year they decided to only buy ethically made clothing, as well as buying thrift store clothing – all to fit a capsule wardrobe that would make it easier to live out of a suitcase. They have traveled to Europe and all over the US using this approach and it has lightened their stress load considerably, as well as the cost of their wardrobe. Their largest expenditures tend to be footwear, and finding ethically made leather footwear is really difficult. They were moved to make this move not only for the sake of convenience on the road, but because of their reaction to the documentary The True Cost.
We homeschooled all 6 of our children. Wishing you the very best of life!
Lynn – I live in Colorado, my husband and I love SHEL! We’ve seen them perform several times! It was so great to see your message here.
Heather, so good to hear from you. This is such a wonderful blog!!
Great ideas for downsizing the kids’ clothing! My twins have so many clothes but you’re right, they always choose the same things while I’m drowning in laundry. I’ll have to try this for sure! I already have been doing the KonMari folding with their clothes for a while and have loved that for keeping drawers easier to manage.
I like the idea and have been thinking about it. Especially in a few years when the children want to decide on their on clothes and I don´t want to spend too much money. But I noticed that you mentioned leggings in the text but not in your list. And don´t you use tracksuit bottoms at all, or just not in summer?
My children especially the girl a wearing a lot of leggins and soft sweat pants , and some corduroy pants. And hosiery (what do you call that for children?)
I would love to have a FB group to discuss childrens clothes (not styles but wardrobe size). Do you know any?
Katie - Wellness Mama
Sorry- forgot the leggings in the list.The girls do each have two pairs of leggings, though they don’t wear them much in warm weather. In summer, they almost only wear shorts, and they do have sweats and more pants in the winter (i’ll add to the list when we get to fall weather). I don’t know of a FB group but may start one 🙂
I love the idea, but reducing the laundry just isn’t in the cards for me yet since my kids are 4 1/2 and 18 months. I’m not even dealing with out of season stuff or them unloading the drawers everywhere, but my daughter (4 1/2) wore 2 full outfits yesterday and my son (18 months) wore 3 full outfits. And I’m not talking about a little spill or just getting wet. They’re trashed almost head to toe. I laughed out loud too at 2 pairs of jammies because they wake up smelling like pee almost every morning. I will look forward to the next stage meaning less laundry as I let go of the sweetness of the little years!
I am in the same boat with twin four year olds and a two-and-a-half-year-old. Laundry is absolutely my least favorite part of motherhood. At this exact moment I have three basket full of laundry piled up in the rocking chair in my room waiting to be folded and put away. It is so very, very time consuming. And while I am beginning to teach the four year olds how to put some of their laundry away, their dresser is tall and they can only reach the bottom three drawers. I would have to do a load of their laundry every single day to keep up with it. That is not including Mommy and Daddy’s laundry or house laundry (towels, sheets Etc). Having said all that, I AM inspired by this article to significantly reduce the amount of clothing the twins have. They do have favorite clothing and are old enough to help decide what we keep and what we give. Thanks!
In our house, it resulted in less laundry because little children thought that ALL clothes on the floor go into the dirty clothes basket. Fall off the hanger onto the floor? Don’t pick it up and rehang it. Put it in the dirty clothes. I addressed this by having said child do all his own laundry, from start to finish. (Yes, some parents do that anyway, but that isn’t how we do it.) I already do the laundry 2-3 times a week. Stinky boys’ clothing becomes very, very rank after waiting much longer than that. Then they would wear the clean clothes I had just laundered. Essentially, they had a 2-3 day rotation of clothes, rather than 7-10 days. Really it is all about what simplifies your life. Maybe having more clothes makes your life easier. Fewer has made ours easier.
Interesting article. The minimalist idea is great. And I like the idea of limiting the colors. I already don’t usually buy white because kids get it dirty anyway, especially boys. Anyway, I don’t really see how this reduces laundry? There are the same number of days in a week, and they need to wear clothes every day. Not sure if kids that have more clothes end up changing multiple times per day? I do feel that if they have a bit more clothes, I can wait longer between laundry days. That is sometimes a good thing, too.
I can’t wait to hear about your sock system!!!