Baby Capsule Wardrobe Essentials Guide: A Minimalist Approach to Baby Clothing
It's easy to become overwhelmed by the ever-changing list of "baby must-haves." There is a simpler way to create a beautiful and sustainable wardrobe without breaking the bank or drowning in onesies and laundry. I hope this guide will help shed some light on the essentials for creating a sustainable, heirloom-quality, and gender-neutral wardrobe from 0-12 months.
We're going into Fall, and I have an 18mo who is growing quickly and is very mobile, messy, and opinionated about what she wears. I've been thinking about what pieces I need to complete her Fall wardrobe capsule and decided to go back and look over the infant capsule spreadsheet I created before she was born. There were items that I didn't end up needing (I'll mention them later), but overall, I felt well-equipped to dress my baby from birth through 6 months with a minimal and sustainable capsule that was versatile enough to get us through multiple season shifts, vacations, road trips, and day-to-day life. I thought, 'Why not simplify my admittedly over-the-top spreadsheet for everyone?' Here's my attempt to decode and share the method behind my baby wardrobe madness.
I have one of these canvas IKEA storage containers for each age range: 0-3, 3-6, 6-12, and 1-2, etc. The boxes are roughly 20" x 20" x 7", and I find that to be a reasonable size to accommodate a full clothing capsule, including winter gear, shoes, etc. I keep one extra for clothes that are too big, whether they run big or are hand-me-downs that I want to save for a future season.
Why bother with a wardrobe capsule for a baby?
Before I dig in, I want to acknowledge two very split camps for kids' clothing. Many people would say kids' clothes get worn and stained no matter the quality, so it's better to prioritize quantity. Even though I am choosing to do things differently, I sympathize with this notion for toddlers and older kids now that I have one. I've adjusted the clothes I buy my toddler and spend a lot more time removing stains, but I am still trying to keep her wardrobe as minimal as possible and stick with higher-quality fabrics. With a baby, though, especially one that's not yet mobile outdoors, I think it's much easier to build and maintain a smaller capsule wardrobe and build sustainable habits around laundry, clothes storage, and purchasing.
My minimalism journey has been more about consciousness than decluttering. I have a history of being financially irresponsible, living way beyond my means, and making impulse buys on items that were always "a great value and high quality" but neither urgent nor necessary. Coming up with strict criteria to buy or not buy something helps me slow down personally, and I think it may help shed some light on what you actually need for a baby.
If that's not reason enough, think about the following:
Babies outgrow clothes quickly and non-linearly. Overnight growth spurts are a real thing! If you have 15 sleepers in the 0-3 size and your baby is on the larger side, you're spending a lot of money and space on items you'll get very little use out of.
You do not know what materials, brands, and cuts you'll like before you try them, no matter what an influencer or someone in a Facebook group swears by. With my newborn, I focused on buying from several brands I thought I might like and tried various styles. Now I know which jammies wash the best and don't stretch, which sweaters last far longer than the age range on the tag, and which hats stay on. I approached it all like a little experiment, and almost two years in, it's so much easier to make decisions. Buying things like pajamas, leggings, and T-shirts requires very little thinking on my part, just waiting for sales or setting alerts up on resale sites.
Fast-fashion baby clothes are not built to last and don't resell for much. I spend a lot of time shopping for secondhand kids' clothes and let me tell you, you'll be lucky to get a few dollars back for a NWT Cat & Jack outfit. That's not to say I don't buy anything from fast fashion brands. I definitely have gotten some secondhand Zara and Carter's items that I love. For what I spend secondhand, I am okay with the risk of donating the items at the end of the season. Another exception to the fast fashion rule for me is H&M kids. Their kids' line has a ton of organic cotton basics and Merino wool base layers at unbeatable prices, and they have a sale of what feels like every week. For the most part, though, I try to prioritize brands that are a little pricier to begin with but usually still in excellent condition secondhand. When an item doesn't work out, I can turn around and sell them for roughly the same price I bought them for.
Durable materials can often be easier to maintain. It's a slight adjustment to pay attention to washing temperature and air dry organic cotton, linen, hemp, or Merino items. Still, it really makes a world of difference in the longevity of clothes. I spent a long time battling a broken agitator in our old top loader and the incredibly hard water in our area and have finally figured out the combo of laundry products that work. More on that later, but my point is that, in my experience, natural materials wash better, and stains are a lot easier to get out. Plus, when you have less, you may be more incentivized to actually try lifting stains before tossing or donating something.
You'll see what you have. This may seem silly, but seeing all your baby's clothes may make it easier to dress your baby quickly and ultimately lead to buying less.
Fewer items can lead to quicker tidying up. Whenever I feel like I'm tidying too often or spending too much time folding laundry, I know it's time to do a purge. There's a saying in the minimalism space to 'treat everything you bring into your home as inventory that you must manage.' That resonates with me because we often think of having more baby clothes as a convenience, either for laundry or outfit choices. In reality, the more you have to manage, the more overwhelming it can be. Especially as babies become mobile and engage in a little of their own "reorganization."
Things to consider when for your baby's wardrobe capsule.
How you create your baby capsule depends on your location, season, values, finances, and family goals. You can do this whole thing on Amazon or at Target if scouring for organic and second-hand clothes is not within your means, time constraints, or priorities at the moment. You can still create a minimalist clothing capsule that works for your family whether you are motivated by sustainability, slow living, or less laundry; it doesn't really matter. This isn't sad Beige Mom vs. Fisher Price Mom. You can still make conscious decisions about what and why you buy things.
What is your total budget for all baby clothes for the next six months?
Having a capsule wardrobe listed out well in advance of the baby's arrival meant I could buy things on end-of-season sales and set up alerts on Kidizen (use code ssk8y for $5 off) and Poshmark (use code MKLEYNERMAN for $10 off). My full-price total for everything I got for 0-6mo would have come in at over $2000 (yeah, that's excessive), but I managed to get everything for just over $500. Proportionally, I would say that you can find almost everything for 40-60% off the retail price if you give yourself time and purchase intentionally. My breakdown by month looked roughly like this:
0-3 Months: $250
3-6 Months: $300
My breakdown reflects the fact that I only bought a few newborn-size items. If you have a smaller baby, you may need more! Based on our seasons, I only purchased outerwear in 0-6 month size ranges.
What's your laundry routine?
How often you do laundry may impact the amount of clothing you need. Our laundry situation is not ideal, but it's in our home. I accounted for about a week's worth of clothes, but I try to throw in a load every other day or so, rotating between cloth diapers, kitchen rags, linens, darks, and lights. If you have to take your laundry to a laundromat, you may want more spare clothing options or to invest in a little washing tub and mild detergent for handwashing in a pinch. I am not the laundry queen over here. I find myself with a heaping pile of clothes to fold multiple times a month, but I am slowly getting better and cannot overstate the value of doing smaller loads of laundry consistently. When I am able to wash AND PUT AWAY a load of laundry every day, I feel like I'm winning at life. Having my favorite items clean and accessible also helps me feel my best as a human being.
Do you have laundry products that actually work and are safe for you and your baby?
Figuring out your laundry set-up can really change your outlook on a minimal wardrobe. I alluded to my battle with hard water and our old top-loader earlier. I switched to Branch Basics Concentrate and Oxygen Boost (I'm not affiliated with them) over two months ago, and wow, I will never go back. Half a dozen detergents, even more, stain removers, and all the additives like Borax, Washing Soda, and Calgon, and nothing would get our clothes clean. I scrub in the concentrate and oxygen boost with a toothbrush as a stain remover, and I haven't met a stain I could not lift to date. I also no longer have to buy literally any other cleaning products, which frees up so much cabinet space and saves a surprising amount of money, primarily by less frequent Target runs.
Do you plan to use this clothing capsule for multiple kids?
If not, and you are a one-and-done family or rebuilding your baby capsule for one last kiddo after giving away or selling clothes from your older kids, you can make simple adjustments to my advice below. You will still reap the benefits of minimalism even if you don't prioritize quality or gender-neutral options as much. Without spending too much, you can still find organic baby clothes, or at least cotton that has been through the wash numerous times, by shopping secondhand, or getting a few items from H&M.
Do you plan to resell the clothing once you're done with it?
Right now, I mostly hold on to each age range's clothing capsule for future kids; when I pack away items from each capsule, I always have a few that I didn't like the quality or fit of or didn't get nearly enough wear to make it to the next child. I'll get into my storage system later, but when I see I have too many items, I also downsize anything overtly gendered, ensuring that it'll get used for the next baby.
What seasons do you need the clothing to span?
Noah was born in late January in Wisconsin, so her 0-6mo capsule needed to span from the dead of winter (I'm talking ice storms, people) through summer. I prioritized sizing up in things like sleepers and basics that could be layered in any season and didn't bother with things like shoes, special occasion outfits, etc., until the warmer months as she was bundled up or in a baby carrier most of the time we were outside of the house. Also, maybe it's just me here, but I feel like babies look unnatural in adult-looking clothes ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Is your baby going to be in childcare?
Noah has been home with me, apart from a small stint in daycare at the 8-month mark - apparently the worst possible month for separation anxiety. For daycare clothes, I found some pretty cute, 100% cotton (not necessarily organic) clothes for dirt cheap at thrift stores and H&M clearance that I didn't mind donating if they got ruined. I stuck to basic two-piece sets, labeled those things separately, and didn't mix home and daycare clothes. She was only there two days a week, so her existing capsule still worked fine the rest of the time. If your baby is in childcare full-time, adjust accordingly. You can still be minimal and prepare to replace things more often or be okay with stains here and there.
Curating a capsule wardrobe for your baby.
Hopefully, you have taken the time to dig deeper into your family values, budget, and realistic wash routine. You can start crafting your baby's wardrobe from the ground up.
1. Calculate the number of outfits and sleepers you'll need for one wash period. Remember that your baby can wear sleepers for sleep and play! I would aim for one pair of pajamas and one outfit daily and add two to three spares per wash period. Set up a small handwashing station in a convenient bathroom for quick handwashing between washes.
I calculated the number of items I needed based on doing laundry 2x a week. I went with 6 sleepers and 6 daytime outfits in my core capsule for 0-3 months, and added a few extra outfit options, rompers, and sets as the seasons changed and my baby became more mobile.
2. Assess the seasons. Start with the innermost layers, like sleepers, tops, and pants, and work outward. You'll need to consider mid-layers and outerwear in winter or just a few layering pieces in summer. Over six months, you'll likely experience seasonal shifts, so for mid and outer layers like sweaters, go with boxier oversized fits in versatile fabrics like cotton and lightweight wool.
3. Think about versatility. It's tempting to go with the sweet pumpkin cardigan for your fall baby, but will you want to put that on them if it still fits in the spring? Rather than themed or heavyweight sleepers in Fall and Winter, go with an organic cotton waffle like my favorite Noble sleepers. They keep babies toasty even in the dead of winter but are breathable enough to be worn year-round. They come in a beautiful range of colors and fit for a long time. I've even been able to skip a size.
Don't buy too many newborn items starting out. You may end up with a 10lb baby that will fit into them for all of two weeks. Even a smaller baby will look just as sweet in a 0-3 size that will last much longer if you can find items with a larger age span or oversized boxy fit.
Minimize onesies and footed sleepers! This may sound sacrilegious, but you can forego snap crotch onesies and footed sleepers for separates and footless sleepers that will fit much longer!
Prioritize gender-neutral colors and organic materials for longevity, better resale value, and use for multiple kids.
Start by buying from various brands. I mentioned approaching the first six months as an experiment to understand which brands and styles fit my baby and our lifestyle best. It will be different for everyone, but the following brands have become my absolute favorites over the last two years:
Noble for the thickest, softest waffle sleepers and sets, rompers, and dresses, as well as women's coveralls and base layers.
Briar Baby sells heirloom quality newborn through toddler-sized linen bonnets, sunhats, and Halloween hats that are the absolute sweetest.
Fin & Vince (CLOSED) for separates, outerwear, and just about anything else. They have closed their shop, but you can find them secondhand on Kidizen (use code ssk8y for $5 off).
August River makes the softest terry kimono rompers and the most convenient vintage-style snap sleepers.
Organic Zoo for colorful, but not overstimulating, sweat suits, cardigans and jackets, and dungarees.
Mebie Baby for stretchy, organic cotton zipper sleepers for the early months
Oat and Co for oversized knits and play suits that last far beyond the size on the tag. I'm talking over a year for their knits!
The Simple Folk is my go-to for neutral knits, dressier items, ultra-soft newborn sleepers, bonnets, and booties. I buy mostly from their outlet section or secondhand to keep costs down.
H&M for organic cotton play clothes and surprisingly high-quality merino wool baselayers.
I've found that these brands wash the best, fit the longest, and are versatile enough to work for day-to-day play, outdoor adventures, travel, and special events. Apart from the occasional pieces from H&M or what I find second-hand, I try to stick with these brands that are small, ethically produced, and women-owned.
*My final tip is more of a reminder that you can strip your baby down to a diaper during messy meals, artistic endeavors, and outdoor play (season permitting) and save yourself from unnecessary outfit changes and spot treatments. Time without clothes, especially naked time, allows for better freedom of movement and gives them that precious sunshine they thrive on!
I'm hoping by now you're understanding my thought process behind curating a baby capsule wardrobe. I've started building out a simple worksheet to get you started. This list will need adjustment according to the seasons, but you can see approximately how I accounted for seasonal shifts and developmental milestones like crawling and starting solids.
I hope I've been able to help shift your thinking away from the piles of newborn clothes and laundry we've come to accept in mainstream culture. Your baby needs you and very little else. With the right clothing capsule, you can do less laundry and tidying and have a put-together baby ready for adventures in all types of weather. Your baby capsule doesn't have to be neutral to be gender-neutral! It doesn't have to be expensive or new to be thoughtful! Approaching your baby's wardrobe with intentionality, especially as a first-time mom, can set the tone for how you approach bringing toys, books, gadgets, and all other items into your home! I know for a fact there's no right way to mother, but I firmly believe that anything we can do to keep ourselves calm, prevent overstimulation, and feel on top of things does wonders to help us be the best parents we can be for our babies.
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