How To Organize Off-season Clothes And Hand-Me-Downs.

seasonal clothing, kids' clothes, hand-me-downs

My seasonal transition and hand-me-down system used to be impossibly complicated. Going by popular advice, I’d keep separate bins for each clothing size, each season. It sounded good at the time: in theory, that would mean that every season, I’d only have to pull out that season and that size’s bin…right?

But in practice there were a few things wrong with this system:

  • We rarely have enough kids’ clothes in a single size to fill an entire bin, and especially not if we separate them out by season. So a bin for each size, each season, cost too much and took up a lot of space.
  • Too many bins meant too many opportunities for bins to get buried or shoved too far back in the closet or basement storage area. Every year I would lose track of at least one bin, then go buy a bunch of new clothes and later uncover the bin and realize I’d spent a lot of money I didn’t need to.
  • All size 6’s are not alike. Sometimes clothes in a certain size – especially when we’re talking about baggy t-shirts and adjustable waist pants – fit a variety of kids. There is way too much variety in fit and sizing practices to predict which child will wear which sizes, in which brands and types of clothing, at which age.
  • All seasons are not alike. A kid who is an athlete or doesn’t like wearing warm pajamas may need shorts and t-shirts in rotation throughout the year. And t-shirts are winter wear for kids who like to layer.

I also attempted to keep a detailed written inventory of all clothing items we own, but somewhere along the line my head started to spin around and I abandoned that idea quickly enough!

So what I finally settled on is a simple, streamlined system for organizing hand-me-downs and off-season clothes that allows me to factor in my actual kids and their actual clothing needs, right now. By keeping everything together in one place, there’s less risk of a size going missing.

Basically what I do is store everything together – all off-season clothes and all in-between sizes – and, twice a year, commit to going through every single item of clothing to make a decision about what to do with it for the upcoming season.

If you live in a climate that has seasons and you have multiple kids who are no longer growing out of sizes every few months, and/or handing down clothing to a younger sibling, this strategy can help you keep the task of organizing all those clothes manageable.

Organizing Kids’ Clothes:
Seasonal and Hand-Me-Down Storage Made Simple

Note: for the sake of this post, “off-season” refers to the clothing I will be putting away for the upcoming season, while “in-season” refers to the clothing I’m working back into our wardrobes for the upcoming season.

Bins, bags, boxes, and baskets (what you’ll need):

  • Enough bins with lids to hold all off-season clothes for the whole family (We usually need one more bin for winter/fall clothes than for summer.)
  • Bags or boxes for donations
  • Every laundry basket in the house

Before you begin (inventory & planning):

1. A few weeks before the weather changes, I start slowly collecting clothes out of the clean laundry that I intend to put away for the season and put them in a basket, which I keep in my room. Anything that the kids will have outgrown in the next six months goes into a donation pile.

At the same time, I go and pluck a few extra items per person out of the off-season bins and wash them so we have a variety of clothes to wear during the transitional months. This just gives me a head-start on the whole process.

2. Once I can tell that the weather is heading quickly in the cooler (or warmer!) direction, I choose a day that I can set aside several hours to work on the project of doing the big transition.

Gather all the clothes in the house (yes, really.)

3. We keep off-season clothes in plastic bins in our basement, which is also where our laundry is. So the first step is to start taking all the clothes out of the bins and washing them. When they’re dry, they go in a laundry basket.

If your clothes went into an airtight bin while clean, they might not need to be laundered, or maybe a spin in the dryer with a dryer sheet would freshen them up. I find that ours get a bit musty being in the basement and with all the dust and mold allergies in our family, washing them is best for us.

Whether or not you choose to re-launder the clothes that have been stored,  you will need to make sure all the clothes in the house are clean for this system to work well. Think of it as incentive to get caught up on the laundry!

4. While the laundry is running I take the basket of clean off-season clothes I’ve been collecting, and start folding and putting them away into one of the bins. I don’t worry about sorting them by family member – everything goes in together, because I always do this job all at once so the sorting happens on the other end. You don’t absolutely have to start collecting clothes ahead of time, but I find that it gives me something to do while I’m waiting for clothes to get clean.

seasonal clothing swap
5. Then I walk around the house and go through every single drawer, plucking out any clothes I want to put away for the season. Those get folded and put into the bins, too – remember, everything just goes together, no need to sort! Note: I always leave a few off-season items in each child’s drawer for layering, or in case we go on a vacation or experience unseasonable weather. 

6. When everything is clean, we bring all the baskets of clothes upstairs, and dump them all in the middle of the living room floor. Yes, everything together! It creates quite an impressive mountain of clothes.

epic laundry pile

Fold and sort. Fold and sort. Fold and sort. Repeat.

7. Now comes the epic folding and sorting session. I set myself up in front of the TV with a cup of tea and start creating a stack for each family member. As I go, I quickly make executive decisions about each item:

  • Is the item too small for Owen, my youngest son? If so, it goes in the donation pile unless it’s something Clara would wear (t-shirts, pajamas, and hoodies, yes; jeans and pants, generally no.)
  • Note: I sort Clara’s clothes separately because hers are mostly passed down to her from her older cousin Ruby, and when she’s done, we put them in a bin to go to Ruby’s little sister Luna!
  • Is it hopelessly torn or stained? It goes into a separate pile to be turned into rags.
  • Is the item a between size – for example, too small for Isaac, not yet big enough for William? If so, it goes right back in the off-season bin, even if it’s in-season.

This is an important part of my system – I keep off-season and in-between-sized clothes, regardless of whether they’re in season or not, TOGETHER rather than separating them into separate bins. I find that it keeps everything very simple and streamlined, which is what I need! Otherwise I’d constantly be losing track of where everything is.

I do give sizing some leeway here – if something isn’t quite fitting a kid yet but is likely to within the coming season, I go ahead and put it in their drawer.

8. The rest of this process is self-explanatory: just continue to fold, separate into piles, and then give to the kids to put away in their drawers. I usually have the kids take clothes up as soon as the piles start to get precarious, rather than waiting until they’re toppling over. This also helps keep the kids from getting too overwhelmed by the putting-away process.

laundry, clothes, storage, organizing

Put it away, store it away, or give it away

9. Donation bags go out to the car and I ask Jon to take them immediately to the thrift store so I don’t forget!

10. Now I put the lids on the bins, which are already labeled “off-season clothes,” and put them in a designated area of the basement…all except one, which I leave in the living room for now.

Why? No matter how careful I am to find everything I want to put away and get all the clothes clean before we start this process, inevitably a few items I meant to put away will continue to show up in the laundry over the next week or two. So I keep the least-full bin upstairs a while longer until I’m pretty sure the process is done.

Note: If you are incorporating this system for the first time, you’ll need to start your process a little differently than I detailed above…but either way, I recommend starting from scratch, as scary as it might sound: get ALL your clothes in one place and go through them a piece at a time.

Yes, it’s time-consuming, but I promise you will save yourself time and money not having to shop for something that it turns out you already have, or constantly shifting around hand-me-downs that nobody is ever going to wear again.

seasonal clothing swap - step by step
I’ve been using this strategy for three or four years now with a couple of tweaks along the way, and I have found that making personal contact with every item of clothing in our house greatly simplifies my seasonal clothing transition AND helps me save money on clothes shopping because nothing gets “lost” along the way.

And since I know I’m going to look at every single piece twice a year, there’s no reason to over-complicate the sorting, labeling, or organizing system.

Now that I’ve got this under control? This year, I’m moving on to getting our off-season shoes under control. If anyone has tips for THAT, I’m all ears.

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