As the parent of multiple children, one of the biggest expenses each year is clothing. I happened to be quite lucky, being part of a very large family. My children have received hand-me-downs ever since they were born, and hand clothes down to one another. With all these hand-me-downs, though, it’s important to know how to organize kid clothes.
If you don’t create a system for hand-me-downs, you’ll most likely forget what you have when you need it. For about eight years I have implemented a functioning hand-me-down system that has kept my children in clothes and managed to save us a lot of money.
Perhaps you are as lucky as me and have inherited some used items for your kids, or maybe you’re getting ready to save some wardrobe items for that second or third on the way. If so, I have some tips for organizing kids’ clothes when it’s time to store, pass, or toss those outgrown garments.
Organizing hand-me-downs can be a monumental task considering the many seasons and sizes you may find in your possession. It’s not a simple as separating shirts from shorts. It’s not even as simple as separating sizes! These tips will show you just how simple it can be to sort and organize your family’s hand-me-downs so you don’t forget about the clothes you have stored in your storage unit or basement.
The Sorting Process
First things first, you need a system for picking what you need out of that pile.
The first delivery of items to me was a large lot. My sister-in-law delivered bins and bins of baby clothes to my house, and some of those items were from babes that were born 15 years ago. Not joking.
First Step: Divide and conquer kids’ clothes.
If nothing has been sorted before the hand-me-down drop off, sort items first by size, then by season. Typically baby clothes are divided by months; for example 0-3 months, 3-6 months, 6-9 months, and so on. If you have a baby that is due in July, remember that by December you will need to have 6-9, or maybe even 9-12 month clothes to get you through the winter months.
That depends on where you live of course. Hopefully, there is enough for you to then weed out items and keep what you really want.
Second Step: Get picky about the clothes you keep.
Make sure you are realistic when sorting. Don’t keep items because they may have been sentimental to someone else unless it is also sentimental to you. Do not keep something that does not fit your style or your child’s style. There’s no reason to hold onto an item that you aren’t going to reach for when it’s time to get dressed.
Also, do not keep items that are ripped or have stains you are sure are not going to come out.
Third Step: Break it into threes.
Start breaking the big piles of kids’ clothes into even smaller sections: the items you will keep, the ones to be donated, and the things you are ready to toss. Put away any clothes you are going to keep or drop them in the laundry pile to get freshened up.
Next, pick the items that you will donate. Sometimes I’ve had to keep things in a hand-me-down rotation for my family. (There are a lot of us.) In those cases, I would put the items I didn’t want back into a bin to return to others. When I was ready to let go of an item permanently, I would have a pile for donation or consignment. New items that were not my style or anything that was in really good shape but just wasn’t working for us, I might try to consign and pick up some outfits that I do like. Then, toss out anything that was ripped or stained–or take it to a textile recycling center.
How to Organize Baby Clothes Hand-Me-Downs
Specifically for baby clothes, I had a full year organized before baby arrived. Since they outgrow clothes fairly quickly, it is best to keep them close at hand if you can. I kept them in groups of six months in small bins in the closet. Otherwise, you may have to resort them in a couple of months, and what new mom has time for that?
If you don’t have room in your closet for a full year’s worth of baby clothes, check out our article 5 Tips from a New Mom on How to Organize Baby Clothes. You may find a few organization tips that work for your nursery.
Organizing Hand-Me-Downs for Toddlers
Once children hit 2-years-old and their clothes are sized by year, the sorting and storing process gets a little easier. From 2T to 3T and on, I started separating clothing items into larger bins and keeping them in the garage until they were needed.
For these sizes I usually had a large number of hand-me-downs to choose from. Before placing them in the bins, I would repeat the keep/donate/toss system. Then store them in one bin, separating the seasons with packing paper.
By age four, most kids don’t need a lot of extra clothes for spills and accidents. When it’s time to pull out the clothes and put them in your child’s closet, it’s a nice time to start downsizing. For my toddler, I would keep about two weeks of clothes (winter and summer) plus jackets and coats and a few extras for accidents or if some outfits get ruined or too worn over the year. If there were things left over that I still really liked, I might store them in the garage or storage unit for a younger child, or as a refresh in the middle of the year. It’s always nice for each kid to get something “new” and not have to wear everything they know their sibling has worn.
As children get older they will start to have their own opinions on what they want to wear. As seasons change, if there is something that is never getting used, I might take that outfit out and replace it.
How to Organize Kids’ Clothes: A Hand-Me-Down System
Speaking of kids having opinions on what they wear, keeping kids over five in those hand-me-downs has its own challenges. At this point my children are only about a size apart in clothes, so the hand-me-down process has changed because I do not have to store as many clothes. Most of the time I am just moving items from one closet to the next.
Here is my three-step process for how to organize kids’ clothes if you’re in the stage of moving them down to the next child when the season changes or someone has outgrown an outfit.
I start with the oldest child. Take out the outfits that no longer fit. After five-years-old, your child’s clothes may not go by age or sizes anymore, and all brands’ sizes are different. You’ll have to judge by your child’s unique size and style at this point. Sort the items moving to their new owner by season. Then take inventory of how much you have. Hopefully it is still over two weeks of items. (I try to stick to those two weeks of outfits, but who am I kidding? We usually add extra clothes throughout the year.)
Make sure all the items are still in good shape. Anything with stains or rips should be tossed out or removed from the rotation and used as painting or messy clothes. This is also a time where I might involve the child getting the new wardrobe. If she or he says they are not going to wear the clothes then don’t pass them to that child. You may, however, consider saving them for the next.
Make sure all the items have a reasonable match. Floral pants with no matching shirt will go to the donation bin or get used as an extra. After matching enough outfits, I fold them together and place all seasons in their drawers. I find that it is nice to have these 30 or so outfits all available throughout the year because you never know what the weather may bring, especially in spring when it can be cool one week, then warm and then cold again.
Pack and store in boxes the items that are being saved for the next child or things that are in-between children. You can keep them in a basement, garage, or storage unit until you are ready to organize for the next size change.
Since my kids are probably currently wearing their younger sibling’s next year’s clothes, there is not a lot that needs to be stored. If you do have a lot to store, I would recommend a similar system to the baby clothes and toddler wardrobe. Pack them clean and neatly into a bin, label them by size and season, and then tuck them away somewhere safe. If you plan on storing the clothes for a longer term, check out our article on How to Store Clothes For Future Use. There are some dos and don’ts about clothes storage that are good to know.
What happens with the Hand-Me-Downs Stop?
At about seven, the hand-me-down train slowed considerably for my oldest. At these ages, kids wear out clothes more or they have more specific tastes. Not getting all those free hand-me-downs can certainly be a little bit of a bummer. No one wants to spend a lot of money on kids’ clothes. So I have another system for saving a little extra cash on new clothes to put into a hand-me-down rotation at our house.
At the end of each season, I make sure to check the super clearance section at a few of our favorite shops. Once the shops start putting out the summer clothes, I head to the sale rack and snag items a size up or even two for next winter. Also, some consignment stores will give you credit when you trade in your gently used items that no longer fit.
Organizing closets can be an overwhelming task, especially when you add multiple wardrobes and styles into the mix. Having a plan in place for dealing with hand-me-downs can make wrangling those endless piles of clothing far more manageable. You’ll not only be able to enjoy the savings of having hand-me-downs ready for your younger children, but you’ll also have the peace of mind that comes with a clutter-free home.
- 10 Innovative Clothes Storage Ideas When You Have No Closet
- 5 Tips from a New Mom on How to Organize Baby Clothes
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Updated July 17, 2020; originally published March 1, 2018.