How to Create a Minimalist Wardrobe for Your Kids
Do you feel your kids have too many clothes? If so, join the club.
Many parents feel overwhelmed by their children’s clothing. There’s the endless laundry, as well as the expense of buying and maintaining all those outfits. Kids also feel overwhelmed when they have too many clothes. It’s harder for them to decide what to wear, and this indecision can limit their ability to get dressed on time.
These are just some of the reasons why more parents are choosing to create a minimalist wardrobe for their kids. In most cases, this means paring down their children’s clothing to what can fit in a suitcase, or even half of a small suitcase. Are they crazy? Enlightened? Or a bit of both?
Minimal wardrobes, or capsule wardrobes as they’re also called, provide a number of benefits. They’re less expensive to maintain, you save money by not buying tons of clothes, and they drastically simplify the “getting dressed” routine for kids. Here’s a look at the benefits of creating a minimalist wardrobe for your kids, and how to do it.
There’s a good reason why Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama stick to a very basic wardrobe; they don’t want to have to think about what to wear because they have more important things to focus on. Capsule wardrobes are all the rage right now, but many parents don’t think about creating one for their kids. However, there are several benefits to going this route.
By far the biggest benefit of creating a minimalist wardrobe for your kids is that it saves money. Once you go through the work of paring down their clothes, you’ll be less tempted to buy that cute shirt at Target or those cheap pants on markdown at Walmart. You’ll know that, right now, your kids have what they need. When they outgrow what they have, or their needs change, then it’s time to invest in something new — but not before.
If your kids don’t have an endless number of t-shirts to dirty up, they’re more likely to take care of what they have. If a minor spill or stain happens, you’re more likely to spot-clean it, which is often all that’s needed, instead of throwing it in the washing machine and choosing something else.
That said, with a minimalist wardrobe, you do have to wash the clothes your kids have more frequently. However, some parents find that overall, they do less laundry when their children have a limited amount of clothing. What you definitely will avoid is having to spend your whole weekend doing load after load of laundry. You’ll likely do several small loads during the week, which, for many parents, is more manageable and less stressful.
How many times have you walked into your child’s room and groaned at the all clothes on the floor? The fewer clothes you keep on hand, the less likely your kids are to make a mess with them. And if they do, it’s easier for them to pick it up.
Having fewer clothes can also teach your children to value what they have. With some guidance from you, they’ll learn to respect their clothing and put each piece away where it belongs.
Cheap, abundant clothing might be easy on your budget, but it exacts a heavy price on the environment and communities around the world.
First, cheap clothing wears out quickly, forcing you to buy more. And brands continuously come out with new styles, graphics, and designs that make you want to buy more. This constant consumption has an enormous impact on the environment. A report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that the textile industry generates more greenhouse gas emissions than aviation and international shipping combined. In 2015, 98 million tons of oil was used to produce clothing; by 2050, it’s estimated that 300 million tons of oil per year will be needed to keep up with demand. And few of these clothes are repurposed. According to The Atlantic, 85% of used clothing winds up in landfills.
Communities are also negatively affected by cheap clothing because these items are made in sweatshop factories that pay workers the bare minimum for their time. These workers often work long hours in dangerous conditions to earn enough to feed their families.
When you purchase fewer clothes — or, even better, used clothes — you step out of the constant cycle of consumption. You lower your carbon footprint and show your kids that they don’t need something new to feel good about themselves.
When you create a minimalist wardrobe, every piece works with every other piece. This eliminates power struggles over what to wear, and your kids will feel more empowered to choose their own outfits and dress themselves. If your mornings are a hectic race to get out the door on time, simplifying this daily routine can be a huge sanity-saver.
A minimalist wardrobe also makes it easy for kids to put clothes away when they’re clean. Getting kids involved in household chores is a great way to build their self-esteem and make them feel like they’re contributing in a meaningful way.
I have two preschoolers, and at home, we practice minimalism with our kids. They only have a few toys out at a time, and these are primarily building blocks and cars. For us, it works, and our boys enjoy having limited play options because it forces them to use their imaginations more.
But clothes are a real problem. Like many families, our boys have way too many shirts, pants, and coats. These have to be sorted, washed, and put away on a daily basis. It’s an overwhelming chore, and it’s expensive because we’re constantly doing laundry.
Like many parents, I always assumed that kids needed lots of clothes. After all, the clothes they have get stained, smeared with glitter glue, and ripped from sliding on concrete or dirt on a daily basis. They need lots of clothes because they’re hard on them — right?
Well, in theory. And that’s where the hoarding mentality can enter the picture. Friends give you sacks of hand-me-downs, well-meaning grandparents buy expensive sweaters for birthdays and holidays, you find some great deals at the thrift store, and it all gets stuffed into drawers and closets “just in case they need it.” Within a couple of years, you could open up your own children’s consignment shop from everything you have socked away.
I feel your pain and frustration because I’ve been there. Yes, we were trying for minimalism, but when it came to clothes, there wasn’t one more inch to spare in our kids’ drawers. The situation had gotten way out of hand, and I realized things had to go — not just one or two things, but most of them. So I set out to create a minimalist wardrobe for a 3- and 4-year-old. After all, I have a capsule wardrobe, so why couldn’t my kids?
If you’re ready to give a minimalist kids’ wardrobe a try, here’s how to get started.
The first step on any journey is often the hardest, and this one is no different. You have to determine how many clothes your kids actually need. There are a couple of ways to do this.
One easy way to start is to pull out all the clothes your kids wear on a consistent basis. If your kids are like mine, they wear the same favorite shirts and pants week after week. Set these aside and look at them closely. How many days of outfits can you get out of just these items?
If your kids have enough favorite shirts and pants to get through four or five days, and these clothes look reasonably well together, then this might be all you need to do. If you attend religious services or need dress clothes for special events, keep an outfit or two for these occasions and let the rest go.
A more in-depth approach is to make a list of how many clothes you think your kids need and declutter based on that list. This is the approach I took, and it worked well. The list I created for my boys, for a fall wardrobe, looked like this:
This amount of clothing will get us through at least four days, accounting for spills or other mishaps, before we need to do laundry.
Keep in mind that your list might look completely different depending on the age of your children, their extracurricular activities, and how long you want to go before you need to do laundry. Some families who have taken a minimalist approach to their kids’ clothing don’t mind only having a three-day supply on hand, while others want to be able to go a week or more before they do a load. Whatever works for you is the right approach.
And, of course, be sure to put aside their favorites when you start choosing which clothing to keep.
The trick to creating a minimalist wardrobe is that, ideally, each piece should work with every other piece. Balance your kids’ favorites with other pieces that will help create a more complete, seasonally appropriate wardrobe.
One trick to do this is to keep a few of their favorite items and fill in the rest with simple basics that all work well together. For example, the children’s clothing company Primary is a favorite with many minimalist parents because they make gender-neutral, simple, quality clothing without logos, graphics, slogans, sequins, or anything else that often adorns children’s clothing. Colors are basic and bright, and it’s easy to build an entire wardrobe full of coordinated pieces because you can shop by color.
Choose a color palette and stick to it. The goal here isn’t to go on an online shopping spree and buy a whole new wardrobe for your kids, but you can use this concept during the decluttering process. Make sure that most, if not all, of the shirts can be worn with most, if not all, of the pants.
Tip: Think carefully before you decide to use white in your color palette. Yes, white looks great, but it stains easily. White also looks dingy quickly when it’s washed with other colors, which means more sorting and additional loads. If you’re up for it, great. If not, skip white and go with an easier-to-maintain color.
Once you’ve pulled out all the clothes you don’t want to keep, put them in a “donate” bag and stash it in the garage for at least a month.
This window of time will give you a chance to see how well your trimmed-down wardrobe is working. If, throughout the month, you find there are still items your kids aren’t wearing, move those to the donate bag. If you get frustrated by having to do too much laundry, you might need to add some additional items by pulling a few out of the donate bag.
Once you have a working minimalist wardrobe, here’s how to maintain it moving forward.
I live in jeans and frequently buy them for my boys because I feel they should love them too. The problem is that they hate jeans; they favor soft slacks and sweatpants. So every day when we got ready for school, they pushed all the jeans aside to find the pants they really wanted to wear. It was a waste of time, a waste of money, and a waste of space. When I minimized their wardrobe, I donated the jeans.
Only buy clothing you know your kids will want to wear. It will save money and tension down the road.
Sometimes, kids grow so fast that what fit them yesterday doesn’t fit today, so keep a box or bag in the laundry room for donations. When you notice that your kids have outgrown something, wash it and immediately put in the donate box. This way, you don’t have to keep dealing with that item in their drawers or closet, and you’ll avoid dropping them off at school realizing that those “clam diggers” are supposed to be pants.
The biggest benefit of buying clothes at Walmart or Target is that they’re cheap; you can pick up a pair of cotton pants for $4.50 or a shirt for $3.50 and call it a day. The problem is that these clothes wear out fast.
When you transition to a minimalist wardrobe, you’ll be buying fewer clothes. However, you’ll be washing those clothes more frequently, so if the clothing is cheaply made, it won’t last through the season.
When you do have to buy a new piece for your child, it can pay off to buy a higher-quality item, especially if there are younger siblings who can benefit from the hand-me-down. Well-made clothes will last through the wear-and-tear of endless washings and still look great when they’re passed on to a brother or sister. In the end, it’s a better investment than frequently buying cheaply made clothing.
My parents love buying clothes for my kids, which is a big reason why our clothing situation got so out of hand. I appreciate their generosity, but they often bought clothes the boys didn’t like and wouldn’t wear. And because they were gifts, I felt I had to keep these clothes around.
Many families are in the same situation. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your relatives about your decision to maintain a minimal wardrobe for your kids. Explain why you’ve made the switch and give them options to continue giving if they want to. For example, ask that they only buy a limited number of items at holidays or birthdays, and ask for specific colors or pieces. If you want to create a wardrobe using a single source, such as Primary, ask for clothing gifts from that retailer.
If you scour Google Images or Pinterest, you might think it would cost a fortune to create a capsule wardrobe for your kids. But it doesn’t have to cost anything at all. Creating a minimal wardrobe is all about being intentional about the clothing you want to keep and limiting choices for your kids so they have the freedom and ability to take ownership of what they wear.
So far, creating a more minimal wardrobe for my kids has been a liberating experience. I don’t have to sift through clothes I can’t stand, they’re more empowered to choose their own outfits and get dressed, and I’m doing a lot less laundry. It’s also made clothes shopping so much easier. I have a basic color palette I stick to, I avoid buying shirts with graphics on them, and I only pick up something new when I know they really need it.
Would you consider minimizing your children’s wardrobe? What questions do you have about the process?
Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they’re often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.
How to Create a Minimalist Wardrobe for Your Kids
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