Thursday, February 06, 2014

In the Kids' Closet: How I Inventory and Store Children's Clothes

I'm thrifty with a touch of packrat, and I prefer to dress my littles in classic clothing. That can make for a very interesting combination! I've spent a lot of time figuring out a method that works for me, and I thought I'd share it with you. I hope to share my thoughts on purchasing and caring for children's clothes in the next few days, too.

So here goes!

When it comes to children's clothes, there are three basic categories:

1) Clothes that are too small
2) Clothes that currently fit
3) Clothes that are too big

Clothes that currently fit aren't a big deal -- they're already in the closet or dresser. But the other two categories are more challenging. My husband and I hope to have more children (lots, hopefully!), so there's no way I'm going to discard outgrown clothes that are well-made and in great condition. After all, it would be a huge expense to re-buy an entire wardrobe for each new child! Also, if you're like me, grandparents and local thrift stores have supplied you with some garments that are currently a little too large for your child. 

Before we discuss how to inventory and store children's clothing, it's probably a good idea to think about what to keep. Your unique circumstances will determine how much you are able to store, based on the size of your storage space. But your family situation will also have an impact. For example, if I'd had three boys in three years (that sounds intense!), I'd probably keep every garment that wasn't stained or worn out because it would be used again in a year. In my situation, (3-year-old boy and 1-year-old girl), I know that even if we were to have a boy next, there will be at least a four year gap between boys. So I currently evaluate what I keep based on what is worth storing for at least four years, also bearing in mind the amount of storage I have available -- that equates to keeping only favorite, timeless garments in great condition. I don't hold on to many play clothes or pajamas (with the exception of baby sleepers, which are ridiculously expensive to purchase new), because they're generally worn a lot and can be replaced inexpensively if the need arises. If time passes sans boys, I'll cull the "too small" clothes with even pickier standards. Again, your unique situation will determine what and how much you keep!

So what-a-to-do with all of the too-small and too-big clothes? I like to know what I have on hand (which helps avoid redundant/wasted purchases), so some sort of method is definitely required. For me, that's a photo inventory of each garment that I have in storage.

Here's how I do it:

1. Make a set of "size" cards. I used a Sharpie and the backs of index cards, making sure the numbers are large enough to be visible when photographed. Each card is labeled with a different size (Newborn, 3 mths, 6 mths, etc.). Rather than make size "ranges," such as 3-6 mths, I just used both the 3 mth and 6 mth when needed.   

2. Take a picture of each garment on a neutral background (with the corresponding size card{s}). Yes, I could just make a list -- but I'm a visual person and it's easier to see the entire wardrobe at a glance with photographs. Plus, each list entry would end up reading: "Boys 3T Janie and Jack sweater with blue raglan sleeves, cream body, airplane motif, and three brown buttons spaced one inch apart on left sleeeve." I exaggerate, but yes, I overcomplicate everything in my life. I don't know about you, but I'd rather just look at a picture! 

For my background, I use the back of a door. It's a neutral background I can replicate easily in any home we live in, so my pictures will be relatively consistent. I tied a piece of hemp twine around the door as a "clothesline," and used clothespins to hold up each garment. I tried using a hanger at first, but it was far too time consuming to hang and remove each garment!

Also, I made sure to include the size card in the picture -- that way I know what size each garment is, without needing any other documentation. You can either refer to the size on the label, or pick the size you think the garment was/is (some brands run large or small).

I used a tripod and a camera remote, so that I could quickly change out each garment. Probably not necessary for a few garments, but it's super helpful when photographing a bunch at one time. Admittedly, taking photos of each garment takes time (though it goes quickly once you get in a rhythm, especially if you pre-group your clothes into sizes, so that you don't have to keep changing out the size cards). For me, though, it's worth the effort -- and having to take a picture of everything I want to keep makes me pickier about my selections!

I don't photograph my children's current wardrobe, since I can generally remember what they have and thus don't need that info when I'm shopping. Plus, since some of their current clothes will wear out or not be worth storing, I like to wait until they've outgrown their clothes before I photograph.

Here's an example of a photo, with both the 6 mth and 12 mth card pinned to the line (to indicate the size is 6-12 mths).

I also photograph all shoes that I plan to store (using a chair as a "backdrop"), again with a corresponding size card. Just recently this kept me from buying an unneeded pair of shoes, because I could easily check to see what sizes and types I have in storage.

3. Edit the photos. This is optional -- I didn't edit extensively, just cropping, minor lighting adjustments, and reducing the size with my computer's basic photo editing software. I quickly got into a rhythm, and my computer allows me to select and resize multiple files at once. Some of my pictures are lighter or "warmer" than others, based on the time of day and the interior lighting. No biggie. I'm not entering these in a competition!

4. Organize the photos. I sorted my photos into folders, which is easy because the size of each garment is indicated in the photograph itself! You can opt for a folder per size, or group certain sizes (say, Newborn, 0-3 mths, 3 mths, 3-6 mths, and 6 mths) into one folder (such as "0-6 mths"). Now that your images are sorted, you can easily see how many garments you have in each size.

I rename each photo with the size and a brief description, including the brand name if I remember it (i.e., "0-3 mths GAP navy striped bodysuit" -- as long as I have a picture, I can keep the description brief *wink*).

Occasionally I'll need to cull my folders, as clothes wear out and are removed from your inventory.

I also keep an "upcoming season" folder for each child. Basically, I'll copy the pictures of each garment I think they'll wear in the next season into a separate folder. That way I know how much they already have and what they need.

Here's what part of my Boy 3T folder looks like:

5. Store the clothes. I use cardboard banker's boxes (which were free at Staples after a rebate). They're small and easy to handle. I've tried big plastic tubs in the past, but I ended up with so many clothes in one bin that it was difficult to locate what I needed withot making a huge mess. Small boxes are less intimidating, in my opinion.

I write each box's contents (just the gender and which clothing sizes are included in the box -- i.e., "Boy 2T-3T") on two index cards, which I then adhere to two sides of the box with clear packing tape. I can easily replace the index cards, so the box stays neat even if the contents change. It's easy to see which box I need, whether I'm storing outgrown clothes, or looking for the next size up.

There's usually a steady flow of outgrown or too-big clothes to be put into storage, so I like to keep a box or tote to hold the clothes until I'm ready to photograph and store them.

Where you store you clothes and how many you store will depend on your particular storage situation. I'd love to keep our extra clothes indoors, but due to lack of space I store our kids' clothes in the garage (except for a few special pieces that stay in the house). I don't store clothes in the attic because ours gets super hot in the summer, and heat can be brutal to elastic. You may have a great attic to house every last onesie -- or perhaps you can only keep one box of super-special items because you live in an apartment. The location or the amount that you store is irrelevant.

Obviously, my method isn't perfect and it's not going to work for everyone -- but hopefully it will spark some ideas for how to optimize your own storage system!

Next up, I'll discuss some frugal ideas for buying kids' clothes, and after that a brief look at how to make those clothes last as long as possible.

I'd love to hear your ideas for storing children's clothing! What works for you?


  1. That is extensive and perhaps a little scary! I just have a checklist of hour many of what we have and cross odd the list as we go, but I only have the one boy. Can you come do mine? Lol

    1. Liz,

      I guess it is extensive, but it's not too scary in reality! ;-) Your method sounds great -- knowing how many of each kind of item is a much simpler way!

      Thanks for stopping by!



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