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!

19 Responses

  1. Avatar 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?

    • Avatar 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!

  2. 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

  3. Avatar 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.

  4. Avatar 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.

    • Avatar 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.

    • Avatar Dave says:

      Are you in quality management at the office? Lol

      • Avatar Tom Alphin says:

        Nope. I’m a User Experience Program Manager at Microsoft. (The job is about optimizing user experiences, though!)

  5. Avatar 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.

  6. Avatar 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?

    • Avatar 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

  7. Avatar 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.

    • Avatar 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

  8. Avatar 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.

  9. Avatar 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

  10. Avatar 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.

    • Avatar 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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