How Many Clothes Do Kids Really Need?

Are the piles of laundry overwhelming you? Does it seem like your kids closets are packed? Should we simplify our kids clothes?

By many people’s standards, I suppose my children don’t have that many clothes. I certainly don’t spend a lot of money buying clothes, and we sometimes have lean seasons where we run a bit low on boy’s shorts or wish we had just a couple more girl’s short sleeved shirts.

The closet you see above is the hanging portion that contains three of our children’s shirts, sweaters, dresses and skirts (plus a few fancy dresses that hang above).

What you see is basically what we have, minus the clothes that are currently dirty or in use. There is also one small dresser (three drawers) that houses their pants and shorts, plus another dresser that holds all of their summer and winter pajamas, underwear, socks/tights and cloth diapers, and some jackets in the hall closet.

In other words, we aren’t overflowing with massive amounts of clothing, and yet we aren’t lacking by any means, either.

What brought about the issue is that despite their average/moderate wardrobes, I still find that keeping up with all of their clothes and the never-ending laundry piles is just overwhelming me (despite the improvement of having a family closet, and trying to make sure that clothes get re-worn when they aren’t really dirty).

The laundry still piles up, and piles up. (And since I first wrote this post, we’ve now added another baby–with more cloth diapers!)

This raises the question: How many clothes do kids really need? How much is too much?

Is there a point at which owning too many clothes actually becomes a liability in terms of managing the laundry and maintaining it all? If we owned less clothes per child, would my closet and I be on better terms?

I’ve been searching around trying to figure out just what is a reasonable amount of clothing for a child, and what a more minimalistic closet might look like.

Here is what I pared down to (per child):

  • 7 casual outfits
  • 3 dressy outfits (probably 2 casual dressy, 1 fancier)
  • 3 pajamas (maybe 4-5 for the toddler)
  • Plus their current assortment of underwear and socks and seasonal jackets and shoes

It isn’t shockingly less than we have right now, but certainly it IS much less overall.

A one or two-month experiment

I’m not prepared to get rid of things for good quite yet. My husband easily goes along with my so-called “brilliant” (and sometimes short-lived) ideas. He only asked that I store the extra clothing away someplace that we can add it back in if we discover that my solution wasn’t really so brilliant after all (hmm, I think he knows me).

My goal is one to two months, to give this a real shot and examine the benefits (if any).

And it makes me excited–in this weird, de-cluttering, when-did-I-begin-to-have-minimalist-tendencies kind of way.

I think that I’m still definitely still processing the dire level of need and want that we saw in the Philippines. Continuing to work out what it means to practice good stewardship and frugal generosity as a Christian, and at what point we cross the line over to materialism, waste and greed. And always learning more of the benefits of simpler living, freeing up more time and resources for the things that are most important.

So, the questions remain: Will my laundry routine be reborn? Will the effort required to maintain the closet cease to make me sigh? Will I be happier with less children’s clothing, finding that we save money and that even choosing what to wear becomes simplified?

And just for fun, some links of interest that I came upon the other night while ruminating over this whole idea:

My Minimalist Wardrobe (Vlog) @ Money Saving Mom

How Many Clothes Do I Need? @ Living On a Dime

How Many Clothes Do My Kids Actually Need? @ Actual Mom

When It Comes to Clothes, How Much is TOO Much? @ Lots of Kids (one mom’s positive experience with limiting the amount of clothes her children had)

And lastly, a Yahoo! Answers discussion about how many clothes a child needs that will make you feel better about how much you own, no matter how large their wardrobe is. Read it and gasp.

How much clothing do you kids own? Just how much do you think is really “too much”? (And, Will less really be more?)

This post was originally published on August 25, 2011.

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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  1. You think your laundry and clothing problems are big? I had 7 kids and 2 adults to clothe! :-) And, let it be officially known that I HATE socks!! LOL

  2. One of my relatives recently spent almost $400 on her 1 preschool daughter’s clothes and I almost balked!! We got a little nuts buying my son’s summer & fall wardrobe at a consignment sale in the spring and I have since learned that 1) babies grow strangely and my son is never in the size for his age and 2) he can’t possibly wear all of these clothes more than once – crazy! So I just got done with the next consignment sale for fall/winter and I shopped smarter – and sold back all of those other outfits (a lot of which he NEVER wore because he outgrew the sizes) and now he has what he needs and not more. Hope your experiment works out for you guys!


  3. I haven’t counted whether my kids have too many clothes or not, but they always have enough. We are lucky to live on the tropical “always summer” weather, so that we have only one type of clothes. The washing will be depending on the sunshine of the day (raining is recently unpredictable-thank’s to global warming), and ironing is depending on my “free time” after work or on the weekend while the kids are sleeping, at least they have fresh one stocked up in the cupboard. We only have one huge cupboard- floor to ceiling- (not walk-in closet) and kids clothes have one side for theirs to be kept. I examine the clothes inside it quarterly, in case any of them that can be discarded, or swap with other moms, or just send to the orphanage.

  4. We went through a period of time where we needed to live in two different cities. Wednesday through Saturday we lived in our normal home. Saturday through Wednesday we lived in a home we needed to prepare for sale. We brought only one change of work clothing with us and washed once during our half-week there. (Obviously we wore clothes there, too, which gave us two pair of work clothes and one Sunday outfit.) My only regrets was that we absolutely wore holes in our clothing (we had brought old clothes with us in the first place) and we brought the exact number of socks that we needed (there was always a couple missing). We also would have done better with a change of pajamas and if we had realized that the girls would grow to the next clothing size.

  5. I think it makes sense that in the past people of all ages and occupations wore aprons. This simple article of clothing had the wonderful task of keeping clothes clean longer. And I’m almost positive that they had different aprons for different tasks like cooking, gardening, doing crafts etc. Maybe if we all started using aprons more we would find that our clothes stayed cleaner longer and also didn’t wear out as quickly too. Just a thought.

  6. My son has 5 school shirts and 3 school pants – trousers, sport shorts and trackpants plus his blazer for the school week and only has 4 tshirts, 2 pairs of trackpants, a set of thermals, pyjama pants and one pair of shorts and his bathrobe for everything else. Not counting underwear and socks, but only a few days worth of those too. It has simplified my washing enormously.
    He’s 13 though and loathes shopping, is content to wear the same things over and over – he picks a few shirts he likes and they rotate through the washing till worn out, since he’s finally stopped growing so much (for now)

  7. At the request of my 8 yr old daughter, she and I recently went through all of her clothes and purged a ton of items. We have very generous friends and family that pass a lot of clothes to us. I have been grumbling more and more about having to do way too much laundry and that she has too many clothes. She said something that I didn’t really realize but that is probably something a lot of younger children go through until they begin making their own clothing choices. She said that there were clothes in her drawers that she didn’t really like but she would wear them because the clothes she really preferred were dirty. Basically, there is so much laundry to do I am always behind on washing the clothes she prefers to wear and so in the meantime she creates more laundry by wearing things she really doesn’t like. duh! As an adult who chooses her own wardrobe and therefor generally likes everything in my drawers I wasn’t seeing the problem. 2 trashbags for Goodwill later and we are both much happier.

  8. Our daughter has more clothes than she technically “needs” but since we live in an apartment and I have to drag laundry down to the laundromat we try to do laundry once per week. My daughter is 11 months old so we have some “just in case” extras. She has 10 pj’s, 10 shirts/onesies, 4 pairs of shorts, 5 pants, 1 reusable swim diaper (which doubles as her bathing suit) and then a handful of “cute” outfits (5 I think… two of which were gifts). She re-wears clothes a lot but it’s SO NICE not to feel I have to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on things she wears for a few months before outgrowing.

  9. Stephanie says:

    We have a small amount of. Clothing here, and I love it. My daughter only owns a few t shirts, two shorts, three skirts and about four dresses… She also her uniforms for school. Our son has a few pairs of pants, about five or six pairs of shorts and the same amount of shirts. Most of his clothes came from friends. I still have trouble keeping up with laundry and dream of cutting back even more.

  10. Clothing is just about my biggest battle here. I often think it’s worse than toys! My three boys are slobs when it comes to putting clothing away. They really do only wear a couple of outfits each. Makes it seem like it isn’t even worth messing with trying to guess whether the pile on their floor is clean or dirty. On the other hand, I have periods where I don’t get to the laundry for a few days (for one reason or another) and pretty soon they “have nothing to wear!” So I go back and forth on how many clothes we really need. But I still suspect it is much less than what we have.

  11. bloggymommy says:

    Does having less clothes *really* cut down on the amount of laundry? Although my kids have closets full of clothes, they typically only wear a few things over and over. Even if they had less clothes it seems like they would still go through the same amount, therefore I would be doing the same amount of laundry…right?

    • Stephanie says:

      In an ideal, logical world you would most definately have the same amount of laundry. However, in my house, you don’t. My husband and son would change clothes when they came home from work/school, before bed, for yard work, etc, When I cut their wardrobes down to half, they didn’t have as many to choose from. Which means, they stopped changing as often or started reusing clothes for the same purpose a couple days in a row. If you’re going to get dirty playing outside why not get dirty in the clothes you played outside in yesterday?

  12. Rebecca says:

    On one hand, it sounds freeing not to have lots of clothes for your kids… but having too few might cause a lot of work too! I don’t know about you, but my 2 1/2 year old son is actually quite messy :-) He drops food on his clothes, he plays in the dirt or in the barn (we live in the country), he gets wet ‘accidentally’ in the hose, he has a pee accident in his pants and needs to be changed…. and on and on…. I’d have to wash his clothes every single day if I didn’t have at least 7 – 8 outfits for him! Dress outfits on the other hand, are not particularly necessary, other than 3 or so to go to church in.

    And my 3 month old baby is a champion spitter-upper. He will spit up large volumes of milk multiple times a day. And who wants to leave a baby in a spit-up soaked t-shirt? Even if I put on a bib, it doesn’t cut it. And I dont’ want to constantly feel the burden of washing the baby’s clothes every single day, and possibly running low on clothes if I’m waiting for a sunny dry day to dry them (we live in the northeast and I dry my clothes on the line). I already wash cloth diapers every 3 days.

    So we solve these problems by rotating clothes by seasons. And I buy all my kid’s clothes at Goodwill or other consignment/thrift shops, which saves a lot of money and gives them clothes I don’t mind them getting down and dirty in :-)


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