Putting on the Sorting Hat: Thirty years of sorting the Legos

June 2nd, 2019

Hi every one! This post is about how my Lego organization strategy has evolved over the years. For a detailed breakdown of how things ended up, see How I Organize The Legos.

The early years

Ever since I acquired enough Lego pieces so that they did not fit into one box (so going back about 30 years), I followed a pretty straightforward sorting scheme:

  • Black
  • Gray
  • Red
  • White
  • Blue
  • Yellow
  • Brown and Pink
  • Transparent
  • Minifigures and accessories
  • Specialty
  • Train pieces
  • Technic

It was .. ok. Let's say I wanted to build a Blacktron themed set - I'd get the black, white and transparent boxes and I could find what I needed after a fashion. There were some problems though:

  • The gray and black boxes were very hard to find pieces within, because they were very full.
  • It was difficult to build new things or rebuild sets that contained a lot of different colors.

Of course I was just a kid, and optimizing how my Lego were sorted wasn't top of my priorities. All in all this sorting scheme was fine - it was a starting place for finding what I needed, and it wasn't too difficult to clean when necessary.

All grown up

I took a hiatus from playing Legos during college and grad school, but by the time my wife and I moved into our current house (2012), I was ready to start building again. Also around this time, my wife's cousin bestowed on us an enormous tub of Legos, containing pieces from a trove of great sets from the late 90s and early 2000s. Over the course of a couple weeks I did my best to sort them into my existing scheme. When I was done, I ended up with:

  • Black (3 big boxes, each full to the brim)
  • Gray (2 big boxes)
  • Dark gray (1 big box)
  • Red (2 big boxes)
  • White (2 big boxes)
  • Blue (1 big box)
  • Yellow (1 big box)
  • Other colors (1 small box)
  • Transparent - small (1 small box)
  • Transparent - large (1 big box)
  • Minifigures (1 big box)
  • Accessories (1 small box)
  • Specialty (1 big box)
  • Train pieces (1 small box)
  • Technic (1 big box)

The new legos almost doubled the size of my collection, which was amazing. During this time I got into building again, and started buying some of the new Star Wars sets. It was getting pretty difficult to find specific pieces, especially amongst the black boxes. It didn't bother me too much because I would typically build things in one of the late 90s space themes, so only a couple colors were required and finding the exact right piece wasn't extremely important.

Building with Kids

Our son Isaac was born in 2013, and I continued to build a lot. During this time I learned the difference between "New Gray" and "Old Gray." I tried to keep them separate, and it was too hard. I resigned to just ignore the difference.

As the years went on, Isaac got old enough to where we could build together. Teaching your kids how to build Legos is very rewarding but has some challenges. The first thing to come to mind is that they will rarely let you work on something for very long. I was used to building giant 90s themed spaceships that would often take multiple sessions, whereas Isaac usually wanted to take over before it had barely taken shape. Usually I would let him do this, or set it aside and build something quick for him to play with.

I was starting to have more fun building out of our growing "miscellaneous" box more than trying to do complex builds with the sorted colors. With a big enough pile of random pieces, you can put together interesting ideas pretty quickly and hand them off to the youngster, rather than having to abort a larger thing halfway through so that your child can plaster it with computer pieces and every neon antennae in your collection (I am not bitter).

The great thing about a miscellaneous box is that when you dump it, you have access to a wide array of interesting pieces. You can be much more creative in terms of color too, though you may not always find what you want. However I did miss being able to plan things more meticulously. It was around this time I started looking at Pinterest to find ideas on how to organize my collection.

The new order

It was clear right away that organizing by piecetype was the right choice for me. A lot of other articles cover the reasoning behind this, but in short, splitting by piecetype is good because:

  • You can create smaller divisions which are easier to sort through.
  • You can separate small and big pieces so the small ones aren't covered at the bottom of a box.
  • is easier to pick the color you want out of a box of similar piece types than it is to pick the right piece type out of a box of the same color.

The tricky thing about sorting Legos is you need a variety of different box sizes. The picture below shows the different size bins I have at my disposal.

As I mentioned at the top, please see How I Organize The Legos for a detailed breakdown of how I am organizing and storing my pieces.