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Taming the Closets

 I had a few people request that I write down the tips on organizing your
kids’ clothing I spoke about on the internet radio broadcast last week
(see previous
), so here we go.

When you’re trying to stay on top of
a house full of clothing you can get overwhelmed. When some of the
clothing is smaller than my first paycheck (and believe me, that’s tiny)
it can be insane. How are you supposed to keep track of all those teeny
tiny socks? And as cute as the matching outfits are, you find yourself
overrun with hats and accessories that go with exactly one dress. So
finding little ways to keep the clothing beast under control can mean the
difference between a livable house and one you plant a “For Sale” sign in
front of just to avoid dealing with it.

One of the reasons kids’ clothing is so neverending is the whole growing
thing; at any given time, your child’s probably only wearing about 30% of
his closet. The rest are items that are either too small or too large but
never get weeded out. If you’re dealing with a baby, take this tip my
girlfriend Abby passed on to me: keep a couple plastic tubs (large shoebox
sized) under your changing table, one labeled “Too Small” and one labeled
“Too Large”. If a onesie doesn’t fit, put it in the appropriate box right
away. Otherwise, you’ll toss it in the laundry basket just to get rid of
it for the moment, and you’ll end up washing the same non-fitting clothes
over and over. When the “Too Small” tub fills up, you can pack the baby
clothes away, and you can periodically put the “Too Large” ones back in
the mix to try again.

If you have older children, you may want to
store a box on the bottom of their closets. Any time something’s outgrown,
throw it in the box. When the box is full you can simply tape it up for
storage or, more ideally, sort through it to decide what should be kept,
passed on, thrown out, etc. These little steps will keep the clothing
sorting from getting too overwhelming.

To help keep track of her
son’s teeny hats and shoes and such, my girlfriend Renee uses an
over-the-door accessory bag. Accessory bags, hosiery bags, or shoe bags
have smaller pockets just right for helping you get a grip on tiny little
sunglasses, tights, bunny purses, etc. The bags keep the accessories easy
to see and easy to find, and in a perfect place for grabbing a hat on your
way out the door.

I also tried to maximize storage space by using
the area under the crib. I found a few low plastic boxes that fit under
the crib (measure first!) and keep them open-faced on their lids, using
the lids like runners for easy sliding in and out. I use one tub for bulky
items like snow suits that would take up too much precious drawer space,
one tub for clothing that’s not quite in season but may be needed like
sweaters or swimsuits, and one tub for toys she can get to herself.

you start to organize drawer space, think about what you’ll need to get to
the most and place that handiest. We keep a few onesies and all her pjs
under her changing table so we never have to pick her up and carry her
around naked after a poopy blowout. I’m also a huge fan of rolling
t-shirts or onesies instead of folding them. If I put a stack of onesies
in a drawer, I’ll use the same top few over and over again, or I’ll make a
mess of the stack trying to see what’s underneath! But by rolling them
loosely, I can see the entire contents of the drawer at once. And yes, I
do this with my own t-shirts and undies as well. If it’s good enough for
Victoria’s Secret, it’s good enough for me!

And a last
tip for organizing an older child’s closet – hanging shoe bags. Buy a
hanging shoe bag for your child’s closet, and use one cubbyhole for each
day of the week, Monday through Friday. If your child’s a plan ahead kind
of kid, she’ll put together her wardrobe for the week on Sunday and have
everything neatly laid out in her shoe bag. I can’t be the only one that
did that! But you can also use each cubby for non-clothing items; the
permission slip that needs to go back on Monday is in the Monday slot, a
note reminding you to make sure your child takes the cupcakes for the bake
sale Friday is in its slot, and so forth. I know a woman who swears by

Now that the bedroom’s in reasonably good shape, let’s talk
about what you’re going to do to add to it. Yep, I’m talking about
shopping. And as fun as it is to dress your daughter like a dolly in a new
outfit every day, try to restrain yourself. The good news is she’ll only
be in those clothes a few months, and you’ll be able to buy her an entire
new wardrobe! The bad news is, that means you need to wait until she
actually grows. And no, her hair doesn’t count.

I try to
maintain a zero clothing balance in my life. That means that every time I
buy a blouse, I have to get rid of a blouse. It makes me pause in the
midst of my outlet mall frenzy and think, “Do I really like this blouse
better than another one I already have?” It also means that I eventually
end up with a closet full of things I really love and wear often, rather
than stuff I don’t ever wear but won’t get rid of. Try applying this to
your children as well. Obviously it’s not perfect with babies; it’s hard
to buy a new pair of pants and get rid of a pair of pants if she’s never
worn pants because she’s only six weeks old. But you know when you’ve got
too many dresses. And this will definitely work with older children; when
school shopping comes around, go through your child’s wardrobe with him.
See what fits, what is “uncool”, and so forth. Talk to him about what he’d
like for the new year; if it’s a specific jacket, find out why and what he
can get rid of to balance it out. Make a list of “holes” in his wardrobe –
not enough t-shirts that fit, no warm pants without holes in the knees –
and think about what you’ll get rid of to balance it out. That means
retiring the t-shirts that don’t fit, and saying adios to the holey pants.
Then talk to your child about what you’ll be looking for; girls especially
will be jazzed at the idea that they “may” buy five new tops and two new

And finally, let’s talk about laundry. First things first
– keep the laundry basket right by the changing table. You’ll be using it
several times a day, I promise. As your kids begin taking their own
clothing off (sounds far away, but isn’t I promise!), think about giving
each child a lingerie bag with a cloth diaper pin through the top. Each
child gets a different colored pin to distinguish “their” bag. You can use
the pin to attach the open bag to each child’s laundry basket, and have
the kids put their small socks and undies into the lingerie bag. This will
make sorting a snap when they’re clean. And for older kids, make them help
with the sorting! If you’ve got room in your laundry room, buy a laundry
bag with three divisions
in it for whites, lights and colors. Tell
the family what day is laundry day – say, Mondays. Every person’s
responsible for getting his or her laundry to the laundry room and sorted
by Sunday night. Whatever’s not there is not your responsibility! They’ll
quickly figure this system out, I promise.

I hope those ideas help.
My biggest tip to you for staying on top of the family clothing situation?
Find a system that works for you. The fanciest, most expensive and
elaborate system in the world is useless if you don’t use it. Cool storage
boxes and cubicles are pointless if they tire you out just looking at
them. Get something simple, and stick with it.

Good luck!


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