A frequent question I get asked in my LEGO® classes is how do you organize LEGO® bricks?! Brick Architect has a thoroughly excellent article on brick organization for adults. Seriously. Read it. It's amazing.
But what if your builders are kids?? Most kids don't naturally love to sort their bricks, haha.
There are two key elements to any LEGO® collection: Organizing and Maintaining. I'll cover both below with practical step-by-step guidance for young builders.
I recognize everyone is in different stages of collecting and/or building. Everyone has different abilities to maintain a LEGO® collection. Therefore I approach organization as method of stages. Some families make it to Stage 4, others are happy with Stage 1.
There is no right or wrong here.
Organizing your bricks
STAGE 1: USE SHALLOW BINS
Get 2-3 under-bed storage bins. You want these shallow bins because smaller pieces don't disappear. Also, the size (wide and long) is handy because you can stir your bricks around without pieces escaping over the sides. When you're done, pop the lid back on and stack the boxes along a wall.
STAGE 2: USE AN ORGANIZER
In addition to stage one, add a shallow 3-drawer sterilite organizer. The goal is to help your kids start to recognize broad categories of bricks, so we're starting small. Create three categories: Minifigs, SNOT bricks, and Singles.
Why Singles? Because it's easiest to find them, but also the easiest to LOSE them to the bottom of your brick pile.
Anything relating to minifigures, including hair, bodies, accessories, hats, swords, etc.
Studs Not On Top (SNOT) have studs on the sides. Helps change direction when building.
Parts taking up a single stud: coins, dots, cones, cheese wedges, 1x1s, etc.
Label your drawers and/or print the pics I included under the collapsible categories above. These three simple categories are both easy to distinguish and broad enough that most kids can sort them out. Everything else goes back in the Stage 1 bins.
Contact me if you need a better picture quality to print. OR use Brick Architect's free labels.
Why not sort by color? It's common to start organizing bricks by color. While there's nothing inherently wrong about this, it doesn't make it easier to find parts to build. (Also the black parts bin can quickly becomes an abyss where you can't distinguish shapes AT ALL, so you have to dump it out to find anything.) Therefore, I don't recommend it.
Teach your child to sort by part. It will also help improve their building skills as they begin to recognize shapes.
EDIT: Sorting By Color *is* possible if that's what works for your family. I don't want to discourage that! One family I work with divides by color using basic shapes as a category. I love her approach. She has basic colors (red, yellow, brown, blue, etc) divided across four styles (bricks, angles, plates/tiles, curves).
STAGE 3: ADD MORE ORGANIZERS
Now that your child has experience sorting some of their bricks, you can expand categories. Easy ones include Plants, Slopes, Rounds, Animals, Big Plates, and Tiles. You'll notice I didn't include any of the common square or rectangular bricks (2x2s, 2x4s, 1x4s, etc). For now, leave those in the Stage 1 tubs. We want to sort the pieces that are rarer so that they are easier to find but also aren't exhausting to put away due to their sheer volume. However if it's easier for your kids to pick out bricks and leave the little bits, do it.
Other common categories include: Wheels, Windows + Doors, and Boat + Airplane Parts.
Nature related: flowers, tree parts, leaves, cactus, etc.
Anything with an angle: roof pieces, slanted pieces, sloped pieces, etc.
Circular and Semi-Circular Pieces. You can choose to include wheels or not.
Living creatures: octopus, dragons, alligators, sharks, horses, chickens
Nature related: flowers, tree parts, leaves, cactus, etc.
Flat bricks wider than two studs
Smooth bricks without studs
STAGE 4: SUPER SORTING
Divide by specific parts. For kids who have mastered Stages 1-4, they are ready for super sorting. You can go crazy and sort by individual, specific part or put a few similar parts in the same bin. Akro Mills is a popular brand because it is durable and has lots of configuration options. We have ones with both small and medium bins. We personally like organizers where you can pull the drawers completely out so we can build on the floor or somewhere else. I have several of these carts for that reason.
BrickArchitect has printable labels designed for these drawers.
Notice how there are no labels? Don't do that.
Maintaining YOUR collection
Congrats! You've organized your collection. Now... how do you keep it that way?!?!
1. LABEL EVERYTHING
Get a label maker and label every bin. If you have younger kids, print off pictures of brick categories and use packing tape to attach to every bin. This will save time and frustration! Brick Architect has a phenomenal free guide to LEGO® parts - including printable labels with pictures!
2. HAVE A SPOT FOR UNSORTED BRICKS
We use an under-bed storage bin to toss unsorted bricks into. There will be times when you just don't have time to sort bricks and put them away. I promise. It will happen.
So create an unsorted bin. Every other week or so we put on an audiobook and sort.
You can also create a semi-sorted bin. For example, rather than put tall pieces (called Bricks) in the generic unsorted pile, I can put them in my Bricks To Sort tub (see the red circle below).
Ignore the unmarked bins and wrongly marked bins. We're currently upgrading our front room into a bonafide LEGO® Studio and everything is a hot mess. But I figured I'd show a real life pic rather than one of those impossible-to-be-real Instagram ones.
3. STORE THE MANUALS
We put our manuals into plastic sleeve protectors and store those in giant binders. I know others who stack in a box. You can get ANY manual from ANY set from the LEGO® website for free.
If you end up losing or damaging a manual, no need to panic.
4. DISPLAY THE BUILDS
Our Studio uses Ivar shelving from IKEA. Technically it is pantry shelving, but we love how each shelf is movable. These shelves are sturdy! We have shorter shelves where we put sorting tubs. We can remove a shelf to allow for our Akro Mills organizers.
Some people buy lighting kits for their shelves. We haven't gotten that far... yet...
I will update this page as we work on our Studio. Feel free to reach out to me with questions or comments.