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Six Steps to Managing Kid’s Clothes

A simple system for managing kid’s clothes so you don’t lose your mind…or your kids’ clothes.

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Six steps to managing kids clothes

With fourteen children (nine still living at home) I don’t have the luxury to buy new clothing for every child. We proudly use hand-me-downs and use them well. Here is the system we have been using in our family for ten years for managing kid’s clothes. This system has proved itself over and over in our large family.

Step 1: Buy Sturdy, Reusable Bins for Managing Kid’s Clothes

Buy sturdy, reusable bins and fine a place to store them.

We use these 18-gallon Rubbermaid Totes. We’ve been using them for about ten years now. I forget how many we started with, but we have bought more over the years as needed.

Keep in mind, you don’t need a huge storage space. Our storage area is an 8-foot crawl space, but you could use a wall of your garage, carport, or even a closet.

Step 2: Gather All Unused Clothing in One Place

For us, this means our front deck on a warm day. My children hauled up every single clothing and camping bin from our storage area so we could do a major sort and purge.

We do this every spring and fall. We get clothing from the bins in-between seasons as needed. If a child needs an item of clothing we check the bins before purchasing, but twice a year we sort and organize everything. This way I see who needs more seasonal clothing (shorts in the summer, etc) and in what sizes.

Step 3: Examine Each Piece of Clothing

I know this sounds tedious, but it really doesn’t take that long. We start with one bin at a time, have kids try on clothes, decided what we are keeping out for the new season and what goes back into the bins. I only keep clothes that are in good repair and stain-free. Unfortunately, it seems I always pull out a few items that are now stained. These get used as rags, passed to Goodwill, or repurposed in some way. But they do not go back in the bins.

managing kid's clothes

Step 4: Number Each Bin

The reason for numbers is, it makes it easy to switch up contents in the future as the contents change.  Instead of writing “boy’s shirts” write a number and number your inventory. I promise this will pay off in the end.

I have both a hard copy (in our household notebook) and one in the notes section of my phone. Our categories are things such as:

 1. Boy’s Pants 8-12

2.  Boy’s Pants 12 & up

3.  Pajamas

4. Girl’s shirts 6-12

You get the idea. Apollo has his own bin since there is such a large age gap between him and Tucker.

Easy to Grab at the Last Minute

This system of managing kid’s clothes has worked so well for us, that I have been able to grab a bin of church clothes and locate a new pair of pants for one of my sons in less than five minutes. I’ve done this more than once on a Sunday morning when a child has suddenly outgrown the pants that fit them the week before.

 how to manage kid's clothes


Step 5: Return the Keepers to Their Bins

It is a good idea to have a box or bag for clothing you aren’t keeping. Have a bag for donating and a bag for rags or upcycling. I guarantee you will find at least a few items you no longer want to keep.

large family, how to manage clothes, managing kids clothes

Step 6: Return the Bins to Their Home

managing kids clothes, large family, how to manage kid's clothes

We stack the bins two high. We could go higher space-wise but I wanted to keep the clothing easily accessible. Shelving would make this even easier, but I am working with what I have. It is no problem to move one bin to check the one underneath, but I knew anything beyond that would be tedious and was not likely to be kept up.

How about you? Do you have any secrets for managing kid’s clothes?

If you like this post you might also like:

How to Save Money on Kids’ Clothes

Primary Clothing {Kids’ Clothing Without Logos}



  1. Kelly

    BRILLIANT! We use the same method, almost exactly! But I know what you mean about numbering & why. I spent years writing exactly what was in those bins on the outside in permanent marker. Mistake. When we’ve wanted to switch bins or add new clothing that just didn’t make sense, things got confusing! We’ve been using totes for years and love those things. They take quite the beating & you can really stuff a lot of clothing (and shoes!) into them! I need to get back out to my garage and reorganize now LOL Thanks for this awesome post!

  2. kris

    I only have 2 boys but we use the same totes. They work great and I use 1 for winter boots and 1 for hats/gloves/ snow pants etc. Then the others have clothes and shoes worth saving. I to have found clothes with stains or rips when I pull stuff out as my younger guy grows. It always amazes me that it got into the save bin in the first place. Those bins really do take a beating. I love the numbering idea. That would have come in handy when my boys were younger and I had much more hand me downs for them. Now most things (aside from church clothes) have worn or ripped knees and hit the trash can when my older boy out grows them.

  3. Kelly

    We have an area in our house under the eves that goes from one end of our house to the other that I built racks for our clothes. They are divided by size and sex and the shoes are under the racks in rolling under-the-bed-boxes also by size and sex. Hard to visualize I am sure so I will do a post on my blog with pics. :) I used to use boxes but it is so nice for the clothes to already be hanging and they don’t get as wrinkled.

  4. Shannon

    We have three children and three foster kiddos. Because we foster I’m prepared for any child newborn to age 4. We use the same system. I keep Jammie’s out for easy access for those middle of the night emergency placements.

  5. Kimberly

    I do the numbering thing too! It makes it so much easier to find things, since we store our rubbermaids in our attic, which requires a ladder to access… I keep a master list on my computer and a paper copy in my filing cabinet. Easy to update, easy to reference, and easy to shout numbers to Josh when he’s in the attic digging boxes out for me. :)

  6. De

    For twenty years I did foster care and I used the totes also. My bucket names were; infants, toddler girl/boy, and then summer/winter by size and sex. I ended up with over 20 buckets over the years. I wanted to trim that down.

    Now that I just have the 5 kids, I give each kid a winter or summer bucket. Then my other 4 buckets are; pajamas, swimsuits, shoes and coats.

    I generally buy non-gender specific clothes like turtle neck, t-shirts, sweats and jeans, black basketball shorts and jean shorts. I use a dot system; 1st kid, 1 dot, 2nd kid, 2 dots, etc… When stuff gets passed down, a dot is added.

    We too take all of the totes out on the patio and do a clothes change over. In the summer time, each of the 4 little kids get 3 play outfits of the same color scheme. This allows for laundry to only have 4 loads during the week, 1st color scheme, 2nd color scheme, pj’s, socks/underwear. Fall and winter are the same in relation to 3 play outfits of same color, but school uniforms are added into the laundry mix.

    I like the idea of changing tote names to numbers and need to put the name of tote on the side to make it easier to read without unstacking them.

  7. Michele

    We do about the same thing as well! So much easier and keeps closet space freed up. Love the idea of taking it all outside and enjoying the day as you sort!

  8. Dorothy

    My girls have way too many clothes. I will not sort teenagers or young adult clothes. They are old enough to sort their own. The little kids stuff I go through spring and fall, getting rid of stuff that is out grown or worn. This year we got rid of all the toddler clothing and shoes too small for Rosalie. I’m fairly certain she is our last, as she is 4 now and I am 49. ;) Once it gets warmer, we will be gathering all the toys from the sandbox, attic and kids rooms, giving away any baby/toddler toys and throwing out the broken ones. Little brother loves legos and bought them frequently for my older kids. We have enough duplos to fill at least 2 16 Gallon totes, may be more if we throw the duplo train and tracks in with the rest. My kids rarely play with them, so I may send most of them to my nephew.

  9. C Smith

    That’s very similiar to how I store our clothes, but I do have one tip. Because we have a lot of girls very close in age their clothes get passed down quite a few times. With a permanent marker I put a dot on the label of every item when we get it. If it belongs to the oldest girl it gets one dot, the next oldest gets two, and so on. Whenever we pass something on, I add a dot. Then I always know who currently fits into something.

  10. JoAbair

    I have only 2 children, so the only method I have is my saving and shipping method. I pass my children’s (usable) clothes down to other children. The children of my friends, and they pass down to the next smaller of their friends, or my friend. I have 2 good friends. The best way for them though, is for me to keep them in bins similar to yours. Mine are labeled with names, so whatever will be for friend A in summer, or friend B in winter goes into those bins. I ship or deliver/or they pick up as needed. If I send pieces now and then, they get unused, lost, mixed up, or during a move things get displaced so I arrange my storage to make it easier. we all 3 have different age children and there are shoes and clothing articles that have been through more than 6 children. It is a nice thing to share.

  11. karla

    We have four boys and I used to try to keep every single thing that was not stained or torn to hand down. I gave up on that! The last two ended up with a crazy amount of clothing and most of it did not get worn. Now I only keep those things that the previous kid actually wore. Another friend said that she only keeps things that she would buy today at a resale shop. If it is outdated or you don’t like it enough to buy it, out it goes. We just changed out winter for spring and it is such a relief to get rid of things that will not fit the little one anymore. Not a relief that he is our last, but a relief to reclaim that space!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Karla- I meant to go into that but forgot! I too, used to keep everything in “good shape” then I realized there were certain items of clothing I didn’t like for one reason or another and rarely used them…It finally occurred to me there was no reason to keep something I didn’t like! I would use it on child A, then pass it along instead of storing. Thanks for chiming in, that’s an important point.

  12. shelly morrison

    I am a mom to 12 kids and we just started using bins. I have every size of clothes and I use thick masking tape to label the boxes. girls clothes size 10/12. im still sorting and adding to our bin. if later on I need it ill spate shirts and pans etc. now when I see something at a garage sale I can just pick it up and fill the bins. It really does take the hassle out of getting dressed in the morning. and I can pack away sizes that don’t fit after we check for rips and stains so the younger kids don’t play in the extra clothes. I also have a winter item box for gloves, scarfs hats, snow pants. as well as a swimsuit box.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Yes, it is an amazingly efficient system. I’ve been doing this for over 10 years now and it has never failed me. If a child needs something, we check the bins *first* then shop. If we receive hand-me-downs we don’t need immediately, they go right in the bins.

  13. Naomi

    I have a six month old and one on the way, and have been giving enough hand me downs to last my daughter up to four or five years old! I organize the same way but have made the mistake of writing the sizes on the bin, which makes it confusing when suddenly i have a box of half one size half another size cause we were given more stuff or she grew out of it and we switched bins. That numbering idea is genius, ill be using that when everything gets reorganized after we move next month.

  14. Melissa

    We are expecting our ninth. We use bins – each child gets one or two labeled with his or her name. Anything outgrown goes into the next younger, gender appropriate bin. It’s very easy to assess what each child lacks. We go thru them each spring and fall. :)

  15. Angelica

    We do a very very similar system. Our totes are all stored in our attic (accessible by pull-down ladder). Some clothing is still in boxes, but we transfer to bins as our budget allows. We have 2 boys 7 & 4 & 1 girl, 2 and are expecting baby #4 the end of April. Gender will be a surprise. ;-) We get a lot of hand-me-downs gifted to us, and do a lot of yard sale & thrift shopping as well. I’m constantly on the lookout for clothing in bigger sizes & tend to stock ahead of what we currently need. Much less stress, and much less financial strain. But because of this I constantly have a pile of “For the attic clothes” going. We finally settled on having a tote in the laundry room, and when it fills up I sort & DH packs away.

    The main difference in our method is that we don’t pull down ALL the totes at the seasonal switch-over, just the ones in the sizes/seasons that we need. We’ll pull the next 2 sizes for each child (I learned to do that by pulling stuff out that was already too small – such are shrunken used clothes!). The rest of the stuff that’s ready to be stored in the attic gets bagged and labeled (G2S – for girls 2 summer, B6W, etc), then DH takes all the bags (packed into that tote) upstairs & distributes them among their proper totes. We’ve found this to be time-saving, and back-saving! :-)

    When we have more kids…maybe it’ll make more sense to pull it all down. :-D

  16. Anna

    I put a piece of duct tape on the bin and write on the tape what’s inside. When I want to switch it out, I rip the tape off and put a new piece on.

  17. Devon

    I use the same system, right down to the same Rubbermaid bins. Except I label mine with a strip of paper under clear packing tape. I sort by the approximate age kids are wearing the clothes. Even if a particular child is big or small for their age, they still go through the bins in the same order. Since I only have two boys together in the middle of 6 girls, I separate boys stuff out for them and then give it away or mix it back with the girls’ stuff when they’re done with it. So except for one “Too big for the boys” bin, I don’t have to separate by gender.

  18. Schumm Explosion

    I could not have written this better myself, this is exactly what we do, minus the numbers, but we will be adding numbers now. I’d love to connect at some point as I do not usually find families as big as ours.

  19. Peggy S

    We do something similar, but the space in our closets allow us to use diaper boxes. We’ve got a few of those around… :) I mark size and what’s in it right on the box. I like the idea of the rubbermaid bins, but I couldn’t use the numbers…I would likely remember what they are, but I currently don’t have a central LIST place to keep up with what is in each. I should…I know, but I don’t. Perhaps something like this would work well in conjunction with it. Easily changeable.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I have an inventory somewhere as well…just don’t ask me to locate it! Those tags look great!

  20. tiffany

    I have a family of 8 and we use bins and gallon size ziploc bags. Once a week i match outfits, put it in a ziploc bag that has childs name on it throw a pair of undies and socks and close it. When we have morning rush hour we grab a bag and get ready. When we are going over night somewhere we grab extra bags and toss it ina small suitcase and we are ready. It makes our life so much easier.

  21. Joy

    i just found your site just now and I really thank God I did! I have 4 kids and organization hates me! lol pls keep your ideas coming! you’re heaven sent to me :)

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I am so glad you are finding this information helpful! If there if you have any post suggestions about things you would like to read about, please let me know.

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