How to Declutter Kids’ Clothes (And Why it Matters)

So you’re searching for tips for how to declutter kids’ clothes. Mayyyybe you have 28 storage totes of outgrown kid clothes in your garage, organized by assumed gender, size, and possibly also by season. (Or maybe you just chucked it into the totes to organize “later.”)

Or maybe it’s not even in bins… but your kids’ rooms are filled with way too much clothing, and you know it can’t all possibly fit / be in good shape / be their favorites.

It’s time to make some decisions.

If you work full time, or you’re at home with a high needs newborn or something, maybe you’ll only be able to get through one or two totes today. If you’re a stay at home mom of school-age kiddos, maybe you can finish everything.

No pressure though.

This isn’t all or nothing. Something is better than nothing.

Time to do this.

child pulling clothes out of a messy closet
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

But why declutter your kids’ clothes?

Too much of anything is overwhelming, for everyone. Does your child has trouble picking out an outfit in the morning? Or have they mentioned they feel frustrated about having “nothing to wear” even though there’s clothes everywhere? Decluttering (and then filling in any gaps) is a simple solution.

If you’re overwhelmed with laundry, decluttering kids clothes can solve that problem too. Believe it or not, when you slash wardrobes in a big way, you also cut down on laundry stress. I’ll try to explain it further down, but it’s like magic.

Plus, when you commit to having fewer clothes for your children, you reduce the feelings of “always needing something new” and completely eliminate an entire category of impulse shopping.

When you declutter your kids clothes (the right way), you’ll also be decluttering load of stress, overwhelm, frustration, and irritation. Plus, when you change your outlook on kids’ wardrobes, you’ll prevent the clutter from piling up in the first place over time. You’ll shop differently and approach children’s clothes with a whole different attitude.

child holding up a sweatshirt with question marks on it
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

How to Declutter Kids’ Clothes – The Basic Categories

Grab five boxes or crates to sort into:

  • Keep – Same Child, out of season: If you’re sorting in the summer, but you find fall/winter clothing the child likes and that might still fit in the next season, store that together. Same for if it’s cold and you find spring/summer things that may still work for your child in the spring.
  • Keep Hand-Me-Downs – For a Younger Child or Future Child: This is stuff you still think is really cute, will probably be in style still by the time you have another child, and is in GOOD SHAPE.
  • Keep – Sentimental: These are things you might save for your future grandkids, or maybe just to hold in your hands and smile at the memories they hold for you. They could be a special handmade item, or something worn to a certain memorable occasion.
  • Donate: Perfectly good items only.
  • Trash: Maybe you didn’t realize how worn out or stained it was when you originally stored it!

Some things to consider as you declutter your kids’ clothes:

How much laundry do you want to do?

Remember how much laundry you did when your kids were babies? Remember how many outfits they had in their closets or dressers that still hadn’t been worn, when the washing machine was FULL of things that HAD been worn? The next kid doesn’t necessarily need 52 spring dresses. Just because something is nice AND in good shape AND timeless doesn’t mean you HAVE to save it for a future child. You can just save your few favorites. Really, kids don’t need the gigantic wardrobes they often end up with. And you’ll be thankful when you have less laundry to wash, fold, organize, and store, and more time to snuggle your baby.

I don’t know about you, but if my kids’ clothes require special handling, a delicate wash cycle, line drying, ironing, or dry cleaning, it’s not gonna survive here.

Knowing what you are and aren’t willing to put up with as far as special care goes is important! This alone may help you to let go of several items right away.

Sentimental – if everything is special, nothing is special.

Don’t go overboard with the “sentimental” stuff.  You might have a photo of your child wearing it, and that might be enough. And something isn’t necessarily special enough to store and save forever just because so-and-so (including yourself) made it. Sometimes those things are better off passed on to continue being worn by other children until they’re all “used up.” That is a VALID way for handmade items to spend their time on this earth. Remember that you also have the memories IN YOUR HEAD and that you don’t need the clothes to hold those memories for you. You really, truly don’t.

When you’re saving things you think your grandkids might wear someday, remember that THEY TOO will probably be gifted more clothes than they can possibly use as babies, and if you save too many items without clear reasons, they will probably each be dutifully worn once “because grandma needs a picture of this” and then ironed and stored for the next family baby.

On the other hand, if you save one really special outfit that was a favorite of your child, or that has a special story, it will probably be cherished and worn frequently by grandkids.

baby lying on a sherpa blanket, photo is focused on the baby's feet/toes.
cPhoto by Ryutaro Tsukata from Pexels

As you declutter kids’ clothes, actually trash the trash. Only donate the “good stuff.”

No one wants your garbage. Please keep that in mind when making donations. You should only donate perfectly good clothes that are not stained or pilled, faded, or worn out. They should also not be completely out of style. If you’re thinking, “They will just be so grateful to find a cheap shirt” that’s the wrong way to think about it.”They” want their kids to look cute just as much as you do. I’m sure you realize that “they” don’t want their kids to LOOK like they were dressed from someone else’s trash. “They” are just like you.

Oh, and “they” will probably also see lots of way NICER donations right next to your garbage on the rack at Goodwill (if yours even makes it through the original sorting by the facility) for the same price. Check yourself if you’re thinking like that, and actually throw away your trash. Donate things that people will want.

As for the trash? Throw it away. Don’t save it to make SOMEthing later, because then you’re just literally saving a box full of trash.

You are not your friends’ storage unit.

Let it go. If you’re not going to have any more kids (or won’t for a decade or so), you really need to let go. Also, it is not your job to store the cutest items for future kids your non-pregnant siblings or friends might have someday. Maybe it’s special enough for someone to want for a future child; offer it to them NOW. If they agree about how perfect it is, THEY will store it until a baby arrives in their life. If they disagree, you just need to set that item free.

Analyze your kids’ current clothing habits.

The last thing you want to do when you’re decluttering kids’ clothes is keep the clothes (or buy new ones) your kids don’t actually love to wear. It’s SO important to approach this with an open mind and take your kids’ opinions into account too. So how can you go about this analysis?

First, look at your kids’ clothes that are in the laundry – those are actually getting worn. Look them over and see what they have in common. Are all of the shorts elastic-waist for comfort? Do all of the shirts have sparkles on them? You’re getting clues here about your child’s preferences.

Straight-up ask them about what you’ve observed, to get confirmation or learn something new. If you ask your child, “I noticed you have sparkles on all these shirts you wore last week. Are sparkles important to you in the clothes you pick?” They might say, “Yes, sparkles are the best.” OR they might surprise you and say, “I didn’t notice that. Those shirts all have loose sleeves that feel good to me.”

Have your child show you their favorite outfits in their closet or dresser, too. Sometimes you’ll find that a child thinks a certain outfit is “too special” to wear regularly, but they love it. Be sure to encourage them to wear their favorites, because if they don’t wear and enjoy them, they won’t actually enjoy their favorites before they outgrow them.

To declutter children’s clothing, figure out what your child dislikes.

Another way to find clues about what your kids loves and dislikes is to analyze what your child DOESN’T wear. What stays in the bottom of the dresser week after week? What’s shoved in the back of the closet, neglected? You can likely declutter those kids’ clothes easily of course, but it’s even better to find out why, so you can prevent clutter-clothes from coming back in.

Ask your child why they don’t wear those things, but not in an accusatory way. Just “I noticed you haven’t worn this shirt in a really long time. Is there something about it that makes it not your favorite?” You may discover style preferences or sensory needs you didn’t know your child had, just by asking!

Once, when I did this with one of my children, I found out she kept wearing her old underwear and neglecting the new because the new underwear had a different kind of elastic that wasn’t comfortable on her legs. She was only four years old when she told me that, so even little kids can have big opinions when it comes to selecting and decluttering their own clothes! Listen to them, and learn what their preferences and needs are.

a child in a blue dress with natural hair in pigtails covers her eyes with her hands, palms out, with googly eyes stuck to her palms.
Even very young children can have strong opinions about their clothing comfort or style. Ask them, and listen.
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Prevent Kids’ Clothing Clutter from Creeping Back In

The thing about decluttering kids’ clothes is that you may declutter this particular batch in this moment in time, but your kids are growing! So more clothes will HAVE to come in. Will you be in the same situation a year from now? Or will you learn new strategies for dealing with kids’ clothing (and new mindsets) and never have to massively declutter your kids’ clothes again?

Twice a year, about a month before the weather will officially swap from cold to warm or warm to cold, do a kids’ clothing audit.

When decluttering kids’ clothes, ask your kids what they prefer for the next season, and assess saved clothes BEFORE shopping.

For my little ones, that might sound something like:

  • “Warm weather is coming! Do you think you’d want to wear sleeveless shirts, or ones with short sleeves?”
  • “Are you more into shirts with patterns or pictures on them, or solid colors these days?”
  • “Do you like shorts with elastic or buttons and zippers?”
  • “What colors make you feel the happiest to wear?”
  • “Would you want to try wearing skirts with built in shorts under them?”
  • “Are you interested in dresses this summer?”
  • “What’s important to you about your clothes for the winter?”

Look through any kids’ clothes you saved from last year that may still fit, and any hand-me-downs from bigger kids, and have your child try them on. Sometimes, you might think something will fit but when they try it on, SURPRISE! Much better to find out BEFORE you assume it’s viable and load it into your kid’s dresser, right?

If that seems overwhelming, it’s only because you’ve saved SO much. Try decluttering less-favorites, things that aren’t as in good condition as you thought they were when you saved them, and obviously outgrown things first. THEN have your child try on the rest and give you their opinion on each thing.

Once you know what you have to work with, ask yourself…

How much clothing does a child actually need?

First ask yourself What your life looks like? What activities does your family do on a regular basis? What’s the climate and weather like where you live?

How many “changes” does your child typically need to make in one day? An older child may have a school uniform, then a track outfit or other sport-specific clothes, then comfy clothes for at home all in one day.

Then also consider how often you plan to do laundry per kid. I generally plan for counting on doing laundry once a week, with a couple of “buffer” outfits so they don’t totally run out of clothes if we’re a day or two “late.”

With your laundry frequency in mind, go back to your activities and see what you’ll need. Making careful decisions and not overbuying will help keep you from needing to declutter your kids’ clothes in the future, beyond easy seasonal maintenance.

child doing martial arts.
Consider your children’s activities when decluttering their clothes. Some activities need special clothing, but consider activity and laundry frequency.
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

Examples of considering activity frequency for kids’ clothing needs:

  • If your child has gymnastics twice a week, and you plan on weekly laundry, maybe you really do only need 2 gymnastics outfits.
  • Maybe your child has swimming lessons 5 days a week for one month, but doesn’t keep that frequency regularly. In that case, you could get 3 suits, and do an extra load of laundry halfway through the week just for that month.
  • What if your family goes to church each week, but doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to wear fancy clothes other than that? Perhaps having two “church clothes” outfits per kid is all you need.
  • If your child wears uniforms at school, but changes to other clothes before rough playing, maybe they can air out and rewear uniforms and get away with having 3 uniform outfits.
  • What if your family loves to rock climb, but realistically only goes once a week at most? Then everyone only needs one rock climbing outfit they can wear each time. Simple!
  • If your climate is dry and it rarely rains (or if the type of rain you get is stormy and keeps you indoors) your child might not need a rain coat at all. But if you live in an area with frequent misty rains, rain jackets might be essential!

So decide (based on your actual life and habits) how much of each type of clothing your child needs, and stick to the plan.

When you need to shop for new kids’ clothes:

Take stock of the clothes you already had (from last season or hand me downs) and make a list of what you need in order to fill in the gaps. Buy what you need, and then stop.

a person in distressed jeans holding shopping bags.
It can be tempting to shop for kids’ clothes for fun, but just buy what your child needs for the current season, then stop. You’ll save money and reduce clutter-related stress.
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

If you love to shop and wish you could buy more, don’t worry. Your child WILL grow and need clothes again. In the meantime, save your money, space, and sanity by holding back on making frivolous purchases. When the seasons change again, you’ll probably get a chance to buy new things.

Besides, your child’s clothing tastes or style preferences may have changed in the meantime. So it’s best not to overbuy for the current season or try to “shop ahead” too far in advance.

Are Capsule Wardrobes Helpful for Kids?

What is a capsule wardrobe?

The main goal of a capsule wardrobe is being able to create huge numbers of *varying* outfits out of a small amount of items. MANY people think that creating a capsule wardrobe is the key to success in decluttering kids’ clothes. But I disagree, and here’s why.

Curating a capsule wardrobe in which everything “mixes and matches” can distract you from the end game. What IS the end game? Having the necessary amount of clothes your child likes to wear, is comfortable in, and which fits your child’s activities and needs.

People who are drawn to capsule wardrobes are often really stylish people who are concerned about whether others will be able to tell they’ve downsized their closets. Of course, not everyone is concerned about others’ opinions. But it’s something I notice over and over in articles like “How I wore the same skirt for a month without anyone at my office realizing it” or “These 33 items got me through the winter and I never repeated an outfit once.”

That’s fine if you’re really into fashion and variety is a goal for you. Go for it, for yourself, in that case!

Why aren’t capsule wardrobes the best choice for simplifying kids’ clothes?

If you’re concerned with decluttering kids’ clothes, part of the reason is probably because you are feeling overwhelmed. And keeping things simple is really helpful on the path to remedying that overwhelm.

So while my kids do end up with mix and match things sometimes (khaki shorts will go with just about any shirt, right?), for the most part we think in terms of “outfits.” If they have 10 play outfits that work for them for the season, we check it off the list and move on with our lives.

When they fold their laundry, they pair up outfits and put them in their drawers. And when they get dressed, they just need to pull out an outfit to wear. There isn’t an overwhelming number of choices, and they like and feel good in everything they own.

There’s very little daily decision making around clothing with the “outfits” method, and that is a plus, not a downside.

What should you do if your child asks for a capsule wardrobe?

Of course, if one of your children turns out to be a fashionista and wants to create a wardrobe that will allow them to creatively express their personality in different ways each day, good on them!

At that point, your child is probably old enough and responsible enough to go through some of this process with you. First determining what they like and dislike in fit, color, style, fabric, and so on… before planning and creating their own seasonal capsule wardrobe.

a teenager with a ponytail looks at their phone while holding an armful of clothes in a shop.
Older children or teens who are interested in fashion might like the freedom and creative outlet of creating their own capsule wardrobe. But until then, don’t worry about the mix-and-matchiness as long as you have complete outfits for your child.
Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

But especially for smaller kids, and people who aren’t as into creative fashion choices, a capsule wardrobe can be a distraction from simplifying. So if you’re reading this because of overwhelm and stress, keep it simple, my friend.

What Kids’ Clothes to Save As Hand Me Downs

Be honest with yourself about the usefulness of saving your kids’ outgrown clothes for future children. Ask yourself these helpful questions to reframe the decision:

  • Does the child you’re saving these clothes for exist yet?
  • If so, how many years apart are the children? How long will you need to store the clothes before they’re potentially useful again?
  • If not, are you currently trying for another child? How long could that take, and how long could it be before the clothes are potentially useful again?
  • Do you have ample space to store these? Or are your closets cramped as is?
  • What’s the storage space worth to you? What could you use the space for if it weren’t taken up by bins of hand-me-downs?
  • Would I get excited about these clothes in their actual current condition if I saw them for sale in a secondhand shop?
  • Did I and my child who wore this LOVE it?
  • Would a future child be excited to use it?
  • If I save this, and the next child doesn’t like or fit it, will I regret having used the space to store it for so long?
  • What if the next child has completely different sense of style? One kid might like climbing trees in utility shorts, while the next child wants sparkles and lace. One child might only like crew neck t shirts, and another may prefer polo shirts or v necks.
  • For baby clothes – what if the next child doesn’t “line up” with the same sizes/seasons? (one child may have been in 3m clothing in winter, while another is in 3m clothing in the dead of summer)
  • If something hasn’t been used at all by the current child so it’s in great condition – or even has the tag on it – WHY wasn’t it used? Will the next child actually use it or is there a reason it was consistently passed over?

By asking yourself these questions, you’ll be able to get really critical about which items are worth saving, and which aren’t worth the storage space.

Personally, I am extremely selective about what I keep from my older kids for the younger ones. The space I dedicate to out of season or hand-me-down clothing is limited to the top shelf of my kids’ closets (in small storage bins or large shoeboxes). More than that is really unnecessary for my family. I keep the very best and most useful stuff and let go of the rest.

How to finish up and store your “keepers” and decluttered children’s clothes.

Once you’ve decluttered your kids’ clothes, it’s important to actually take the donations somewhere.

Thrift stores are good options, but women’s shelters often accept children’s clothes too. I’ve also seen foster parents posting on Facebook a lot of times, asking for certain sizes/styles for children they’re taking care of.

outstretched arm with hand holding a blue bag of trash.
Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

Throw away the trash.

Really.

Store same child, next season clothes.

If possible, storing clothes for same child but next season in that child’s closet, in a small, clearly labeled bin. (This is like if your child still has plenty of room in some of their winter clothing, but the weather is getting too warm for those… and they might still fit next fall.)

Store hand-me-downs.

For hand me downs that don’t fit anyone yet or aren’t the correct season, store in clearly labeled small bins in the closet of the child who has the best chance at fitting into them first. If possible, sort and store by size. Don’t bother separating it by season. You won’t be storing so much that you can’t easily sort through it twice a year. If you know a brand runs small, store it with the next size down from the size on the label, so you don’t miss the window when your child might fit it!

Store and protect sentimental things.

Sentimental clothing you choose to save for the memories and emotions should be selected very carefully (if everything is special, nothing is special). Store it completely separately from your children’s closets. You’re saving this for your own reasons. Do you have a memory box or trunk you keep your special things in? Tuck it away safely there. This will keep it safe, and prevent it from being accidentally mixed in with a batch of donations later on.

organized child's bedroom with bins inside of a white cubby shelf
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels

Congratulations!!!

Now that you’ve decluttered your kids’ clothes thoroughly, you should have a LOT smaller volume to store now! And you’ve been making mindset shifts around children’s clothing that will help you prevent clutter from creeping back in.

With just a twice a year (when the seasons change) maintenance plan in place, you’ll never be overwhelmed with your kids’ clothes again. It’s almost like magic.

Sharing is Caring.

Do you have a friend who has told you they’re trying to declutter kids’ clothes too? Send them this post and you’ll have someone to commiserate with and collaborate with throughout the process. And it’s always fun to have a friend to celebrate with, too!

Chime in:

What’s the strangest piece of clothing (your own or your kids’) that you’ve held on to for forever?
How about the piece of clothing with the most important story?

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19 Comments

  1. My parents limited my childhood clothing and artifacts to one (and only one) box. As an adult, it’s really nice to have everything in one place and to see my baby blanket or the dress my grandma stitched for me. Those are things to pass on to my kids! It’s definitely necessary to declutter kids’ stuff, but also important to keep some things for later 🙂

    • I love the one-box limit. I do have a few very special things saved… and also have one box for each kiddo. Now and then I go through and get rid of things that I realize aren’t as important as they seemed at the time, so by the time they’re adults, I’ll only have the very most special items for them.

  2. Hey! I’m a college student, and when I moved out of my parent’s house to live on campus I did some MAJOR organization and purging of everything I owned. I realized, as I’m sure many of your kids soon will, that I had a TON of t-shirts! Middle and high school band tees, clubs and organizations, concerts, you name it. I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of them, but they were crowding my drawers and I knew there was no way I needed them all to actually wear, so my grandmother helped me come up with a solution: we made a t-shirt quilt! It was a summer project, and took a lot of hard work, but it definitely paid off!

    Here’s how we did it:
    1. cut out whatever part of the shirt (front/back) into the smallest possible square/rectangle
    2. iron on interfacing to the back to make the panels sturdier
    3. use scrap fabric (we had a roll of plain black knit in gramma’s sewing room) and line the panels to make them all the same size, using the largest one as a base
    4. attach the panels to each other in columns of equal length, then attach the columns to each other
    5. (optional) I had enough to make it double-sided (yeah, LOTS of tees), so I did it all twice
    6. with wrong sides together, attach both sides of quilt all around, leaving one corner open
    7. flip inside out, sew remaining corner, and top stitch

    VOILA! My quilt came out the perfect size for a full-sized bed, and is now in my room at my apartment.

    Hope this helps some of you guys, it was a perfect way to declutter my closet AND spend a fun summer with my grandmother!
    Lots of love,

    -Tina 🙂

    • That’s so awesome that you made something so usable (and cuddly) out of what could have been just tons of clutter/overflow in your drawers. Way to go! I’m working on a quilt right now of my son’s baby clothes. I hope it ends up big enough for him to use for an actual blanket.

  3. I do that as I switch sizes and seasons in the closet. I would never give a stained something to someone because I throw away stained things people give me. It’s TRASH people!!

  4. I’m pretty goood about getting rid of things as soon as they are no longer useful even if it means I may have yo buy something similar down the line. Mostly because my mom is NOT. She has my brothers first diaper as a keep sake. And he is 35!!!!!! She saved a bunch of our baby stuff, but is afraid to give them to me because she thinks I’ll give or throw them away.

    • So if she doesn’t want to give them to you… headdesk. And I’m with you. I’d rather have to buy a couple of additional items than make my house into a storage facility because I’m afraid to let anything go.

  5. I’ve become something of an anti-hoarder in recent years. In fact, yesterday I went to grab a coat and couldn’t find it. My first guess was not that it was elsewhere but that it had been a victim of one of our many stuff-purges.

    So, far I think I’ve only set aside a few of my daughter’s things for sentimental reasons, like an adorable little outfit we bought her on our babymoon. The next kiddo is a boy…so pretty much all of the clothes I was saving are going away.

    It’s much more likely that *my* mom has saved something of mine for her! I know there’s a threadbare nightgown (?!) but there’s also the Cabbage Patch Kids suitcase I used to take to my grandparents all the time. The latter is very cool.

    • LOL i love “anti-hoarder”… me too, and I’ve had the same thing happen before – going to look for something, and thinking “oh maybe I decluttered that.”

  6. One task I actually do on a regular basis. Twice a year at the changing of the seasons. When the youngest is done with them, I keep a favorite outfit of each of my girls (10 & 5) and give the rest of the clothes to others as hand-me-downs.

  7. Please, please, please don’t TRASH them — take them to a place that recycles them!!! My kids’ school has a bin out front that will cart them off (and donate money to the school, bonus!) and break things down to base fibers to be used again.

    It’s a great way to get rid of old and holey socks, undies, ratty old dishtowels, and clothes that just can’t or won’t be used again.

  8. Yes! This is bang on time for reminding me about this task. I recently donated some bits – thankfully without a “head up my ass” attitude 😉
    I still have more to do as I held onto his newborn outfits. Sentimental, no other reason!
    I’ve kept 20 favourite items to have made into a quilt – by a professional. Clearly if it was by me I’d be waiting a long time.

    • That’s awesome, and great that you KNOW you need to outsource the quilt for it to happen. Better than scraps sitting around in your house for 17 years while they wait for you to “have time.”

  9. This is actually the next thing on my “to-do” list. We finally got a dresser for A12m and it’s just sitting in my room right now just waiting for all the clothes to get sorted into it. I have been putting it off b/c I KNOW it will be hard for me to get rid of her baby clothes. It’s also hard b/c I am in the in-between stage of not knowing if we are going to have another baby or not. I am going to get it done TODAY though b/c my hubby is coming home early and he can watch the kids while I sort through all her piles of clothes.

    • Not knowing does complicate things, but I still think you should only save your very favorites. Even if you DO have another child, it might be opposite sex / different season (so different sizes for each season of the year than previous child), etc.


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