I wasn't fortunate enough to enjoy Legos as a child - I was born too early for that. I did, however, get a tremendous amount of fun from playing with an Erector set. I loved building things like bridges, towers, small trucks, and even a dinosaur. My only frustration was the time that it took to find exactly the right parts for the model I was building. I don't have a lot of patience, and if I couldn't locate the part within about 20-30 seconds, then I would start to get frustrated. If I had to repeat that experience several times in a row, then I would throw up my hands and walk away from my Erector set.
Now I'm well past 50 - almost all the way to 60 if the truth be told - and what do I find myself doing? Playing with Legos! Well, at least using them to prototype robotic ideas and concepts. Still, it seems like 'play' to me. You would think after all these years I would have learned some patience.... Unfortunately that isn't the case. I'm just as impatient now as I was quite a few decades ago. I find that my biggest frustration in constructing a protype with Legos is the time that it takes to find the pieces I need.
When I broke open the Mindstorm boxes that had been sitting around for 5 years, I naturally enough opened all the little plastic bags. I tried to keep the pieces separate - but that didn't last long. The first robot that the user guide has you construct is the 'Pathfinder'. The parts you need come from several different bags, and, to make things even more complicated, some of the parts are small and hard to locate. It wasn't long before my entire desktop was cluttered with Lego parts of all shapes, sizes, and colors.
So, I went off to the local 100 yen store - the Japanese equivalent of a US $1 store. For 500 yen (just under $5) I came back home with four plastic (Tupperware clone) boxes and some dividers. That still left the question of how to separate the parts so that any individual part would be easy to find.
My initial approach is to separate all the parts into four broad classifications.
- Large and medium size bricks and plates
- Wheels and round things
- Small bricks and similar parts
- Everything else - especially small unique parts
I'm not sure how this will work out, but I can always change the classifications later as I gain more experience.
Still, I was curious about other potential solutions to the problem. After all, kids have been playing with Legos since the mid-1950's. Kids have mothers. Kids like messy. Mothers like neat. Mothers are great organizers. So, there must be some great Lego organizational techniques developed by mothers.
It turns out that they do exist, though some of the solutions are a little pricy. One of my favorites is the BOX-4-BLOX. The design is delightfully simple and straight forward. There are four boxes - green, red, blue, and yellow. You stack the boxes in that order, then dump your Lego parts into the top yellow box. The bottom of the yellow box is a simple sieve that allows smaller parts to fall through into the blue box. The process is repeated until the smallest parts all end up the bottom green box. Really beautiful from a design perspective.
But, given the fact that I live in Japan, and the shipping for the BOX-4-BLOX is likely to cost more than the boxes themselves, I think I'll have to stick with my current approach, at least for the moment.