But try to find me a parent who hasn't hopped out their child's room, barely stifling the obscenities they want to scream after traumatizing a foot on a stray 4x2 block.
And how about those requests from your precious little one to come and "play Lego" with you when in fact the role you are assigned is that of "part finder." Notwithstanding the quality time you'll be spending with your child, the activity itself gets old fast.
Lego, or any creative project for that matter, is one heck of a lot more rewarding when the components you need to complete your endeavor are readily at hand while you're inspired. I've seen my son lose interest in Lego pretty quickly after a valiant but ADHD-hampered effort to find a tiny part he needs in a deep box box of a billion or so random parts. Dang, I've gotten bloody knuckles from abrasions resulting from digging around such a box when I got hyperfocused on finding the 2x1 inverted wedge that I know is in there.
Why, you might ask, is Lego so freakin' difficult to organize?
One might argue that the organization part is relatively easy, if time consuming. Just buy a bunch of little containers, then devise some sort of taxonomy that evenly distributes the parts throughout them.
OK, I've often gotten stuck on that second part and given up.
But if you soldier on and get the trillion parts (those little yellow people are multiplying!) into a bunch of little parts organization drawers, after a few months of dedicated evenings and weekends, you get there. I've managed to do this once or twice in my lifetime.
High fives all around! You feel great, and deservedly so. Order reigns!
Right up until your kid starts playing with the Lego.
"Don't touch that!" you want to yell. But you know this was the whole point. Your child can find the parts and express his true engineer now! You take a deep breath and walk away.
Of course, when comes time to put the Lego away again, you already know what happens next. Your kid has no grasp whatsoever of your brilliant organization scheme, and frankly, can't be bothered to stick to it. "No, that's a flat 1x8 without studs. It goes in the other drawer! Argh!!!"
So within about 48 hours, you're looking at a completely randomized collection of parts again. Hey, on the bright side, you felt kinda zen when you were doing the sorting right? You killed that audiobook, too.
But the original problem remains unresolved... or it did, until recently!
After a lifetime of Lego use –Leo inherited my own '70s and '80s vintage parts, lovingly preserved by my parents– I believe I have finally solved it, with the help of IKEA. I give you Pierre's Ultimate Lego Sorting System:
What's so great about it? Well for one thing, it's still organized after 10 months consisting of many construction sessions, and I love playing Lego with Leo again. I'm not just the parts finder anymore. Of course, Leo likes Lego a lot more now, too.
A few observations led to what I believe is the most optimal solution that doesn't involve a dedicated paid employee or a robot with machine vision.
1. Putting Lego Away Mustn't require any thought
The mental effort and time required to put Lego away at the end of a construction session is what kills every organization system, every time.
It is absolutely essential that the process of putting Lego away be as fast and "brainless" as possible. You want to be as close as possible to just tossing the Lego into a random vat without it actually being random.
This means that your "categories" must number no more than 6 or 8. We went with part color. With only 6 drawers, we had to group a couple of colors (high contrast, like red and green went together, for example.) This works better than you'd think because while you're looking for a particular blue part, the computer between your ears doesn't need to do filter out the undesired colors before assessing each part for the desired shape / size / characteristics.
2. The Container must be broad and shallow
With fewer categories, you've got a bunch of very different parts still mixed together. You know why your child has the urge to dump all the Lego on the floor when using it, right? It's so she can spread the parts around to make them more visible with less digging. With a wide and shallow container, the parts are already spread around and quite visible. More scanning and less digging lead to faster finding.
3. The Container must be a large target
This dovetails nicely into point (2) above in that a broad and shallow container makes a nice big target for rapidly tossing parts of the appropriate color into it, from a distance. You don't want to be fiddling with little lids, either. That's why drawers are ideal.
We used an IKEA Alex drawer set after first considering used flat file cabinets, which still worked out to be more expensive than the Alex, at least at the time I was shopping. I had no idea the drawers would work so well that I'd be writing about it, so IKEA has not paid me for this mention. Var så god.
Anyway, there you have it. Wide, shallow drawers are the key to true Lego happiness. Enjoy!
(In the highly unlikely event that an equivalent or better solution exists, I hope you'll let us know in the comments.)