Lego organization strategies
April 21, 2013 7:14 AM   Subscribe

Prompted by an unfortunate knee + Lego incident this morning, I was curious what sort of strategies you all use to keep Legos contained.

My 4.5 year old has graduated from Duplos (which we kept in 2 big tupperwares) to regular Lego bricks.

We get a box, we build the thing (ship or car or whatever), and then we put it on the fireplace mantle. Kid likes to play with the constructed thing. He doesn't take it apart again, although inevitably pieces fall off and he gets annoyed.

(He also likes to keep the boxes for reference.)

As we've acquired more, I'm quickly realizing the mantle is filling up. We now have about 10 small vehicles.

A big tupperware is probably going to result in a pile of Lego bricks.

We keep a lot of other toys in fabric cubes, but that might be a similar problem.

Any other suggestions?

Also, while we're at it -- should I try to sell the 2 tupperwares of Duplos yet? He hasn't touched them in a few months and he's in school/daycare fulltime, so it isn't like he is home playing with them a lot.
posted by k8t to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe keeping the sets in Ziplocs?
posted by k8t at 7:25 AM on April 21, 2013

When I worked with a Lego kid the rules at his house were:
-Instruction booklets were saved but not boxes (after initial play)
-Sets had a playing/displaying life. Once they started to break they were taken apart and added to the big Tupperware bin of Legos.
-The big Tupperware bin came out of the closet with a big quilt that went on the ground. Lego pieces lived on that quilt unless constructed in to a play/display set.
- Bin came out at times when parents or I could supervise thorough clean up, so not right before leaving the house or dinner etc.

Sometimes is was a chore to sort through all of them looking for a specific piece to reconstruct a set, but the challenge was often a fun game. Also the big bin led to way more imaginative play and creation of his own ideas and slowly he didn't care much about the sets after initial construction.

But OW! when you do find an errant Lego!
posted by Swisstine at 7:32 AM on April 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Here's what I/we did (two boys 7 & 4)
+ Get rid of the Duplos as soon as they're not being played with
+ Use one big container for most legos (e.g., an underbed drawer on wheels)
+ Get a lego "sifter"
+ Use smaller tupperware containers or 1 gal. ziplocs (label these because parts will inevitably drift but it will be easier to clean up) to hold:
- Tires & wheels
- Minifigures
- Specialty groups of legos (like all Ninjago minifigures)
- Other small pieces by color (e.g., all clear round caps, all blue legos less than 4x4, etc.)

Every six months or so we have a deep clean/re-org to help things out.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:33 AM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

From your description, all the Legos should be assembled into a vehicle, sitting on your mantle. What is there to organize?

We had a big drawstring bag (basically just a 3-foot diameter circle denim, grommets around the perimeter, and a rope), so that we could easily spread out all our Legos to look for the correct blocks, but minimizing cleanup effort.
posted by misterbrandt at 7:36 AM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

We're running out of mantle space. And I don't want my mantle taken over by toys anymore.

And all these tiny parts get mixed up when they are sitting on the mantle.

I'd rather they all be contained somewhere, in their vehicle form so he can put them out, play with them, put them away.
posted by k8t at 7:42 AM on April 21, 2013 want them to stay built? May I ask why? It's a NEW TOY EVERY DAY. He'll never get his picture in the Lego magazine if you don't encourage deconstruction.

+1 all goes in a big box. Segregating by sets is... I am sure there are people who do that; I have never heard about them or met them, though. It seems anti-Lego.

I keep instruction booklets in a binder with plastic envelope pages, I try to segregate some special bits (but did not do that when the collection was smaller; it wasn't done when I was little), and everything else is jumbled in plastic tubs. A very special and fantastic original creation might be left out for display for a spell, but that would be rare; post-play, it all just goes back into the box with no thought of keeping the parts together.
posted by kmennie at 7:50 AM on April 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

At home depots here in Canada, thery have $1-$2 translucent plastic shoeboxes with lids that clip on loosely.

I'd get 10 of those along with one or two of the 45 L storage boxes with hinged lids.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:00 AM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ah, photos of any set he's particularly proud of, then it can go on the mantle for a little while, then it gets dismantled (ha!) and individual pieces are put in the main lego box to be used for ad hoc building. And +1 for keeping instructions in a separate file box or binder. That way if he reeeeeally wants to build a set again, he can.

The only set we've managed to keep together for any length of time is a railroad set. Everything else becomes something else eventually.
posted by cocoagirl at 8:03 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can get inexpensive plastic shelving units that are easy to put together, take apart, and move. They are light so if they are accidentally toppled, they won't cause too much damage, but sturdy enough that normal use should not topple the unit. I wouldn't put it into his room until you were sure he wouldn't go climbing on it, though. Here's an example similar to one I have.

Favorite built kits go on the upper shelves, a file box with all of the instructions and a box of parts (or several small boxes of sorted parts) go on the bottom shelf. A kit can be rebuilt at any time, finished kits are available for play, and spare parts are ready for random building sprees.
posted by rakaidan at 8:04 AM on April 21, 2013

How about fixing a number of models that are allowed on the mantelpiece, and then keeping everything else in the kind of storage boxes people are suggesting? Every time there's a new model, kiddo gets to decide whether it's worthy of a mantelpiece slot or not. Giving him some level of control over the dismantling process might reduce the upset, and give him more loose bits for the kinds of inventive play he'll be increasingly interested in as he gains imagination and motor skills.
posted by emilyw at 8:07 AM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Cut the picture off the cardboard box and stick it on a plastic tub?

My 10-year-old has been building the Lego Technics sets as well as making his own creations from the basics. He has an Ikea trolley (from the end-table section of the store) with a shelf underneath. The top is for building and displaying; on the bottom shelf he's made his own colour-coded boxes using origami for the Lego basics pieces. All spare parts wind up in their own box to either be reattached or used for some future project.

(That may not work for your son now, but it might if he keeps Lego-ing in the future.)
posted by tracicle at 8:08 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

kmennie: I met a kid who did exactly that. After the initial build, the set was photographed, deconstructed and saved in a plastic bag/bin with the photo + instructions (also labelled and organized by model number (!)). I was in awe and wished we could implement a similar solution, although my particular flavor of kid wouldn't possibly go for that. (although we did try "put it back in the original box" thing for a while which i strongly advise against; too bulky and prone to spilling if not closed correctly)

I've saved all our booklets in a binder, and have thought about sorting pieces into bags by color (then subsorting specialty pieces into separate smaller bags); the books have a parts list, and then if she wants to rebuild it's just a matter of finding all the pieces . This solution works better in my mind however as all our pieces that are unbuilt are currently haphazardly contained in no less than 6 large plastic bins, and the thought of the initial organization process... honestly putting the booklets in a binder is about all the organizing I can stand.

k8t: why not a bookcase or shelf in kid's room so that the builds can be in his space, with a nearby small box for stragglers to live in? Although, again, having experienced JUST THIS scenario, it will not last forever and a more permanent storage solution (involving deconstructed sets) will eventually need to be found
posted by lilnublet at 8:18 AM on April 21, 2013

I used to use a suitcase: boxes with sets stacked in one half, the other an open storage space for generic bricks. YMMV.

Mantel, btw.
posted by Segundus at 8:36 AM on April 21, 2013

I am firmly in the "dump them all together in one bin" group, but another Mom I know went to the dollar store and bought a dozen mesh laundry bags, for washing delicates. Each toy goes in its own mesh bag and then they all go in a box together. Similar to ziplocks but you aren't fighting the big air bubbles, and less worries about plastic bag safety issues.
posted by ambrosia at 9:10 AM on April 21, 2013

For the small parts, maybe a parts or crafts organizer drawer unit like this one or this one? This organizational challenge is not unlike folks who need to keep track of miscellaneous screws and hex nuts.
posted by belau at 9:11 AM on April 21, 2013

I'm pretty ruthless with my kids' Legos and Duplos, and they all go in their giant respective bins at the end of the day.

But if your kid is more attached to his creations, could you use an under-the-bed shoe organizer? It's like a giant cloth drawer with shoebox-sized compartments. I took a quick peek online and it looks like they each have 12 - 14 compartments. You could put two toys per compartment an be set for a while.
posted by christinetheslp at 9:30 AM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

So I feel I have extra authority in this matter because when I was a kid my dad WORKED for Lego (they used to have a factory in Endfield CT). We had so many that the guest room became the Lego room. After many organization strategies that came and went, the one that finally stuck was to get big clear plastic bins and organize them by color. That way there is a limited number of bins, the organization structure is clear, and sorting is really fast. Special parts (minifigs, horses, wheels, clear parts) when in old Duplo bins (we got a bunch of them after they redesigned the bins with the brace across the top so kids couldn't get them stuck on their heads) but any smaller bucket/bin would work.
Most sets got dismantled and the instructions saved. However, there are a few things I wish we had kept intact, because they were just so cool- we had 3 pirate ships, for example, (although I think one was the army-that-fights-the-pirates ship) and a bunch of super old spaceships, and a t-rex robot that would sit up and open its mouth by remote control. Basically stuff that uses specialized parts- you can only make pretty much one thing with it, so it makes more sense to keep it together.
Oh, and definitely keep stiff corralled on a blanket or a tablecloth or something on the floor. They used to make these special denim drop cloths with a drawstring around the edge for gathering them up, but at the very least, it's easier to avoid stepping on a bunch of pieces together on a blanket than those same pieces scattered all other the place.
posted by genmonster at 9:30 AM on April 21, 2013

40+ Awesome Lego Storage Ideas

That said, we had a situation where our daughter wanted to build elaborate Playmobil worlds, and didn't want to have to put them away and rebuild them every time. Understanding the value of uninterrupted play, we made a trundle to go under her bed. This blog post shows how one similar to ours was made with little wheels, but we just used a sheet of pressboard that came with a piece of Ikea furniture and little self-sticking felt pads that we had around. They fit under her bed - but there are bed risers or bed lifts if more clearance is needed.
posted by peagood at 9:39 AM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

We keep ours in an old train table, like this one but with drawers. Minifigs have their own smaller box. We're firmly in the "dump it all together" school of thought.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:53 AM on April 21, 2013

(He also likes to keep the boxes for reference.)

We've solved some of this space problem by cutting off the front panels and saving them.

Because my Lego fan has sets from different series, I have started putting instructions in clear plastic sleeves and devoting a labeled binder to each theme. That way, we can *both* find them easily.

A Lego blanket is a great idea, because you just fold the edges in for easy pick-up.

Can you have a single place of honor for the latest creation, so you rotate through models?

Would small plastic tubs with lids work in your fabric cubes? Check at your local dollar store, or maybe give him your least-used Tupperware.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:13 PM on April 21, 2013

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