Resorting to Sorting: the culmination of an emotional few weeks for an AFOL

What a fortnight it has been. Last week began with the shocking news that the LEGO Group is poised to complete the buy out of Bricklink. Its big news. And its hard to believe that it is just to ensure this great resource has been purchased by the LEGO Group, just so they can keep close to Adult Fans. A bit, maybe, but there are so many questions that get raised: are they looking to identify resellers? Look at the purchasing habits of AFOLs around the world? Ensuring that community support programs are being used appropriately? Or just trying to work out what color bricks are popular?

But this was just the front end of the week. By the middle of the week we were getting our inboxes assailed by endless emails advertising shopping opportunities: Black Friday, Black Friday Weekend, Cyber Monday… What?

In this day of online based, international markets, this celebration of consumerism has made its way to Australia, leaving many confused as to its nomenclature. While multiple stories exist for the origin of this celebration of consumerism, Black Friday was previously recognised in Australia as a day of devastating bushfires, in January 1939.

As a result of the globalisation of the Post-Thanksgiving trend, LEGO rendered us punch drunk with news of daily discounts, gifts with purchase having limited release and of course the new 1989 Batmobile. Buying this set was my sole contribution to the opportunities provided by the long weekend.

As each day progressed over the wekeend, my social media feeds were full of ‘This is terrible’ ‘however will I get…? ‘ Now I need a….’ The LEGO store has sold out of ….’ ‘The store has crashed’. Then there were exclusive bricks, limited GWP and the opportunity to buy a couple of pick a brick wall stock boxes at the local LEGOLand Discovery Centre. To be fair, the store crashed for me on a couple of occasions. But the order managed to get placed…eventually.

All of these nagging thoughts were making things less fun than they should be. I secured a Batmobile through Shop at Home, and retired weary, aiming to ignore the email barrage and associated Fear Of Missing Out that was coming my way.

And then a little voice suggested I do something to get away from it all. Ok, not a voice that was part of my internal monologue. It was my wife, and she has been disturbed at the downward spiral in the state of my LEGOratory over the last 6 months: The room has been struggling to recover from the last MOC project, and was on the verge of been labelled a Workplace Health and Safety hazard.

No matter how stubborn I want to be, I have to agree: there are at least 3 large boxes full of mixed parts, semi complete MOCs, drafts, obsolete models. And they need to go!

But how to proceed?

When space gets overrun, so too can your mind.  My LEGOratory has been overrun for a number of months.  And I use the term ‘months’ liberally.  Twenty seven is a number of months isn’t it? A couple of major projects seem to have occurred since I last commented on this back in 2017.

However, with another  construction project getting underway, it has come time to increase the level of organisation of my elements. To wrangle those running loose, and to bring balance to the world.

In the centre of my LEGOratory, there are two tables.  These tables have been overrun by boxes of sorted elements, boxes of unsorted elements, models from sets, MOCs and the elements gathered for their construction but never used. And the non lego elements: plates and bowls used to wrangle parts while I am building; dead batteries; plastic bags: ziplock and retail – containing varying amount of product.  Unsorted pick a brick cups; magazines, books, festering coffee cups, sheets of cardboard, bubble wrap, two torches and a spare camera battery. 

But the biggest box, and the most daunting, is not on these tables, but underneath.  The primary unsorted element box: where old sketch models and sets that are not on display go to die. All sorts of things have made it in here: creator 3-in-1 houses, covered in dust; a millennium falcon MOC built for a contest a couple of years ago, a technicolor steamboat, some leftover parts from a BrickHeadz Project, and more. And next to it is another Primary Unsorted Element Box. Distinguishable from the other only by a slightly thinker layer of dust, representing the last failed sort.

But how to proceed? I have attempted to sort by colour in the distant past – back when I only owned 12 colours,  and less than 2000 parts to sort. 

But, trying to find the small red round tile between all the red plates, bricks, panels and wheels became a little too hard.

Previously sorted by colour on the left. Totally random Nexo Knight elements left over from the Nexo Classic Space project of 2017-8

So I am going to sort by element type.

But to sort all parts into their element on the first pass is a little challenging: It requires expertise, focus, and about 175 boxes scattered around the room that the sorting is taking place in. So long as I don’t try to sort by colour.

Today, I have tried a ten bucket technique: We start with a big box of random pieces, and place all of the parts into the allocated box for that general type. I do this recognising that ALL of these buckets will require further sorting.

  • Bricks (all bricks in together.) All ‘normal bricks’ go in this bucket: 1 x n; 2 x n and any others. 2×2 and 4×4 round bricks go in here ( unless they are ‘profile’ bricks) Ultimately this box will be sorted into its component parts.  A red 2×4 is easier to find in a box of 2×4 bricks, rather than in a box check full of every red element.
  • Slopes: this starts off with slopes/inverse slopes/arches, bows and domes.  If there is a surface that does not run vertically, it goes in here. They will be sorted into similar angles, and possibly colour of relevant (eg all my 45º red sloped elements will go in the one box, as I have very many!
  • Plates: 1×2 plates and larger go in here This includes round plates, corner plates and wedge plates. Smaller tiles fo into a ‘small parts box’.’ If it is thin and has any studs on, it is a plate! 
  • Small parts: this contains 1×1 plates (round and square), tiles, as well as 1×1 round bricks and round cones, and some small parts such as stars, 5 petal flowers and similar. These parts ultimately go into a sorted ‘tackle box,’ unless there are too many (such as my bag of 5000 1×1 trans blue round plates used for water simulation).
  • i might experiment with putting some into trays, sorted by type – making color recognition easy enough, but not so fiddly to sort.
  • Modified tiles and plates.  Does that thin element feature a clip or bar, or a click thingy?  Is it an offset plate (eg 2×2 plate, with one stud – its the thickness of a plate, not a tile).  Or a hinge?  I expect that all of these elements will end up in their own sorting drawer, to be labelled in due course. 
  • Wheels and Technic: I put all of these elements into the one box – technic is a broad church, and those elements will be sorted out later.  Some wheels use technic axles or connectors.  Others use a smaller connector.  But for simplicity, in the first wave sort they all go in the one box: they will be whittled down later.
  • Modified bricks: is it a brick with a stud on the side? More than one? a profile brick? A brick with a clip or a bar? They are all together to start with, but will be sorted out further: snot bricks and profiles may well have their own large compartments. All round 2×2 bricks might end up together ultimately, but this is about an easy first sort, with the daily taking part (thanks family).
  • Windows, doors, fences and panels: these are all in together. I leave window panes in the frames for the time being. cupboards and drawers probably go in here too… there aren’t too many. This will be a relatively simple brick down , going forward, with the panels probably being broken down into large panels, small panels and clear ones.
  • Minifigure bits: this is where figs, their accessories, and just about anything otherwise unclassified, based on a 3.8mm bar/clip connection may go. I fear the future with this box.
  • Everything else: boat hulls, large frames, stairs, BURPs and other POOP has the final box. 
Destination boxes of the first level sort. Some of these could fill up to 40 small drawers in the workroom.

Of course, for every one of these ‘buckets’, there are a couple of nights of further sorting, and ultimately labelling. some elements will be relatively easy to sort in one night each: bricks, slopes, plates and tiles, while I anticipate that others will take…much longer.

My efforts with 1×1 studs were curtailed by Mabel the Cavoodle being distracted by a cheetah on television, and as a result, upsetting the previously well sorted divided box. Fortunately, a resident teenager, recently freed of all school exams, was keen to help, and she took on restoration of this box to its former glory. She has approached other ‘small parts’ with similar enthusiasm. That said, my large cup of trans light blue will remain seperate from this, in case I need to create an ocean at short notice.

Update #1

Great News! I sorted my primary boxes into these 10 ‘buckets’ over the course of a couple of evenings. Of course, now comes the finer sorting. Plates have been almost completed: Wedges, and curved plates are in their own boxes, and these there is a box for each of: 1×2; 1×3; 1×4; 1x(n>4); 2×2;2×3;2×4;2×6; 2x(n>6). Another box holds 4xn, and a smaller one wrangles 8xn. The big surprise came from 6xn plates, as there seem to be rather a lot of theme. Perhaps related to the amount of landscapes I have built in the past. In fact I have spread these across a number of boxes: one contains tan, dark tan, green, earth green, sand green and any other greens; while the other holds everything else, and seems to be mainly black, white, red and pales royal blue.

Modified tiles and plates have been a challenge: if only because every element needs its own slot in the storage drawers. And the variety is amazing. I am yet to look at the modified bricks, but hopefully I won’t need too many more drawers than I already have…

Not nearly enough small drawers for the variety of elements I seem to have gathered over the years…
Update #2…

Yesterday I tackled the ‘sloped elements’ second pass: resulting in ‘straight slopes’ in one box, inward curves (arches), outward curves (curved sloped), and multiple plane slopes. the outward curves have been whittled further: circular elements; 3×1 curved slope; 2×1 and 2×2 x2/3; 1x4x4/3; 2x4x4/3…you get the idea.

The ‘straight edge slopes’ still need to be sorted into 45º and other angles. They also seem to follow definite color patterns: the 45º slopes are predominantly red, so I think I will ultimately resort to a red box as well as a ‘not red’ box. The other angles seem to come in ‘landscape’ and non landscape colours. Landscape includes greens, tans and greys. Perhaps this will influence their final sorting too.

And then there are the arches: currently all in one box, in different sizes, this might need to change, as I discover secret caches hidden around the build space.

What I thought was going to be a nice relaxing evening activity is on the verge of becoming a little more like an obsession.

I am now in fear of the ‘minifigure accessories’ box – which seems to be about 2l and full. I am worried because it also contains teeth, tusks, bars and any nifty elements that might involve a 3.2mm bar or clip. It could be even more daunting than the modified bricks!

What I would like to know is How far would you go as far as your deep sort? Put different elements in the one box? Try to sort all elements to the color level?

Thursday. After approximately a week, most unwrangle elements seem to have spread from 10 buckets to 48.

And how many more storage drawers will I need to buy, if I am to have half a hope in reaching ‘mostly sorted’? I am feeling like progress is occurring, but it is certainly sluggish. Hopefully, I will complete this process. Hopefully!

How would you proceed from here? I’d love your suggestions and ideas – leave them below, and until next time…

Play Well.

Mabel wishes to remind me that I have yet to finish the job…

4 thoughts on “Resorting to Sorting: the culmination of an emotional few weeks for an AFOL

  1. Sorting is a continuous process, but you only need to sort to the level you need for building. I’ve never had the space nor the desire for draw systems, and I find sorting by colour is useful if you build by colour.

    My initial sort is always by colour into large ziplock bags, then by part type, in smaller ziplock bags inside the colour tubs. Similar parts may be in small ziplocks within a lager ziplocks. Some colour tubs contain multiple colours, for example all the browns or blues. Others have just one colour, eg red and white. A few are further divided ie black slopes and other black (I use a lot of slopes for roofs) and DBG and railway ballast (which also has sleeper parts in reddish brown). This system works well for my building style and means I only have to sort colours I rarely use or own small amounts of to the first level.

    When I build, I only need to pull out the tubs of the colours I’m using, and rummage through to get the bags of useful parts. This helps a lot when your collection is in tubs throughout the house.

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  2. I never under stood sorting by color. I have similar sorting categories. I also have plants, brick modified, plate modified, technic large, technic small, anything with a slope or incline, flat tiles, Bionicle, vehicle related, large everything else, small everything else, Fake blocks, Other Lego brands, rubbish.
    Once I get about 20 liters of one category, I then sort again. I only sort into color if there is extensive amount of one that part.
    I find it very therapeutic sorting and can do it for hours.

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  3. Danny, I think it depends on the builder and the collection. My “method” is a mixture of both.

    For me, I build mainly landscapes and castles, so my parts are sorted by color AND type only for light bley, due to the sheer quantity.

    Landscaping colors such as browns, greens, whites, tans, blues, and dark bley are by color and then (usually) further sorted into two categories: plates and non-plates (brick, slopes, bows, etc). For landscaping, this generally suffices, and helps ensure organic shapes because I have all of the options in that color at my disposal and randomization occurs naturally by rummaging.

    Rarely-used colors such as yellow, red, black (slopes are separated for roofs), blue, etc. are owned in relatively small quantities and variety (mainly simple plates and brick) and so keeping them sorted purely by color works just fine.

    Technic beams and liftarms are sorted by those types, as they are mainly substructure reinforcements, so color is irrelevant.
    Other technic elements are sorted in plastic bags (when convenient), but most are in a mixed bin.

    The exception is “non-standard” parts, such as hinges, snot bricks, profile bricks, etc are grouped by part type, as the need for them is specific and limited (windows, for example) or the parts are hidden within the MOC and color is less important than function.

    Fig parts are a whole separate discussion. Army-building is an animal unto itself!

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