Organizing your LEGO Bricks

CHAPTER 2: Organizing your LEGO Bricks

How to best organize your large (or growing) LEGO collection is an ongoing challenge for many LEGO builders. Let’s find the best way to organize your collection.

In a classic Lugnet article (The evolution of LEGO sorting, 2001), Remy Evard highlighted the challenges LEGO collectors face when organizing a growing LEGO collection.

As the story goes…

  1. Most LEGO enthusiasts start with a pile of unsorted LEGO pieces…
  2. As the collection continues to grow, they decide to sort by set…
  3. They quickly realize they can’t find the piece they need, so they re-sort by color…
  4. They quickly realize that’s even worse since it’s impossible to find a specific small part in a container of just black parts, so they re-sort by part…
  5. That works pretty well, but eventually their collection grows even bigger, so they sort by both part and color.
  6. Eventually, they have so many of common parts in common colors that they need to get even larger containers for each part/color or a system of overflow storage.

While Remy’s story is exaggerated for comedic effect, most of the LEGO builders I’ve talked to have had similar experiences. Maybe you can learn from these mistakes and skip a few steps!

As your collection grows from a small unsorted collection to a large well-organized collection, you will likely organize the pieces into categories that make sense to you. In doing so, you are either following an existing taxonomy (such as the BrickLink categories), or creating your own categories based on related parts that work well together for the types of models that you like to build. (Taxonomy is a fancy word to describe hierarchical organizational systems with one or more levels of grouping.)

Along the way, many people purchase numerous LEGO storage solutions which will no longer meet their needs as their collection continues to grow. Even if you have a small collection now, this guide aims to help you avoid common pitfalls by selecting the right storage solution to use right now, while considering products which will still be useful when your collection grows in the future.

Levels of Organization

Let’s look at the most common ways to organize a LEGO collection, following the normal progression from no organization, to sorting by categories, and ultimately organizing by part or more.

No organization

When you have a limited number of bricks, you can quickly find what you’re looking for — that’s why most LEGO collections aren’t very well organized. This is especially true for the small LEGO collections of young kids; organizing their LEGO bricks is unlikely to help them be more creative.

You will find the best storage solutions for small LEGO collections that don’t require any organization in Chapter 3: LEGO Storage for Small Collections.

Organizing into groups

If it becomes frustrating to find specific LEGO pieces because your collection has grown too large, it might be time to organize your collection into groups of related parts. Even if you aren’t keen to organize your bricks, it’s probably a good time to organize your parts into broad groups when your collection grows too large to fit in a single container.

Most LEGO builders recommend that you sort your LEGO parts by category rather than color.

Most LEGO builders recommend that you sort your LEGO parts by category rather than color.

Organizational groups:

  • Organizing by Color – Almost everyone begins by sorting their LEGO bricks by color. Unfortunately, most LEGO builders quickly discover that this makes it really hard to find a specific small part, as it’s hard to pick out a specific small part in a container full of bricks of the same color.
  • Organizing by Category – As you become familiar with common LEGO parts, you should try sorting them into categories based on their type. A good place to start would be to separate ‘Bricks’, ‘Plates’, and ‘Other’ LEGO parts into three different containers. (Even if you only have three categories, the next time you are looking for a specific part, you only need to dig through 1/3 as many parts since you know which of the three containers it should be in.)

As your collection continues to grow, you can make the categories more precise using additional storage containers. (For example, splitting a container filled with ‘Plates’ into ‘1x Plates’, ‘2x Plates’, and ‘Large Plates’.)

Whether you decide to sort by color, or by category, you will find storage suggestions in Chapter 4: LEGO Storage for Medium Collections.

Organizing by Part

As your collection grows even larger, sorting into categories will stop making sense — you’ll need to keep breaking categories into sub-categories as you get more and more pieces. Eventually, you will decide to sort the majority of your collection into separate containers for each unique part.

Sorting the same 18 parts by Part, Color, and Element.

Sorting the same 18 parts by Part, Color, and Element.

Part vs. Element:

  • By Part – If you sort by part, you will have a single container with identical parts that vary only in color. For most people, it is easy to distinguish between colors, making it unnecessary to also sort parts by color. This is sufficient for most large collections.
  • By Part + Color (By Element) – If you have a very large collection, you might have enough of the most common parts that you decide to also sort common parts by color. This is how LEGO parts are sorted at the LEGO Headquarters in Billund, Denmark.
    (Unless you have one of the largest private LEGO collections in the world, you are unlikely to sort anything beyond basic bricks, plates, and cheese slopes by both part and color.)

I’ve collected the best storage suggestions for collections sorted by Part (or by Part + Color) in Chapter 5: LEGO Storage for Large Collections.

Where should I start?

By reading many discussions about LEGO storage and talking with LEGO builders at conventions, I’ve learned that biggest influence on the organizational strategies and storage solutions people pick is the size of their LEGO collection.

Large LEGO Collections are more organized than small collections.

Large LEGO Collections are more organized than small collections.

While there are many organizational approaches you can try on the journey from a small LEGO collection to a collection with thousands of LEGO bricks, I’ve prepared the following suggestions based on the size of your LEGO collection.

If you have:

  1. Less than 2,000 pieces — No organization is needed; spread your LEGO bricks out on a table or the floor and build something awesome.

    For storage recommendations, read Chapter 3: LEGO Storage for Small Collections

  2. More than 2,000 pieces — Sort into broad categories.

    For storage recommendations, read Chapter 4: LEGO Storage for Medium Collections

  3. More than 10,000 pieces — Sort your most common pieces by Part. (Bricks, Plates, Tiles, Cheese), remaining pieces by category.

    Follow Chapter 4: LEGO Storage for Medium Collections for pieces sorted by category, and Chapter 5: LEGO Storage for Large Collections for pieces sorted by element.

  4. More than 50,000 pieces — Sort all pieces by Part.

    Chapter 5: LEGO Storage for Large Collections for pieces sorted by Part..

  5. More than 250,000 pieces — Sort common pieces by Part and Color, remaining pieces by Part.

    Chapter 5: LEGO Storage for Large Collections includes suggestions for collections sorted by both Part and Color (by Element).

Remember, these are just guidelines…
If you hate sorting bricks and don’t mind rummaging through a large container to find the part you need, don’t organize your collection as much. If you get really frustrated when you’re not sure if a part is missing or just hard to find, or you find sorting relaxing, you might prefer a really well organized collection.
Now that you better understand your collection and your organizational needs, let’s find the perfect storage solution!

11 Responses

  1. Adam says:

    I sub divided type into more specifics and not into color. When I’m rebuilding my old sets I find a brick type is more important than color. I organize so that each sorted category is about the same size . I made a flow chart https://go.gliffy.com/go/publish/12232322 for it.

    • tomalphin says:

      Adam,
      Impressive chart! It looks like you have reached the upper bound of the sorting by category approach, with your very nuanced groupings and a well defined personal schema (with each bucket being a grouping/category). Thanks for sharing the link to your flowchart; it will likely be of interest to some readers trying to do the same thing.

  2. Walter says:

    I sort my minifigure and minifigure accessories by Theme For example… All the Wild West (cowboy and indians) minifigure and their accessories are bagged together. All my Ancient Egyptians are together. All my European middle ages minifigures are together. If I were selling Lego I would sort by part then by color … but I am building so I sort by color then by part. Certain Lego parts are too big for drawers like boat hulls or base plates… Other Lego parts are bulky – like Big Ugly Rock Pieces (BURP) that don’t take well to drawers storage units.

  3. Janet says:

    I store decorated tiles laid out on small baseplates so that I can see what I have quickly. Any other suggestions for that?

    • tomalphin says:

      Great question and a great idea… I don’t have a better suggestion, but added this topic to my backlog for future updates.

      —tom

  4. Raymond says:

    I sort by mixing colors — black and white in one box, red and yellow in another, green and brown in the next, etc. Mixing black and white is particularly effective in providing the contrast needed to find small pieces. But I also cheat a bit by setting all the technic and translucent pieces aside in their own buckets.

    • tomalphin says:

      This is a good suggestion for folks in the transition from sorting by part, to sorting by both part and color. I added this tip to my backlog to add to the guide sometime soon!

      —tom

  5. Andreas Lederer says:

    hm I miss the transparent bricks, plates, tiles, “fire-flames”, etc… they are very rare in my point of view – so I sort them in a seperate tackle box. 🙂
    Regards, Andy

  6. Roloff says:

    You could mention something like “finding anything in a box full of black elements” to illustrate the possible trouble of color-sorted collections, as well as the fact that out (eyes &) brain will easily sort by color on-the-fly when looking for elements that have been sorted by catagory or part.

    • tomalphin says:

      Roloff, thanks for your continued feedback. It’s really helpful.

      I’ve added this idea to my to-do list in Appendix: Version History & Acknowledgements.

      “Roloff suggested that I include a side-by-side illustration showing how hard it is to find a specific part in a drawer of black pieces, and how easy it is to pick the black part out of a drawer of just one part.”

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