When it comes to my own wardrobe, I’m a minimalist, fitting all of my clothing into three small drawers that fit into my closet [plus some hanging clothes that I rarely wear but keep for “just in case purposes” such as a black dress for funerals]. A few years back when I went through all of my clothes and purged everything I didn’t need or love, I found the whole process to be immensely gratifying. And, I’m pleased to report, that simplifying my kids’ clothes has every bit as satisfying.
Principle #1: Only clothes that are needed.
How do you know how much clothes your child will need? First determine how often you do laundry. I dedicate one day per week to laundry. Which means my kids need seven days worth of clothes [and maybe a few extras for accidents or emergencies]. Since a lot of our clothes are hand-me-downs, we do end up with extras of some things, but I make it a point to avoid getting extra clothes we don’t need.
For example, when I switched my son’s wardrobe over to warmer clothes, I found he needed more long-sleeved shirts and a few more pairs of pants for the winter. Brett found someone selling a used set of clothes — seven pairs of pants, two t-shirts, one sweat pant outfit — all for $15. But we didn’t need most of it, so we paid $8 for two pairs of pants and the sweat pant set. I found three long-sleeved shirts at a resale shop, and that was all that he needed. Theo is now all set for the winter.
Principle #2: Only clothes that are used…for the most part.
This is so important to me since I have learned about the clothing industry and how it continues to wreak havoc on our planet and hurt economies and take advantage of workers around the world. So, as a principle, we always get our clothes used, unless of course there are certain items that we can’t find used. Underwear is one of those things, so I buy my underwear from Boody and I get my kids underwear from Pact — both ethical, sustainable brands that I love to support.
I mean, really, it is criminal that kids clothing gets worn for a season and then tossed. We need to keep clothes in circulation for as long as possible since each item of clothing represents costly natural resources and a lot of labor. I wouldn’t even care if used clothes cost more, but, of course, buying used is cheaper which makes it a win-win. And we find really nice stuff used!
We like to use Facebook marketplace [Brett handles that since I am not on Fb] or OfferUp or nearby consignment shops and even resale stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army to find used clothing. In our small town we have a resale shop where I have found new tennis shoes for Theo, an Express undershirt for Brett, and jeans for Evangeline. [I also found a beautiful North Face sweater that I really wanted, but didn’t need, so I passed on it. Hopefully someone who needs it finds that treasure.]
Principle #3: Only clothes to play in.
It’s a bit of a pet-peeve of mine how parents like to dress up their children. All of their life experiences until the first grade revolve around play, so they should be dressed for play. It makes absolutely no sense to me to put a little kid into dressy clothing and then try to keep that child from playing in it or getting it dirty. Let the kids be kids for goodness sake! Even at church, Christmas dinner, and weddings, kids should be dressed in play clothes.
The other problem with dressing up kids is that it requires you to keep an entirely separate set of clothes. Your kid will need a full wardrobe of play clothes and a full set of dress clothes. Why on earth?
We just keep one type of clothing for the kids: play clothing. They can wear it on vacation, on a hike, to church, to school and to play in the backyard. My daughters each have some dresses that they love and these are not special occasion dresses. Their dresses get as much use as the rest of their clothes. Which is fine. They like to wear frilly pretty clothes, and I expect these items to get throughly played in, dirty, messy, and worn out.
Principle #4: Only clothes they love.
I let my kids dress themselves. I have since each of them were three and old enough to open a drawer and pull out an outfit for the day. This relieves me of the stress of fighting with my kids about what to wear and allows them to choose clothes that they love and that express their unique personalities.
It seems to me that, as parents, we want our kids to look like mini fashion models because it improves our own image. I don’t think the kids care – nor should they! So what if they want to wear plaid with polka-dots? Who really cares?
I definitely don’t want to send the message to my kids that what they wear matters, that they need to dress a certain way to “fit in” or be accepted, that love is based on how someone looks. These messages are everywhere in our society, but I don’t want them in my home. I also don’t want to teach my kids to conform to fashion trends. Instead, I’d rather teach them to wear what is practical, comfortable and something they love – something that shows the world a piece of themselves rather than just a reflection of everyone else.
Over the years, with absolutely no help from me, my oldest daughter [now 7] has figured out her own way of dressing that is unique and absolutely adorable. I wouldn’t change anything about her style.
[I once wrote an essay for Parents Magazine about this very topic, which they published in 2018. You can read it here.]
Don’t be afraid to pare down the kids’ clothing! It feels GREAT!
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