Show me a parent who hasn’t been frustrated with an out of control Lego® brick storage system. At some point it’s inevitable. The bricks are usually dumped into bins but many times spread out and underfoot. Ouch! As the co-owner of a Lego® brick-based Creativity Center for Kidz in Chico and a confessed Adult Fan of Lego (AFOL), one of the two most often asked questions I get is “How do you organize all these bricks?” The other question is “Where do you get all these bricks?” Lets deal with the first question.
Making sense of a Lego® brick collection (Lego® is an adjective and should not to be used as a noun) can take as many forms as there are Lego® brick collectors, and there’s a lot of them. What I’ll describe is a method I came up with over the years through trial and error that allows for a large number of bricks to be sorted so that the system can be easily maintained and bricks can be easily found. Sorting should be a calm, meditative process; not something done under duress. A well-sorted collection is fun to build with and maximizes imaginative potential. Some would argue that having bricks sorted takes away from important unintentional design influence but I would disagree.
The system is a combination of physical elements and nomenclature. The physical elements are drawers, labels, and a tub. The clear plastic drawers are essential. I prefer Sterilite drawers but there are other brands. They usually come in three-drawer units and can stack. They come in many sizes. The drawers can be easily pulled out to be used as brick trays for building, for storing a not-quite-finished MOC (My Own Creation), or used to dip into the “Clean-up Box” to sort them back into the collection. For labels it makes sense to use a nice labeler that can handle larger label tape. I use a Brother P-Touch labeler and Tz label tape. The tub for the “clean up box” should be fairly large and made of similar clear plastic as the drawer trays. Lego® model stickers can be stuck to the inside top rim of the clean-up box and then used again later.
I see lots of people sort their collection by color and there’s nothing wrong with that but I much prefer sorting by shape. Once you start to overflow your drawers of shapes, consider color again. Getting to know your basic brick shapes takes some nomenclature -a brick vocabulary.
Basic brick descriptions have to do with stud length (number of bumps on top). The archetypical brick is a 2×4 Brick. Thinner bricks are called “Plates”. Three plates, when put together one on top of the other is equal to a brick. Thus the two first boxes are labeled as “2x Bricks” and “1x Bricks” Their length does not matter, only the width. We also have corresponding “2x Plates” and “1x Plates”. Plates come in larger sizes but the short side can define them: “4x Plates”, “6x Plates”, and “8x Plates”.
Bricks with an angle on one side are called “Slopes”. Some collectors separate out “Roof Tiles” and “Inverted Slopes”…but I’ve found this too time consuming and put them all in one drawer. “Wedges”, however, are unique and should have their own drawer. These all have more than one slope on each brick or are curved. I put curved slopes in the “Wedge” drawer as well.
Some bricks have no studs. We call these “Tiles”. Other bricks have holes going through their sides. These are referred to as “Technic Bricks”. Along with technic bricks are: “Axels”, “Pins and Bushings”, and “Technic Connectors”. I’ve seen these all separated by size and type in larger collections but to save time and sanity I just use the three drawers.
A very special type of brick is called “SNOT”. Yes, really. It’s an acronym but also a misnomer. It stands for “Studs Not On Top”; they all have studs on the sides so you can build sideways. Most of them also have studs on top as well, however, so the acronym doesn’t stand up. Talking about “advanced snot techniques”, however, has made the term stick in the AFOL community. You just have to have a “SNOT” drawer!
The above comprise the bulk of most collections. Some other drawers will be necessary: “Modified Bricks” are any bricks that don’t fit the previous descriptions. “Modified Plates” are those plates that have curved or angled edges, such as ones you’d use for wings on an airplane. I have two other drawers that defy description: “Larger Cool Pieces” and “Smaller Cool Pieces”. You can decide for yourself what go in these drawers.
Other drawers to have would be one for “Wheels” which I have had to divide up, one for “Cylinders & Cones” which are self descriptive, a drawer for “Dishes” (think satellite dish), and perhaps a couple for “Turn Tables” (swivels) and “Hinges”. “Rods” (sometimes called bars) is a nice drawer to put all those pieces in. I include antennae in this drawer along with light sabers.
Kidz love two things the most: “Mini-figs” (the “little Lego® guys”) and “Translucent” bricks –see through bricks of all sizes and colors. I also keep a “War Chest” that contains all the Mini-fig armor and weaponry.
From there, you can have other drawers such as:
“Animals & Beasts”
“Ships & Boats”
… etc. Duplo, Bionicle, and Remotes / Motors / Battery Packs all go elsewhere as well. Your collection will determine how you might divide these up –or put them in the “Cool Pieces” box. The goal is to every once in a while get to “Clean-Up Box Zero”… ah, a clean slate!
Hopefully with the above descriptions you can start to get your collection in order, enjoy the Zen of sorting, and increase the efficiency of your building.
By Dave Phelps
Co-owner, Bricks 4 Kidz, Chico