My son received his first LEGO set for Christmas when he was 2½ , and ever since then, we’ve been a LEGO household: LEGO creations randomly left in rooms, LEGO manuals stashed, and trips to Target or Toys R Us that can never skip the LEGO aisle or requests for “just one small set?”
And don’t get me wrong, LEGOs are awesome – they build hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, facilitate learning to read instructions, encourage imaginative building, and they're a great way to entertain a little one when you're waiting for dinner at a restaurant. But in a home, they can easily become a source of chaotic mess and deep foot pain (if you’ve ever stepped on a 2x2 brick camouflaged on a carpet, you know what I mean!)
Over the years since LEGOs entered our lives, I figured out some tricks that have helped us tame the LEGO-collection monster and satisfy that seemingly insatiable appetite for “one more set”:
There was a time when all of my son’s LEGOs fit into one small plastic bin, but it didn’t take too long before we had to move up in storage bin size. At one point we had them all in an "under-bed-storage" bin, and soon discovered it made for a frustrating “needle in a haystack” kind of experience when trying to find a specific piece; I realized we needed to find a new solution.
Since we already had an Expedit shelving unit from IKEA (their current Kallax line is very similar), I bought some fabric storage cubes and we set to sorting our LEGOs into categories that would make it easier to find what you needed. The main categories were: bricks, plates, tiles, minifigures, studs/cones/cylinders, wheels/vehicle parts, windows/doors/walls, and “special pieces” (gears, nets, chains, tubes, etc.) Depending on how many LEGOs you have, you might find it helpful to create sub-divisions within categories, such as by size (bricks with four or fewer studs and bricks with 5 or more studs, etc.)
By sorting your LEGOs into categories, it makes it much easier to find a specific sized or shaped piece when your child is building a creation of their own, or working from a set of building instructions. As our collection has grown over these 6½ years, I’ve found the need to subdivide again in some categories (smaller plates and smaller tiles are now separate) and have added in some stackable clear containers from IKEA – but overall our organizational system has grown well with his collection.
I should note, in going through and creating this kind of organization, it does require a certain amount of commitment to *keeping it* organized, which is probably the hardest part. What we’ve done at our house is keep a 66qt clear storage bin where random pieces/builds/works-in-progress are stored, and those are periodically broken down and their pieces re-sorted into their cubes again. Usually I am the one sorting, but it’s something I can do while I’m hanging out with my son as he builds his latest idea, and while I'm at it I can help him any elusive pieces he might need.
What about the manuals? We've found old-fashioned three-ring binders and three-hole sheet protectors do a great job of holding the building instructions, and you can sort them however it suits you.
Satisfying the New Set appetite
One thing about being a LEGO household is that you could quickly break a budget if you are always picking up the latest/greatest LEGO set out (and there are SO many great ones!) When my LEGO fiend was in kindergarten, he had mastered putting a new set together without needing much help from his dad or me and he’d have them done in no time, and then want a new one. It was around that time that I made a fantastic discovery online: the LEGO Building Instructions database! LEGO has hundreds of manuals from sets going back as far as 1989 (!) available for download as PDFs. They are searchable by year, set number and you can even browse them by Theme (Vikings! Aqua Raiders! Batman!).
After I discovered this treasure trove, whenever my son was itching for a new set, we’d go online and browse the sets to find one he wanted to try, and download the manual to our iPad. With the manual open on the iPad, he’d find the pieces he needed from his collection, and build the set. Of course we couldn’t always find the right colored brick, but that wasn’t a problem for him – he was just happy to be building something new to him. Occasionally there’d be a special piece that we didn’t have and in that case, we’d just figure out how we needed to change the build to work with what we had. It’s a great way to make use of the bricks you have, and figuring out ways of re-engineering is also great for building those problem-solving skills!
Do you have any tricks you’ve discovered in dealing with the LEGO monster? Please comment below and share them! And if you’d like more LEGO ideas, we have some great resources here at DPPL as well – check ‘em out: