Building a Capsule Wardrobe for Kids

Kids’ clothing can get overwhelming fast. Here I’m sharing my tips on creating a capsule wardrobe for your children. I’m happy to say that this system for creating a simplified, mix-and-match clothing collection for my kids works for us. One of the reasons it works well is because it allows for tweaking, changing our mind, updating. It also has parameters to keep me in check should I ever go overboard with purchases or accepting gifts/new things.

There isn’t (really) a mathematical equation. This isn’t tried and tested over decades with hundreds of families (yet.)

I learned a lot through creating my own capsule wardrobe a few years ago using Courtney Carver’s wonderful Project 333. It taught me a lot about my personal style and having a well curated home. I learned possibly the most important minimalism lesson during those first few seasons of living within the confines of a 33 item wardrobe:

Nice, loved items in good condition that I still never ever wear are not serving my life. While everyone is different and holding on to sentimental or well-loved pieces might work for some, it doesn’t for me. It adds to my mental load. Removing those good pieces I liked and fit but I never used freed me immensely.

I apply the same task to my kids clothes. It’s perhaps more daunting because I easily attach more meaning and can find more to love in kids clothes.

We prefer to have fewer items of clothing because it makes getting dressed and doing laundry more simple. Even if we end up doing laundry more frequently, it is still less complicated and overwhelming. Less to wash also means less to care for and less to put away. A smaller collection of clothing is better for our home environment as well as the planet. Even if we purchased everything new, we would still be using fewer resources.

As we do with adult capsules, our kids wardrobes do not include outerwear, pajamas or special occasion outfits. We are minimal there as well, though.

We keep those items out of the way. A special occasion outfit that isn’t worn on a typical day is kept in a completely separate area. For us that’s the kids’ closet. By keeping items that aren’t worn daily physically separated, we aren’t wasting the mental energy or time of pushing them out of the way when getting ready. The same is true for outerwear – we keep our essentials accessible but anything that’s for a special circumstance we keep in a different area.

First, I do this primarily without my kids around. I might do a few minor things but little eyes and little hands (and not-so-little opinions) can make this process way more time consuming and complicated.

Capsule size

I don’t stick to an exact number of pieces or outfits, but you could certainly try that if it makes you feel more organized. It will depend on the age of your child, their activities and your lifestyle. Calculate based on how many outfits your kid reasonably wears around your laundry cycle. We do laundry every week so I typically don’t go over about 8-10 outfits per kid. These are complete, layered outfits. In the summer that might mean shorts + shirt. Or a romper. In fall it might be pants + shirt + cardigan. Or dress + tights + sweater.

Another way to “imagine” your kids’ perfect capsule is to picture going on vacation. Except its a regular week in your life with school, work, playgroups. What would you pack? What “just in case” items (that you realistically won’t reach for) would you leave behind?

I also have a couple of other ways I measure the size of the capsule and keep the overall amount of clothing in check as the season wears on.

  • Physical parameters of drawer. When the drawer is too full, I need to check in. I pull everything out and reassess. Thankfully this doesn’t happen often but the physical reminder is helpful.
  • What’s left when “everything’s in the laundry” – is there always a particular shirt swimming around? It might not go well with anything else and probably needs to go.

Timing

Seasonal timing is the most common and it’s what we do, with some exceptions. Seasons where we live in Vermont have some significant overlaps. A string of 80 degree days in May might bring out a lot of lightweight summer gear, but the next week could be cloudy and 60s so we need to keep warmer layers reachable for longer than other areas. I let the layers linger until I notice I’m pushing aside cardigans or tights every day in favor of tees and shorts. Then I’ll put them away in the closet. They are not gone, of course, so if a chilly day in July arrises, I’m easily able to grab something.

I wing it a bit in terms of when I start planning, but if you’d prefer to put a reminder on your calendar a month before the season/temperatures change, that can be helpful. That will give you time to both organize a bit and fill in gaps. For me it’s important also to make sure there’s a full stop on my capsule creations. I could tweak forever but I need to let it go and let them live in their clothing without wondering if that perfect missing piece is out there.

If it’s not clear already, I’ll say it here: I am an imperfect minimalist.

Other parameters

Keep a color scheme in mind and stick to it as much as you can. This can be a small set of colors + neutrals like denim, black and white. Or it can be more strict. Outliers and special things pop up and that’s okay. What sometimes happens, though, is that too many “exceptions” end up in the pile and then those things clog the closet. See above re: tweaks are necessary. Donate, sell or pass along loved but unused items. It is sometimes unreasonably hard (“they’re just clothes?!” I try to reason with myself…), but getting rid of non-essentials is necessary to make sure the capsule functions.

Keep outfit styles and formulas in mind. Below I share more about how to make sure you have enough and not too many layering pieces.

Plan the capsule

I keep items from previous seasons or hand-me-downs from older cousins or friends in my kids’ closet. Each child has one bin for next/upcoming seasons.

  1. Physically pull everything onto the floor/etc and visually look at what you have. Remember to pull items from the diaper bag or school backpacks. If possible, wash soiled items or at least make a list of everything currently in the laundry. If you can, don’t rely on your brain to tell you what you have available.
  2. Set aside anything you need to repair or stain treat. Pro tip: actually do those things. If you don’t, those items should be donated or otherwise disposed of and not counted as part of the capsule.
  3. Pull anything really don’t like. Tastes and color schemes change, it happens. If it’s too hard to let go of something that has sentimental value but you know won’t work overall, take one last photo in the item and pass it on with love.
  4. Lay every separates piece together. Physically place tops and bottoms together. Almost everything should “go.” Fully embrace outfits that “go together” vs “match”
  5. Now layer if the season calls for it. Lay out tights, sweaters, cardigans, vests, flannel shirts worn open, etc.
  6. Create full potential outfits, knowing that lots of items can go with lots of other items (hopefully!) Also remember that some items can be worn multiple times. You don’t need 7 cardigans to go with the 7 dresses or shirt/pant combos, for example. 3 cardigans will probably do the trick until laundry is needed. See below “tips” for more on why airing on the side of less at first is the best bet.
  7. Pull out any special occasion outfits. Keep these in a completely separate spot from day-to-day, in full outfits if possible.
  8. Now count the outfits. If you’re being realistic about your lifestyle, are there too many? Now is the time to make some hard cuts, friend. If you want to hold on to things “just in case,” my advice is still to let it go. Worst case you can run down to your local kids consignment store or hop on Kidizen and find something. If you’re really having a hard time, box up the extras and put them away. After a month if you still haven’t reached for those pieces, let them go. Preferably without reopening the box.
  9. If there are too few outfits, start to think about what “holes” or needs exist. If you have outlier pieces like an extra shirt or an extra pair of tights, keep them around for now OR do as I do and put them with the special occasion stuff for now. I only keep definitely “YES” and fully outfitted items in the final. If and when I add another piece that goes with the outlier, I’ll put them both in the wardrobe.
  10. Now put everything away. Each of my kids has one drawer in a dresser. There is also a drawer with underwear/socks/etc. and a drawer with pajamas. That’s it. See above in capsule size re: physical parameters.

Perfectly good items that you like but never seem to get worn and are always at the bottom of the drawer are not serving you. They’re just creating more work to push them aside in favor of things your kids actually wear.

Fill in the holes

First, a recommendation: let your kids live in their capsule – gaps and all – for a bit before you rush to find missing pieces. You may have to do laundry more often but living on the edge might properly reveal the true missing pieces. Or it might reveal that you don’t actually need some of those pieces. Or that you need something different.

Remember, stick to a color scheme or style. I make an actual list to keep myself in check so I don’t go off the rails and add something I like but doesn’t go with anything else. In other words, do not buy anything if you can’t pair it immediately in your head with several things in your kids closet.

How I acquire clothing for my kids:

  • hand-me-downs from family and friends
  • secondhand stores (locally in Vermont I love Dirt Chic and Boho Baby and online I like Kidizen and ThredUp)
  • new from trusted sources
    • I like these basics (referral link) for my kids. We also buy a lot of this brand secondhand via Kidizen or their Facebook B/S/T page.
    • I know this post isn’t really about outerwear, but I get questions about this. For outerwear we look for brands like Patagonia and L.L.Bean as well as Polarn O. Pyret. They last through multiple kids and can be resold for a descent value. We try to buy items from these brands secondhand if possible, but we will buy new if necessary.

Other capsule tips:

  • Kids grow fast but buying something a size too big can extend the usability of an item. We have a beloved thrift-store find (“expensive” at $6-7, I recall) that was first a long-sleeve dress, then a 3/4 sleeve tunic. 2 years in the mix for my oldest, and just being pulled out for my youngest now. Rolling up sleeves and pant legs is an option too. I’ve been known to try and size up too much, however, so I try to keep myself in check in this area. Within reason, this technique can be a great way to simplify. Less shopping and kids get comfortable and used to these things in their wardrobe.
  • Kids are hard on clothes so I am not too precious with their wardrobe. I stain treat with a spray bottle of diy cleanser as I’m tossing in the laundry bin or the washing machine. If the stain is berries I pour boiling hot water over the item as its draped over a bowl. If it’s protein (blood/urine anyone? It happens!) hydrogen peroxide will get it out. I’m not a stain expert but I love Jolie Kerr (here’s her book) for practical advice about cleaning…anything.
  • This bears repeating: Air on the side of too few items at first! Don’t complete the capsule or fill the holes right away. Having to do laundry more often is a small price to pay for knowing what you actually need for your kid.
  • Put hooks at kid height. When certain layers aren’t too soiled from the day of play, hang them up for use another time. Less laundry plus less time when this item is out of rotation because it’s being washed…and then sitting clean and dry in the hamper for 2 days. I can’t be alone in this!

I hope this has been helpful. This is my personal technique so please let me know in the comments if something is unclear or you need more info! I’ll happily chat about this all day.

Thanks for reading!

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