After several people over the years have asked me how I sort and store my Lego, and after reading so many articles on the topic online, I figured it was time I write my own.
So the questions comes up: How do you sort and store your Lego? Well unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question as there are several things that will sway the answer as you will see in the suggested sorting options.
Something I recommend and you may want to consider, depending on your age and your building style, it may be helpful to also build an inventory of your collection. If you start early on it isn't too much work to keep it up. That way without even digging for parts, you already know what you have! To do so, I HIGHLY recommend using http://www.Rebrickable.com
Now on to sorting:
INTRO COLLECTION (<2,500 pieces)
If your collection is this small, you likely are a passive builder, have a few sets, or are still fairly young in your collecting. That's okay, this is the easy point in your Lego life! For a collection like this, I'd recommend using a single container, big enough to hold your collection. A couple of suggestions could be:
A Lay-N-Go matt / drawstring bag
or the simpler method: an old bed sheet in a box. Put all your Lego on the sheet and when you are done building, grab all four corners, pick it up and place it inside a box. Makes cleanup SUPER FAST!
SMALL COLLECTION (2,500 - 5,000 pieces)
Once your collection gets to be this large, you will find digging through a large pile of parts time consuming and will detract from the overall building experience. At this size, as a kid, I used my bottom dresser drawer. I taped in cardboard dividers to create compartments in my drawer and I sorter my pieces by color. At that time I had 6 sections: Red and Yellow were largest then I had Black (which shared brown), White (which shared clear and grey), Blue and then a mixed section for small quantity colors. I'm sure you can tell that was a long time ago though when there wasn't such a beautiful palette of colors. Though now you could group color families together such as red, dark red, brown / blue and all shades of blue / white, grey, dark grey / Yellow, Orange, Pink / All Shades of Green along with Tan... you get the picture. This way when you are looking for a part, you are cutting the parts you are searching through back down under several hundred pieces instead of digging through the whole collection.
MEDIUM COLLECTION (5,000 - 50,000 pieces)
Now that you are getting into a larger collection, this is where sorting becomes important, time consuming and sometimes tricky. There are several methods, and as you grow through this range, you will find your collection will evolve in how it is sorted and stored. You should find this will happen organically depending on the themes your collect and your favorite build styles.
At this point I recommend containers for your Lego collection. Preferably containers with dividers so you can expand certain sections to hold more pieces as you get more. Depending on the quantity of parts you have of a certain piece, you may also want to subdivide it by color. I tend to do this when a piece type exceeds my largest bin, or it becomes too hard to find a part. I will either sort out the one largest quantity color of a certain part, or split the parts into two groups: Colors and Grey scales (White, grey, dark grey, black). So far this has always worked well, except when I acquired hundreds of blue bricks for the TARDIS my wife was building, at which point I sorted the Blue bricks out.
For this stage of my collection I ended up using a few different Stanley Hardware organizers:
Great for small parts, 1x1 plates, both square and round.
Great for technic parts: gears, PERFECT for axles, connectors and PINS if you don't have too many.
Great for all things brick, plates, and large quantity parts.
LARGE COLLECTION (50,000+ pieces)
My collection has just graduated into the LARGE department. The largest my collection has ever been. After much deliberation I have selected my storage solution. Here are some of the criteria I used when selecting my final plan:
- Space: I wanted to maximize storage space without taking up too much of my valuable room space. (Apartment living)
- Style: It had to look good, clean and tidy as this room is off the entry and everyone coming over would see it first, so it has to clean up well.
- Versatility: it would need to grow along with my collection
I find the surface that several of them together makes is great. They do not scratch easily (in fact I have yet to scratch them) and the drawers are on really nice sliders! The drawers aren't too deep so that it won't be like digging through a massive bin looking for the right parts.
The next aspect of this process was to find containers that fit inside. Considerations for this included:
- Size: They needed to be useful sizes for Lego elements
- Straight sides: I didn't want there to be wasted space from tapered containers, or round containers.
- Thickness: The containers had to waste as little space as possible in their own construction.
- Various Sizes: I wanted containers that although came in various sizes would be interchangeable. So for example two of a smaller container would be the same width as one of a larger container...etc.
- Price: Didn't want to blow a huge amount of money on these
The bins can be purchased locally at Lee Valley (a pretty cool store if you are at all handy and have never been there, CHECK THEM OUT!) They have locations all across Canada. The bins I use are from a German company that makes hardware storage containers and these are the individual inserts that can be purchased separately:
I recommend the 62mm size. I picked up 10 of each to test the system and am very happy with the results. I will be picking up more shortly. I also have requested Lee Valley bring in the one size larger bin that comes in Grey. It's 4 times longer than a red bin and twice as wide as a red bin.
The IKEA Alex drawers I am using (the narrow cabinet) can handle 5 red bins wide by 9 red bins deep with about 1 inch of spare space on the side and 1.5 inches of spare space in front or back. This extra space is great to slide bins a little to be able to pull them out, or to store long awkward pieces. The various available bin sizes are: red: about 2" x 2", yellow: 1x2 red bins, blue: 2x2 red bins, and Green (2x3 red bins) and the grey bins listed above are being looked into. If they become available I will update this thread.
If you buy 10 or more at a time of any one bin type, Lee Valley gives a discount of about 12% (so it's like saving the tax)
These bins are super handy as you can pull out only the elements you need when building or when sorting. If you run out of space in a bin, it's easy to pour the contents of the full bin into a larger bin, or split it into a couple bins.
If your collection outgrows the beneficial size of a bin, consider putting some parts in a bin and the rest in a larger overflow container until they are needed, thus keeping a broad selection of all parts readily available for your building needs. I tend to group elements per drawer, so all 1xN plates in one drawer, 2xN plates in another, tehcnic beams in another etc... sort your collection in a way that makes sense to you!
Additionally, I just discovered something else: the wood used for the Alex cabinets it two studs wide. If you ever see an official Lego drawer system when Lego offices are shown they tend to have a plate on the outside that shows what is in the drawer. It appears these drawers were designed for exactly this! Check out a few photos:
Well, there you have it! I hope this has been helpful to those starting out. This is as far as my collection has grown, but I do know there are some in the club who have far larger collections, and extensive storage solutions that work best with their needs. I only hope this current setup lasts me a long time and is able to grow as needed for the foreseeable near future.