Here's a description of an evolution of lego collection sorting.  It might
be yours, at least in parts.  It's certainly been mine.

I might turn this into an essay some day, but for now it will have to begin
life as a series of unsupported claims.  If you have any comments or
additions, toss'em in.

The Evolution of Lego Sorting
Let's assume you start your lego collection like most of us did: with one

1. You don't sort your Lego.  You just keep them in the box they came in.

(Then, over time, you get another set, then another, then another.
And your pile of bricks grows.  How do you cope?)

2. You start sorting your Lego.  You sort it by set.

(Your collection grows.)

3. You give up on individual set boxes and toss all your Lego in a big
storage bin or a Lego denim bag, or a couple of your large set boxes.  You
become very familiar with the sound of someone digging through large bricks
looking for a 1x1 transparent red plate.

(Your collection grows.)

4. You begin to sort your Lego by category: normal-looking bricks in one
set box, other pieces in another box.

(And grows.)

5. Ok, you realize you actually have to sort it.  You decide to sort the
obvious way: by color.

(And grows.)

6. You keep sorting by color, but you get pickier about how you do it,
and you start filtering out by type for the first time: probably the
first things you sort out by type are minifigs and wheels.  You realize
you already had baseplates sorted out separately.

(Let's just assume at this point that between every paragraph, your
keep adding lego to your collection.)

7. You cave in and actually get a storage system.  Maybe it's rubbermaid
bins, or piles of blue buckets, or fishing tackle boxes, or ziplocks.  But
now you've got a system.

8. You grow weary of digging through all the yellow bricks looking for that
one specialized yellow piece somewhere in 2 cubic feet of yellow.  But you
think of how much work it's going to take to split by part and you don't do

9. Sorting becomes difficult enough that you decide, in some cases, not to
break some sets down and put them in your main pile of lego... instead, you
store them as a set, because that set is so cool just the way it is.  (Ok,
so this set is from the 80s...) The pieces for that set are either in their
box, or in a ziplock or something.  Congratulations, you've just invented
Set Archiving, and now you have two ways you store your Lego: broken down
by parts, and archived by set.

10. You give up and decide to sort your parts by type rather than by color.
You go get more bins or tackle boxes or whatever your container of choice
is, you dedicate an evening or a weekend or a month to it, and you split by

11. You have now invented your own Lego categorization system.  You have no
doubt separated out bricks, plates, wheels, minifigs, slopes, and so on,
but you've also clumped "things with curves" together, and doors and
windshields together.  You also have a category called "misc".  Your
categories, amazingly, don't look much like the LDraw categories.

12. You realize you have piles of stuff that don't fit easily into the
categorization system: RCX bricks, train track, those huge A-shaped
pieces, monorial supports, and rubber bands.  You get a different sized
drawer system for stuff like that.

13. Your collection is now clearly housed in many different types of
containers ranging from buckets to drawers to bins to individual tackle box

14. You begin to develop large piles of lego in various states of being
sorted, i.e:
  the sorted stuff
  the stuff you've kinda sorted and is ready to be put away
  piles of lego you aren't going to sort because you think you'll use
    it all to build something else anyway
  lego sorted some other way than the way you sorted into drawers to see
    if this way works better than that way did
  your building projects
  your new boxes of lego, some opened, some not
  oh, and let's not forget your various models and MOCs

15. You begin to develop strong opinions on Plano vs. Stak-On and
Rubbermaid vs. Sterilite.

16. The original categories you made begin to follow this life cycle:
  - They grow too large to fit into their container.
  - You divide the category into two categories in order to get them
    to fit into the containers... one for each category.  (Now you
    have windshields, doors, and windows, each as a different category
    of pieces, each in their own containers.)
  - You store those subcategories together, but as parts of them become
    too numerous or too hard to find, you split them out.  So your tackle
    boxes now have a different compartment for each type of door.
You realize that at this point the endgame is that you will have a
different compartment for every type of piece you have.

16.5.  Every once in a while, you open a drawer you haven't opened in a
while and discover that you've been sorting some piece into two separate
places in your drawers.  This throws your categorization for a loop.
How exactly do you categorize the 1x2 plate with the little robot-looking
thing on it?  Oh no... partsref doesn't have it either, augh!

17. You rearrange your house so that you can fit your storage system into,
hopefully, just one room.

18. You give up on the "one compartment for every piece" theory because you
can't keep up with that.  Instead, you start putting some of the similar
things into shoebox-sized bins.  The way you decide what to
compartmentalize and what to put into bins together is to think about how
long it takes to find an individual element.  It's ok to dig through a pile
of windshields looking for the trans yellow blacktron hood.  It's not ok to
dig through a pile of slopes looking for the specialized corner cap slope.

18.5. You document your categories so you don't get lost.

19. You develop a multi-stage sorting system.  It may take a piece several
hops before it ends up in its final resting spot, but it's a bit more
efficient to sort this way, and you can do some of it while watching a

20. Bizarrely enough, you actually give up and go back to sorting by color.
Only this time, you sort by color after sorting by piece.  So you now have
a bin for yellow 1x3 plates, and a bin for black 1x3 plates, and so on.

21. Finally you create an "overflow" system of buckets, where, if the bin
of 1x3 yellow plates is full, you just any additional ones into that
overflow bucket, along with other plates.  (One of the first indicators that
you should do this was that you didn't have a compartment big enough to hold
all your Lego horses...)

22. You begin to toss most pieces directly into overflow.

23. You now have what, to a stranger, would be a bizarre sorting system. You
have some parts thrown together in bins by type.  You have some parts split
out with a separate bin for each part.  You have some parts split out with
a separate bin for each color.  You even have some parts split out by how
old they are: red 1x2s from the 60s, red 1x2s from the 70s, new red 1x2s
that hold really well, and all the other red 1x2s.  And you have an
alphabetized pile of large buckets for the overflow pieces and another one
for the 1st stage of sorting.

23.5. That stranger would also think you were certifiably insane.  Or at
least retentive.

24. You start looking for a new house.  One with a large basement.

25. Vision recognition becomes interesting to you.

26. You begin to long for the day when you could sit at your desk and
actually reach every piece you owned without getting up.

27. You decide to keep a special set or two at your desk, away from the
huge sorting system, just to play with a few great sets without having
to sort them.  And then you add another cool set.  Pretty soon
you're digging through 3 inches of bricks trying to find that 1x1
transparent red plate and you think about sorting your bricks...

Of course, somewhere along the way, you probably quit buying just sets, and
started to do things like:
- Buy lego sets in bulk, to the point where you have 10s to 100s
   of unopened boxes.
- Work on very large construction projects.
- Acquire other people's collections.
- Run large auctions over the net.
And those bring up entirely new sorting challenges.... but those won't
be written about tonight, at least not by me.


Remy Evard / evard@mcs.anl.govt

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