A simple way to organize and store children’s clothing that is out of season or the wrong size, including maternity clothes.
From the very beginning of my parenting years, I was blessed with a large amount of hand-me-downs. My sister who has one son 3 years older than my oldest son, gave us many of the adorable outfits Blake wore throughout his baby and toddler years.
When our next child, a girl, came along, we were blessed with bags full of clothing from a cousin who had 3 girls and my husband’s brother who had 2.
Along the way, I shopped garage sales and thrift stores for cute (cheap) clothes that rounded out our children’s very secondhand wardrobe.
As our family grew, the secondhand clothing we were blessed with became hand-me-downs for the next child and the next child and the next child. I am still to this day pulling clothing from the storage tubs that has been passed on from my older children. The memories come flooding back every time I do the “Great Clothes Switchover” (i.e. seasonal change of clothing).
Larger families mean a larger amount of hand-me-downs. Not only do we tend to be the recipients of the 1.8 children household’s clothing, we also tend to keep EVERYTHING. You just never know when you might need extra clothes, and it isn’t uncommon for Baby #4 or so to suddenly have NOTHING because everything wears out at the same time (especially if you have a string of little boys or little girls!).
While some families choose to keep nothing that hasn’t been used in X amount of years (for instance, it’s been 10 years since the last boy was born or something like that), I don’t fall into that category. I tend to keep most things…just in case.
NOTE: Now that we are at the end of our baby years, I am culling clothing and giving things away, but we still have plenty of tubs, and I am also hanging on to many keepsakes for my children to have when they are grown.
I have always used heavy duty plastic tubs to store our extra clothing in as shown in this photo circa 2010.
My system of sorting is incredibly simple and works very well for minimizing the effort and time it takes to put things away and get them back out for the next child. The Great Clothes Switchover becomes very simple to do because of my system.
If you are looking for a more elaborate clothes sorting system, check out how Lauren at Mama’s Laundry Talk stores her hand-me-downs.
So, here is the large family clothing storage system that works for me!
Sort Hand-Me-Downs by Child, Not Size and Gender
I did seriously try sorting by gender and size…once…long ago. It didn’t last. When you have a large family, it makes more sense to sort by child.
Each child has his or her own tub with hand-me-downs that will fit them next. There are also Baby tubs (more on that in a moment).
NOTE: If you have a couple of kids the same size, or as you come to end of your hand-me-down years, you can combine a couple kids into one tub. Currently, we have the “little boys” in a couple of tubs and the “little girls” in a couple of tubs since they are so close in ages and sizes.
Sorting by child makes finding what you need for a particular child much easier, and it also makes putting away clothes for the next child easy because you know exactly who that article of clothing needs to go to and which tub it belongs in.
Label storage containers on the top and front
I used to only label my storage tubs on the top, but then my mom came up with the great idea to label them on both the top AND the side of the tub. Sometimes you need your mom to state the obvious. I don’t know how much time I wasted pushing tubs around so I could read the top of the tub. *facepalm*. Now, I can clearly read each tub’s contents from the top and the side. Thanks mom!
Each child has a labeled tub until there are no more hand-me-downs for them. For instance, about the time my oldest son turned 13, there weren’t any more hand-me-downs coming in for him. He was 5’6″ and we didn’t know anyone with kids his size willing to part with their boys’ clothing. However, my next son who is currently 15 (and 8 years younger than his older brother) has a tub of t-shirts his older brother used to wear that he hasn’t quite grown into. Since there are still hand-me-downs, he still has a tub.
And that’s the beauty of this system. When someone outgrows something, it goes into the tub of the next one down. For instance, when Keian was little and outgrew a pair of jeans and they were still in good shape, they went directly into Micah’s tub. And when Micah outgrew his baby things, they went into the tub labeled Baby Boy. I didn’t have to think about what size things were, I just had to know who got the item next.
The tubs are labeled with masking tape, so I can easily change a tub name when the time comes (for instance, after Micah’s younger brother was born, his name went on the tub instead of “Baby Boy”).
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this large family clothes storage game, it is to remain flexible and move things around as needed!
Baby Clothing Storage and Maternity Clothing Storage
Besides tubs labeled with the names of each of my children, I also have Baby Tubs and Maternity/Nursing Tubs which become a storage place for my “normal” clothes when I am pregnant.
My Baby tubs are labeled:
Baby (gender neutral)
So, if an item of clothing is distinctly one gender or the other, they go in their respective tubs. If it is something I can use for either a boy or a girl (like receiving blankets or mittens or onesies), I put it in the gender neutral tub.
When I find out I am pregnant, it isn’t too much longer before I need maternity clothes, so I switch my normal clothing out with maternity clothes. Once baby is born, I remove my maternity clothes from my closet as soon as humanly possible because by that point I’m tired of wearing them. In fact, I even have bigger sized jeans that I can usually fit into within a week or so of giving birth so I do not have to keep wearing maternity clothes! At that point, I also pull out the nursing clothes and put them in my closet.
Shoes get their own storage container
I know some people don’t like hand-me-down shoes, but there was a time in our lives when we were VERY grateful for secondhand shoes! However, I do not like to store shoes with clothes because it is too difficult to dig through clothes and any tiny speck of dirt that remains on a shoe will end up in the clothing. ICK! So, I have a separate shoe storage tub that is kept in the same place as the clothing tubs.
NOTE: The only time I don’t store shoes separate of clothing is in the case of our snowsuit storage.
Store Tubs Based on Similarity and Frequency of Access
My tubs are stacked based on what is in the tub and how often I need to access the tub. Right now, I am into the little girls’ tubs WAY more than anyone else’s, so I made those tubs the easiest to get to. When I store things, the shoe tubs are together, girl tubs are together, boy tubs are together, maternity and nursing tubs are together…you get the idea.
Store Clothing Where it Makes Sense
We have lived in a lot of houses over the years, and I have always chosen my clothing storage based on available real estate. In one house, I stored them in the laundry room. In another house, an outside storage shed that had room for me to sort inside worked quite well. Our last house only had room for storage in the garage. In our current house, the tubs are in the attic just off my bedroom. I haul them into my bedroom and sort on the bed.
The perfect place to store your clothes is where you have room and where it won’t be a burden to go through them or haul them to a place where you can easily go through the tubs. And don’t hesitate to ask for help from your husband, your kids, a friend, your mom (remember, it was my mom helping me that made me finally see I needed to label the front of my tubs!).
Adjust as Your Family Grows and Changes
The order and labels of your storage containers will change as your family grows and changes. Once upon a time, I had a whole bunch of little boys, so those tubs were the ones most frequently accessed, and I kept them near the front of our storage area. And now that there are no more babies, the Baby tubs have been re-labeled Keepsake tubs.
See how we organize our closets!
READ >> Large Family Closet Organization
And here are some posts from friends of mine with more clothing organization ideas:
- Angie at Many Little Blessings has some great ideas on how to sort through your own closet,
- Dana at A Slob Comes Clean tells us how to purge the clothes without fear.
- And finally, something that has been on my heart for many years….Emmy’s clothes. Tara at Feels Like Home shows the beginning steps to making a quilt from baby clothes. This is something I hope to someday be ready for. Read Emily’s Story >>
Post originally published 2010 | Updated 2021