As our families grow in size, and as our children get bigger, we accumulate more and more clothing. The question must be faced - what do we do with perfectly wearable clothing that is, at the present moment, not needed. With our houses already bursting at the seams, and closet space always inadequate, it doesn’t make sense to use prime storage space for outgrown, or out-of-season clothing. It doesn’t make sense to give it away, because, as we know only too well, clothes are expensive. If you might need them at some future time, why get yourself into the situation of having to spend a few hundred dollars unnecessarily?

I have developed a system that works extremely well for me - it is very simple and I have been asked to teach it to young mothers. I hope someone reading this article will find it useful.

This system (a) has helped me quickly locate a specific item of clothing for a specific use (let’s say you want to find a friend an outfit for a special occastion that hasn’t been used for years); (b) is of tremendous help during the periodic change of seasons; (c) will eliminate buying an item again that you know you have somewhere (??) in the house; (d) is very valuable when you need to make an inventory of the next size, as your children grow; (e) will allow you to buy clothes on sale, way ahead of time (like us foreigners who buy in advance when we come back to N.Y.), or store hand-me-downs from your friends or relatives without worrying that when you need it, you won’t be able to find it.

OK. Here it is! First: Think hard about all the unused possible storage areas in your house (and even out of the house) where cardboard cartons can be stored safely. Think unconventionally: The highest cabinets in your kitchen (that are rarely used at all), shelves above hanging closets (that often are a total mess), basements, attics, garages, under-bed storage areas, behind staircases, at your mother’s house, (I know someone who uses her husband’s warehouse where he works), top shelf of your pantry closet, etc. etc. Are any of these possibilities for you?

The rules are: the place must be free of dampness and bugs, it must be accessible, and it must not be a space that is used on an everyday basis.

Next: Acquire cardboard cartons in good condition that fit as closely as possible the size of the space - for maximum efficiency. The cartons should be sturdy, clean, and should close securely by alternating the flaps on top. Also, buy index cards and a heavy black magic marker.

Now: If you are young and only have a small amount of clothing to store, it is very easy to initiate the method. If you are already swimming in not-in-use-clothing which is lying all over, you’ll have to devote a few mornings to this project. Basically the system is (a) neatly packing the clothing into the boxes; (b) clearly and boldly marking the box with a number on all 6 sides; (c) writing on a card the number of the box, exactly what’s in the box, and exactly where the box is; (d) storing the index cards in an envelope and keeping them in a good place so that when you need to refer to them you will easily find them.

Make sure you do not put into the boxes clothing that is dirty, stained, or needs mending. Also, think of a place in your house where you can “park” things that need to be “filed” until you get a chance to do it.

NOW try to store the clothing in a logical way to ease the job in the future when you will need to use this stored clothing. From my experience, it is wise to separate definite girls’ clothing from definite boys’ clothing. Here are some of the categories in the boxes:

Items in a single box are bathing suits, sun hats, swimming gear, mittens, scarves and winter hats.

Newborn stuff - first few months.

Maternity undergarments.

Everyday pants in small sizes (you can decide what those sizes will be).

Everyday pants in medium sizes.

Everyday pants in large sizes.

Shirts - everyday - long and short sleeves are packed separately - sometimes in the same box.

Shabbos “dress up” clothing is packed separately and marked on the card as such.

Sweaters and thermal underwear, tights, pajamas, socks and underwear all have their boxes and cards. I often buy packages and always have them as things get worn out, tear, or are outgrown.

Label the cards as explicitly as possible. The few extra minutes will save you much time later. Indicate the amount (do this by putting the numbers in parenthesis) and size. I have found that certain articles have very wide variations in true size, so I change the size in magic marker on the label and store it according to its true size rather than the label size. For example, blanket sleepers can be labeled, small, medium, large, extra-large or 12 mos, 24 mos, 2 years, or simply 2, 4, 6. That is not so helpful when you have to store 8 sleepers of various sizes. I have found a very simple solution. I measure them from neck to heel and write the length on the label in magic marker and I don’t pay attention to the companies’ size. You’ll find the same true of tights. Lie them one on top of the other and store them according to their true size not according to the label.

Here's what a sample card can look like:

13)Little Boys (size 2 yr-5 yr) Shabbos outfits. Uppermost shelf in pantry closet right side

2 winter weight long pants navy size 5

1 2-piece beige short sleeve shirt & brown short pants size 5

4 short-sleeve white on white shirts size 5

3 long sleeve shirts size 5

1 Shabbos sweater with zipper (over clothes)

2 navy short pants size 5

As you can see, the card states the number of the box - 13, what category of clothing it contains, and exactly where it is. When your 3 1/2 year-old is outgrowing his size, you can take out this card and see if you need to buy anything for him for an upcoming event or holiday, and write it on your shopping list.

Before holidays are always very hectic times in a large household. You will be delighted that some night or morning you can take out the envelope with the cards and review the Shabbos-Yom Tov clothing inventory while sitting with a cup of tea, and marking down who needs what and how many. My index card envelope has 1-2 cards in the beginning marked “Shopping List.” Here I write down what I need whenever I notice that I am low on a certain item. For example: if all the size 8 weekday long-sleeved shirts have just been finished off by their present wearer (who is the third child wearing those shirts…) then I mark on the shopping-list card - need size 8 weekday long sleeve shirts.

Important in a large household: the cards need periodic revisions - as do the contents of the boxes. Be careful to cross out what is no longer in the box, and change amounts as necessary. When you have gone shopping for future use, put the stuff in your “parking area” (mentioned above), and as soon as you have some time, put the clothes in the appropriate boxes, indicating on the matching cards so you will have no trouble remembering at the right time (a) That you have already bought it, and (b) where it is.

I find I need to organize the clothing inventory during the change of seasons, and that is the time to put up and take down and revise the cards. Although keeping track of hundreds of articles of clothing is a big job, I always have a real feeling of satisfaction knowing it’s there when I need it. My two daughters are nine years apart. For nine years I had been storing my older daughter’s clothing, hoping that some day she would have a sister. (She was hoping, too!) When my second daughter was born I was thrilled that I had an almost complete wardrobe in all sizes, clean and ready for wear. A word of caution: After a certain size, you will have to decide whether to hold on to girls' clothing for a future daughter. If you think the item might be very much out-of-style, you might consider passing it to someone who can use it soon. You will still be saving by storing those articles where style is not so important: robes, pajamas, skirts, tights, slips, underwear in good condition, pullover sweaters, etc.

I also store sandals and sneakers, and even shoes in good condition. Each pair is packed separately in a clear plastic bag with a slip of paper in each bag boldly indicating the size. The card also states which sizes are in the box. If a child tears his school shoes beyond repair a month before you’re planning to buy the whole family new shoes, it will take you but 5 minutes to find out whether you own a wearable pair in that size to tide you over until you get to the shoe store. I store sneakers separately because here in Israel they are worn basically only for Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av (when leather shoes are not allowed to be worn). So every year before they’re needed, the box comes down and we see what fits who, and who needs new.

Some advantages of the carton method are:

1) You are using the available storage space to the maximum since cardboard cartons come in all sizes and shapes. This is much better than putting clothes in bags which are impossible to fit into the space.

2) If you have a large space (like a garage or attic) you can easily stack the boxes, and at a glance take the one or two you need.

3) The clothes will stay neat and clean for years. I usually put a towel or a piece of plastic over the top layer of clothing so dust will not come in through the small top openings.

4) I have seen people simply put clothing on top shelves of closets for storage. The drawbacks for this are (a) the clothes get dusty; (b) it's hard to go through the piles without messing them up and it's hard to stand on a chair or ladder to take out what's way in the back; (c) it's almost impossible to efficiently use all the space. Obviously it’s more sensible to put as many boxes of the right size on those same shelves and then take the box down and look through it at a comfortable height.

5) All your good prime closet and drawer space will be devoted to clothing in use right now. With less clutter, your drawers and closets will be neater, things will not get lost in the backs of drawers, and clothing will be easier to locate.

A Few Hints

You can further ease the job by separating the various categories within a given box. I have one large box for boys’ pajamas. This includes summer and winter. In the box I have put each type in a clear plastic bag with a piece of paper stating what it is. Then it’s simple before the summer to see at a glance what’s what and to change over from winter to summer.

Every time I work on the inventory (a few times a year) I invariably find things that I didn’t really use that much, that I can do without for the next child. These go into a bag, not into the boxes, and I give them to friends who want them or to needy families. I try to store only the things I have found practical, and only enough, not more than enough. As the family grows, and I do laundry more and more frequently, I find I need less everyday clothing, since within three days the clothing will be back in the drawer. So why in the world do I need 6 long-sleeved polo shirts in size 4? For holidays, since you want your children looking neat and clean and since you cannot wash, I find it is sensible to have an ample supply so you can have them change as necessary.

Anyone who is familiar with the stories of our Rabbis, knows that they all attached extreme importance to orderliness in every aspect of their lives. Orderliness is not a theory — our children learn the value and practice of keeping order by being aware of how we keep order in the homes in which they are growing up. The Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke about the necessity for keeping things running smoothly in the physical aspect of our lives and how this was truly a service of Hashem. He likened it to the service of the Priests in the Temple. ”

Take heart, my friends. I’m hoping that when Mashiach comes, speedily in our days, the clothing will grow with the kids - like in the desert - and they’ll be washed by some magic cloud. Then you can throw away this article!!