Creating a Capsule Wardrobe for Kids (On a Budget!)

Creating a capsule wardrobe for your kids, whether they're infants or tweens, is a great way to save time, money, and mess; here's how.

Tips on Building a Capsule Wardrobe for Kids:

As regular readers know, I am a huge fan of saving money. Especially when it comes to things you have to buy anyway. Between rising grocery costs and skyrocketing energy bills, most families – including ours – are really feeling the pinch these days. Which is all the more reason to consider adding a capsule wardrobe for kids to your family budget plan.

What is a kids’ capsule wardrobe, you ask? Well, it’s a minimalist approach to clothing your family. In the long run, families who’ve tried it swear by this method for saving time, money, AND chaos at home. The basic idea is to figure out what your kids really need for clothing, and limit what goes into their drawers and closets to just those things they actually need and will use.

It can take a bit of time and effort to get your extended family on board, if, say, you have doting grandparents who love to shower your offspring with clothing. But in the long run, the payoffs are huge.

While our household’s efforts at a tween capsule wardrobe are still a work in progress, creating a kids’ capsule wardrobe doesn’t have to take tons of time or money. And with the seasons changing, now – when you’re probably doing the seasonal swap for your kiddos anyway – is the perfect time to give this a try.

Ready to get started?



How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe on a Budget for Kids

1. Make a list

Think about the season ahead, and what items your kids need to get through it. A lot of this will vary depending on where you live, what the weather is like, and what activities your kids do in their spare time:

  • If you live somewhere with cold and snowy winters, you’ll need more in the way of winter boots, heavy coats, and gloves/mittens/scarves than in a more moderate climate.
  • Those with a pool, or who spend their summer at the beach/in swim lessons, will have to worry more about swimwear than those whose families never go swimming.
  • If your family travels a lot, you may need to keep more underwear/socks/out-of-season clothes in the rotation than if you rarely leave home; doing so will make packing for your next trip a lot easier.

Also think about your laundry needs. With smaller kids or a larger family, you may be fine doing laundry every day. if you do laundry only on weekends, you’ll need more like two weeks’ worth of undies (think accidents for little kids and the changes of puberty for bigger kids) and 1-2 weeks’ worth of socks.

2. Look at what your kid(s) actually wear now

Many people with larger wardrobes only wear about 20% of their clothing most of the time. So figure out what that means for each of your kiddos at this point in their lives.

For example,

  • Almost every single day, Kimmie wears jeans, sneakers, and a zipped-up hoodie to school. For all her friends know, she could be wearing the same T-shirt underneath, day after day!
  • Essie’s favorite colors to wear used to be bright and clashing colors/patterns – the louder, the better. But nowadays, she prefers black and blue, with the occasional rainbow-colored top or hoodie added in.

And even though our area has its share of cold winter temps, neither girl likes wearing long-sleeve T-shirts. Instead, they prefer short-sleeve T-shirts plus hoodies. As soon as I figured this out, I stopped buying them long-sleeve Ts that they’d never wear!

So Essie has an aqua hoodie and a rainbow one to choose from on colder days. Kimmie has two heavier ones for cooler temps, and (since she likes having the pockets, even on warmer school days) two super-light ones for when it’s warm out.

3. Pick a few theme colors, with their guidance

Once you’ve figured out what colors they like wearing the most, and/or what their current faves are, try to only choose clothes in those colors, plus a few coordinating neutral colors as needed. If possible, see if you can get them to pick “theme” colors that already match and/or coordinate well (e.g., blue/green, blue/red, purple/pink, or orange/yellow).

According to kids’ capsule wardrobe veterans, this makes life a ton simpler, because everything matches with everything else. Hence there are fewer decisions to make each day about what to wear.

As someone who travels regularly with her kiddos, it also makes packing for trips much easier, because each person’s wardrobe already contains clothes that coordinate with all the other pieces of their wardrobe.

Keep in mind that your kiddo’s color preferences will shift over time. So whenever you’re ready to restock for the next season/size, make sure you’re still on top of their color preferences before you go shopping!

4. Balance price with quality

Many families who swear by kids’ capsule wardrobes will tell you that cheaper isn’t always better!

Those discount-department store brands that you may buy in bulk right now are often not made to last. And when your kid’s wardrobe gets more wear and washings of fewer pieces, buying clothes that will make it through the season becomes critical.

Here are some ways you can solve this problem:

  • If you have access to quality-brand hand-me-downs from family and friends, this is always a great way to go.
  • Some families will choose one or two quality brands to shop from every season. This makes it easier to ensure that everything coordinates with everything else, and that the clothes will last being handed down from your eldest to your youngest.
  • If you choose a single brand or two, get on their mailing/text club list for discount coupons; if they have a branded credit card that will earn you points toward free clothes, get one.
  • If you’re a “one and done” family, department store brands may work for you, since you don’t need to make them last through several kids.
  • My personal fave way to get quality brands that will last, WITHOUT shelling out top dollar, is to shop secondhand. I especially like children’s resale events for this, but thrift stores and online sites are also an option, if you have the time and patience. The largest consignment sale where I shop each spring and fall is like having a full collection of kidswear to choose from, for less than even the discount department store brands!

With so many options to choose from, it’s hard NOT to find what you need for your kids’ capsule wardrobe at a children’s consignment sale!

Our family’s tween capsule wardrobe checklist

As I noted above, how much you need of each item for your kids’ capsule wardrobe will depend in part on how often you do laundry:

  • If you have smaller kids or a bigger family, you may still be doing laundry every day. In that case, you can get by with fewer tops/bottoms each season and maybe a week’s worth of undies and socks.
  • If (like us) you do laundry only once a week, or you travel a lot (meaning you need to have clothes to wear at the same time you’ve got other clothes packed), you will probably need closer to a week’s worth of tops/bottoms, and 10-14 days’ worth of underwear and/or socks.

For example, in addition to 2 weeks’ worth of underpants and 1-2 weeks’ worth of bras, these are the sorts of things on my tween girls’ summer capsule wardrobe for kids checklist:

Our summer kids’ capsule wardrobe checklist

Because our family spends lots of time swimming and camping in the summer, we need clothes that work for these activities more than your family might, so keep that in mind as you read our list.

  • 2 swimsuits, 2 long-sleeve rash guards, and 1-2 short-sleeve rash guards
  • 1 beach cover (can also double as a robe when traveling)
  • 1 pair each flip-flops, nicer sandals, closed-toed sandals (Keens/Tevas/etc), and hiking boots
  • 2-3 pairs “everyday”/nicer shorts
  • 2-3 “everyday”/nicer short-sleeve Tshirts (usually carried over from the school year)
  • 1 lightweight hoodie
  • 1-2 pairs jeans or other long pants (usually from last season)
  • 3-5 “play” shirts, 3-5 “play” shorts, and 5-6 pairs longer socks for family camping trips and sleepaway camp (we apply permethrin to these to help repel mosquitoes and ticks) – these are often older pieces from last summer, or less durable brands that we got secondhand, because we know they’ll get the most beat up, and we don’t expect them to last beyond the summer)
  • 1 windbreaker (lightweight jacket for rain or chilly evenings)
  • 1-2 sundresses/similar “dressy” outfits (for church and special occasions) plus 1 neutral “nicer” coverup (e.g., light cardigan)
  • 2-4 summer PJ options (nightgowns, tank top/shorts, etc.)

Our winter capsule wardrobe for kids checklist

Our family’s kids’ capsule wardrobe checklist for winter and the school year looks more like this:

  • 3-4 pr jeans + 2 pr leggings for Kimmie, 6 pr leggings for Essie (who doesn’t wear jeans) (leggings can also serve as a second layer under something else)
  • 5-7 short-sleeve T-shirts and/or tank tops, to wear under hoodies
  • 1 pr sneakers + 1-2 pr waterproof/winter boots (when we get lots of snow, they often need an extra pair to wear while the other pair dries out)
  • 2-3 warmer hoodies
  • 1 warm hooded winter parka + 1 mid-weight jacket
  • 2-3 pair winter gloves, 1-2 winter hats, + scarf
  • 1 long thermal undershirt (for cold-weather play)
  • 2 pr winter pajamas
  • 1 cooler-weather bathrobe
  • 2 pr sweatpants/lounge pants (can also serve as an outer layer)
  • 1 nice cooler-weather dress, 1 pr nicer shoes, and a cover-up to go with dress (e.g., nice cardigan)
  • 10-12 pr assorted socks (including slipper socks, warmer/longer socks for winter snow play, and everyday pairs, to layer as needed)

If your area rarely sees snow or cold winter temps, your list will probably not include as many warm-weather options as ours.

Your turn:

Has your family tried creating a kids’ capsule wardrobe before? Are you ready to give capsule wardrobes for kids a try? Let us know about it in the comments!

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