A Sort of a Problem

I need to face the facts. The LEGO brick collection of our household is now at the point at which some sort of order and organisation is a necessity, not just a helpful aid to building.

I’ve tried before to impose some order on the collection with a system of Ziploc bags, but that didn’t work. The LEGO bricks are a household collection played with by not only me but two and sometimes all three of my children, the youngest of whom is six and who, when encountering a Ziploc bag full of windscreen elements, immediately tips it out to find the piece he needs. And then doesn’t put the rest back.

We have a limited system of the three drawers in one of these small plastic chests of drawers, one of which contains minifigures and accessories plus animals and plant parts, one of which contains wheels and things that go round, and one of which contains bar elements plus all the really tiny giblets and greebles that are smaller than a 1×2 tile. But those drawers are really the wrong shape for LEGO. They’re too deep to make good contained spaces in which you can really hunt down a particular element in that mixed a bag, and too mixed to make finding elements instantaneous even so, and they don’t make enough of a dent in the rest of the collection to achieve very much. We still spend far too long hunting down particular elements, and the noise of LEGO bricks tumbling against one another is one that punches my wife’s “something is breaking” button. And stands on it, usually.

I love my wife and I’d like to minimise her exposure to sounds that she finds grating while I pursue an activity I love and find relaxing. But I’m stumped. How can I organise our bricks, preferably without spending a fortune and acquiring DIY skills I don’t have making some sort of custom shelving?

I don’t mean what sorting system should we use. I’ll find a system that works for all of us and we’ll roll with it. Something based on element type and connectivity, I think. That’s the easy part.

I mean practically, what can I buy to serve as an organised repository of bricks that will make a dent in the mountain of unorganised elements, be accessible to a bright six-year-old, and cut down searching and clinking times to something a six-year-old can have patience with?

Oh, and preferably not break the bank.

LEGO-brand storage bins are too highly-priced and small to deal with the scale of the collection. They’re also designed mostly to help parents regain enough floor space to get around and clean; they support the “big jumble of bricks” system of LEGO filing.

I’ve toyed with (and am still considering) the idea of one of those bolt organiser things that DIY enthusiasts use to sort their myriads of screws and nails and whatnot. It has quite a few advantages: small, transparent drawers designed to hold small items, readily expandable simply by buying another section, drawers rather than bags, which we’ve proved doesn’t work. But I look at some of the larger element types, especially rubber tyres, shell or windscreen elements and ship parts, and I have to wonder whether they make screw organisers with drawers big enough. The one example I have access to is my father-in-law’s screw and bolt tidy, and it only has drawers designed for screw-sized things.

Also, how expensive are these things? I need to look that up, because it’s looking like it’s a present for all of us. I get my bricks organised. My son and daughters get to find the brick they’re looking for easily. And my wife gets the endless noise of brick clattering against brick to cease for a bit.

I’m willing to spend some money in order to avoid carpentry, but I’m not in a high income bracket and I don’t have masses to spend. I need an off-the-shelf sorting system that has drawers rather than bags or boxes, is accessible to a six-year-old (nothing too tall, bulky or awkward), has visibility into the drawers from the exterior (my son is still learning to read, so written labels aren’t going to help him find things), has drawers that can be removed and put back by a bright but impatient six-year-old, and ideally can handle tiny elements like 1×1 round tiles and large elements like Star Wars planet sections with equal ease.

Really, a bolt tidy is the only option, isn’t it?

Or is it? Those things don’t come cheap, if I remember right, and they’re far more robust than I actually need. Is there another option? One that isn’t going to mean spending money on a huge markup generated by faddish hobbies like scrapbooking or cardmaking?

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3 thoughts on “A Sort of a Problem

  1. Luke Skytrekker

    Hmmm… A fascinating conundrum. I’ve never attempted to sort my collection, honestly, so I can’t offer much in the way of ideas. Perhaps an assortment or trays and/or partitioned boxes? Sometimes packaging will contain those little cardboard grids. That’s hardly a long-term option, though…

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  2. eabs3

    I use an IKEA bucket shelf, but I think it’s a bit pricier. My recommendation is that, if you have a big closet, those big shoe racks that go on walls. Then, also get a bolt sorter. I find that exceptionally helpful for smaller pieces.

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    1. geoffhorswood Post author

      Thanks. At the moment we’ve got some of those 5-drawer sets of plastic drawers from Walmart (like for putting clothes and stuff in). The collection’s sorted into general categories at least, but I think we could do with a bolt sorter as well.

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