Friday, September 21, 2007

16 LEGO Storage Options

LEGOs in a bucket

How to organize and store your collection is a challenge for all LEGO fans. After I wrote about the very cool LEGO stacking bin, my curiosity was whetted and I decided to investigate the other choices - the ones used by most LEGO collectors, and few more esoteric options.

The best option for you will depend on many variables, including:
- How many pieces you have
- The types of pieces you have: blocks, robotics, etc.
- How you like to play/build
- Your space and budget constraints

Ways to Organize

momready.com suggests organizing by color.

wikiHow is the single best reference I've found on the topic of LEGO sorting and storage, and it suggests a progression of organizing approaches, as the collection grows: all together, by set, by size, by category, by part, by part and color.

Products to Consider: Specialized

LEGOs - original plastic box

1. For beginner collections, the LEGOs might simply be stored in the container they came in, especially if they came in a plastic box like this.


LEGO store & carry case

2. The LEGO store has a new category called storage, with only one product right now: the LEGO Store & Carry Case. The case has four removable, stackable trays with different sized sections. Update on June 12, 2011: The category, and this product, have disappeared from the LEGO store website.

child's LEGO building table with storage bins

3. The Kydz building table from Jonti-Craft has a base plate (LEGO or Duplooptions) and optional storage tubs underneath.


box4blocks used for LEGO sorting

4. An interesting specialty product is BOX4BLOCKS, which sorts the LEGOs through a series of trays with different sized grids, so the blocks end up in a tray with similar sized blocks.


LEGO storage bin, green

5. LEGO Education has storage bins in five different sizes. In many cases, the bins have small drain holes in the bottom, so you can wash and drain your bricks. Update on June 12, 2011: I'm only seeing two sizes of boxes now.


LEGO small parts storage cabinet

6. LEGO Education also has small parts storage cabinets in 44-drawer and 64-drawer sizes.


storage case with LEGO Mindstorms parts

7. Robotics Learning Store sells cases designed specifically for Mindstorms.


Products to Consider: Other Widely Used Options

Of course, there's no need to use products designed specifically for LEGOs.

8. Plastic bins and boxes of all sorts are popular options. JaZilla recommends some options on Squidoo. Nate Jacobs shows his collection of bins on Flickr. Tom has a LEGO room and lots of bins. Matt uses the plastic tubs that mushrooms come in.


plastic multi-sectioned storage container with LEGO parts

9. Miguel Agullo has some plastic buckets with compartments that he says work wonderfully for his LEGO Technic pieces, but are hard to get.


tool box with LEGO Mindstorm parts

10. When it comes to Mindstorms, tool boxes are a popular option. Jason Bartholme uses a Stanley ten compartment organizer. Peter Hoh on The NXT Step uses a Stanley Professional Deep Organizer, shown above.


tackle box with LEGO parts

11. Some folks really like Plano fishing tackle boxes; fans include David Bau and Ralph Hempel, who provides a nice photo.

12. Storage cabinets from companies like Akro-Mils are also popular; Jon Palmer at Zemi has a LEGO room with eight Akro-Mils storage cabinets.

Products to Consider: Other

13. Eric Harshbarger uses some old library card catalog cabinets.

14. Amazon.com shows that someone likes using scrapbooking carts and cases. Update on June 12, 2011: The Amazon tags only point to one scrapbooking product right now.

15. And then someone suggests storing them in socks: red LEGOs in red socks, etc.


parts display at LEGO store

16. And here's a picture from a LEGO store, courtesy of sylvar/Ben Ostrowsky.

Finally, I'm indebted to wikiHow for pointing me to Remy Evard's essay on the evolution of LEGO sorting - which illuminates (with great humor) the continual storage challenges facing serious LEGO collectors.

Update on Nov. 28, 2010: Read my latest post to see some new options from Brikcrate!

Update on August 12, 2011: See my latest finds for Lego storage.

[lead photo by feesta / Jeff Easter]

48 comments:

One Hundred Movie Reviews said...

This is a great article. I especially love all the photos and links. I was one of the authors of the article on wikihow that you mentioned. I'm glad you liked it. I get asked the question about storing LEGO toys, a lot. LEGO toys are so modular, that one would expect the answer of storage to be pretty simple, but it clearly isn't. I'm glad the LEGO company is starting to provide more storage products, but so far I've been pretty disappointed with what they've come up with. The new catalog has some expensive furniture and a box with trays. I think the Box4Blox is ingenious, but I finally got a chance to try it out, and you have to be careful not to pour in too many bricks at once. Ultimately, i think it will serve well as a tool for sorting rather than storing all my bricks in there.

Jeri Dansky said...

one hundred movie reviews: Thank you for the kind words, and for the information on Box4Blox. As a non-collector, I was a bit hesitant to wade into this territory - but it's such an interesting organizing challenge that I just couldn't resist.

Brian Davis said...

Nice summary. Personally I use a mix of the Stanley (formly Zag) organizers for very small parts (pins, 1x1 plates, gears, etc.), as the lift-out bins are very handy for dumping or digging, and Plano boxes (the large ones as shown for general parts, but some of the smaller ones are perfect for axles... I'm mostly a robotics guy). One aspect of the storage system that can play a role is mobility - my build area is the entire livingroom floor, which would have... "spousal consequences"... if I left everything there all the time. The Plano solution allows me to very securely move my entire collection (or just the parts of it I need that night) from the livingroom to the basement and back quickly and easily.

Incidently, the storage containers from Learning Robotics store are also sold in other stores as tackle boxes (somewhat cheaper, but without the very handy label inserts of course). This type of solution is great for schools and similar siutuations where you have a number of "identical kits" that you need to keep seperate & organized.

--
Brian Davis

Foxbox said...

Looking at the article URL my guess is you found a last minute number 16? ;-)

I'm using method #10 and #11, as you can see in a YouTube video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjiD_U3d7mU

Larger parts go into a nice piece from Ikea:
http://www.ikea.com/nl/nl/catalog/products/20107873

Jeri Dansky said...

Brian and Foxbox: Thank you for your contributions!

Brian: I should definitely have listed "mobility" as one of the considerations when selecting a storage solution - thanks for adding that.

Foxbox: Yes, there was indeed a last minute #16. I wondered if anyone was going to notice that!

moof said...

Great article but I guess our amount of lego is excessive. Take that IKEA cabinet with drawers and multiply it by six (all full to the brim and I think ours are actually bigger (20 pound per bin?)... they are the biggest plastic drawer units on wheels that Target sold and then stacked on top of each other) and now sagging! Hehe... plus two extra large bins for train and monorail, extra buckets for technic, plates, misc. large pieces, all the built sets laying around, built items all over the room and a huge over flowing bucket of stuff that needs to be sorted. We seriously need help (actual or mental... you decide!)

Organizing lego is totally crazy and insane but we do it by color, shape and size. Sure makes building a lot easier though!

Jeri Dansky said...

moof: Thanks for writing! For the LEGO devotee, storage will always be a challenge.

Anonymous said...

Are there any ideas on organizing those Lego set instructions and Lego set box sides that have the with set images?

Jeri Dansky said...

Anonymous, my first question would be whether you could get by without saving the instructions, and getting them off the web as needed. LEGO lets you download instructions.

There are other sites with scans of instructions and boxes, but I don't know the legality of those images.

If you do indeed want to keep all the instructions and box images, it probably comes down to picking a good filing system. Can you tell me what you've tried already - what worked and what didn't?

Anonymous said...

I started with a 3" thick 3-ring binder with the plastic sleeves that the instruction booklets would fit into. I'm considering using ring binder notebooks for drawings (roughly 12" x about 36") for the box pictures. I appreciate your thoughts on throwing the box pics away. Will consider that!

Jeri Dansky said...

Anonymous, for things you really want to keep in paper form, binders can work fine. Some similar options are Itoya's Profolio products and Unikeep case binders. If you're finding you don't like binders and want a different kind of solution, write again and I'll point you to other options. It would help to have some idea of how much volume we're talking about.

But that 12" x 36" storage is a challenge. Assuming you want something portable (rather than something like a flat file cabinet) I've found at least one possible answer: the Easi Carrier from Easi File.

Anonymous said...

Our Lego collection is relatively small but for sorting, we found zippered mesh fabric toy bags for cheap at http://toybags.home.comcast.net Sort into bags and then toss all the bags in a big bin. The bags are also ideal for organizing lots of the other small toys our kids litter around the house.

Jeri Dansky said...

Anonymous, thanks for writing! Those bags do indeed look useful for any number of things.

Tina said...

I have found that old luggage is a great way to store Legos. The one's we use have small wheels on the bottom that make it easy to move. We use the large zippered pocket on the outside front to store the directions, the one on the inside for storing the building plates. They stand up narrow for storage--or lie on their side to slide under a bed. When open, it is easy to dig through and find the piece you are looking for and quick to zip up and roll back into the closet. They are also very cheap (or free!) at second hand stores.

Jeri Dansky said...

Good idea, Tina - thanks for sharing. Suitcases can be handy for storing and hauling all sorts of things - I just never thought of them for the LEGO collection.

Jeri Dansky said...

Here's one more suggestion on how to organize your Lego bricks for efficient building.

Thanks to Jihn Trosko at OrganizingLA for the pointer.

Jeri Dansky said...

That should have been JOHN Trosko in the prior comment.

Jaycephus said...

Anyone know of a small "Automated Storage/Retrieval System" AKA AS/RS?

Think of a dresser sized cabinet, or larger, where the automation is that you ask for a certain part and it is presented to you in one of a number of fashions. This would probably work best and be cheapest at a small scale if you think of a series of drawer sized boxes that are on a chain-driven carosel, oriented vertically. Think of a Ferris wheel, but instead of seats, its 6-8" tall x 4' wide x 1' deep boxes, and instead of a big circle of metal framework, its an oval of chain, and instead of people, its legos. Using the above box dimensions, the whole thing might be about 4' tall x 4.5' wide x 2.5' deep. Access to storage boxes might be through the top, or by pulling the top box out like a drawer, in both cases at about waist height in this example. To get to a different box, you would need to close the cabinet, and use the control program to tell it to rotate the boxes around until the one you want is in position. Inside of the large boxes there could be any degree of samller organizers. When putting a lego inside the system, you open up a program on a connected PC, type in the lego part number, type in the box, sub-container, and bin ID, and put the lego in that exact bin. Then later you decide you want to make something you've never made before. You have so many parts stored and inventoried on Peeron that you can go to Peeron and call up the plans for a set you don't even own, and actually have the parts to build it. You take the inventory from Peeron in comma delimited format and import it into the AS/RS program. It looks at the parts and sorts by bin locations, moves the first storage box into position, and gives you a first sub-list of all the parts to pick from the bins in the first box it presents to you. You pick them, and hit continue on the program, and it moves the second storage box into position, giving you the sub-list of all parts that are in various bins inside the second box, and so on until you've picked out all the pieces. Now the system knows you've 'checked out' those parts, and you can at some point in the future reverse the procedure to put them back where they belong.

Another way to use this system is to use the Lego Designer program to build a virtual design. You export the parts list from LDD and put it into the AS/RS program, and again pick all the needed parts out to build your LDD design out of real parts.

Putting new parts into the system would get easier after a while, since you could take a set inventory from Peeron, import it, and the system could try to put all parts from the set that are the same as parts you've already stored into the same bins as those parts. The only time you would ever have to enter a new part number and pick a box and bin for it would be if it were a new part you had never stored before. Of course, once your parts overflow a bin, you would have to move or split those parts to bigger or multiple bins.

I think this is easily built as a dumb organizer, and then with some specialized hardware and programming, the full design envisioned above could be produced.

- Jay
email: jaycephus gmail com

Jeri Dansky said...

Jay, you may have defined a new market niche for ASRS products!

CanCan said...

Here is an easy option for Lego: http://winnermama.blogspot.com/2008/06/kids-klutter-katchers-are-neat-its-pun.html

Bricksack said...

Another option is a Bricksack. We just started up and would love to hear some feedback.

C.J. said...

If I build it, how will I get them to come??
I already have bought fishing tackle organizers, tool boxes, plastic drawer systems on wheels, color coded desktop drawers, plastic shoe boxes, and large rubbermaid bins. They still refuse to organize them, and my life is plagued with the constant cacophony of bin digging. Bribes don't work, threats of the trash can don't either. When they start into a forced organizing mode, they just revert into building mode and there are too many (3 PACKED large rubbermaid bins worth)for me to have the time or mental energy to do it for them!!!
HELP!!

Jeri Dansky said...

Bricksack, thanks for sharing yet another idea. Good luck with your product!

C.J., what do "they" see as the problem? Does it frustrate them to not be able to find the bricks (or whatever) that they want? If so, maybe you could brainstorm solutions with them.

But if you're the only one who sees a problem, it'll be harder to make changes. In that case, you might still be able to brainstorm with them. If you can identify the problem (the old "When x happens, I feel y" kind of format), maybe all of you can come up with some answer that addresses your concerns.

Mark Anderson said...

My problem is I have a rather large and growing LEGO collection that I'm organizing, but no place to keep them.

I end up moving box after box out to the living room and back to the closet any time I want to build, which is a hassle.

I was looking at this cart system for both storing and organizing and building. Whatcha think?

http://www.uline.com/Product/ProductDetail.aspx?Model=H-1496Y&ref=1825&RootChecked=yes

Mark Anderson said...

Forgot to click the email followup on the above post. Ignore this.

Jeri Dansky said...

Mark, nice idea! That looks like it might be an Akro-Mils ProCart.

Here's another type of mobile storage unit with bins.

And here's yet another one.

And another.

Mark Anderson said...

OK, I might have to get one of these... Thanks!

Jo said...

I love the Bricksack (www.bricksack.com) for Lego and toy storage! My son has several of them for organizing by different Lego themes (Star Wars, Viking, etc.). We store them all in a toy box. When he wants to play, he just takes out a sack, opens it up (it lays flat on the floor so he can easily see all of the small parts) and he plays for hours. Then when he is finished, he just tosses the few pieces that strayed off the 3 foot circle, back on to the circle and cinches it up like a sack and puts back in the toy box. It's great because it is so easy to clean up, yet it is so easy to see all of the parts when playing. Plus, my son would much rather build on the floor than on a table. My daughter even has a few Bricksacks for her Webkins and Polly Pockets.

Jeri Dansky said...

Jo, thanks for sharing!

Legos For Girls said...

Nice, very nice. I will have to keep an eye on this blog :)

Jeri Dansky said...

Glad to have you here, Legos for Girls!

Anonymous said...

o my gosh! My husband is obsessed with lego and the collection is growing bigger and bigger as my children get older and have stopped swallowing the bits.I have lego everywhere. Bricksack sounds good but thinking of creating my own version. Delia

Jeri Dansky said...

Delia, it sounds like you've gotten some new ideas from reading this; I'm so pleased!

Andrea said...

We use a homemade version of the bricksack, a blanket on the floor! Easy to clean up and put in a large bin. We insist that the legos stay on the (very large) blanket and it works great for the younger set. The older lego fan is now wanting a sorting capability as he has moved to Bionicles....will consider some of the options listed here!

Jeri Dansky said...

Andrea, thanks for letting us know what works for you!

T&T said...

We have 3 gogosac playmats that double up as toy storage sacks for all our lego & duplo. They are pretty cool, well made with no exposed straps so the little ones don't trip over. You can find them on the gogo&co website or view the gogosac's
gogosac playmat and toy storage in one.

u∃∃l!∃ said...

Back when I played with a lot of small pieces, I sorted into plastic drawers, that rolled under the table I had built out of old doors.

As I played and sorted, and modified my storing/sorting methods, over the years, I discovered the following:

1) Shallow containers are best if mixing different pieces into the same container. At one point I had several of those shallow 7 gallon RubberMaid boxes, on shelves that were spaced just slightly higher than the box.

2) Deep containers are best otherwise, this way the opening to the container needs less square footage.

3) Sorting and mixing need to be dependent on how pieces are used together and what pieces you can substitute for others.
This idea developed into a system where basic bricks were sorted mostly by color, and functional/special pieces more by function.
The idea here is, if I lack the exact piece I need, how would I most likely substitute.

4) Non round uses space much more efficiently.
(Does anyone else hate that the Lego Store uses those round containers for their pick-a-brick section?)

5) The more pieces I can access at once, without having to move containers around, the better.
This means minimizing the square footage required for maximum accessibility to bricks.

5) The more sorted the more time it takes to clean up, and the more likely the bricks are to become unsorted over time.

6) Kids are not likely to sort the pieces.
Over the years of my various nieces and nephews playing with my Lego, it went from mostly sorted, to mostly un-sorted.

During the peak of my Lego building days, basic bricks were by color, functional pieces by function. While 2 2x2 bricks could sometimes be used instead of a 2x4 (in the same color) A 2x4 could not be used in place of a hinge.
From there sorting was based on the volume I had.
If I had enough of one size to fill a complete drawer, it was limited to that size.
Otherwise different sizes were combined, trying to keep similar sizes together.

Now that I am older, and it is harder to manipulate Lego, I have been switching more to Duplo.
Duplo is much larger.
So now I am finding that plastic drawers, just do not hold enough qty (except for the special/functional pieces).

I now like Bongo bags stored on large shelves. I like the collapsibility of the bags, allowing me to collapse to the height of the shelf and the ease of pulling the edge down to obtain the needed brick.
The color of the bag matches the color of the brick.
Sometimes I tie a brick to the handle so I can easily see what is in the bag.

In my head I have an ideal idea for creating a Lego Storage system/table combination, that could be implemented by the Lego company, in place of the buckets they currently sell the Lego in.
But it is so hard to describe, that when I described it on BrickLink.com, they did not understand it.
So when I have a picture, I will post the description here.

u∃∃l!∃ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
u∃∃l!∃ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
u∃∃l!∃ said...

sorry for the multiple posts, it kept telling me it had error-ed.

One more things, if you are trying to get the kids to sort, I have to wonder why (unless you are playing with the same bricks as they are).

If the bricks belong to the kids, as long as they pick them up, why care if they sort them?

I did see an idea once, that I have not tried.
Try a layered box solution where holes in the bottom of the box, allow smaller bricks to fall through.
Each layer would itself be shallow.
That way there is some self sorting occurring.

What would be cool is to make such a device, and also have it recognize color.
Then it could first sort by color, then semi-sort by size.

I wonder if there is a Lego sensor that could recognize color?

Challenge, build a Lego sorter out of Lego. That would be cool.

u∃∃l!∃ said...

I do not care for the Lego storage products coming out.

Most are just existing storage methods with pictures of Lego things on them. Very similar (equally good for Lego storage use) plastic boxes are readily available and cheaper.

However, one system I saw a picture of (but have not seen offered anywhere yet) gets much closer (but still so far) from the idea I have been envisioning for years.
This one is the system of storage boxes that themselves are large Lego bricks of various sizes. So why not scale those bumps (and holes) so that they were the same as Duplo (or even standard Lego scale)?
(I think Duplo instead of standard Lego scale here, as the unstacking and stacking would be easier to work with, and Lego could still be built on top).
Next add a side opening (or drawer) instead of just a top opening. Why?
Now these storage bricks could also be used to build a playing surface, which could be added to as needed.

Now supposed this idea were extended, so that the buckets bricks were sold in, could become part of this system?
I really hated those stupid bumps they put on top of the old buckets, for the very reason that they were scaled wrong, and useless.
They did better with the Quatro Buckets (scaling wise). But they failed to make those buckets a shape that could also work as a brick.

It would also be important that each brick was some exact number of duplo bricks in height.
This way the building surface need not be flat.
One could have a high area and a low area, along with using these bricks/storage boxes as mountain bases.

Dyson Medic said...

We use the clear tubs from scrap Dyson DC01's to store my sons Lego. Put them through the dishwasher first, and they line up along a shelf and look quite tidy. Being see through, identification of the bricks is no hardship either. Oh, and recycling is green.

Jeri Dansky said...

Dyson Medic, that's one of the most inventive solutions I've heard of. Too bad we don't all have access to those scrap parts! But maybe your reply will inspire some other creative ideas.

expatstef said...

As a kid my parents had a special chest specially built to house our huge collection of Lego. My 3 brothers & I spent all our spare money on Lego sets! Alas, the oldest brother inherited the whole thing :(

Anyway, it had shallow drawers on the top row for small pieces & the drawers got deeper & deeper for the bigger pieces or those we had a lot of (the 2X4 bricks, for example). The chest was on wheels so it could be moved around & one could store the biggest flat pieces under it. I wish I had inherited our awesome collection, but I have to start from scratch for my daughter & am looking for a storage option :P Our set was nearly perfect except that the drawers weren't labeled or clear, so one had to know where everything was.

Lori said...

my son has a lot of fairly small lego 'sets,' thus I think we'd like to sort by sets. But even if I get a lot of small boxes for each set, what do i put them in? Or is there a way to have all of these small sets together, especially for him to be able to easily carry them from room to room. Thanks for any input!

Jeri Dansky said...

I just got an email from a reader who found the Iris LEGO 6-Case Workstation and Storage Unit and thought it would work well for her son. I thought I'd note it here, in case that's useful to anyone else.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I read all your great ideas for lego organization and now just need someone to do it for us! Seriously :) Do you know of a service that will actually organize legos into a system? We are in Michigan.

Jeri Dansky said...

Anonymous, you could always hire a professional organizer! You can find one at napo.net.