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 solution for your collection.

Levels of Organization

Along the way, many people end up purchasing LEGO storage solutions that they outgrow or don’t work well. Even if you only have a small collection now, this guide helps you avoid common pitfalls by selecting an appropriate storage solution for your current collection which you can continue to use as your collection grows.

We’re going to to explore 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.

No organization

When you have a limited number of bricks, it’s easier to find what you’re looking for. This is especially true for the small LEGO collections of young kids—organizing a 6-year old’s LEGO bricks probably won’t 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 start by sorting your LEGO parts by category rather than by color.

Most LEGO builders recommend that you start by sorting your LEGO parts by category rather than by 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.

By Part vs. By Element:

  • By Part – If you sort by part, you will have a single container with identical parts that vary only in color. This is sufficient for most large collections, because It is easy for most people to distinguish between colors (making it unnecessary to also sort parts by color).
  • 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 Element) 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.

It's no surprise that larger LEGO collections are more organized than small ones.

It’s no surprise that larger LEGO collections are more organized than small ones.

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.

Now that you better understand your collection and your organizational needs, let’s find the perfect storage solution!

40 Responses

  1. Mám veľa kociek Lega ale naozaj netuším ani približny počet. Nemám žiadne organizéry ale využívam oblé plastové nádoby od mafinov vysoké asi 12 cm (4,5 inch) a široké asi 17 cm (6,5 inch). Aktuálne ich mám 11 a súčiastky triedim podľa hláv postáv, tiel, nôh, čiapiek, prílb a vlasov, súčiastkach na krku a na nohách (napríklad šatky z Lego Ninjago, plášte z Lego Super Heroes, potápačske plutvy, kyslíkové fľaše a kyslíkové prístroje z Lego City a Ninjago). Ďalej predmety na vloženie postavám do rúk (napríklad zbrane, poháre jedlo, putá, kladivá, sekery, opravárske kľúče…) rôzne platformy, tehly, nekonbinovateľné postavy (napríklad kostlivci: jediné čo sa na nich dá kombinovať s inými postavami sú hlavy, ich ruky a nohy sa s nimi kombinovať nedajú). Potom mám kategóriu plochých platforiem a nakoniec doplnky ( zvieratá, ploché platformy s nálepkami, stoličky, zábradlie, vajcia, dosky, vlajky, hadice, oheň, blesky…) Už mám pripravené ďalšie kategórie ale budem na ne potrebovať ďalšie nádoby (napríklad technic, okná, pohyblivé súčiastky (napríklad dvere), priesvitné súčiastky, kolesá, nebežné súčiastky…)Môj jediný problém je v tom že niektorých súčiastok mám príliš veľa a niektorých zase príliš málo a potom mám nádoby skoro prázdne alebo až také plné že potrebujem viac nádob (napríklad keď rostriedim všetko svoje Lego tak budam na platformy možno potrebovať aj tri nádoby, a hlavy panáčikov zaberú možno jednu pätinu nádoby). Prosím vás napíšte čo si myslíte o mojom organizovaní.


    Google Translate:
    I have a lot of Lego bricks, but I really don’t even know the approximate number. I don’t have any organizers, but I use round plastic containers from muffins about 12 cm (4.5 inches) high and about 17 cm (6.5 inches) wide. I currently have 11 of them and I sort the parts by character heads, bodies, legs, hats, helmets and hair, neck and leg parts (for example Lego Ninjago scarves, Lego Super Heroes capes, scuba fins, oxygen bottles and Lego oxygen devices City and Ninjago). Furthermore, objects to be placed in the hands of the characters (for example, weapons, cups of food, handcuffs, hammers, axes, repair keys…) various platforms, bricks, non-combinable characters (for example, skeletons: the only things on them that can be combined with other characters are their heads, their hands and legs cannot be combined with them). Then I have a category of flat platforms and finally accessories (animals, flat platforms with stickers, chairs, railings, eggs, boards, flags, hoses, fire, lightning…) I already have other categories ready but I will need additional containers for them (for example Technic, windows, moving parts (for example doors), translucent parts, wheels, non-moving parts…)

    My only problem is that I have too many of some parts and some too few and then my containers are almost empty or so full that I need more containers (for example when I sort out all my Lego, I might need three containers for building platforms, and the heads of the figures will take up maybe one fifth of the container). Please write what you think about my organization.

    • Tom Alphin says:

      You are definitely discovering several of the tricky aspects of finding the best LEGO storage solution for your collection, space, and budget.

      First of all, I think it is very smart that you have created categories for minifigs and accessories that work for you and the type of building you enjoy. If Minifigs are your passion – it’s where you should start organizing first!

      Regarding containers being the wrong size for the parts – If you have limited space, I recommend storage containers that are tapered, so you can stack them (without lids) with the pieces inside. (Your muffin containers might already work in this way with the lids removed.) This way, a 4″ tall container with just 1/2 inch of parts only takes 1/2 inch in the stack.

      Use storage containers that work for your actual collection – either by dedicating multiple tubs to building platforms, or by having a single large container for those parts.

      Most importantly – make sure your storage is working with your collection and building style!

      Sincerely,
      —Tom

  2. David says:

    Great article.

    I have no idea how many bricks I have.

    I bought a couple big sets from people that totals about 100 lbs. any idea how many bricks I that is?

    • Tom Alphin says:

      The previous chapter offers a simple rule of thumb: “around 700 pieces per kilogram (300 pieces per pound.)”

      Recent sets, especially those for adults have more small pieces, so 500 pieces per pound might be more realistic.

      If you have 100 pounds, that would be between 30,000 and 50,000 pieces.

  3. David says:

    Nat – organizing by color was actually how I started with my collection. Like the article says, I soon found it was a pain to find parts within a canister of one tone. Then I started breaking them into part groups like plates, blocks, 1×2, 1×4, rods, etc.

  4. Nat says:

    I’m just curious if you have a citation for «Almost everyone begins by sorting their LEGO bricks by color.» other than that LUGnet thread? I ask because, prior to discovering, for lack of a better term, “brick artists” (like Nathan Sawaya), I’d never heard of sorting by color, and never encountered it in the wild in all my decades of Lego. The closest I’ve ever actually seen is separating transparent parts from the rest. I know for us, as kids, the progression was no sorting–>size–>category. As an adult, I jumped straight from no sorting to sorting by parts, and now I’m a mix of by part and by element. But it never occurred to us as kids that sorting by color would be any kind of improvement over not sorting at all—for the exact reasons you describe—so once we were frustrated enough with not-sorting to put in the effort to sort, we invented a category scheme.

    Is this actually a widespread sorting methodology that Lego builders use? Or is it something that people who don’t actually build Lego come up with (i.e., a parent trying to contain the mess or help their kid by coming up with a sorting schema for them)?

  5. Matthew says:

    I left a comment/question yesterday, but I guess it messed up somehow. Anyway, thank you again for this fantastic guide! It has really helped me start sorting my 30k-40k pieces.

    I have a general question (that can probably get super specific depending on the person) and I couldn’t find exactly the info I was looking for in the guide. With over 2000 parts I obviously can’t have a drawer/container for each part, but have you found ideal pairings/combos for parts of medium commonness? Obviously the extremely common pieces get their own container, and all the “one-offs” can go into an unsorted area, but what to do to limit some of the in-between parts? As an example would you put all your 1×6 plates and 1×6 tiles together while putting 1×8 plates/tiles together, or put 1×6 plates and 1×8 plates together while sorting tiles together? And it can get more complicated from there, but I felt the goal is pieces that are similar but distinguishable easily, no? I wanted to get down to maybe 3 or 4 AM bins and maybe a tower of scrapbook drawers. Any advice is greatly appreciated!

    • Tom Alphin says:

      There isn’t an easy answer to this question, because it depends what you like to build. That said, as for the example you offered, I believe it is easier to quickly find a part that’s a specific length than to distinguish a plate from a tile. Further, tiles can get scratched pretty easily so storing them with plates (and their pointy studs with lettering on them) invites more scratches.

      Given the size of your collection, a separate bin for large plates, small plates, and tiles is probably sufficient. As the collection grows, you can sort them more precisely.
      —Tom

  6. Arial says:

    Do you recommend adding set pieces into the general pool of lego to build with or keeping them separate with instructions? The sets are so expensive that I’m really hesitant to pool them with the general population but the sets do include the unique fun pieces to build with.

    • Tom Alphin says:

      I get this question from parents frequently and have a really simple answer – break ’em down so they can build something new. The creative potential of a giant pile of LEGO parts is amazing, whether you decide to sort it or not! A good rule of thumb is to allow them to keep 5 sets assembled as-is, and to take one old model apart whenever they get a new set. This allows the pile of loose parts to slowly grow over time.

      As for adult builders, it’s really up to you. If you love the completed models and don’t want to build custom models, there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s your money and your hobby, so nobody should tell you how to LEGO!

      Sincerely,
      —Tom

  7. Ron Verstraeten says:

    Would it be possible to get a complete hard copy of this in book from?
    I am older and all of this info would be so much easier for me to understand

    • Tom Alphin says:

      Ron,
      I have received this request several times, but unfortunately, I do not have plans to print the the guide as a physical book anytime soon. Print is a different medium than the web, so I would need to re-write a good bit, and find more imagery to make it work as a standalone book, since you can’t click the links to learn more in a paper book!

      —tom

  8. My collection is in the top 1% by size, if not the top.01% so I sort by “all the ways” … But my primary storage is by element (part + color)… I also make up and “artists palette” using advent calendar 24 compartment bins. One row of 6 is tiles in ascending order, the next, 1x plates in ascending order, the next 2x plates in ascending order and finally 1x bricks in ascending order, all one color. I have many of these, one for each color I build in. I am primarily a town/train builder so find that I don’t need access to 2x bricks or 4x,6x plates much and can get them from my main storage on an as needed basis.

    Nice thing about the palettes is that I can transport them to installations at museums and the like as needed. They nest nicely into office paperwork storage boxes for easy transport

    • Tom Alphin says:

      I agree that the advent calendar inserts offer a economical way of creating a parts palette for each color you like to build with. The fact that they stack nicely in paperwork boxes is a handy tip, too! Other commercially available options include drawers with divided compartments, or tackle boxes with dividers or parts organizers with removeable compartments.

      Great suggestion!

  9. Scott says:

    We are somewhat experienced in sorting since we have lego building boys who started shortly after walking and who are now in there teens. We have modified this system but are stumped on a few things. Any ideas who or where I could look up parts? I currently use brickowl.com but if I don’t know what they are called I have no idea how to find them, let alone sort them. Here’s one example…the lego levers: they come in several colors, I called them gear shifters, antenna, etc. Finally found them under levers but now don’t know what category to sort them. We are using LEGO Brick Labels by Tom Alphin’s (Lego_Brick_Contact_Sheets.pdf) currently as a guide. It’s working except for things like Lego levers. Any ideas?

    • Tom Alphin says:

      Scott, your family is bumping up against the inherent difficulty in establishing a one-size-fits-all hierarchical schema. Parts like the “Lever” that you described can be attached and used in a wide range of ways, so there’s no single perfect place to put them. My recommendation is to just pick a place, and stick with it until it becomes second nature. In my case, it’s a minifig accessory, since the original idea was that the lever was how a spaceman could control their journeys through the galaxy!

      Sincerely,
      —Tom

  10. Tamar says:

    This is really interesting and useful. Our problem is that much of our Lego started as “friends” sets, so our biggest category is “uncommon parts”. Any suggestion?

    • Tom Alphin says:

      You should create categories that make sense for *your* collection. It might make sense to have a few cups, bowls or small drawers for the minidolls and their myriad accessories. That’s perfectly appropriate especially if they do a lot of story-based play and want to find those parts quickly!

      always sort based on your need!

  11. Thank you! I have a shared home office with my small people and their Lego collection, and this article helped a lot. I had been organizing by kit, whichdidn’t match all my goals of: 1) allowing my creative lil’ person to mix kits up 2) allowing my organized lil’ person to build an entire kit easily and know where all her parts are 3) having an easy (enough) organizing system that the small people can clean up themselves and I can actually see maybe even sweep the office floor

  12. Dan Mc says:

    I build a lot with specific colors, so my thought on sorting by part is that for me I like to have bins (example for bricks) such as large black (>4), black (2-4), small black (1×2), tiny black (1×1). If I had a bin of all 2×2 and all 2×3 and all 1×4 of mixed colors, my problem would be in getting a good sense of how much black I had, either before starting the next project or in the middle of it (not to mention trying to sort ‘color-on-the-fly’ between dark blue and black, and all the various shades of yellow/light orange). It’s important for me to know that when I go to order more bricks. Exceptions to this would be for colors such as lavender, pink and magenta, etc., which do not come in quite the array of sizes, and can be lumped together. However, I do keep every 1×2 and 1×1 brick sorted by color – as has been pointed out, it’s too inefficient to track down those parts in bins of larger bricks.

  13. 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.

      • Yeah, thanks Adam. Your chart was very helpful to me.

      • john says:

        This is impressive Adam, do you have a database or librarian background? (in addition to user experience) the gliffy doesn’t seem easily printable.
        the legend is great 36 bins defines the domain. Even a child with guidance could memorize this.
        Really impressive.

    • Dave says:

      Are you in quality management at the office? Lol

    • MomDees says:

      just wow!
      and thank you so much for this article.
      add mom appreciates more than you could know.

  14. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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

    • Nat says:

      This is particularly useful for distinguishing light gray and light bluish gray, and a few other very similar colors. Frex, I don’t have the space or right-sized organizers to split out my 1×2 plates fully by color, but I have divided them up into 3 tubs: neutrals (black, white, dark bluish gray, light bluish gray), warm colors (reds, oranges, yellows, browns, reddish purples, and light gray and dark gray), and cool colors (greens, blues, violets, and bluish purples). Some other pieces in large quantities are just split into warms and cools, and then the bluish grays and white go in with the cool colors and the old grays in with the warm colors. (Black usually ends up in with the warm colors in a binary split, not because the Lego black is particularly warm, but just to equalize volumes. And because I usually can distinguish dark blue from black more easily than I can dark brown from black.)

      • Tom Alphin says:

        It is a common journey that AFOLs follow, which I have heard firsthand from hundreds of LEGO builders I’ve talked with while researching this LEGO Storage Guide.

        I suspect that Adults carry this approach over from their own childhood (assuming they are young enough/fortunate enough to grow up with LEGO), since the vast majority of parents seem to encourage kids to sort by color instead of other methods. This may be changing slightly, in part due to this guide, but the sort by color method remains dominant with parents trying to help kids organize their bricks.

        —Tom

  17. Jim Clinch says:

    I’ve been meaning to write something like this for ages, but ironically never been able to get myself organised enough. You’ve done a great job of simplifying a surprisingly complex subject.

    Somethings that I use that you may wish to add.

    One of the problems of moving from a by part system to a by element system is that you can end up with some very empty containers taking up a lot of extra room. When you have a lot of parts (i.e. a room full) physical storage space becomes a real issue. This is a particular problem in my collection as I build large landscapes, so I might have thousands of 1×2 plates in some obscure shade of green and only 20 in red. I decided to implement a colour family hierarchy.
    I’m using brackets to help you see the groupings.
    So I have (greyscale), which when it gets too big can be split into (Black & White) and (Bleys). If they get too big then they can be further split into their individual colours: (black), (white), (light bley) and (dark bley).
    I do the same with what I call (earth tones) which first splits into (the browns), (the tans) and (the oranges) and then (reddish brown), (dark brown), (tan) (dark tan) etc.
    And finally the ‘brights’ which split into (Blues, reds, purples and pinks) and (yellows and greens).
    The beauty of this is that it’s easy to split out one colour from the rest in stages leaving the rest mixed in to save space.
    So for example I might happen to have dark blue on it’s own, all the rest of the blues mixed up and then reds,pinks and purples all still together. If later on I find that dark red starts to dominate the container, then it’s a simple job the sift them out and give them a bin of their own.

    Another thing you may wish to add for large collections is implementing secondary storage systems.
    At some point keeping everything next to where you build will become impractical, so keep just enough to fill your short term needs at the table and use a coloured sticker to signify a deep storage location. Deep storage locations can just be a large box full of bagged elements all piled in to compress the physical space. That can be chucked in the loft etc. as you won’t need to access it that often. The coloured sticker stops you forgetting and ordering another 1,000 of Bricklink, when you have loads already.

  18. 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

  19. 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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