minimalist family - clothes

I'll start with my running definition of minimalism, as we define it for our family.

A minimalist family aims to own less while placing a high value on the immaterial: experiences, character, relationships, and imagination. We limit our possessions to save time, money, and free ourselves up to prioritize the immaterial.

I get asked this questions all the time, and though I've answered it in part in various past blog posts, I'm going to do my best to cover everything I can in this one. Clothes. For a family of five, living in Canada with four very distinct seasons, it's hard to keep clothes minimal.  Brad and I share a small closet, and our three kids share one of equal size. Brad has this dresser, and uses less of the closet, while I have this smaller dresser, but use more of the closet.  Space, beliefs, and lifestyle require we think minimally about our wardrobes, but it's not always easy.

Challenges to minimizing clothing:
  • Kids are constantly changing their sizes and outgrow things quickly.
  • Life is messy! The kids often go through two outfits per day (even more if they're potty training, painting, or outside a few times that day).
  • For many years, I too was constantly changing my clothing size (three kids in three years doesn't lend itself well to a capsule wardrobe).
  • Oli's school (which will be Clover's next year) requires a uniform, so he has school clothes and home clothes.
  • Canadian seasons require a lot of clothing. Freezing winters, wet springs, blazing summers, and crisp autumns. We may be minimalist, but there's no way to avoid having 3-4 different coats for the year!

So how do we keep things minimal? How do we make things last? How do we convince relatives not to buy more clothes for our kids? How do we help our kids be content with fewer clothes? Let's dive in.

Here's an example of our kid's current winter wardrobe: 

Long sleeve shirts: 6 (For Oli it's 4 + 2 collar button-up shirt)
Short sleeve shirts: 6-8 (For the girls it's 5 + 3 tank top)
Sweaters: 4
Pjs: 3
Jeans: 2-3
Leggings/sweats: 4
Dresses: 4 (2 winter/long sleeve + 2 summer dresses that they still wear with a long sleeve shirt)
Skirts: 2-3 (Layered with leggings for warmth)
Socks + Underwear: 5-7 of each
I find that this wardrobe is more than enough, in fact I wish it were smaller. I had forgotten about two long sleeve shirts from last year that I bought in the next size up, and when I found them I'd already bought everything (oops). But generally speaking, I'd love no more than 5 of any one item of clothing for the kids. We allow ourselves much more, since we are no longer growing rapidly and can and do wear our clothes for many years before replacing them. 

Once we have that amount of clothing for each child, we just don't buy anything else. Simple. But what about gifts? Over the years we've become really honest and upfront with family who ask about buying the kids clothes. We never want to hurt anyone's feelings, but in 1,000 square feet and everyone sharing clothing storage, we can't be super flexible about how much we bring into our home. Before every gift-giving holiday, we mention it in conversation or e-mail if there are any certain items of clothing we need for the kids (usually this is more exceptional stuff like bathing suits and PJs), and otherwise we ask our relatives to please not buy the kids any clothes. They know that we strive to live simply and that we don't have the space, so our relatives have always respected this. Sometimes they forget and ask for the kid's clothing sizes, and I'll just send a smiley reminder such as: "actually we're more than good for clothes this season, so we really don't need anything! But they had there eye on X book or Y game if you're looking for gift ideas". I'm actually thankful for the space restriction because it's generally understood by everyone who would normally like to buy our kids lots of toys and clothes, but what if we lived in a larger space but still wanted to live a minimalist lifestyle? That would be a lot harder! Then it's not just we can't, but we don't want to, which is harder to convince people with. Minimalists with larger space, how do you do it??

Having fewer clothes has the added challenge of making sure said clothes last. If you're going to be replacing them before your kids have even outgrown them, that kind of defeats the purpose. Here are a few tips to making your kid's clothes last (and most of these should work for your own wardrobe, too!)
  • Buy gender neutral clothing when possible. Sweaters, jeans, cords, snow pants... Most of these things are now on their third child and have been worn by our daughters and our son.
  • Choose darker colours! I regret basically everything I've ever bought for my kids in the shades of white, light grey, and pale pink. They stain so easily and have much less hand-me-down value. 
  • Wash your clothes properly. I do laundry every day, but I didn't start stain treating until this year when Oli's uniform required a white shirt every day (as an aside, I have serious words for whoever was responsible for that decision). Shout works great on stains, and soaking your whites in Oxi Clean works wonders. I buy mine online at Well.ca or at Costco.
  • Buy quality clothes when you can. We love Luv Mother and Wildly Co., which both happen to be ethically made. Otherwise I look at thrift stores for hand knit sweaters and Gap jeans. 
Keeping the kid's wardrobe limited makes mornings so more easier as we rush off to school, and it allows us to live small and within our budget which is really important to us! Did I miss anything? Mention it in the comments below :) 


  1. This is brilliant and timely as I just adopted my first child and was struggling, having not met/ sized him, to buy clothing. Think I went a bit overboard. Need some parameters for growing children, esp boys!, as I'm only accustomed to myself... And Ido have lots of space o yes, it can be tempting to "just buy it, just in case." Please keep these coming!

    1. congratulations on the arrival of your son, Darcy! Glad this was helpful :)

  2. I buy clothes based on how often I want to do laundry and for the kids, that's once a week so I try to have enough outfits for a week of wear. Easier said than done but that's my principle.

    I'm also a fan of fabrics that can be worn year round in Calgary - specifically short sleeve ponte dresses for the girls. It's all season wear with a bit of layering

    1. layering is so key! I find that I just end up doing laundry almost daily, but of course that doesn't mean we could get by with one outfit per person ;)

  3. Do you receive hand-me-downs or decline them? Also I suspect you don't stalk and scour off-season sales racks. I bet that alone is a big time saver and stress reliever. I would love to let go of that feeling that I'm missing out on a big sale.

    1. Usually I decline them because it's rare to find something that will fit into our very selective capsules (the right size, the right dark colour, a style I like, etc) but I'm always open. I buy a lot of things used and definitely off-season sale racks! Our girl's MEC coats were purchased last spring at 40% off ;)

  4. Do you have storage? I am wondering how you deal with out of season, or stuff that doesn't fit yet. I am inspired by your decisiveness, I have a hard time with this! Thanks, Neisha

    1. We have no storage! In our ensuite there are four large clear containers full of off season and future clothes for each kid, just stacked up there looking hideous but that's the only place for them ;)

  5. I'd love to see a toy post regarding minimalism and how you deal with well meaning relatives (usually the same two) who are constantly giving the kids all sorts of "gifts". One has even commented about how they never see the kids using the item(s) that were purchased :/!

    1. there's one in the works! I feel your pain, lol!

  6. great post emily! We live in 1100 square feet with 3 children as well and our biggest struggle is family not understanding our lifestyle choice.

  7. I enjoyed this post! And am enjoying the series... My family of 4 went (officially) Minimalist over the Christmas holidays and haven't looked back. We were already living a minimalist lifestyle in many ways, but we finally took the leap and purged all of the unnecessary that we'd been holding onto over the years. Our space isn't as tiny as some, but it is very organized and uncluttered! And I'm always looking for more inspiration!

  8. Ana Alves15.2.17

    I loved the post, I especially liked the break down of each item and how many you need of each. I try to be minimalist, but I have a long way to go still. I keep track of the clothing that I have for my two year old daughter and try to not buy more just because it's cute or on sale, but it's hard. Family doesn't always understand that she doesn't need more stuff but they are slowly beginning to understand. Looking forward to the post on toys

  9. amazing blog.....keep it up man.....!


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