Friday, January 20, 2012

Mission Impossible: Finding a Functional, Attractive Solution for the Lego Landfill

The Lego Landfill Formerly Known as Lars's Bedroom

It doesn't look as bad in these pictures as it does in real life.  There must be at least ten thousand Lego blocks strewn across the floors, over every horizontal surface, piled in closets, and mixed in with other toys in the storage bins and clothing drawers of Lars's and Anders' bedrooms.   The desks that were intended for homework and drawing are completely unusable, and I have to navigate a Lego minefield just to change the bed sheets or to collect dirty laundry from their hampers. 

I used to have a "no toys in the bedrooms" rule, but as the boys started building more complex Lego sets they wanted to keep completed structures on display in their rooms.  This turned out to be a slippery slope, and before we knew it the chaos of the third floor toy room had spread down the stairs and taken over the boys' bedrooms as well.  If the toy room was too messy to play in, they'd just cart more toys down to their bedrooms and play there instead.  Finally, about six months ago, Bernie and I made good on our long-standing threat to invade the third floor play room and reclaim it as an exercise room.   We weeded out and donated toys the boys had outgrown and no longer played with, but several oversize bins of Legos, Transformers, and other toys were carried down to the boys' bedrooms to be dealt with "later."

The Culprits at Play in Anders' Room, Trying to Look Innocent
Well folks, "later" is happening this weekend!  School is closed for a Teacher Workday today, so we have three days to reorganize these rooms and devise a solution that is acceptable to all parties: functional for the little Brick Master wannabes, attractive, safe, and easy to maintain.  Our dogs can't even go in Lars's room anymore -- there's nowhere for them to lay down, and Otto brazenly pilfers Legos and Pok√©mon cards from Lars's room right in front of everyone.  Anders' room looks a little better at the moment, but that's because everything was randomly stashed in drawers and bins.  As soon as they start playing in there, they have to dump everything out in order to find the right bricks for the projects they want to build.

Don't get me wrong -- I have nothing against Legos.  The 1000+ piece sets are challenging and time consuming to build, and both boys also enjoy creating their own structures, incorporating concepts they've learned from their Lego design books and from experience building sets.  The problem is that my kids like to have lots of room to work, so a desk or even a special Lego play table is too small for a workspace.  They like to dump the Legos on the floor so they can see all their pieces and sort through them as they are building.  And they like to build complex structures over a period of days or weeks, so there are always several partially completed structures in progress in the middle of the floor, surrounded by hundreds of loose Lego bricks and parts.  I've scoured the Internet for Lego solutions and, although I found some great ideas for younger children or for those with a much smaller number of Legos, I haven't seen anything that can accommodate the way my kids play with Legos.  I also found complex Lego organization systems devised by adult Lego afficionados, where bricks are sorted by both shape and color in a myriad of little drawers, but even if I summoned up the energy to sort through my kids' Legos to that degree there is no way my kids would be able to maintain that kind of system over time.  These boys are still struggling to organize their homework assignments in their school planners, after all.  What we really need is a Hogwarts-style Room of Requirement addition to the house where we can throw all the toys to be hidden from sight until they are needed again:

Room of Requirement set from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, photo courtesy of Architectural Digest

Okay, back to the real world!  Here's my plan:  First we need to adjust furniture placement, especially Lars's room, to maximize open floor space in the center of each room.  Next, it's time to go through the drawers, shelving units, and existing bins again to cull broken and outgrown toys, and group like items together to assess how much of everything they have -- books, Legos, other toys, trading cards, etc.  Then I can devise appropriate storage for each category.  For Legos, I'm going to try to implement a fabric play tarp with handles on the corners that the boys will need to spread out on the floor at the beginning of a building session.  That way, when they are finished for the day, they can move their structure-in-progress up to a shelf, gather up the tarp from the corners, and dump the loose Lego bricks back into a big storage bin in a matter of minutes. 

Wish me luck! 

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