Simplifying kids’ shoes

15 August 2023

I’m a guest on the Cultivate podcast episode that dropped yesterday. It was a good conversation, about helping kids to cultivate what matters, but what I wanted to draw out here was the tip I offered at the top of the episode, about kids’ shoes. Kids’ shoes can be a giant headache. Our family, however, has figured out some easy ways to calm the crazy, and I thought we could talk about them today – perhaps just in time to make a few changes before the beginning of the school year! :)

First and most importantly, our kids have very few pairs of shoes compared to what I perceive to be normal in other families. In fact, they pretty much have just two pairs of shoes each:

— One pair of Natives
— One pair of sneakers

Let’s talk about this a bit more.

One pair of Native Jeffersons. While I thought Natives looked like something aliens would wear when I first saw them, I acclimated quickly, because there’s a lot to like about them. They’re sturdy, they can be worn in the water, they count as close-toed for school and other scenarios that require it. They can be worn to run and jump but also are just sleek enough to be worn for most middling formal occasions. They can be brightened up with a quick scrub with a Magic Eraser.

Living in North Carolina, our kids wear Natives almost year-round (though obviously, not in the height of winter). They wear them to church. They wear them to school. They wear them to play outside.

When they outgrow a pair, we order the next size up. Shep (5) almost exclusively gets the “Regatta” color. For June (7), I’ll choose 5-6 colors that appeal to me and that I think she’ll also like, and then let her make the final decision. (Because these are worn almost daily with all sorts of outfits, I don’t feel one bit bad about not letting her choose particularly loud or garish patterns.) Annie (2) has worn hand-me-downs so far :)

One pair of sneakers. Sneakers are worn for active play, gym day, in the winter, and pretty much whenever else they want. Because we don’t keep a pair of fashion sneakers as well as athletic sneakers, I try to choose a pair that appeals to me aesthetically while also fulfilling its athletic purpose – and I don’t mind spending more on these since we only have one pair at a time. With the ages of our kids, we’ve opted for velcro over laces so far.

Currently, June has this pair of Adidas. Shep has this pair of Nikes. And Annie has this pair of Cientas, which are not particularly athletic but v v cute.

Speaking of cute – do I think kids shoes are adorable? Yes.

Do I sometimes wish my kids had sliiiightly fancier shoes to wear with a dressier outfit? Yes.

But those are pretty much the only negatives I can think of, and they’re dwarfed by the benefits of streamlining our shoe life:

  • There are fewer shoes to research, purchase, keep track of, maintain, and store. (This all takes time!!)
  • Having fewer choices simplifies our mornings and every other time we need to get out the door.
  • There are very few power struggles over what shoes to wear when.
  • Everyone can put on their own shoes.
  • We spend less money.

Let’s talk about other shoes, though, since they do have a few additional pairs:

  • Rain boots | Since Natives can be worn in the water and our climate is warmer, I generally do not purchase rain boots. My sister generously passes pairs down, so we often have pairs the kids can wear if needed.
  • Snow boots | Same. We have some from my sister, but this is definitely not an item I would make sure my kids have a pair of at the beginning of each winter.
  • Fancy shoes | We buy these on an as-needed basis – they are not something we keep in stock for each kid at each size. If there’s an event (wedding, Christmas Eve, performance, dance, etc.) that requires it, then we buy in the size they need. Occasionally we get fancy hand-me-downs, too :)
  • Salt Water sandals | I used to buy each child a pair of these at the beginning of summer, but have gotten away from it because they just didn’t wear them enough to justify the price. I absolutely ADORE the look and we do still have several pairs that fit various people, but these are no longer an automatic buy.

All of these “extra” shoes are stored in June’s closet upstairs, ready to pull out as needed. This keeps them out of the flow of daily life, but accessible as needed.

So where are the rest of the shoes stored? Why, in the shoe basket, of course!

All of the kids’ current shoes are stored in a wire basket by our front door.

They’re right where we need them and it’s a super-easy storage system for the kids to follow (although somehow it still takes reminders to get them to follow it…). Socks for all three kids are stored in our bedroom, which is on the first floor and just around the corner from the front door. (Even if your bedroom is not on the first floor, I’d highly encourage you to find somewhere to store socks on the first floor. I can’t imagine having to send a kid upstairs every time they needed to put on socks!)

In closing, I’ll say that as much as I love this system and it’s working well for us now, I know it won’t work forever. Kids will grow, their shoes will get bigger, their needs might change, they might have more opinions about their footwear. This is the continual puzzle of family life – to be aware of when a system is no longer working, and to be willing to release it and find something new.

I would love to hear if there’s something you keep unusually simple in your family, or a storage hack you’d like to share with the group. I have another one coming up in my next post that several friends have adopted – I think it’s a good one :)

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Megan Nelson
August 15, 2023 7:22 am

We have a very similar system and it has been MAGIC. My girls are still pretty little (almost 4 and 2) and have just started Mom’s Day Out two days a week. So we do one pair of New Balance sneakers as their “school shoes” and one pair of Natives as their everyday shoes. Dress shoes are stored upstairs, rain boots in the garage as we usually use those for garden adventures and romping around! Aside from a stray pair of cowgirl boots and beloved ballet slippers, that’s our system!

August 15, 2023 8:42 am

We just moved to a 2 story house and I am forever sending kids upstairs for socks. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that I should just keep them in the mudroom with their shoes! Putting this relocation on my list for the weekend.
We follow a similar rule for my son (natives, sneakers, loafers for church) but my 6 year old daughter’s shoes have turned into quite a situation primarily because of hand me downs. But the only ones I automatically buy follow the same formula. It definitely helps to take the mental energy out of it and I regularly snag the next size up on sale because I have a good idea of what we will need.

August 15, 2023 10:27 am

This is our exact set up as well! My two boys, 7 and 9, buy a new pair of sneakers when school starts (lately they don’t last the full school year and we end up with another pair around Christmas) and then we buy a new pair of Crocs around Spring Break and they wear them all summer. (Between PE requirements and bark chips on the playground, they don’t wear the Crocs to school) We do need seasonal snow boots and soccer cleats, but that’s it for shoes! I don’t think Crocs will be appropriate forever, but our system works for us now!

I don’t know if this is a hack, but I’ve had my kids do their own laundry since they were about 5. We use the detergent sheets so there is nothing to pour, they just dump all their clothes into our front loader (no sorting! their clothes are mostly knit and can be washed/dried together), I have the “favorites” setting set up for them, they transfer to dryer and then we fold together. I do monitor to make sure they aren’t over filling the load. This has gone a long way in helping me not feel like a martyr to laundry and I’m hoping someday to transition into a completely hands off process for me!

Zoe Tombs
August 15, 2023 10:45 am

This is one of those ‘things are different in the UK’ ones. Our little ones have to wear school uniform and have mandatory black shoes for school, and white trainers for school sports which already ups the shoe count! We have these plus sandals, wellies, smart shoes and ‘fun trainers’ for each kid. The shoe basket is overflowing.

Kelly Strawberry
August 15, 2023 1:21 pm

Cam lives in New Balance sneakers daily, so I actually buy two pair each time he goes up a size. We need two because he is always playing at the neighbors and there were multiple mornings we would be trying to leave for school and his shoes were at the neighbors house! And on days when one pair is covered in mud or soaking wet — which happens regularly — we have a backup pair!

August 15, 2023 1:45 pm

I always felt like everyone‘s kids have more shoes than mine, ha! So I‘m glad to hear we’re not the only shoe minimalists around :) I personally don’t own many pairs of shoes myself either. Our kids aren’t huge Native fans, for whatever reason. So, typically my son has a pair of crocs (that I let him wear to church if he wants to) and my daughter has a pair of the water Birkenstocks (or the Target equivalent). Then they each have a pair of sneakers and typically a pair of sandals. Although my daughter (9) just outgrew her sandals from last summer and we have yet to replace them. Or not, ha. Every now and then I get them a pair of slip-on sneakers that can also count as dressier shoes. But that depends on if there is an occasion.
We keep the shoes on a small shoe rack by the back door (since we head out by bike through the garage most days). But we do keep a basket for shoes by the front door, too. Our socks have lived in a pretty basket on the shoe rack for the past few years and it’s been THE BEST!!

August 15, 2023 7:18 pm

I love this topic! Not only do we keep kids’ socks in the coat closet, we only own one type of sock and they’re all white, so they never need to be sorted or paired and can be bleached if needed. We’ve had the same 12 pairs since my now-2 year old started wearing shoes and they still fit. My kids are 2 years and 6 months, and only my toddler is currently wearing shoes and socks, but I hope we can keep this up!

Other ways we’ve simplified: we wash all bottle parts in the dishwasher, so we don’t need a sterilizer or to spend time hand washing. And we got both kids used to drinking cold bottles immediately, so that we don’t need a bottle warmer. (All of this discussed with and OKed by our pediatrician.)

August 16, 2023 12:04 pm
Reply to  Bridget

We do the same thing about socks! We used to do different colors/sizes, and it made laundry so tedious and time-consuming. We switched to all-white socks (same brand and size!), and it’s made everything SO much faster and easier! :)

August 15, 2023 9:38 pm

Yes! Mine (5, 3, 1) have tennis shoes (Velcro sacouny!) Natives and croc BOOTS! If you have littles that play in water, they are the best! They dry quickly and are completely worth the money…if you boots don’t dry, you kid can get fungus….I learned the hard way with re cheap boots!

August 16, 2023 5:16 am

Also from the UK so smart shoes are required for uniform. I’m with you on the minimal number of pairs, given how quickly they grow out of them, but is it not a ‘thing’ to go and have shoes properly fitted in the US? We take our kids to the specialist shoe store to have their feet measured (including width) and shoes fitted – it’s amazing how some styles don’t work for some feet. This means my 4 year old Daughter’s shoes cost around $60 (equivalent) per pair.

Kristen M
August 18, 2023 10:01 am

We do something pretty similar but with a dressy winter and dressier summer option – we have one pair of sneakers, croc sandals, and then buying almost exclusively from target – a pair of nicer sandals and a pair of ballet slip-ons for nicer occasions (for my oldest and then my youngest gets the hand me downs!). I try to buy things like water shoes and snow boots at consignment sales because they only get used a few times a year (esp the snow boots!) water shoes and snow boots live in the garage and then I’m a stickler that all other shoes live in the kids’ closets when they’re not on.

August 27, 2023 3:29 pm

My strategy is basically the same as yours! One pair of crocs that I just keeping sizing up. He prefers these over the Natives and are his casual sandal. And then I keep two pairs of sneakers (his favorite Kiziks and a cheaper pair I find on sale) as he is required to wear sneakers for school so I need a backup sneaker in case his Kiziks get wet or filthy. And then dress shoes are purchased on an as needed basis as well. I recently saw a pair of rubber loafer style shoes that I want to get to be used as “dressy” for church or dinners out.