Storing out-of-season clothing

Most of us in the northern hemisphere are experiencing longer days, warmer weather, and fewer opportunities to wear our winter clothing. One of my favorite things to do when spring takes hold is to pack up my cold weather clothing and swap it out of storage with my warmer weather things. It sounds silly, but I really do enjoy this process. Opening a box of summer clothes is like finding a forgotten five dollar bill in the pocket of a pair of pants.

Before I open up the warmer weather clothing, though, I make sure that I have properly prepared my cooler weather clothing for storage. Storing dirty clothes for six months can do a lot of damage and attract bugs, so the first step in the process is to clean everything you plan to store. **Dry clean your natural fiber and delicate clothing, and run the rest through the washing machine. Be sure not to starch anything, though, as bugs love to gnaw on starch, and remove everything from flimsy plastic dry cleaning bags. Also, now is the time to have damaged items repaired, and to find new homes for anything you no longer wish to keep. If you’re someone who likes to shop, then consider decreasing your winter wardrobe by half or more so that when you bring new items in during the fall you’ll have space in your closet.

My storage system for out of season clothing is very basic. I have clear plastic boxes with lids and I toss a handful of cedar balls into each box to deter pests. I also throw a humidity control desiccant packet into each container for good measure. I have one large box for coats, scarves, and hats, and another large box for business professional clothing like winter suits, dresses, and heavy slacks (they’re called underbed boxes on the Container Store website). Then, I have five smaller plastic sweater boxes organized by color: black, grey, blue, white/brown, and red/green. In case you’re curious, those are the only colors in my whole wardrobe — it’s oddly void of orange, purple, and yellow.

There are a number of different ways to safely store clothing for the season. The basics are this: Bugs need air to breathe and dislike cedar oil in high concentrations. So, either store your clothing in an air-tight container or store it in a nearly perfect air-tight container and introduce cedar oil into the environment to deter pests. Cedar chests are fantastic if they’re air tight. Heavy-duty sweater bags are fine, and you can put tape over the zipper if you’re afraid of air getting into it. My local dry cleaner sells cedar-scented bags that are good for coats you might leave hanging in a closet.

**Note: The reason I recommend dry cleaning your natural fiber clothing before putting them into storage for the season is because the dry cleaning process kills moth larvae and adult moths. If you don’t want to dry clean your items, then you need to freeze your clothing for two to three days before putting it in storage. Freezing your clothes will kill the pests the same way dry cleaning will.

32 Comments for “Storing out-of-season clothing”

  1. posted by Jen on

    I guess I’m a firm believer in keeping all my clothes out (of course, you have to have the room/closet space to do this) all year round … just in case there’s a colder day (we live in Michigan, so it’s unpredictable!), and I’m not wishing I hadn’t packed something away. I think if you have the room, it’s definitely the way to go … it keeps you “posted” on everything you have all the time, and it allows you to “weed out” clothes you’re not liking anymore all year long. Plus, it eliminates the need to have to do this type of project 2X a year (packing it up and unpacking it).

    What I do is separate all my clothing by color (the ones on the hangers and the ones on exposed shelves in the closet. Then, on the shelves, I sort by type (tank tops, capris, sweat pants, pajama bottoms, jeans, etc.) It really works, and I love having access to all my stuff at one time.

  2. posted by Carol m on

    I switch out my wardrobes too, even tho I live in FL. In spring I pack up my turtlenecks and long sleeve t shirts and dark colored shirts. In winter I pack away the pastels. When I open the box at the beginning of the season, it’s like getting a bunch of new clothes.

  3. posted by Kirsten on

    I’m with Jen. I never understood the semi-annual wardrobe swap. I grew up in a house with smallish closets, and even when I moved to a condo with an even smaller closet, my entire wardrobe consisted of what would fit in the closet and dresser. I don’t get why the rule about only having as much stuff as you have room for doesn’t apply to clothing.

  4. posted by Jen on

    Are bugs really that big of a problem?

    I’ve lived in some pretty varied locations, in houses and apartments sometimes that are not particularly pest-proof, and I’ve never experienced bugs that want to eat my clothing. How common is this? Do you bug-proof your stored clothing because if you don’t you /will/ get bugs, or do you do it out of paranoia and habit?

  5. posted by Tanya on

    I keep all my stuff out all year round to…I thought the “packing away stuff” was for the older generations that grew up when people did that sort of thing, but I could be wrong.

    I agree with the comment above that it helps you keep closet clutter in check more easily. It’s easy to throw something away that you see everyday and realize you never wear.

    Weather in too unpredictable as well. I’d like to have a variety of choices for the chillier days, not just one or two options I decided to keep out.

  6. posted by Dee on

    I can’t believe you don’t own anything purple or yellow – lol? My friends make fun of me because I have seasonal items that I must put away or take out every fall and spring – most everyone I know is like you Jen and leaves it all out year round. I can’t stand to have my sweateres and turtlenecks taking up space when I am not using them – I even have summer/winter pajamas that I swap out – lol! I am trying to make an effort to buy seasonless as of late and am working on cutting down how much I actually need to swap from season to season.

    I have recently discovered those ziploc storage bags and I love them. . .have had much less problems with clothing damage and space since I started using them .. I like the tape over the zipper idea. One thing I do with them is have my hubby sit on them after I have packed them full, it gets nearly all of the air out and they are virtually “shrink” wrapped when I’m done zippering them up this way. This method seems to work much better than those space saver bags that your supposed to vacuum air out of – something that never worked right for me. One of the best peices of advice I have heard as of late was from Peter Walsh – he suggests setting limits on items by putting a system in place to dictate how much of certain items you are allowed to have. I think designating and using a storage bin system like you Erin or setting a limit on storage bags (in my case) will do wonders for cutting back on seasonal storage for me.

  7. posted by Cole on

    Sadly with the bugs, all it takes is once. My wife and I thought such precautions were silly till most of her cashmere was devoured by moths, and my cashmere polo coat was eaten holes in. It’s worth the little bit of worry – especially if you have clothes you value!

  8. posted by Erin Doland on

    To those who asked why I switch out clothing …

    First — I’m a visual learner through and through. If I can’t see something in my closet, I forget that it’s there. So, my clothes have to have a lot of space around them for me to be able to see something and imagine wearing it. If my closet is crowded, I will pull things out and leave them on the floor (something I was okay with in middle school … but I’m not so okay with that now).

    Second — I’m a knitter and the overwhelming majority of my sweaters are wool, cashmere, or mohair that I knit for myself. Plus, most of my other winter clothes are also natural fibers. It’s just too much of an investment not to properly store them for the season. Also, storing them keeps them out of the light and away from friction which both degrade fibers. I’ve had moths get to a summer cotton vest, and all of my winter clothes were damage free since they were stored away, out of sight.

    If you don’t own natural fibers or have a huge closet, maybe storing your out of season clothes isn’t a big need for you. But, I would at least store all of my natural fiber sweaters in protective bags or cases regardless of if you swap out the rest of your wardrobe.

  9. posted by Celeste on

    I’ve never had investment clothing or really very much clothing at all. I pretty much wear things out and discard them; storage is not an issue. I don’t pack away winter coats; I figure that’s what closets are for.

    I like the idea of investment clothing, but my weight is not stable so it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot on something I may not get the use of. On the flip side, I don’t worry about my clothing looking dated because not much hangs around that long. I am always biased towards solids or stripes rather than patterned things, and simple styles rather than something fussy or specific that will be out of style next year. I am extremely hard to fit and please where shoes are concerned, so I never accumulate those. I’m a jewelry minimalist. I change my hair a lot, though, and try new things with makeup and fragrance to get the variety that is really not there with my clothing.

  10. posted by Jenn on

    I love the seasonal clothing swap but am at a loss this year. I’m pregnant and will be too big to wear any of my pretty summer skirts, dresses or tees very soon. That means they stay in storage for another whole year. And now there’s no room to put all the woolens away!

  11. posted by jp on

    okay – it gets a little more complicated than just the dry cleaning/ plastic storage bins. If you have valuable items or something you want to preserve, see the website below. You have to know your fabric to know how to store it! Other things to avoid: light, heat (attics roast in most houses), acid-free is essential for vintage; some fabrics need to “breathe” and undyed muslin or cotton covers work better than plastic. And fur has it’s own requirements – that’s why they do ‘fur storage’ through the drycleaners. I used to do some theater costuming and am an avid fan of flea markets, old quilts and own a few 17th century embroidery pieces: I don’t know the half of conservatorship but good old quilts, for instance, need to be shifted periodically so they don’t develop crease lines and many are wrapped in acid-free paper (another thing they usually sell at the Container Store).

  12. posted by Erin Doland on

    @jp — Ooooh, good point about furs. I often forget that people own these.

    But, I think I disagree with storing antique quilts. If it’s an heirloom, shouldn’t it be on display where people can see it and appreciate it?

  13. posted by allen on

    i’m with Jen, are bugs really a problem? They seem like something my grandparents had to deal with, like the coal shoot.

    I’m not trying to make fun of anyone, but i have never had bug problems with my cloths (other then finding a spider in a dress shirt ones. EWWW)

  14. posted by John of Indiana on

    What’s the skinny on those vacuum bags (As seen on TV!!)?
    I’m really short on space and I thought about storing the heavy stuff like sweaters and sweatshirts in them, But I’ve heard rumblings that they’re not good for the fabric. I have a down duvet in one, but only sucked down about 1/2 as per the instructions.

  15. posted by Michele on

    Very useful post. I live in Southern California and use the same wardrobe year-round so I don’t do a clothing swap out, but I am getting ready to get my dressy dresses properly stored so this is great information (including the comments.)

  16. posted by Empress Juju on

    It’s true that all it takes is once, with the moths: I also live in Southern California, and I had a fabulous sweater dress get eaten alive by moths over a summer, once. Tragic.

    My spring swap is simple: Party dresses & heavier coats get dry-cleaned, bagged in a couple of vacuum-seal bags with cedar balls or lavender sachet, and tossed under the bed. Not a lot of things, not a lot of space, but it gives the things in my closet a little breathing room, so that I can see what I’ve got.

    I’ve been losing weight, and am taking the clothes that are worth keeping in, a few pieces at a time, for alterations, rather than just buying new. I’m a bit uncomfortable with all the attention that my weight-loss gets me, and continuing to wear the same clothes allows me to fly under the radar a little longer!

    This time of year, I also drop most of my shoes & purses off at the shop to be professionally shined up, waterproofed, & re-soled/re-heeled if they need it. My accessories look beautiful & new, and they last for years this way!

  17. posted by Alison on

    I have a tiny amount of space for keeping my clothes so I LOVE to pack away my bulky winter things to make way for the much less space-consuming summer clothing. But I just toss all of my (cleaned) winter clothes in a big suitcase with a lavendar satchel and that’s it.

    I’m going to take the advice of getting rid of a percentage of my winter wardrobe to make way for the new. Yay new!

  18. posted by Sasha on

    Back when we had bedbugs, I was told that putting clothes in the dryer on high also kills all bugs and larvae.

    I only pack away scarves, gloves, long underwear, and those sorts of smaller things. We don’t have enough storage space to pack away coats, and those sweaters still come in handy now and then!

  19. posted by Sasha on

    I meant to add: I do think that I’ll make sure to clean everything this year though, once we’re really done with coats, whether it gets packed away or not. Seems like a good idea to clean these things once or twice a year no matter what.

  20. posted by Kristi on

    Oh, how I envy you the ability to put away your winter clothes! Here in Oregon we’re still wearing them daily, and won’t be able to safely tuck them away until July 5 (the official beginning of summer weather here.)

    This is my first visit here, just wanted to say nice place, I’ll enjoy looking around. 🙂

  21. posted by Ryan with a capital "R" on

    Argh! Things do not get swapped out or switched out. They get swapped. They get switched. Down with needless prepositions! They are literary CLUTTER!

  22. posted by tay on

    i was going to say that i read somewhere that plastic storage was a bad idea bec. you should let your lothes breathe…not true??

  23. posted by Alex on

    I live in So. California and we do have pest problems that plague closets. I can’t speak for other parts of the country but it’s a problem here. I once found a rather large moth larvae that was stuck on the back of one of my wool sweaters. It was so disgusting that I’m scarred for life. Now I use cedar blocks in my closet and also make sure that my wool clothes are stored inside a zip-up, soft storage cube that is made of heavy muslin.

  24. posted by Erin Doland on

    @tay — As far as I know, the “breathing” thing is a wives tale. I have researched fiber a great deal, and I have never come across a scientific reason for needing to let something “breathe.” Fiber does retain moisture, though, which is why I pack a few desiccant packets in with the clothing.

    The chemists I’ve asked have said that if you left a vacuum sealed piece of wool over a heat vent next to a sunny window for a year or two, both the fiber and the plastic would start deteriorating. But, I doubt that is how anyone is storing their out of season clothing.

  25. posted by Recovering Food Waster on

    I’m like Jen…I have enough space to keep my clothes out and so that’s what I do.

  26. posted by Sandra on

    Like Dee, I’m a big fan of the zip-lock bag solution. I don’t have room in my small home for large plastic tubs, but if I sit on the bags to squish the air out, they take up much less space and I can slide them easily under the bed or in nooks.

    I learned all about using the bags on this site:

    They also talk about using the bags for all sorts of storage, even storing away your “fat” or “skinny” clothes that don’t current fit you. What a great idea!

  27. posted by Dee Dee on

    To the person who is pregnant:

    First – congratulations!

    I had the same problem last summer – all maternity clothes for the summer and then still maternity clothes for after my son was born for a bit of time. By the time I was out of them, the weather was getting cool so I was back into my warmer clothes.

    Here are two ideas:

    1. If you have some close friends/family that have similar body sizes, perhaps you can lend them some of your summer clothes. It would give them a new wardrobe for a season and give you some space. A few of my friends and I swapped clothes like this because we all seemed to stagger our pregnancies just perfectly. We swapped maternity clothes, regular clothes, and even bassinets, toys, etc. It is a good way to save some money too.

    2. Most likely, you do not have an abundance of maternity clothes since you will only wear them for a few short times in your life. Therefore, you could keep your warmer clothes out and just organize your drawers/closet so that your maternity clothes are easily accessible. Pushing your “normal” clothes to the back corners so you don’t have to worry about them. When you can fit back into normal clothes, you can just put your maternity clothes into the back corners of your drawers/closet (or donate them if you are finished with them).

    Good luck!

  28. posted by Dagny on

    As a yarn shop owner, I know this from 30 years of knitting experience – NEVER dry clean wool! The chemicals in dry cleaning solvents strip ALL the lanolin out of wool, leaving you with a harsh, brittle fiber that will break – the fiber strands are very like your own hair, and the lanolin is necessary to smooth down the scales. To combat this, they then add yet more chemical softeners. Same goes for Woolite, which is made for delicate synthetic fibers, not animal fibers.

    What’s the best way to care for wool, alpaca, or other fiber animal garments? Simple – Baby shampoo. A good quality baby shampoo is PH balanced, and will not remove all of the lanolin from the fibers themselves. If your baby shampoo has conditioner in it, even better. Yes, there are commercial wool washes (Euculin and Soak) but over 30 years my gram, my mom, and I have found that simple is most often best.

    For storage of wool sweaters, a simple wash is usually best. Let dry completely. If you need to store in an airtight container, be aware that the natural oils may cause “sweating” and discolor, which is why we try to stay away from plastic bags. Gram has folded her hand-knit sweaters and set them on a cedar plank (it is just set on top of the shelf) in the closet since 1930. She has yet to have a single moth or bug. When you can’t smell the sharp cedar smell, you can freshen the plank with sandpaper. I think she replaces the plank once a decade.

    I do use clear plastic totes, but mine are not airtight and I check to ensure there is no moisture under the lids after the first few hot days. I have a handful of cedar cubes that I toss into a bag for each box. The hubby just cut up a piece of cedar for those. I have my first hand knit wool square from 1977, and have never had a problem with moths or bugs – to this day it is as soft as the minute it came off the needles!

  29. posted by mibsphil on

    We swap our clothes too, mostly because we really don’t have enough room to leave everything in the closets/drawers year round. Sweaters are bulky, and winter clothes take up a lot room in both the closet and the drawers. Maybe we do have too much clothing! For the last couple of seasons we’ve used those “space bags,” or whatever they’re called. They are like giant Ziplocs with a vacuum hole/valve on the front. Put the clothing in the bag, zip it shut, and use your vacuum cleaner to pull all the air out of the bag. Even with bulky items, the bags become flat enough to store on the top shelf of the closet, stacked on top of one another. The air stays out, the clothing is just fine when you take it out again (maybe a little wrinkled, but we just wash it). The bags really work well, and come in a variety of sizes. You can buy them almost everywhere now, including Wal-Mart. They also make them as hanging bags, for things like suits. Great product, especially if you don’t have a lot of extra space.

  30. posted by Amanda on

    I don’t know why people are commenting on an article about how to pack away clothes into storage if they, themselves, do not pack their clothes away. I think everyone would love to have enough closet space to keep everything in one closet and have enough room for it to be organized, but that’s simply not the case.

    I, too, am pregnant and cannot even wear any of my pre-pregnancy sweaters this fall/winter. That means NOTHING I owned previous to becoming pregnant can/will be worn. I barely have enough closet space to keep 1/2 a year, let alone, a whole year of clothing plus maternity clothes too… so packing away I will do!

  31. posted by Cassie on

    I agree with Amanda. If you don’t pack away clothes into storage and don’t see the purpose of it, why bother commenting that you don’t see the purpose of it? It’s great if you have enough space in your apartment or house to have all of your clothes in your closet all the time, but not everyone does. I think I’m probably like Erin – I want to be able to see my clothes when I go to pick out an outfit. Otherwise, I just toss them on my floor and don’t have the motivation to clean up regularly.

    I also tend to buy more clothes than I need – sometimes they look fine in the dressing room and then it looks awful at home. So sometimes I give away new clothes to Salvation Army… it’s all for a good cause anyway!

  32. posted by Shelly on

    Hi Erin,

    I’m trying for New Year’s decluttering, after a couple of years with more buying than giving away. I am just now catching on to the mathematics of it all. If I bring new things in, and equal number should go out. Between me and my four year old…plus old coats and sleeping bags of my Husband, I am ready to tackle it all.

    Here’s my big question. How do I store clothing and sleeping bags in a room that is not temperature controlled? I have a detached garage that is not heated or cooled. We live in Oregon in a mild damp climate. Few days below freezing, few that are very hot, but lots of moisture. Can I put plastic tubs of clothes or sleeping bags here? Also, what is the best source for dessicant bags? Nontoxic? Your link above seems to be for electronics? Good for fabric too?

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