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LEGO LEGO Everywhere!

LEGO LEGO Everywhere!

By Amalah

Hi Amy

Let’s talk LEGO, can we?

My six year old has a cyclic obsession with LEGO. Sometimes he adores them. Sometimes they sit in his room forever, untouched. For a long time they just sat all over his desk. Making it impossible to use his desk for any writing or crafts or anything. And when the LEGO was all over his desk, it was mostly untouched. So I am trying to fix the LEGO storage to make it more six-year-old friendly, and less GAAAAAAH TOO MANY LEGO.

So I got him one of those 60-inch play mat things that lies flat, and then pulls up in to a magical storage bag. I know your boys have one, as well. After many months of use, what’s your take on it? Are they able to find all the tiny pieces they want? Are they ok with building on the floor? Does it contain the chaos?

And then what do you do with all the leftover pieces from building sets? Keep them separate so they can be found? Or just toss them in the giant LEGO mess? What about pieces from those 3-in-one build kits? And what do you do with all the instruction books, that are currently in a plastic box at my house and have never been used again?

Finally, what do you do with all the amazing “creations”? Store them forever? Put a limit on how long they stay a creation? I’m not planning on taking apart his LEGO police station or anything, but he doesn’t PLAY with the stuff after he builds it. Building is the fun for him, and then it just sits around and does nothing.

Got any great LEGO advice?

Lost in LEGO Land

Fair warning: Today’s advice column is probably more of a “let’s get together and have a Cry Circle over the losing LEGO battle” than actual advice.

My house is wall to wall LEGO, and while we do have some excellent storage options, once you add kids and their creations to the mix, they are far from perfect. And I guess maybe that’s the best we can hope for. I’m regularly on Ikea Hacker and see all kinds of Amazing! Projects! For Containing! And Organizing!  All The LEGO! but I know my kids. They’d still find a way to let the LEGO spread throughout the house and across every intended homework surface.

Here’s what we have, and do:

1) The Lay-N-Go play mat/storage bag.  We’ve had ours for years and yes, I still highly recommend it. Our LEGO collection has, unfortunately, outgrown even the largest size and I’m loath to bring ANOTHER one into the house. But I probably will at some point. (I actually want to buy one of the small ones for travel, since OF COURSE we end up taking a ton of LEGO to the beach house or when we visit family. Keeping the play around the mat MIGHT save us the inevitable frantic search for some super-important missing piece on our last day of vacation.)  My boys have never minded sitting on the floor and digging around for pieces — I think the wide, flat surface actually makes it easier for them to find what they’re looking for than digging around in a deep bin or box (which they usually end up just dumping out all over the floor anyway). Plus it’s great for collaborative building, since multiple kids can sit around it and not be in each other’s way. I’ve sat around it and built “stuff” with my kids and find it to be a great combination of ease of play plus ease of cleanup.

2) IKEA Trofast. So while the play mats make it easier for kids to spread out and dig through the collection, we HAVE moved to bins for containing and organizing my oldest son’s precious “specials.” The deep Trofast bins are where we (attempt) to keep the different LEGO lines and brands together. (One bin is Chima, another one is Ninjago, etc.) These bins are big enough that the small-to-medium-sized sets can go in assembled, with maybe only minor repairs needed. (My son does like playing with his sets and minifigures, so more on your son’s play style in a bit.)

3) Purging Rules and Assembly Time Limits. We have them. We just HAVE to have them. I am not Will Ferrell in the LEGO Movie and I’m sorry, but my kids would save and treasure every single thing they build FOREVER, even if it’s basically five pieces stacked haphazardly together. So here’s what we do:

3a) For my younger children (ages 4 & 6), they are allowed to put whatever they’ve just built in a single cabinet in our living room, right next to where we keep the LEGO bag. This is mostly to make clean-up time more bearable, because I’m not making them destroy whatever little thing they’ve just worked on. Because honestly, once the creations go into the brown cabinet, they RARELY come back out again. I try to pay attention if something really does seem special and gets pulled out to be worked on or played with again, but if not, I go in there about once a month or so and quietly clear stuff out when they’re not around. I KNOW. I’M AWFUL. It’s mostly the very small stuff, loose pieces, or stuff that’s already obviously falling apart. (I used to toss minifigures into a separate bin but my kids staunchly refused to follow my lead on that whenever they cleaned up, so whatever. Minifigures now go in the LEGO bag as well, unless they’re in my oldest’s room, and sorted into Trofast.)

3b) My oldest child is 9, and has a very different building style than his brothers. He’s very serious about his sets and collections and does play with them, at least until he tires of the TV show/tie-in whatever and moves on to a new line. But just like your son, his room was OUT OF CONTROL. The number of assembled sets was insane, and every single surface (and the floor) was packed with them. Getting the Trofast helped, but mostly I just had to lay down some rules and limits about how many sets could be out and fully assembled. I absolutely ENRAGED him once by going into his room and cleaning it all for him in one brutal sweep, so the last time it got out of control we sat down together. I explained to him that no, sorry, he can’t have LEGO all over his floor all the time and from now on I expect him to keep his desk organized as well. There absolutely HAD to be enough free space for him to do homework or draw or do ANYTHING BESIDES JUST LEGO.

You know? He got it. We went through everything together and talked about it. Turns out he’s pretty over Ninjago, so we demoted that stuff back to the LEGO bag and thus freed up a bin for Ninja Turtles. (Because OMG, it’s all so DIFFERENT and UNIQUE, right?) I told him he could keep one “thing” on his desk at a time, so it needed to be the thing he was actively building or playing with. He chose Minecraft for the desk, and we cleared and sorted everything else. Eventually we cleared enough space that I gave him the okay to keep a couple other elaborate sets assembled and on top of the Trofast, and one additional set on the desk. (He also has a bin that’s just miscellaneous loose pieces that migrate up from the LEGO bag. He is indeed patient enough to stop building in his room and go downstairs in search of what he needs. This comic from The Oatmeal is pretty on-point.) I imagine we’ll have to do this again at some point, but he’s been REALLY good about keeping things organized every since.

I also hope to install some display shelves in his room for some of his bigger sets going forward, because yeah. We had the freaking Hogwarts castle and it was amazing, but without a real “spot” for it, it eventually crumbled beyond repair and will likely never be built again. My mother-in-law was amazing at keeping sets and instructions together in plastic storage bins (she STILL HAS THEM), but I fear that level of organization is beyond us at this point.  I end up tossing most of the instructions after “enough” time has passed and I know the pieces are just scattered to the ends of the earth, so rebuilding would be insanely frustrating. This is a shame, because you can make bank selling old sets and instructions even without the original box. (We’re planning to move, so I packed up my own Simpsons house set in a bin with the instructions, at least. I’ll probably do the same for whatever assembled sets my son has on his desk, IF I can find the instructions.) Basically, if you can demolish as assembled set with all the pieces and keep the instructions together in a bin, that’s awesome. Do it. But don’t feel awful if you can’t. It’s just part of life with LEGO.

4) Consider a Pley membership. Pley is a rental service for LEGO sets. It’s pretty genius. Note that I am not a member, have never been a member, and am not getting any money or free LEGO to suggest them. But I bet your son would LOVE it, since he’s about the building and not necessarily about playing with the set forever and ever after (like mine, sigh). He’ll get the sets he wants to build in the mail and then YOU get to send them BACK, where they will NOT BE IN YOUR HOUSE, for you to curse and step on and generally feel overwhelmed by.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Aimee

    July 1, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    So this isn’t really applicable so much to the Lego sets but more the free-play construction–in my family, whenever one of us built something particularly awesome, we’d take a couple of photos. Then we could put the photo up on one of our bulletin boards and remember how great it was and not feel like we were missing out on our genius when we took it apart again. With the proliferation of smartphones, this is probably way easier to do than it was twenty years ago. 🙂

  • trish

    July 1, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Re: Pley – how do you keep the pieces of the set together. I worry that we’ll never be able to find every little piece to send it back or keep to separate from the rest of the LEGO explosion.  

  • Opal

    July 1, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    My husband is really into Lego (collecting certain kits, etc.), and I built him an adult-looking version of some of the Lego tables I saw on Ike a hacks. The table is quickly over-run, particularly since I get into Lego if it’s out (super relaxing). So now our policy is: if you’re our of room on the table, something has to go away. Don’t know how that would work with a kid, but from two nerds 30-somethings, it keeps us from screaming in pain from stray Lego.

  • Chiara

    July 1, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    We’re not at the lego stage yet, but a blog I read recently featured her sons’ room that they had redone with lego storage as a priority. She used an old card catalogue, and has shelves where they can put their good creations for display.

  • Cassie

    July 1, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    I hole punch our instructions and keep them all together in a loose-leaf binder. (Legos AND hotwheel tracks AND any other kinda thing). If kiddo wants to follow the instructions at a later date (though he rarely does) he knows just where to find them.

  • Kate

    July 1, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    I have read numerous reviews of the Pley subscriptions that say that there are always multiple pieces missing from tbe sets when you get them, and the turn around time isn’t great. I was so excited to do that as a gift for my nephew, but was scared off by so many negative reviews. 🙁

  • Maree

    July 2, 2015 at 12:53 am

    We don’t have anywhere near the quantity but I have a big bin and just do the sweep and toss, instructions go in a seperate smaller bin.

    Each child has a shelf in their room they can put anything on (trophies and stuff), they can have anything as long as it fits on the shelf – special built stuff often ends up there and is removed when something more special does along.

    I tell self that creativity is the aim of the  game so making it work is valuable (ie it doesn’t have to be the perfect piece if they can’t find it).

    We haven’t bought heaps of lines due to cost and mix and match what they have.

  • Kira

    July 2, 2015 at 9:32 am

    We use pley and I like it pretty well. All the sets we’ve gotten were complete. They say that you can lose pieces without penalty so that’s nice, and makes it slightly less stressful. We use a big 12 x 12 scrapbook case (this one exactly to keep the pley legos separate from the rest. I like that it has a clamping top and it’s big enough to spread out the pieces in.

    The only part or pley I don’t like is that it takes so an entire week from when you send back the old set and receive a new set. They are based in CA and we’re in VA so I realize they travel a distance and I should be amazed at how quickly they get here … but the kids send one off and expect a new one two days later. I wish they had a feature where you can mark that it’s in the mail so you can get a new one quicker.

  • Erica

    July 2, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    I’ve been able to find many, many pdf’s of Lego instruction booklets on-line, just FYI.  We have so many Lego that during my son’s five year old “I am obsessed with building ships but it’s no fun if pregnant Mommy doesn’t build ships with me” phase, I found a likely looking ship, hunted down every last piece needed in the massive under the bed Lego drawer and built it from the instructions on my iPad.  It was a nice departure for me from “hmm, I shall now entertain myself by building an all blue ship. All red ship.  All green ship.” 

    As stated above, we have an all consuming under the bed drawer and eventually all Lego find their way there. On the other hand, there is my friend Martha who has all Lego pieces sorted into color coordinated drawers.  I love her and am very happy for her.  I also know that maintaining such a system will never mesh with how the brains in my house work, so I don’t even try, and her kids seem to interact with our jumbled up madness just fine.  Work on what makes sense for you, but definitely establish limits that will work.. Good luck!

  • meri

    July 10, 2015 at 12:54 am

    My boyfriend bought an IKEA Detolf display shelf for some of his Lego and warhammer models. It works pretty well. They have a few more with 3 or 4 sides made of glass, too.

  • KO

    July 11, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    My three year old has been obsessively doing the 3-in-1 Creator sets since shortly after his last birthday (he’ll be four in September, so we’ve been at this for almost a year), so we had to come up with an organizational system pretty early on…we keep every set in its own clear box (found at the Container Store), with a rubber band around it and instructions either inside the box or snug underneath the rubber band. This system has been FANTASTIC, because we can easily take a set with us to restaurants/on trips. Costs a little extra up-front to buy special boxes for each set, but considering how expensive the sets themselves are, it’s worth it to keep all the pieces together. We’ve lost a piece here and there along the way, but for the most part, the sets are still intact. Also! We have an “only allowed to do Legos on tables, not the floor” rule that he’s never questioned, so ten months in, I’ve stepped on a grand total of one Lego.