Lego Organization on a Budget

Lego mess
Ok, find me a red 1x2x2 roof tile with lattice. Photo: Michael Harrison

I try hard not to be all Lord Business when it comes to the kids’ Lego bricks. But this past week, my son came to me with a big problem. He wanted to put together some of his old sets, and the pieces had all been reabsorbed by the hive mind: they’d been dumped into the giant plastic tub we keep all his bricks in.

So here he stood, instruction booklet for 60059 Logging Truck in hand, a hangdog look on his face. “I can’t find the pieces, dad.”

“Son,” I said. “I think it’s time that we had a talk about organizing your Legos.”

We tried this a few years ago, and it was an unmitigated disaster. He was too young, didn’t care enough, and after a few months, everything was cluttered and out of order again. And I’m not 100% convinced he’s ready now. But we’re going to give it a try, and we’re going to do it on the cheap.

The Gear

I happen to have a couple of Plano tackle organizers lying around, so we grabbed two of them for sorting.

Then I grabbed a stack of red Solo cups and a bunch of Ziploc bags. And my trusty brick separator.

We were really doing this. God help us.

Remove the Big, Weird Stuff First

A lot of the newer sets have a lot of specialized equipment. Go through your box and take this stuff out. The big stuff obstructs your view, and the weird stuff is just a pain to sort. I threw a lot of this stuff into large Ziploc bags. If you’re feeling obsessive, make a bag for themed stuff. “Car Parts” and “Spaceship Parts,” for instance. But always remember your goal: to make set building easier down the road.

Color by Color

Think about what it’ll be like to sit down with a set of instructions and your newly organized Lego collection. When you see a piece that you need, how would you like to find it? Colors are one of the most visible identifiers for Lego pieces, so that’s where we started our efforts in earnest. And that’s where the Solo cups came into play.

Any standard bricks and plates bigger than 1×1 and 1×2 went into the cups. Anything smaller went into one of the plastic Plano organizers. More on that later.

Resist the urge to grab other stuff as you’re sorting. Pick a color and stick with it until you can’t find any more pieces. Otherwise, you’ll be dancing all around, finding the right bin or bag or cup for that minifig accessory. Don’t do this.

I’m going to level with you, folks. This is boring work. Put on some music or an audiobook. Sing. Tell bad jokes. Do whatever you can to keep everyone entertained, because otherwise, you will give up.

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Storage or… Not?

What do you do with the pieces once you’ve sorted them? Well, you can buy Sterilite organizers or fancy kid-friendly drawer sets. Folks love the IKEA Trofast system. You could even buy a heavy duty toolbox. But I’m going cheap here, so I’m planning on using… well, nothing, really.

My method of choice is the Evil Mad Scientist method. This is basically a way to stack similar bricks and plates together so that they’re both easy to find and easy to pull apart.

Does it take longer than just throwing everything into modular bins? Oh my God, yes. Is it just a teensy bit insane? No. It’s absolutely bat-crap-bananas. But it’s the only method that lets you build Lego structures while also organizing. That’s pretty damn cool, if you ask me.

Sort out a few colors, and by then you’ve probably cleared out enough space in the box to move on to something a little more fun.

Minifigures Are Maxi-Fun

Sorting minifigs is a blast. Save this particular job for when you need it the most. Show off each find and reminisce over the fun sets you’ve built in the past and the weird scenes you’ve done while playing with these guys.

Their accessories are just as much fun. I’m not separating the two. My rule is if it’s a minifigure (or a head, arm, torso, etc.) or if it can fit in a minifig hand, it goes in the bag. Again, down the road, when I’m looking for a specific piece, it’ll be enough for me to know that all related minifig stuff is in one place. But feel free to go more granular if you have a lot to sort.

The Bottom of the Barrel

By this point, you’re probably sifting through dog hair and sand and the occasional Lego. Take one final look through your box and see if there’s any other way you can group the remainders, and then… you’re done. Put the rest into a Ziploc, label it “Miscellaneous,” and go pour yourself a drink. You’ve earned it.

Maintenance

I’m not deluding myself. My son is eight. He’s not going to keep this system up for long. So I’m setting myself a reminder to sit down from time to time and help him reorganize. Good habits are hard won, but Lego is forever. These bricks are an investment, and, if he’s anything like me, he’ll be building stuff decades from now. Teaching him to take care of his investments is a pretty good lesson.

Now go soak your hands in some Epsom salts. Once your fingers stop hurting and you’ve scrubbed the dust and dirt away, it’s time to create something amazing together. Build it with instructions, or build it with your imagination. You’ve got all your Lego pieces to draw from, and now you know where everything is. Nothing’s in your way!

Aside from writing for GeekDad and managing its Instagram account, Michael is a web developer and analyst. He loves games, the web, and other geeky stuff, and podcasts about board games at The Dice Section.