For the love of god, stop recycling your LEGO instruction booklets

Author and screenwriter Emma Kennedy chastises an anonymous Brick Fanatics staff member for recycling his instruction booklets. The horror.

I love an instruction booklet. I love them so much, every time we start a new build on Relax With Bricks, we have an official Instruction Booklet Opening Ceremony, complete with a glorious hymn sung by an AFOLWAC (Adult Fans of LEGO Who Are Chums) called Eric who lives in Ohio. It’s always a solemn and beautiful moment and is, quite frankly, what LEGO deserves.

Now, nobody likes a snitch, but I’m afraid I’m turning State Witness. I had a conversation with one of the gentlemen who runs Brick Fanatics (I won’t tell you which), and he casually let slip that his instruction booklets get chucked into the recycling as soon as he’s done with them. I gasped and physically clasped my chest. WHAT IN THE NAME OF HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? THROW THEM OUT? WHAAAAT?

There will be some of you, I’m sure, who are shrugging as if this is nothing to feel jaw-droppingly shocked about but, dear AFOL, I’m going to explain why keeping your instruction booklets is not just a good idea – it’s a great idea.

LEGO Death Spa Emma Kennedy Crab Oven

First, they are brilliant reference tools for custom builds. Many a time I’ve been working up a little set of my own and I’ve recalled a certain mechanism or design that I want to replicate. Not sure quite how to do it? Consult the instruction booklet. For example, I wanted to put a working crab oven (greatest moving part in any LEGO set, ever, please see previous column) in my Death Spa rumpus room, so what did I do? Consulted the NINJAGO City instruction book and bob’s your uncle, cooked crab for General Tarkin.

Second, can’t afford the set this month? Buy the instruction booklet and make your own version. It’s also a brilliant way of circumnavigating sets you’re not entirely convinced you want. When 21318 Tree House came out I was a bit meh about the whole thing so instead of buying it, I got the instruction booklet from a seller on eBay for £15. I then built my own tree house (complete with naked German chasing a boar round the base) and discovered that yes, I did like this set, but I ended up liking it even more because it was my version of it. 

Third, when sets are retired, you don’t need to tell me how the price, especially for modular buildings, goes through the roof. Some sets simply aren’t worth spending over £500 on, but if you missed the boat first time round, it’s considerably cheaper to just buy the instruction booklet and top up the pieces you might need using BrickLink or Toypro or, if you can, You can, if you prefer, download the instructions, but I’m a purist when it comes to a book in the hand. It’s the same reason I will never love a Kindle. 

LEGO 21318 Tree House Emma Kennedy

Fourth, the vintage instruction booklets are an absolute delight. I could spend hours flicking through old Creator booklets or Pirates instructions or anything from the Adventurers series. I bought a job lot of old instructions (again from eBay) that sparked off a hunt for unusual baseplates, which in and of themselves are things of rare beauty. I’d never have known about them if it wasn’t for the instruction booklets. 

I’ve got 76108 Sanctum Sanctorum Showdown ready to build when I have the time; 31051 Lighthouse Point; the antique 6270 Forbidden Island that doesn’t even tell you what bits you need; a positively ancient and threadbare 346, the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin House with Car that is so adorable it practically brings a tear to the eye; and 293, the slightly overly chunky piano and stool with amazing cushion tiles. 

Each and every one of them is an absolute joy. What are you doing chucking such treasures out? I bought a Knight’s Kingdom booklet for a quid on eBay – I just looked up what it would cost me to purchase the original set. The price is nudging a thousand pounds.

But last and not least, one of the best reasons to keep your instruction booklets is for the kids in your life. When children come to visit and want to go in the LEGO Shed (of course they do)m I always hand them the box of instruction booklets. They pick out the set they want to make and off they go. It’s a different sort of recycling, of course, and adults enjoy it too. Long live the instruction booklet!

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Emma Kennedy

Emma Kennedy is an author, actor, presenter and AFOL who runs Relax With Bricks on YouTube. Follow her LEGO antics on Twitter at @legowith.

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