A sorting conundrum

When sorting LEGO there are two main approaches: sort by color, and sort by shape.

When I first started building as an adult, over ten years ago, I sorted by color. But I found that a lot of the time, I was digging through the monochromatic bins in search of the part I wanted. It was pointed out to me that it would be a lot easier to find a part of a particular color among identical size/shape parts of all colors, than to do the opposite, as the human eye is much better at spotting colors than shapes, and when parts of different sizes are mixed together, the small ones tend to settle to the bottom, falling through the voids between the larger parts.

I actually employ a hybrid system – for the basic bricks, I sort them by color, putting each color into a bin with each individual size brick in a baggie in that bin. When I sort, I dump all the bricks of that color into the bin, and at some point later on, like when I am building using that color and there are a large number of loose parts in the bin among the baggies, I will go through the bins and sort them into their bags. For most other parts though, they’re just sorted by size/type, with parts of different colors mixed together.

LEGO master builders have a fully sorted-out system, where they have a bin for each color/part combination. But that’s how the parts come from the factory, and they never have to sort – they just throw parts on the floor and they get swept up and recycled! To facilitate sorting, it’s just not feasible to sort down to that level of resolution, and it would take up too much space to store it that way anyway. So at some level it is necessary to mix parts together in the storage bins.

This all works well when the distribution of colors is fairly even among the pieces in question. But when there are hundreds of parts in the most common colors mixed with a handful of parts in rarer colors, it’s really hard to find the rare color parts… or even to remember that they exist. This is compounded by the fact that LEGO doesn’t produce all parts in all colors; for example, there is no dark red 1×3 brick.

So some time ago, I started separating the colors into different classes … the primary colors (black, white, red, yellow, green, blue, light grey, and dark grey) and all the others (the lighter and darker colors, orange, purple, etc.). In most categories, categories where color matters (bricks, plates, tiles, etc.) I have parallel sorting/storage systems for these two color groups. The rarer colors are in bags or bins (depending on how many there are of each) separate from the main colors. For parts where color isn’t as important (Technic parts, small decorative elements, hinges, clips, etc.) they are mixed together with other parts of the same type without regard to color.

I’m in the midst of a sort now, as I had a large amount of unsorted parts from taking apart some sets I had bought recently, and am being reminded that my color sorting solution is not quite satisfactory. So I’m throwing this topic open … any ideas or suggestions?

4 Comments on A sorting conundrum

  1. I prefer to sort by shape, then color. I agree that the little eensie weensie ones I am often seeking always sift to the bottom. I was at the Stone Ridge Lego store yesterday briefly. Nothing of interest and the discounts they offered were no better than the one from the Con last year. My daughter and I did the Build a Mini Fig thing. She build a Minifig of her boy friend, and I built twin brother serial killers. :D

  2. I have a lot of parts drawer units (big grey box, with 5×6 clear parts drawers, which can each have up to 3 dividers…), and I use these for the specialty parts… 1×1 plate with the horizontal clamp.1×1 plate with the vertical clamp, ‘space’ megaphone, etc. … And all of that part (in all colors) go into the same drawer. Thats how I handle the small bits.

    Other bits are sorted into adjustable “fishing tackle” drawers… Minifigs (by theme, and I’ve got 5-6 of them now), finger-hinge plates, weapons and tools, chorome and gold bits, tiles (1×1 through 1×4, and 2×2… The 1×6 and 1×8 go into e parts drawers above.)

    Bigger bits, like 4×4 (and larger) plates get grouped into a box, with like-sizes together. All the 4×4’s, then all the 4×6’s, etc. All in the same box. Finally, I use 6-7 quart tubs for collections… Like wheels, using baggies for the axle plates, and for each type of big and small wheels (with all colored of the same hub type in each bag). One tub has car and truck chassis related bits, and another has airplane related bits (wings, tails, fuselage parts and etc.)

    For most of the primary colors, I’ve got tubs for bricks and for plates. In the case of red and white, I have a tub for 1x__ bricks, another for 2x__ bricks, and a third for plates! For brown and orange, I have one tub for each color.

  3. Zonker your system sounds very similar to the way I’ve been doing it, except that you also sort out plates by color.

    What about other common parts like tiles, round bricks, and things like that?

    For specialty parts (e.g. headlight bricks), if you put all them together, how do you find the handful of rare-color ones? Or even remember that there is a sand-blue headlight brick in there?

    Another problem I have if colors are mixed is distinguishing between dark blue, dark green, and black. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve grabbed the wrong one by mistake when they were all mixed together.

  4. Even at the model shop the Micro storage system gets troublesome so I often purposely mixed a few bins of similar elements at my desk. The paper trays we used were reasonable for large projects and the small plastic trays were good for the smaller stuff. However the designs were not without problems. The trays and bins never perfectly fit, so there was always space around them. So that just made for another category. And there were not enough bins to fit in the largest tray for all the basic bricks, always 1 or 2 parts were left out.

    The best system was the Hybrid sorting. Mixing two sets of macro sorting together, so like colors of small elements in medium size bins, and mixed colors of basic shapes together. Then for colors to be used predominantly in the project, a micro sorted tray of same color parts in small bins. Then of course the special elements of rare color or shape were micro sorted in another tray. In a home environment the trays are too big, so I have small tubs open for common parts, then I use the lids of those to sort the parts I’d use at that time. Other large bins sorted by color were separated by for example dark gray; large non-brick elements, 2x bricks, 1x bricks, small plates, large plates, small non-brick elements.

    Most of my home storage remains in this manner, Micro sorting for high quantity items separated by color group and shape, and Macro sorting for rare colors and rare sizes. My preferred Color Sorting for high quantity items are in pairs, Black/Light Gray, White/Blue, Dark Grays of all type, Red/Yellow, Green/Near Blue shades like Aqua and cool colors, Tan/Brown, Orange/Dark Red and Purple & Pink and similar warm colors.