Let me tell you the story of how one new hobby set in motion all of my hobbies to follow it for the entire year of 2021.
Lego: In the winter of 2020 I had a week off and decided you know I haven’t touched Lego in like 10 years and this big pirate ship looks very cool and I’m in a position where I can afford it so over the course of a week I built that and I had a blast! So I started thinking about how I loved building with Lego as a kid, it is probably the hobby that rivaled video games for me and how you know this would be a cool hobby to get back into but more so in the MOC type of building. Now my brother and I grew up sharing everything including Lego and he was arguably into it more then I was so I didn’t want to just call up my parents and say “Yo I’m coming to reclaim my childhood” despite how much that would probably excite them to get the space back. But my brother still lives at home and it would feel weird showing up and asking him to help me sort out what is mine when I am very much in a position that I could just buy new Lego and let him have our Lego outside of like one or two sets that have sentimental value to me.
So I started by looking around on ebay for what it would cost to just buy a pound or so of random Lego because I figure best to start with a random assortment and start building then figure out what it is I need for specific MOC’s. It turns out $13+ per pound on ebay which is a lot for a random assortment that has almost assuredly been picked over by whoever is selling it.
I began hunting around more and reading forums/blog posts and that’s when I found out Goodwill has an online ebay equivalent where people are buying used Lego a lot cheaper. Lego is so popular on the site it has it’s own subcategory. Which makes sense because if you’ve been in a Goodwill in the last 5 years you will probably have noticed that it got a lot harder to randomly find cool things that is undervalued, they ebay it first and if it doesn’t sell they put it out. It is worth pointing out that Goodwill knows exactly who they are catering to on this site, you can not only have it send you email alerts for saved searches but you can export out a CSV of all the auctions you have taken place in or watched. So I started watching it and ended up winning a 23 pound lot for $45 which comes out to about $2 a pound which is a lot cheaper then ebay even if you remove say a pound for random garbage and non Lego building bricks. However what I had failed to take into account is that the Lego being sold on ebay by reputable sellers is already cleaned and doesn’t have random garbage in it. I will admit it was kind of fun to sit down and just sort through 23 pounds of Lego taking it all apart while listening to music and podcasts. Once you get into a rhythm it’s kind of relaxing. Anything that wasn’t Lego but wasn’t garbage such as hot wheels cars went in a box and off to a friends sister who had young children. Anyway after sorting it had to all be washed which is easy enough, warm soapy water and a toothbrush or if it didn’t look particularly grimey into a delicate bag where it could be soaked and shuffled around in the soapy water before rinsing.
However the surprising hard part is drying Lego. I started out by just laying it out on a towel with a fan pointed at it on a table and shuffled it around like every 4 hours. This took about 24 hours to dry I would estimate and it is only holding a pool towels worth of Lego, so not much. I then saw people online recommending using a salad spinner. I tried that and while it did remove some water it did not remove all the water and it was not exactly efficient and left you with a very sore arm after doing that for about an hour. My roommate and I are renting a house and because we both work from home we turned the master bedroom into an office and the closet became sort of a network closet. The closet is not dangerously hot but walking in you can immediately tell it’s not only warmer but drier. So I started trying to come up with ideas on how to utilize that. Lego on a towel on the floor didn’t exactly help it dry faster as it was still pretty easy for water to get trapped between brinks and the towel. It was also a hazard in general to just have this towel laying on the ground covered in what amounted to plastic caltrops. My original idea was to build a sifter and attach a motor to it to vibrate it and knock the water out but that seemed more complicated then it needed to be. I have friends who are into growing and mentioned I should look at spice drying racks but I couldn’t easily hang them up in the closet because of how the bars are positioned and almost all of them revolved around the idea of opening and closing the drying levels which seemed cumbersome, luckily the algorithm heard my pleas while browsing and presented me with the idea of a sweater drying rack. Thus the Lego grow op was made
Not only does it take only about 4 hours to dry, it takes less space and holds more!
With that out of the way I then had to come up with a way to store and sort it. This was actually possibly the hardest and most time consuming part. Because there is no such thing as a perfect Lego sorting system. You can find a million threads online of people debating what the best way to sort Lego is. You see there’s over 18,000 unique designs. This means you cannot break all parts out into unique bins you have to come up with a system that works for you. I ended up spending a week+ researching different methods people use before settling on one that someone had designed labels that could be printed off and taped onto your bins. I then spent an absurd amount of time sorting Lego pieces. It was again, kind of relaxing because I am one of those people where things being sorted is just how life needs to be.
Anyway by this point about 3 months have passed nothing is built but I’m all in and I figured I have this elaborate system I should keep on it so I spent maybe a month just watching auctions and noting down prices sold and created a spreadsheet.
(PPP = Price Per Pound and PPPWS = Price Per Pound With Shipping)
I used this spreadsheet to determine what I should bid on certain lots based purely on weight which is against what a lot of other people bidding would advise because they are looking to see what sets are visible in the images and what minifigures are in there (minifigs are incredibly valuable often going for $3-20 on average per figure depending on figure). However I do not care about this, I just want to build. In the end I ended up buying roughly 92 pounds at $4.26 per pound.
This is when my sorting system began to fall apart. I had of course figured that some part categories would have higher numbers such as tires then say some more uncommon like plants. But I had not counted on things like flat 2x4’s being incredibly common and taking up a ton of space which completely upset the sorting I had done as the bin was overflowing and in need of an upgrade. In fact at this point almost all bins were overflowing on my nice little tool parts box and in reality needs to be redesigned from the ground up.
At this point I realize there has to be a better way. I have to be able to automate this in some fashion. It turns out that is a very hard problem to solve! You ideally want these Lego coming down a conveyor belt being photographed and identified by something like tensor flow then sorted. But there’s over 18,000 unique part designs (not including color) how do you even begin to sort that in a manner that doesn’t require a massive amount of space? Some people have built systems for doing it but they’re limited to space constraints. I’m a perfectionist I can’t just limit it all to 18 buckets! So before I went down another rabbit hole of spending several years developing a sorting space conscious sorting machine I decided that was the part where I drew the line, I was just going to hand sort.
I am still cleaning and sorting bricks and have only built like 2 things… the hobby has become not building with Lego but the logistics of Lego.
Also Lego as an investment is a wild ride that I am surprised more people have not written about. There are groups of people out there who instead of buying stock or commodities for investments are instead buying Lego. And it oddly makes sense. The ROI on Lego is really high, Lego does not depreciate value unless damaged. If you own something like an old Harry Potter set it’s gone up in value. There are websites and blogs dedicated to speculating on what sets to buy for long term and when to sell based on age of the audience then vs now. I found out through this that I actually know someone who is buying Lego sets and piecing them out and selling the parts individually on brick link as a means of secondary income and it apparently turns a fairly decent profit. Lego just never stops surprising me with what people are doing with it.