Minimalist Wardrobe For A Large Family

Managing clothing in a large family is one of the most challenging aspects to Large Family Minimalism, especially if you have young children that haven’t finished growing yet!

My attempt to create a minimalist wardrobe for our family of 8 started 3 years ago. Surrounded by four loads of laundry that needed to be folded one day, I thought to myself, There is no way a family of eight needs this many clothes!

There were clothes in dressers.

clothes in closets,

clothes in the washer,

clothes in the dryer,

clothes in the hamper,

clothes on the floor,

clothes in “Grow Into” totes,

clothes in “Summer” totes,

clothes in the Dress Up Box,

clothes that needed to be ironed,

clothes that needed to be folded.

We were drowning in fabric and yet nobody seemed to be able to put together a single matching, seasonally appropriate outfit!

Something had to be done.

Armed with a notebook a box of large garbage bags (these draw string ones are the easiest to close and tie), I jotted down 5 categories into which every single article of clothing in our house would be divided.

Garbage

Under “Garbage,” I filed any clothes that were:

  • Badly stained
  • Torn
  • Otherwise irreparable

These clothes, mainly consisting of hole-y socks and worn out undergarments, were put out with the trash on Garbage Day.

Sell

Under “Sell,” I filed any clothes that were:

  • in excellent condition, but were difficult to match and pair with other clothes
  • too small and had no one to grow into them
  • duplicates or otherwise unnecessary (more on “unnecessary clothes” in a bit)
  • simply not worn enough to warrant the space they took up

Higher ticket items like outwear, dresses, or brand name clothing, I sold on our local Buy/Sell Facebook Group. Smaller ticket items that were too time-consuming to post in the Buy/Sell Group were brought to a local consignment shop that pays me 50% of every item they sell. 

Donate

Under “Donate,” I filed clothes that were:

  • unnecessary, but given to us gifts by someone else (maybe it’s silly, but something feels “off” to me about reselling a gift)
  • well-loved
  • dated
  • unable to sell through the Buy/Sell Group or to the thrift store

Gifts in very good condition and clothing that could not be sold were passed along to friends or family. Well-loved clothes were donated to a thrift store, hopefully to gain a new lease on life by an up-cycling creative genius.

Dress-Up

Under “Dress-Up,” I filed any clothes that:

  • inspired our children’s imaginations and were guaranteed to be played with

Only a handful of items made it into this category: a knight costume, a construction worker costume, a squirrel costume, and a few princess dresses. (The first week of November, after Halloween, is a great time to find steeply discounted dress up clothes!).

Keep

Under “Keep,” I filed the rest of our clothes if it fit the following criteria. Clothing had to be:

  • in good condition
  • appropriate
  • comfortable and fit well
  • easily matched with other clothes
  • necessary (not excessive)
  • wanted

To determine how many clothes were necessary and how many clothes were excessive, I first divided them all into two categories for each person in our house: “warm weather” clothes, and “cold weather” clothes.

Then, I pared down the clothes in each category to the bare minimum (meaning, just enough to ensure I stay on top of the laundry!) which left me the following garments for each person:

Minimalist Wardrobe “Cold Weather” Clothes For A Boy

  • 3 pairs of “play” pants
  • 1 pair of dress pants
  • 3 long sleeved “play” shirts
  • 1 long sleeved dress shirt
  • 2-3 sweaters
  • 2 pairs of pajamas
  • 3-4 pairs of socks
  • 3-4 undergarments
  • 1 dress coat
  • 1 play coat
  • 1 hat
  • 1 pair of mittens
  • 1 scarf

Minimalist Wardrobe “Warm Weather” Clothes For A Boy

  • 3 pairs of shorts
  • 1 pair of “play” pants
  • 1 pair of dress pants
  • 3 t-shirts
  • 1 short sleeved dress shirt
  • 1 long-sleeved dress shirt
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 jacket
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 1 pair of splash pants
  • 2 pairs of pajamas
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 3-4 undergarments

Minimalist Wardrobe “Cold Weather” Clothes For A Girl

  • 2 sweaters
  • 2 pair of pajamas
  • 2 pairs of pants
  • 3 long sleeved shirts
  • 1 dress
  • 2 skirts
  • 2 pairs of tights
  • 1 pair of leggings
  • 3-4 pairs of socks
  • 3-4 undergarments
  • 1 play coat
  • 1 dress coat
  • 1 pair of snow pants
  • 1 pair of mittens
  • 1 hat
  • 1 scarf

Minimalist Wardrobe “Warm Weather” Clothes For A Girl

  • 2 sundresses
  • 1 Sunday dress
  • 2 pairs of shorts/capris
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 3 t-shirts
  • 1 long sleeved shirt
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 1 jacket
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 pair of splash pants
  • 3-4 undergarments
  • 2 pairs of pajamas

Clothes that were kept for another child to grow into were stored in a tote box on a shelf out of reach in the upcoming recipient’s closet. Off-season clothes were also kept in a small tote inside each child’s closet.

Clear totes are nice for quick inventory, but dark totes look tidier and are less likely to be broken into by little people. Stackable totes of the same color and a clear side, with lids that can be used interchangeably are my personal favorite, but I’m using what we have until they’re ready to be replaced.

Dress coats and off-season jackets were stored in bedroom closets and every day coats were hung in the main front entry closet. Hats, mittens, and scarves are also stored in the main entry closet in a basket on the shelf.

Dresses and dress shirts are hung in bedroom closets, and all of a child’s in-season clothing can be easily be stored in two dresser drawers. This means that for our children who share a bedroom, only one dresser is needed, and in the three cases where the dresser fits inside the closet, they are left with more open square footage in their rooms.

We don’t know if the Lord will bless us with more children or not, so I always keep a tote of our favorite, clean, unstained baby clothes from each gender. This is stored underneath the stairs.

Once you’ve achieved your minimalist wardrobe, there are a couple tricks or rules you can implement to help your family’s clothing collection stay small and manageable. Here are a few that have helped us:

  1. Get rid of extra hangers. . We only keep one or two extra hangers in each closet. If you don’t have a place to hang it up, it probably means you have too many clothes and something needs to go. (We use sturdy wooden hangers for coats and plastic hangers which we received as a wedding gift  for everything else)
  2. Limit the number of dresser drawers a child’s clothes can take up. I try to keep in-season clothing confined to two drawers. This leaves no room for excessive clothing and everything else must be neatly folded to fit well (no crumpling or shoving dirty clothes in a drawer!).
  3. If something comes in, something else must go. Sometimes our children get clothing for their birthdays. If they get a new sweater, we try to sell, donate, or hand down one of their other ones.
  4. Buy quality, not quantity. This will save you time and money in the long run, especially if there are several younger children that can wear hand me downs. It seems pricier at the outset to buy good quality jeans, but if three children can wear them before the knees wear out, it’s less expensive than buying pants are toast after one child’s use.
  5. Purchase outwear bottoms in gender-neutral colors, if you can. We have 2 girls and a boy that have worn the same pair of black or blue snow pants, splash pants, and rubber boots and another girl and boy who will also get use out of them, hopefully.
  6. Purchase classic styles that aren’t quickly dated. Jeans, hooded sweaters, basic t-shirts, black pants, white collared shirts – these articles have a longer life span than fads. More children will be able to get use out of timeless pieces.
  7. Purchase clothing that is easy to match with other pieces and doesn’t wrinkle. Your outfit options are much more limited with a boldly printed or colored pair of pants than say, a pair of dark straight leg jeans.  Also, who has time to iron? Not me! I don’t even own an ironing board (true story).
  8. Only launder clothes that are dirty. I’m trying to teach our children that they do not need a new outfit every day. They can change when their clothes are dirty, after three days, or if we are visiting – which ever comes first. Babies and toddlers usually need an new outfit each day, but our older kids can usually get away with wearing the same thing several times in a row, especially in the Winter months when they’re not sweating or playing in the dirt outside.

Footwear is a challenge that deserves a post of its own, so I’ll address that another day.

This week’s Large Family Minimalism Challenge: tackle the clothing of one person in your family. (Repeat each week until each person in your household has a minimalist wardrobe).

Divide everything up into 5 categories (Garbage, Sell, Donate, Dress-Up, and Keep), and pare down the “Keep” category to the bare minimum. If you’re playing along with the #largefamilyminimalism posts on Instagram, feel free to tag me (@northernnester)! I would love to see how many bags you can purge for one person, what you made by selling excessive clothing, and how small the lot you end up with is! Or, drop a comment below and let us know how the purge went!

21 thoughts on “Minimalist Wardrobe For A Large Family”

  1. I have nine children and clothes and laundry are and have always been the biggest job in the house (food being the second)! Another thing that has helped me is to have children share. I have several of the same gender close in age that share the same socks. I have two girls, so close to the same size that they share clothes. Also, streamlining is a lifesaver. For example one child’s underware is all brand x with a blue waistband, younger girl’s socks are all white with a pink heal, etc. No confusion when sorting and no need for matching socks because they made all the same.

    • We have four boys close in age and size, but not always close enough to wear the same things. They also like different styles of underwear, so I had a bright idea to help with laundry sorting. Since the four boys’ initials are F, K, H, and J, I think I’ll buy Fruit of the loom, calvin Klein, Hanes, and Jockey. That way, their undies and socks can match their initial and there’s never an argument of “who left this lying on the floor.” LOL!!

    • I do different colored socks for different sizes too. Life saver. I even color coded shirt sizes. Xs-blues, S-reds, M-greens.

  2. I’m SO glad you’re doing this series!

    I’m curious if you have older children (9-10+) sharing dressers?
    We did this for a long time, but as my kids grew bigger, so did their clothes…and 2 drawers/kid couldn’t fit everything anymore – Even with a minimalist wardrobe.

    • Hi Amy! Our children are all under 10 still, so their clothes don’t take up much room. They’ll probably each need their own dresser as you say when they’re teens. Hubby and I each have our own, but I think we could fit all of our clothing into the larger one.

  3. How do you think I could deal with this issue? I have 7, soon to be 8 children, and they wear clothes out until they have holes in them, so I save good clothes for the next sibling to grow into, I don’t know how many to save as we may have several more children, I have 3 girls and 4 boys. Also, we get donated, from church friends, large sackfuls of clothes on a frequent basis (about once a month) they are so useful, but so much work. I have boxes in the loft with age and gender on, this works well, but I have to work the system, or the system doesn’t work. I wish I could be minimalist but I am also frugal and I struggle to balance these two areas. Thank you for listening to my vent, I find clothes one of the most exhausting aspects of my life..

    • Hey Vicky!
      Being prepared for your littles is such a daunting task so way to go for everything you’ve done so far! Maybe one way to cope with the constant stream of clothes is to keep a list of things that your children really need and then pass on everything else. Maybe an exception could be when you stumble across an item that could better replace something you already have. I guess my biggest piece of advice is don’t be scared to say no to clothes, there will always be more :). Good luck! Hope this helps!

      • It’s always a good idea to gratefully accept all donated and hand me down clothes. If you start saying no, people will stop offering. I have 8 kids and have had foster kids over the years. I learned this lesson long ago.

        For a minimalist wardrobe while accepting hand me downs and gifts it helps to have a set of rules that keep you in line, as well as guiding the kids. It’s so easy to look through those free clothes and see all the cute things.

        As you sort the donated clothes, make three piles. One of clothes that follow the rules for your home (we don’t use shirts with popular tv characters, violence, etc on them) and will fit someone right now. One of clothes that don’t fit anyone at the moment but meet the rules and are good enough to save. One to pass on to someone else.

        When you finish sorting them, bag up the get rid of clothes and set the don’t fit clothes to the side. Then sort the clothes that fit now into piles for each size. THEN have each child bring all their clothes into the living room. Look through their clothes. Make sure their current wardrobe meets the rules. In our home that is no more than five of any kind of clothing (5 pair of pants, 5 shorts, 5 T-shirt’s, 5 tank tops, 5 long sleeves shirts. For winter we add in two sweat shirts, a light jacket, and a heavy coat). Then make sure their current clothing is in good condition. If it is all hole and stain free it’s time to ‘go shopping’.

        Choose/let the child choose which clothes out of their current clothes and the ‘new’ ones they want to keep but keep to the rules. All extras move to the save for a sibling pile.

        Then sort the save piles. Pare them down to no more than double the alloted clothing for each size. So you would essentially have no more than two wardrobes saved in each size. That gives you replacements for the child in each size and extras for the next child to fit that size.

        This works well for us but sometimes it really isn’t worth the headache or storage space to store clothes.

  4. I love tips on organizing clothes! Keeping track of what shoes and coats we have with 6 kids can be a challenge when a new season rolls around, especially when they play hard and hand-me-down boots and snowpants have holes in them! I added extra shelves to an old bookcase and put all extra shoe sizes on there in order from baby to middleschooler. It’s keeping me from buying doubles :). And we did the same for coats on 3 bars in a closet under the stairs.

  5. I made my husband go through all of his clothes this past summer. About 3/4 of it either didn’t fit him anymore, was worn out so bad to the point if rags, or he hasn’t worn since high school. Got rid of about six garbage bags full! And they were the big black bags!

  6. So glad I ran across your blog recently! SO many helpful tips and I was just thinking I wanted to start living more minimally 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  7. I LOVE LOVE how you shared the picture of the closet . . that closet just makes me happy to look at!! And I think that is KEY . . that everything IN our space we actually LIKE and aren’t feeling obligated to keep for some reason or another. I have seven children ages 1-20 (yes same hubby . . married 21 years . . people ask!) and I have loved our system . . . maybe it will help others. My children each have a day of the week assigned they do their own laundry, basically starting around age 5 with a taller person helping them start the load/soap. Then they fold and put away their own. I always do the family kitchen towels and the baby/toddler’s clothing goes with mine on Mondays. All this to say, we keep 7 outfits matched up for the week . . . and that works for us. We keep about 3-4 church outfits and 1-2 pairs of shoes on a shelf in the garage. We don’t keep clothes for hand-me downs . .as my 3 sons are too far apart that it wouldn’t work, and after YEARS of saving buckets of clothes that in turn never got used . . . I figured I could bless someone when we finished with an item and trust God can provide for us when we needed it again . . . but my children are spread out every 2.5/3 years apart too . . but I just don’t have space or energy to keep up with loads of stored clothing and shoes. Hope this helps someone . . someone gave me all these ideas years ago and am thankful and have had clothing peace ever since . . . now I need some food management advice!! THAT gets me bogged down everyday . . . people won’t stop eating around here!! LOL!!

    • i knew a large family doing succesfully this – i would like to trust so much and be so modest to accept what i get even if i dont like it very much and to be able to let go clothes i love to see on kids and would like to handle down.
      My compromise is to keep maximum 2 boxes of each size and be strict with one in one out rule.

  8. Hi, i have 4 Kids and i struggle with the clothing as well and try to reduce again and again giving bags and bags away whenever we get something.I strictly keep the one in one out rule, get rid of every stained piece etc.
    ALos i keep only things we like. But tminimalismus means for me – not have as little as possible but to have only what i like and can handle (this is the moment where it gets sometimes difficult – i like more clothes than i can handle sometimes 🙂 )

    Your list seem to me absolutly extreme – for instance “1 long sleeved dress shirt + 3 play t-shirts” – this means your kid is going every day in the same t-shirt to school and you wash it over night day after day :-O ???
    We have about 3-5 T-shirts longsleeved and the same for short sleeved, trouser, swetshirts etc, and about same amount of “good ones” for school (which often degrade to play-clothes for next kid in the row). Plder the kids are less play things they have and more “good” ones to have a choice.
    Also I definitely need more than3-4 undergarments. When a kid still occasionally pee the pants, with 3-4 i would need to wash every day to be sure, we dont run out of underwear. (I wash 2 loads a week + 1 extra hot every 8-10 days with towels, underwear etc. + when necessary 2-3 laundries with bed-linen).

    My oldest would definitely get laughed out in the school if she would show up only with 2-4 outfits all over again and again.

    And my youngest girl would get desperate, if she would have only 2 dresses!

    And if i get sick, i dont fold and range clothes, sometimes i even dont feel well enough to wash, so with your list i would get through 2-3 days and than what?
    Alos if some piece gets stained or torn which happens often with kids i would have to run to the shop to get a new one.

    What i do to get better on with clothes is – let kids sort the clothes before i fold them once a week and fold the towels (the 12 and 9 years fold by themselfs) and except for the youngest one, everyone range his clothes by himself. Also i keep boxes in wardrobes (KonMari method) – it is way more effective , easy and looks always neat. And its easier to clean the wardrobe. I just take out the boxes -sweep and put back.

    Your list resemble more to a pack-list for holiday -there i manage to get clothes for 5-6 people for 2 weeks in one normal luggage as i travel often alone with all 4 kids in the train an my rule is – you have to be able to run with your luggage if the train is late and you have to be very fast to get your connection.

    But to live out of luggage all the time – i justwouldnt like … i need to have some choice – clothing is more than something to avoid to be naked- it express also the mood, gives a contrast to the weather, influences the feelings and situation and so much more. To have 2 dresses and 3 t-shirts – hm, i just cant imagine to be happy about this.

    What i really dont get at all is – how do you manage to get through the winter wint 1 (!!!) pair of mittens for each kid? When my kids go out to the snow, their mittens get wet after some time and they have two more pairs in the pockets or in the back pack to keep their hands dry and warm. They would have to stay at home through the winter.
    Also mittens get lost on the way from/to school or somewhere between closet and laundry basket and washing mashine.

    The same for socks – my washing mashine must be eating socks. And also all my friends have such machines. You dont have such a machine :-O ?

  9. p.s.: but still thank you for inspiration – i think tomorrow i’ll look if i really have only what we like and if i can handle what i have :-!!!

  10. p.s.: i just noticed, how terribly much space diapers take in your closet compared to clothes 😉 – fortunately i am out of this period but i know i kept always 1 package for day and 1 bigger size for night or 1 and 1-2 and one (the middle size being shared by two kids) and first year i used only washable – this really saved space and money – i had about 10-15 diappers and washed them every 2-3 days and later, after nappy-age i used them for washing and cleaning the house.
    And i managed to be partly diapper-free feeling and “listening” when they needed to poo. this saved incredibly many nappies.

  11. Being a retired widow with grown children, your minimalist wardrobe information REALLY opened my eyes to just how many clothes I actually own. I must say, I am appalled. When I was in the business world, a larger wardrobe was more necessary. Now, I only need church clothes (dresses or skirts, my choice), hanging out at home or going grocery shopping (shorts or capris or leggings or jeans) in home Bible study clothes (capris, pants or nice jeans) and pjs. For several years, my weight has been up and down so I have been keeping 4 sizes on hand. I have 4 closests in my house, 1 is a huge walk in and all are filled with MY clothes. Each closet is a different size. When company comes, I have to move the clothes out of the guest rooms so they have room for their own clothes. I think the time has come to minimalize my wardrobe. I may not go to quite the same extremes you must employ, but definitely need to make some major changes. Thank you for your guidelines and all your wonderful recipes.

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