Aggh! LEGO! I have a love-hate relationship with LEGO. On one hand, it’s an amazing toy for kids of all ages. It’s open-ended, encourages imagination and free-play, fosters fine-motor skills, provides practice in following directions, can lead to various math and science investigations, etc. etc. LEGO is wonderful! But…on the other hand…It takes over the house! It hurts to step on, it’s almost impossible to find the correct pieces needed to build something specific, and it’s always such a mess.
Is there even a point in attempting organization?
For me, yes. My kids used LEGO on a daily basis. Multiple time a day. I had to at least attempt some sort of organization. My friends thought, (and probably still do), that I was crazy to even try.
What is the best way to store and organize it? I pondered this dilemma for weeks. I searched the internet for the magic answer. But I only found out that a one-size-fit-all approach for LEGO just doesn’t exist. You need to find a solution that works the best for your family.
Most of the organization ideas that I found required that the LEGO be sorted by colour. Different drawers or bins of orange bricks, red bricks, white bricks, etc. I have friends that do it this way and it works for them. The advantages of this system is that it is extremely easy to put the bricks away. It’s easy to establish this system and upkeep is quick and effortless. Even very young children can sort and determine the correct location to put back a yellow LEGO brick. And sorting by colour is visually appealing for sure.
The main disadvantage of a colour-based system, in my opinion, is that it makes it hard to find a particular brick. Say you’re looking for a red 2×3 brick. If you have a large bin FULL of just red bricks it may be overwhelming and time consuming to locate a particular sized brick that you need. If however, you had a smaller drawer or container of just 2×3 bricks, finding a red one among those is fast and easy. If for some reason there is no red one in the drawer, then grabbing the correct brick but in a different colour is also easy. Also, those tiny small bricks would always settle at the bottom of a large container and be difficult to get to.
My kids are very particular in the items that they build with LEGO. They have an idea in their mind and know what bricks they will need to create that. Colour is often an after-thought; it’s not the most important. I knew that I needed to sort our LEGO by brick type.
I got a couple cubby-hole type bookshelves and some sets of plastic drawers to fit into the cubbies. I researched LEGO bricks online and learned all the proper names and identification methods for each type of brick. I started sorting the LEGO into piles, determining what bricks would definitely need their own drawer, and what bricks could be mixed together with others.
I started with 9 sets of plastic drawers (each with 3 drawers). I then spent a ridiculous amount of time making labels for each of the drawers, (both with words and pictures), so that we would know what belonged in each drawer. The pictures were essential, not only for my youngest kids, but it is so much easier to visually compare a piece in your hand to pictures on the drawers in order to put it away. Over time, the location of each drawer becomes automatic and the labels hardly become necessary. My kids are speedy at whipping each drawer open to grab a particular piece or put pieces away. They double check the label for rarely used pieces, but in general they rely on physical memory.
As the months went by and more LEGO entered the house, I added 3 more sets of drawers. Down the road, I added 3 more sets of drawers, bringing us now to a total of 15 sets of drawers. Each time I added more drawers I split up drawers that were getting overcrowded, by either separating different brick types that had been sharing a drawer, or spreading out the same brick type over 2-3 drawers as needed.
My kids don’t often build from the instruction booklets, but when they do, finding all the pieces that they need is so much easier than if it were all mixed in one big bin or sorted by colour. We can open the instruction book, flip to the list of pieces needed and then one-by-one locate each one fairly quickly and easily. (The instruction manuals are stored in two labeled totes). There are always a handful of pieces that are currently being used somewhere else, or were put away in the wrong drawer and so therefore can’t be immediately found, but overall finding the required pieces goes rather smoothly. And if we can’t find the correct piece, we can just swap it out for a different colour without having to search any longer.
My method is far from perfect and still presents problems. If a piece is accidentally put away in the wrong drawer, (as my youngest son often does), then it’s just as hard to find as if it were in a huge bin mixed with everything. It is also impossible to have a dedicated drawer for each and every type of brick, so similar types of bricks still require mixing. This system also takes up a lot of space. And…it can be time-consuming and tedious to put away all the pieces after dismantaling a recent build. Despite the issues…it’s SO MUCH BETTER than the alternative! It took me about a solid week for the initial sorting and organization but was totally worth the time and effort. The system turns into chaos again once in awhile, but…it’s a more controlled semi-organized chaos. It’s much easier to fix and recover from.
UPDATE: Two Years Later and counting…Well? Has my system stood the test of time? Have we given up and just thrown it all in one bin? Nope! With just a little bit of effort and ongoing maintenance, the system is still working well. Truthfully it doesn’t always look quite as good as when we first started…but overall the system is still highly functional and useful. We’ve since added one big tub to throw a mix of pieces in until they can be properly sorted and put away. I remind the kids on a regular basis to do a little bit of upkeep: “Everybody put away 30 pieces of LEGO, please!” This helps keep the mess to a manageable amount to keep on our playroom table. Ideally, once every week or two, I’ll invest about 10 minutes of my time to help put away some of the backlog and to quickly glance through drawers and remove any obvious misplaced bricks. Every couple of months we do a more thorough clean up if things have gotten messy. At this point, a bit of parent intervention and help is required to keep things organized. That’s an investment that I’m willing to make and I find it worth it. As the kids get older, as long as they’re well trained, I imagine that I’ll need to help less and less. The kids see the pros of keeping things organized. They benefit from it each day when they’re able to find pieces quickly and easily. Without them being onboard and willing participants, this wouldn’t work. But I’m so glad that it does! Organized LEGO definitely makes this Mama, (and her kids), happy! 🙂