Want to improve your child’s emotional regulation and independence while reducing the amount of daily energy required of you? Simplify your kid’s closet!
Your child’s bedroom should be their peaceful sanctuary. Think about it, children are often staring right into their closets as they try to fall asleep at night (which is why simplifying their closet can also improve their sleep) and it’s often the first thing they see when they wake (setting the tone for the day). Being in a cluttered and chaotic space is incredibly overwhelming, even and especially for children, who absorb their environment and reflect it back as behavior. A short-term focus on this area can improve emotional regulation by reducing overwhelm and increasing calm.
Children can only be independent in a space if they can find the things they need and easily access them. They need less objects, coordinated items, and a place for everything so they can clean up, look great, and feel good.
If you invest the energy on the front end by designing a minimalist wardrobe with your child and simplifying their closet, then you drastically reduce the daily energy required of you on the back end.
A few years ago, I completely transformed my wardrobe and closet and it changed my whole life. Truly. I created the Minimalist Wardrobe class to share the system with other mamas and the effect has been powerful. Then these women who experienced such positive growth through this shift in their own wardrobe approach started asking how they could better support their children through their closets.
The answer: move through the same class for or with your child (depending on their age). You’ll build the wardrobe using the same 5 pillars (climate, lifestyle, comfort, fit, and style) but with added consideration for ease of pairing. For a little one, every top should be able to pair with every bottom.
Then you grant them the freedom of autonomy and self expression to dress themselves, without editing! West’s signature style is a button up collared shirt – left open. Set them up for success and let them be.
West has the smallest bedroom with the smallest closet.
We started by completely clearing out his closet and large dresser and removing the dresser from his bedroom.
We sorted everything into 5 piles: trash, donate, gift, relocate, keep. We took out the trash, put the donate pile in the trunk of the car, returned items that didn’t belong in his bedroom that to their place, and laid out his keepers on his bed.
My first step in this space was to sell his big dresser (which took up so much of the limited space).
We decided to build in shelving to match the existing upper shelf to accessibly store his wardrobe in his closet. We measured everything, ran to Lowe’s, and bought primed wood for the supports and laminated wood for the shelves (we chose laminated wood so it would be gentler on fabrics). We measured and marked on the wall where we wanted the shelves based on the hanging length of his shirts (leave room for your kid to grow into bigger (longer) sizes) and the height of the fabric boxes we were going to use for clothing storage. We sawed the pieces to length, nail gunned the supports in place, caulked the edges, and painted the supports. The entire building phase, including the trip to the hardware store, took half a day and about $60 (we already had the paint, nails, etc.). And the bulk of that time was me agonizing over exactly where I wanted the shelves, much to my husband’s chagrin.
Then we gathered up some white hangers and bought three gray felt boxes with brass buttons from Ikea.
For the penny pushers, that’s $30 spent at Ikea, $60 spent at Lowe’s, and $150 made selling the dresser, for a grand total of $60 in profit.
We then laid out all of his clothes and removed anything in disrepair, disuse, or outgrown (trash, donation, hand-me-downs for smaller friend, respectively).
Next, we organized his clothes into categories.
Top Shelf: Box (containing hand-me-downs in the next size up), Hat (He is not yet tall enough to reach this shelf so it has a sun cap that is out of season right now in the winter – still present but not easily accessible. In the summer, we could put the winter box up here and the sun cap on a low shelf)
Hanging Bar: Tank Tops, Tee Shirts, Short-Sleeve Collared Button-Up Shirts, Long Sleeved Shirts, Flannels, Sweaters (a button up old man sweater is his favorite article of clothing), Fleece, Rain Jacket
West has a lot more shirts than his siblings because he plays hard and changes shirts like 5 times a day. To honor his natural ways, we simply keep more shirts and accommodate this way of being (instead of fighting against it and telling him to quit climbing trees or dressing up). It’s still a one-week wardrobe, it just allows for his frequent clothing swaps.
Upper Shelf: Pants, Socks, Pajamas, Underwear
Lower Shelf: Shorts, Boots, Winter Accessories (thermals, beanie, scarf, gloves), Swimsuit/Goggles/Towel
Floor: Backpack, Shoes
Closet Doors: You have probably noticed the lack of closet doors. We remove the big, heavy sliding closet doors from bedroom closets as soon as we move into a house. They block half the space and are a cumbersome obstacle to access, especially for children. We prefer to have fully and easily accessible closet space that becomes a part of the room. Then the belongings or clothing pieces you choose to own become art that can add to your joy instead of hidden clutter. Everything has a place and can be seen, accessed, and put away by even the youngest of children.
Bay, 10, has the mid-sized bedroom and closet. We started by completely clearing out his closet and large dresser and removing the dresser from his bedroom.
We sorted everything into 4 piles: trash, donate, relocate, keep. We took out the trash, put the donate pile in the trunk of the car, returned items that didn’t belong in his bedroom to their place, and laid out his keepers on his bed.
Whenever we are refreshing a space, we always shop our own home first before buying anything new. We measured an Ikea Kallax bookshelf in white and found it to be a perfect fit to lay horizontally in his closet. Granted, I had to partially disassemble it and use some intense geometry to fit it through the opening, but victory was so sweet once it was installed. Had we not already owned this bookshelf, I could have purchased it for $68.
Then we grabbed the nice big basket for his still-too-big hand-me-downs and gathered some white hangers from other closets.
Next we went to Ikea and bought 3 Pudda gray felt boxes with brass buttons ($9 each) for his underwear, socks, and winter accessories.
For those of you keeping track, we spent $30 at Ikea and then sold his dresser on Facebook Marketplace for $150, so this refresh actually made us $120.
Lastly, he added a couple clothing items to his gift list (which will replace a couple items he uses but doesn’t like).
Top Shelf: Box (containing hand-me-downs he has yet to grow into), Shoes (He is tall enough to easily reach the top shelf. If he wasn’t, we would put hats up here and shoes on the bottom row.)
Hanging Bar: Rain Pants, Pants, Tee Shirts, Long Sleeved Shirts, Flannel, Fleece, Rain Jacket
Upper Shelf: Swimsuit/Goggles/Towel, Underwear, Hat, Pajamas
Lower Shelf: Socks, Shorts, Winter Accessories (thermals, beanie, scarf, gloves), Backpack
Empty closet and dresser. Sell dresser. Sort everything into trash, donate, relocate, or keep piles. You know the process by now, right? Sky, 13, actually has the biggest closet in the house and needed vertical hanging space for dresses so we got an Ikea Kallax but set it vertically. Then we gathered some white hangers and picked up 4 Pudda boxes on that Ikea run.
Top Shelf: Boxes containing special blankets and stuffed animals.
Hanging Bar: Dresses, Skirts, Sweat Pants, Jeans, Leggings, Shirts, Flannel, Fleece, Jacket.
Shelf 1: Underwear, Screens (she requested a screen shelf where she charges her iPhone and iPad).
Shelf 2: Pajamas, Socks
Shelf 3: Winter Gear, Accessories (hat, head band, jewelry, etc.)
Shelf 4: Bags, Swim Gear
Floor: Shoes, Hamper
Once she was able to see everything she had together, she was able to see what pieces she still needed, which she added to her gift list.
We made $100 on the dresser, spent 70 on the shelving and 30 on the boxes for a break-even closet refresh.
A lot of families have asked about what I would do in a shared sibling closet. I would use the same setup. You just have to tap into your creativity and tailor the system for your children’s needs. Let’s look at our smallest kid closet as an example. There is a lot of breathing room between the shirts but if you push them all to one side they only take up half the hanging space. There is also a lot of open space between the sections on the shelves, which could be condensed to accommodate more (they make acrylic shelf dividers that I might consider if the sections were really closet together). I would raise the height of the two lower built in shelves, giving us three full height lower shelf spaces (I would raise the upper shelf and hanging bar if the kids were older). Then I would hang hats and backpacks on wall hooks and keep shoes in the foyer where we have a shoe bench (realistically, that’s where we keep the shoes in season anyway since we don’t wear them into the house). Then I would add a second hand-me-down box to the top of the closet. Boom. Two wardrobes accommodated.
My kids and I spent 3 special afternoons together simplifying their bedrooms and organizing their closets. Their wardrobes are minimal and reflect their personal style. They do their laundry, put away their clothes, dress with ease, and quickly find anything they need. They feel calm, competent, and confident. A simplified closet is a powerful thing.