A Smart Way to Sort and Store Those LEGO Sets!
With three young boys (and a kid-at-heart husband!), you better bet we are constantly swimming in LEGO bricks. Now having “fought the good fight” over LEGO organization for almost 10 years, we have implemented a variety of organization solutions to keep sets together, manuals from being destroyed, and pesky bricks out from under tender, innocent feet! Today I want to dive into one of the solutions we love: an easy way to sort and store LEGO sets.
No “One Size Fits All” LEGO Organization Solution
Before I dive into how to sort and store LEGO sets, I first want to briefly chat about the overall concept of organizing LEGO bricks.
Now more than ever, I am convinced there is NOT a “one size fits all” solution to LEGO organization. What works for you (or your family) will greatly depend on:
- how many bricks/sets you have
- how your kids play with them
- how accessible you want everything to be
- and how much time/effort you want to put into maintaining your LEGO organization
If you search for LEGO organization ideas online, you will find everything from set storage (like this post!) to bricks sorted by colors into drawers, bricks sorted into size and shape into containers, and on and on and on.
All of these solutions work, and none of them work. It all depends on how you build:
- If you or your child really likes to build sets…as they are designed, packed, and sold by LEGO…storing by set is a great solution.
- If you or your child likes to free-build creations from their own imagination, storing by color might work better.
- If you or your child, is really into creating masterpieces that require very specific bricks, storing by size and shape is the way to go.
All that said, there is one more important element to consider: if you do not have the time, patience, or interest in keeping up with LEGO organization, none of these methods will work. Because unless you build models and never, ever touch them, LEGO bricks are toys (meant to be played with) and therefor fall apart and get re-built, over and over Which means that any system you put in place is prone to being un-done. So if you or your family doesn’t have the time or interest in keeping your LEGO bricks organized, you might just want to stop now and throw them all into a big bin (just speaking from experience!).
When To Organize LEGO Bricks By Set
All that said, as long as there are LEGO bricks, there will always be Moms, organizing geeks, and enthusiasts out there looking for the best way to organize them. And sorting and storing by set can be a great solution in these circumstances:
- You have lots of brand new and/or un-built sets and the original packaging is destroyed
- You or your child primarily builds according to instruction manuals
- You or your child likes to build and then re-build the same sets over and over
- You have large, complex sets that can’t be/aren’t on permanent display (e.g., Ferris Wheel, Christmas Train, etc)
- You want/need to store LEGO bricks on a shelf (instead of drawers, a LEGO table, etc)
Since we have 6 years between our 2 older sons, we have many (smallish) LEGO sets that our oldest built (and have since been dismantled) but the younger one now wants to build. Having all the pieces sorted and sorted with the manual into storage bins has been the best way for us to make these “old” sets brand new again!
How to Organize LEGO Sets
If you have determined that organizing your LEGO bricks by set is a good solution for your home, here is the process that worked great for us!
Step 1: Gather All the LEGO Bricks
Start by gathering up ALL the LEGO bricks around your house. This can include unopened boxes, built items (only if they are going to be broken down), partially-built items, random bins/bowls/trays of bricks, and loose bricks that are under couches, in cushions, etc. Do your best to get all your LEGO bricks in one spot.
TIP! If you still have pieces in unopened plastic bags directly from the box, keep them that way! You’ll figure out what they belong to in the sorting process!
Step 2: Gather All The LEGO Manuals
Next, gather up all the instruction manuals. The instructions will not only help you find everything needed for a particular set, but will also give you a good sense of what you own. Spend some time going through the manuals to determine which kits you want/need to reassemble.
TIP! Any remaining manuals, inspiration books, print outs, etc can be loaded into its own storage bin or binder as needed.
Step 3: Sort and Re-Assemble Kits (If Needed)
Now it’s time to painstakingly sort all your LEGO bricks back into their original sets. Get comfortable, recruit the family to help, and put on a binge-worthy series or podcast because this will take a while.
Sort out bricks using the inventory in the back of every LEGO manual. The inventory lists out all the bricks for that set, as well as their color and how many are included. If you are missing manuals, you can now find PDF versions HERE.
No matter how many LEGO sets you have, this is going to be time-consuming and tedious. Here are a few tips that helped us:
- If you’re serious about ensuring sets are complete, disassemble everything that is already assembled so you can accurately account for each and every piece.
- If you have a lot of jumbled up kits as we did, it helps to sort out the LEGO bricks by color first before you start assembling kits. As you need to find pieces, it’s quicker to start in the right color pile then and narrow down from there.
- Use small buckets, bowls, or trays as you work to keep sets separate and distinct.
- As you get most items sorted, note which pieces are missing (more on this below.)
Step 4: Load Kits Into Good Storage Containers
It is clear to me that LEGO doesn’t really intend their boxes to be used for storage after they are opened. They don’t close up nicely and can be tricky to stack thanks to all the various shapes and sizes. As such, for long-term storage, I recommend loading your LEGO sets into durable storage containers.
For LEGO sets, you want to use boxes that:
- have good-fitting, snug lids
- are easily stackable
- comfortably fit the entire LEGO set and manual
- come in a variety of sizes (to hold a variety of sized LEGO kits)
- are common and easy-to-find (so you can buy more down the road as needed)
- are inexpensive
After searching extensively, I landed on Sterilite® Clip Storage Totes because they checked all of these criteria and more. Both Target and Amazon have carried these clear plastic bins for years in a wide range of sizes, and they hold up great.
Here are the specific sizes I recommend for LEGO sets:
- “Long” & “Large” – both of these long flat versions will fit most “standard” LEGO kits
- “Mini” – these really small boxes are great for smaller LEGO sets, as well as extra minifigures, props, wheels, etc
- “Deep” – these deeper boxes are great for really large or “Creator” sets
Once you have all your kits sorted and reassembled, load them into the best-size boxes and be sure to include the instruction booklet.
TIP! For VERY large sets that you hope to someday build or re-build, consider sorting your bricks down even further within the storage box. Bagging up bricks by color or size can make re-assembling these complex kits quicker and easier.
Step 5: Label the LEGO Kits
So that you can easily identify what kit is where, the next step is to label each box. You can certainly do this with a label maker or even cut off the flap from the original box and tape it to the inside. However, if that original box is long gone, you can easily DIY your own!
No matter how you make labels, I highly recommend printing out pictures of the sets so both kids and adults can see, at a glance, which kit is what.
I have been asked for years and years how I made my labels; and you can now see the full tutorial on how to make LEGO box labels HERE.
In the meantime, here is the gist of it:
- Measure the tops and sides of your specific boxes to determine the best label sizes.
- Use Google or the LEGO site to find and save images of your LEGO kits.
- Use a graphic design program like Canva to make labels that include the LEGO set name and number, as well as the picture (if desired). TIP! You can grab my Free LEGO Labels Templates HERE!)
- Print the labels onto cardstock or photo paper and trim down with scissors or a paper trimmer.
- Secure the labels to the boxes with clear packing tape.
TIP! Consider adding a label both to the lid and the base. This helps keep everything together and allows you to easily see which kit is where when they are stacked up on a shelf.
Step 6: Order Missing Bricks (If Needed)
If, in your sorting, you identify (important) pieces that are missing, keep a running list so you can order replacement bricks directly from LEGO. This might not always be necessary (especially since you can likely swap bricks of different colors from your “leftovers/extras” box), but if needed, the process is easy, inexpensive, and efficient.
In our sorting, we discovered that ALL of our little kits were complete (which is a true miracle!) and only 8 pieces were missing from the big Ferris Wheel set! We ordered replacements and have since been able to re-build the Ferris Wheel completely!
Step 7: Create an “Extra LEGO Pieces” Box
Whether you decide not to reassemble every last kit or you find yourself with lots of extras (which you will!), I recommend also including an “Extras” or “Leftovers” bin as part of your LEGO organization system.
Choose a bin that fits what you have (with room to grow) and label them accordingly. These “spare” bricks are great for free-building and also serve as a landing spot when you have the inevitable leftover bricks from new sets.
Step 8: Find a Home for Your LEGO Collection
Your final step is to find a spot for your newly-sorted LEGO sets. If you used stacking boxes, open shelving is a great solution, although you can also load the boxes into trunks, boxes, or closets.
Although it was somewhat of a happy accident, we discovered that the Sterilite boxes fit perfectly on the IKEA Kallax shelves in our playroom. While this might not be the ideal solution for homes with little kids, the Sterilite boxes+IKEA Kallax system sure make for an ideal LEGO display and storage central!
Does This LEGO Organization Method Work?
Half disassembled and parts spread across the house, there was literally no way for our sets to be reassembled with relative speed or ease. My primary goal was to get our LEGO kits back to a state where our son could build them again.
Literally, within minutes of placing all the sorted LEGO kits on the shelf…Henry brought the little blue car kit into my office and asked to make it. Because of this organizing project, he could easily see and remember what he had again. We sat right down to make the car, and boy was it so nice to be able to easily complete it without having to rummage around or hunt for missing bricks.
This organizing project certainly met the goal of organizing our LEGO sets in a way that made them storable and buildable.
And Years Later?
Oh boy. Do you remember that part waaaaay back at the beginning of this post where said ANY system you put in place requires diligence to KEEP it in place?
Yea, about that…
In the years since first organizing our LEGO sets, we’ve moved twice and added two more young boys to the family. Keeping our LEGO collection under control pretty much stopped being a priority. And then as we gained more and more sets, it became too difficult to rain the chaos back in.
Now…all that said, our oldest has stopped playing with LEGO bricks (and therefor has stopped disassembling things all over the house) and our middle son is now 5 and VERY eager to create all the projects in the manuals we have amassed. You better bet I WISH we had our sets assembled and ready to go. So although I am not sure we can carve out time right now to re-assemble all of our kits (because we do have so many), I STILL believe it is the best LEGO storage solution when you want to be able to build very specific creations direct from LEGO.
They key to this particular system working is building maintenance into it. So every time you get, open, and build a new kit, you have a bin and label ready to go too. Think of it more as “LEGO maintenance” rather than “LEGO organization”…now that is another LEGO post all of its own!
Happy LEGO sorting!