Storing off-season clothing

As the seasons change, it’s time to switch out the clothes. It’s a labor-intensive process that not many people like, honestly, but some early preparation can make the process a bit smoother. In the northern hemisphere, we’re currently moving from warmer weather to cooler temperatures, but the following advice applies for those of you in the southern hemisphere moving into warmer months.

Before you buy any storage containers, plastic bags, or similar items, get your hands on a label maker. It’s the most useful tool for this project. We have one of these handheld models because its easy to carry around. When you get to the bin stage, you’ll want the label maker to label whose clothes are in which bin and to note the contents (“Jane’s winter clothes,” “Dave’s sweaters,” etc.).

My wife and I have tried two brands of vacuum bags, and neither have worked for us. Despite following the instructions to the letter, both brands began filling with air within a matter of weeks, defeating their purpose entirely. If you’ve had good luck with a particular brand, please let me know.

For us, the answer is large, plastic bins. You can find these at home supply stores, some hardware stores and big-brand DIY stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s. Make sure the lids seal tightly and that they’ll work with your storage method before buying (stackable, side-by-side and so on).

Before placing clothes inside, ensure that they’re thoroughly clean. Locking your shirts in a sealed bin with some insect larvae you didn’t notice in September means you’ve created an all-you-can-eat bug buffet for little critters. Check the bins themselves for the same thing. If you are using plastic bags, ensure that no moisture is inside and there’s no chance of condensation. Throw in a few cedar balls and/or natural herbal moth repellent sachets for a little more protection. Do not store clothes in thin plastic dry cleaning bags for long periods of time as the plastic can decay and ruin your items.

Here’s a lesson I learned the hard way: a hanger is not a good long-term solution. When I was living on my own as a bright-eyed 20 year old, I kept several sweaters hanging all summer. Once fall arrived, they all had hanger-induced bumps on the shoulders that would not go away. If you don’t have any other option, fold the items and hang them in their folded state over the straight bar of the hanger and then group the hangers inside a garment bag made to repel moths and other fabric-eating insects.

When stacking heavy objects like sweaters in a bin, put them at the bottom of the pile. That way they won’t crush lighter items, allow air flow, and prevent mustiness. Finally, check on your clothes once a month to make sure that none of the aforementioned problems have cropped up.

10 Comments for “Storing off-season clothing”

  1. posted by infmom on

    That’s exactly what we’ve done for several years now. We got some huge Rubbermaid bins, and carefully fold up the out-of-season clothing and put it all away. We have had no luck with those vacuum bags either. Too bad, because if they actually worked they’d be a great solution to limited storage space.

    Our main problem with storage is that we have a bunch of items that we’re really only keeping for the sentimental value–we don’t actually wear them. So far neither one of us has been able to get rid of more than one or two of those items, and it’s something we really have to work on. No sense letting that stuff languish in a bin from year to year to year.

  2. posted by Christy King on

    Unless you live in a really tiny place, wouldn’t it be better to declutter your clothes to the point they all fit in your dresser/closet?

    All of my clothes (except jackets/coats) fit in my closet all year round. And yes, we do have seasons here – so that includes everything from shorts and tank tops to long underwear and sweaters.

    I just have a basic 1970s closet, no walk in. And I really own quite a bit more than I need to….

  3. posted by Andrea on

    We live with three people in a two bedroom smallish apartment. All of our clothes (which need to cover everything from bitter cold to 100F here in Toronto) have to go somewhere. We have two clothes closets, total, (which have to include coats and boots and everything – for three of us). It isn’t always possible to fit
    everything in, no matter how streamlined you are (and believe me, we get purge clothes in a big way, at least twice a year.

    We have one tall dresser that we use the bottom three drawers of for off-season clothes. The things that definitely will NOT be worn for a few months.

    While i agree with Christy that streamlining is great and necessary, you can’t ALWAYS get down to one closet, or, you have more people than closets.

    I also used to put off season clothing in my suitcases. (i have new luggage that fits one in the other now though, so that doesn’t really work anymore.)

  4. posted by EngineerMom on

    My approach has always been to just only own what fits in my storage space. That’s pretty much always been half a dresser and half a small closet. No seasonal clothing swaps.

    I also tend to wear tanks or camis year-round, just topped off with different things depending on the season (nothing, a shrug, or a long-sleeve cardigan). That worked for me even in Minnesota, where the temps range from 100F to -40F. Long underwear is priceless in the winter there!

    I use my tanks, camis, and accessories to add color, pattern, and interest, so the bigger, bulkier items like pants, skirts, and jackets or cardigans are always just black or dark gray, with the exception of my 2 pairs of jeans and 1 pair of jean shorts.

  5. posted by Anne S on

    The Container Store has marvelous water resistant stackable plastic bins with latches and a foam strip around the lid. I use them for yarn storage and for out of season clothes. The foam (similar to weather stripping) keeps bugs and dirt from getting in to your things.

    Another way to keep bugs at bay, and leave your clothes smelling fresh, is to put a drop of lavender oil on a small piece of cloth (muslin works well). I put that in an open plastic snack bag inside the bin.

  6. posted by Julia on

    I now own so much fewer clothes than I used to that I don’t need to do the season maneuvering – so much easier! I do have to do it my shoes however but I keep the storage unit under my bed so not too hard (that reminds me, I should throw some of my shoes out (or donate them). If I buy something new to add to my wardrobe, I find something to donate – one in, one out. Always. Every time. I do have a spare closet where I toss my donation pile until I’m ready for a full collection. Full disclosure: I have my coats in the entrance closet.

  7. posted by DaveYHZ on

    Thanks for the article. I usually throw a dryer sheet in for scent! As for your sweater bumps, try hanging your sweaters differently. I’ll try to explain: Fold your sweater in half so that the arms line up. The sweater is now in a “V” shape with a thick (body) side and a thin (arms) side. Place a coat hanger on top of the sweater so that the hook is sticking our of the armpit. Now drape the thick and thin sides over the hanger. No creases, no bumps. The obvious down side is the thickness of the hung garment.

  8. posted by SAHMama on

    I’m with Christy above. We live in the Great Lakes, and we have some crazy weather. We’ve had temperatures range from 0 to 75 in January. We’ve had frost to 100+ in June. All of my clothes fit into my half of the dresser I share with my husband and my half of our shared closet (1970s style non-walk-in closet). Ditto for the kids. All their clothes fit into their dressers and closets. We don’t bother with seasonal storage because in any given week – heck, in any given *day*, we could need shorts and sweaters. And this busy mama is not going to go digging through bins to find them.

  9. posted by Nana on

    I’ve had good luck with the heavy-duty vaccuum bags … when I’ve overwrapped them with duct tape. Good for quilts, comforters, pillows and the like.
    A bay leaf or two is supposed to be good to ward off critters.

  10. posted by Eva Z. on

    I have a lot of clothes and I actually enjoy doing the seasonal clothes switching. During that process I unclutter (get rid of stuff that doesn’t fit into the bins or I no longer wear/like), rediscover “new” clothes, take care of what needs to be fixed, etc. I use big plastic bins from Walmart and a dryer sheet as someone said, it smells nice and repels insects too.

    Before I put away shoes, I clean them and treat them with leather cream (as appropriate), stuff them with tissue and next season they are like new. I keep boots in their original boxes and the rest of shoes either in large shoe boxes or plastic bins, making sure they are not stacked or distorted.

    As for sweaters, I like the way my drycleaner does it. They just fold the sweater like a T-shirt and than hang it on the bottom part of the hanger, like pants. It is bulkier but you won’t get any hanger bumps.

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