Category: Organizing

Tracking sleep with Google Spreadsheets

I started a paper sleep log for Steven this week, but then I got kind of geeky and made a Google spreadsheet with color-coded cells to see more visually what his sleep patterns are like.

You can view the spreadsheet here: Steven’s sleep

I’ve only used Google’s spreadsheets for pretty basic stuff, so I learned two new things as I was making this:

  • How to add more columns
  • How to automatically color-code cells

To add more columns, you highlight x number of columns and then right-click in the column header grey area. A new option appears to add x columns to the right or left of your selection. This wasn’t very intuitive for me – I had to run a Google search to find out how to do this.

Automatically color-coding cells is pretty cool, though. Select all of your cells, then click the button for cell colors and you’ll see a checkbox for “Change with rules.”

When you check the box, a dialog box comes up that allows you to define rules. I used punctuation to represent different states:

  • period (.) – sleeping
  • hyphen (-) – awake in crib
  • comma (,) – crying in crib

By defining the text and background colors to be the same, the cell just ends up looking all colored, as you can see in the spreadsheet:

This makes it really easy to edit the spreadsheet and enter data. Instead of highlighting cells each time and changing the background color of the cell, you can just type the symbol and the spreadsheet automatically changes the color for you. Pretty nifty!

Other random notes about the spreadsheet:

  • I chose to let blank cells represent when Steven is awake, and used other symbols to represent feeding times (either “normal” feedings with an exclamation point (!) or “unsuccessful feedings” – lots of crying and fussing – with a slash (/).
  • After adding lots of cells to represent 15-minute increments, I merged the cells together in one row for the time headers.

Can you think of other applications for using the color code feature to track stuff?

Do-it-yourself baby clothes organization

We have generous family and friends who have given us lots of used and new baby clothes. What to do with them all?

After getting some advice from a friend, I sorted out the clothing by age:

  • Newborn
  • 0-6 months
  • 6-9 months
  • 9-12 months
  • 12-18 months
  • 18-24 months

We have a lot of newborn to 6-9 month clothing. I boxed up the other clothes by age in banker’s boxes and labeled them.

Then, I separated the remaining clothing by type within each age group:

  • Short-sleeve onesies
  • Long-sleeve onesies
  • Socks, “shoes,” caps, hats
  • Footie pajamas
  • Sleep gowns/sacks
  • Outer clothing/outfits (shirts, pants, overalls)
  • Outerwear

The outerwear and outer clothing/outfits got hung on individual hangers and put in the closet. In the photo below, you can also see the banker boxes that store the bigger clothing:

Organized closet - baby clothes

I also cut out tags from manila folders (a rectangle with a slit and circle cut in it for the closet rod) to separate the clothing by age:

Make your own hanger dividers

For the other clothing (onesies, pajamas, etc.), I organized them in dresser drawers by making my own drawer dividers out of used wrapping paper (from the baby shower) and pieces of cardboard cut to size:

Make your own drawer dividers

There is one long piece of paper that fits horizontally, folded to fit pieces of cardboard (that run vertically in the picture). Then I covered individual pieces of cardboard for the horizontal pieces and taped them in.

In this specific drawer, the left two “cells” hold newborn onesies (short sleeves on the bottom, long sleeves on top), the middle cells hold 0-6 month onesies, and the right column is for socks, hats, etc.

I used the sticky part of a post-it note to make easy-to-remove drawer labels:

post-it note labels

Post-its also worked nicely to label the subdividers:

Post-it note labels

This way, when Steve folds the laundry (or if we have friends who come and help us), he’ll know where things go!

The best part? The cardboard was from an Ikea furniture box that was going to be recycled anyway. The gift wrap was from my baby shower and also would have been recycled. The manila folder that I cut up had already been reused with multiple labels and was nearing the end of its useful life. So the only waste that I generated were the non-sticky parts of post-it notes. No need to go out and buy fancy drawer organizers when you can make stuff yourself for free!

Unusual uses for ziploc bags

I came across another unusual use* for zip-top plastic bags and thought I’d start a post to collect other ideas. Here goes!

1. Frugal heating system

Fill gallon-sized bag with rice. Heat in microwave for 1-2 minutes. Enjoy the heat.

2. Organize tea bags

Cut a piece of cardstock that is about the same size as a quart-sized bag and slide into the bag to help keep it “stiff.” Pull tea bags out of their box and put into the bag. Cut off box cover, if desired, and tape onto the cardstock. You can now “file” your tea bags in a basket or on a shelf. (You can even try matching the box cover with the card stock color!)

Organized tea bags

Organized tea bags

3. Finance organizer

And now for the final unusual use. This is a photo from my friend, Rebecca Wendlandt, who is an award-winning fashion designer-slash-mild-mannered custom clothing designer and seamstress. She keeps her business receipts in individual bags for each month which are then safety-pinned and hung from a hanger. The hangers are then organized by year in her closet. Very appropriate for a clothing designer, I thought!

Finance organization

Any other unusual uses you’d like to share?

* Unusual use: For the purposes of this post, I’ll define “unusual use” as “non-food-storage use.”

Organizer Nine-Month Checkup

I’ve been doing several admin-type things the past few days. Today, I tackled my calendar, modifying Dave Seah’s Compact Calendar 2008 into a two-column half-sheet layout, printing out another year’s worth of monthly calendar sheets and making two-week spreads up to May 31, 2008, then removing older calendar sheets from my organizer and archiving them in a file. I was shocked at how the time has flown!

My planner looks much the same as it did six months ago, except for the additional section for my project lists and project detail sheets. I still love the flexibility of the Circa system and have a strong presentiment that I’ll be keeping to this system for a while! My two-week spreads and daily task/tracker sheets still work very well for me, although I’ve generally stopped using the tracker side of the sheet except for those days when I need some extra motivation to complete my routines. It’s nice to feel that I’ve found a system that finally works for me — at least in this season of my life.

I know that a few others have experimented with new organizers and systems this year, @Stephen, Penguin Girl, and Kate, for example. As the year comes to a close, have you found your organizer working for you? What changes will you make for 2008?

House photos: Bathroom and living areas

We cleaned up our living areas enough so that I could take pictures! I took some of our bathroom as well.

Below is our bathroom (also the main bathroom that guests would use). We had dark blue and white towels from our wedding and black candleholders for the toilet and to hang on the wall opposite (with dark blue candles, of course). The blue soap dish is actually a 20-cent piece of china that we found at a yard sale.


Although there is a built-in shower door, we put up a curtain rod with our white shower curtain anyway so that it looked nicer. The shower door was a little bit ugly.


This next picture is of our generously-sized living room. Liz and Rich had a red futon, we had a black Ikea couch, they had a black antique headboard. We decided to go with a black/red/asian theme, helped out with the rice paper lamps that Rich and Liz already had and the many sushi dishes that we both had.. Rich and Liz have wedding pictures on the headboard; our wedding shadow boxes are to the right of the bookshelf (not shown).

Living room

We picked gold and silver accented picture frames to put in the display shelves of the lamp to pick up the gold and silver in the big painting on the wall. In the center, you can see Liz’s seasonal shadow boxes. Right now there is purple foil paper in the back. Two of the boxes have candy corn and the middle has glow-in-the-dark spiders.

Living room

This is the entertainment wall, opposite the window. Steve and I used our coffee table as the entertainment center, which works quite well, actually. The bookshelf is one of the eight folding/stackable bookshelves that I bought a few years ago during a big Bed, Bath, and Beyond sale. I love that they are easy to move and modular!

Living room

On to the family room. There is a large open space between the living room and family room, but enough bits of wall on the sides to separate the rooms into distinct living areas. Against one corner, we have my wingback chair for a little reading area, although Nutmeg has mostly claimed it as a napping area for now.

Family room

The main family room wall is painted chocolate brown (with a dividing line by the kitchen cabinets when it goes to sunny yellow), but the other walls are painted the same rose taupe color as the living room so that it’s not a dark room. The dark brown wall was a perfect accent for one of our paintings and our light-colored maple bookshelves. The rug was purchased used for quite cheap; the color is more maroon/dark purple but we think it still works in the room. It’s not quite cold enough to have fires, but we intend to have plenty this winter!

Puddle and Nutmeg wanted to be part of these photos.

Family room

You can see the dividing line between the brown and yellow paint in this picture below.

This is our small dining table — Liz and Rich’s round table is in the kitchen eating area. It works as a nice place for seasonal decor, a daytime place to eat, a game table, or a projects table (once you clear off the decor). I love living with Liz because she has all kinds of cool decorative objects and table linens — such as the purple table runner and this set of black candle holders that work quite nicely for small pumpkins.

We decided to group all of our books together by topic instead of trying to keep them separate and boxed away “doubles.” One trick we used was to have a combination of both standard vertically-shelved books with sections of horizontally-stacked books. It helps to break up the visual pattern on the shelf and you can also fit a few more books horizontally at times so you get more “book space” overall. The bottom two shelves (you can’t really see them) and the top left shelf hold board games; there is an under-cabinet door by the phone where we keep other games as well.

Family room

We still need to clean up the office and the spare room, and then I can take pictures of those, too!

Weight Training Workout Sheet v2

I’ve revised the weight training workout sheet:

Revised weight training sheet

  • Categories have been changed to chest and shoulders, arms and back, legs and abs.
  • Each column now has both weight (w) and reps (r) for three sets so that you can vary your weights and reps.
  • Out of necessity, there are five columns instead of seven.


Weight training workout sheet v2

  • Weight Training Workout Sheet v2weight-training-worksheet-v2.pdf
    The PDF is editable in Illustrator, if you’re the kind of person that likes to customize things.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

See original post for usage examples.

Planning detailed menus for glucose intolerant folks, i.e., me

I have “impaired glucose tolerance,” which is a step below gestational diabetes. The pregnancy hormones in my body are causing my insulin to not process sugar as well as it usually would. Left unchecked, and by “left unchecked” I mean if I continued my ramen-eating habits as they were, I could very possibly develop gestational diabetes, which would pose some mild-to-serious problems for myself and the baby (fat baby, hard labor/delivery, future risk of diabetes, post-birth dangerously low blood sugar for baby, among others).

While some health care providers simply advise diet modification for women who have IGT, my health care provider deals with it aggressively by putting me into the same type of lifestyle program that I would be in if I had gestational diabetes, minus any medication or insulin shots. The “program” involves:

  • Testing my blood sugar (yes, poking myself with a small needle gun) four times a day — once when I first wake up (between 8-10 hours since I last ate), then once an hour after breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Meeting with a dietitian to learn the types of foods I can eat and can’t eat, and how much I should eat at a time
  • Planning very detailed menus — or at least keeping track of what you eat — to try to balance the appropriate amounts of starch, protein, fat, milk, fruits, and veggies
  • Phoning or emailing blood sugar results for accountability and for the dietitian and nurse to make sure things are going well

As someone who already tries (but is not always successful) to eat according to the food pyramid guidelines, I’m familiar with the concepts of serving sizes and food portions. The food categories for this are a bit different, however, based on the amounts of carbohydrates in the food. Some of the major differences:

  • Only milk and plain yogurt count as “milk.”
  • Cheese (including cottage cheese) counts as “protein.”
  • Potatoes, beans, corn, squash, and starchy vegetables count as “starch.”
  • Nuts count as “fat.”
  • And some things I can’t eat at all, including fruit juice, sugar, syrup, honey, and sweet sauces.

Each day, I want to have a total of 7 starch, 7 protein, 3 milk, 2 fruit, 5 veggies, and 3 fat, broken down across six meals (breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack).

With all those numbers to keep track of, of course I needed to make a spreadsheet!

I started by making several sample/inspirational spreadsheets in Google Docs to try to come up with nearly-complete meal plans of foods that I actually have around the house and would eat. I kept “dinner” options blank but assigned the values that I would shoot for during dinner. I’ll continue to make these inspirational worksheets as I think of more foods.

Here are two samples that I put together:

Sample menu 1

Sample menu 2

Then, I made a detailed menu for the rest of the week by copying some of my sample ideas over and adjusting with a dinner menu plan that would work for me and Steve. My numbers aren’t always going to be perfect, but I’m trying to get close, and I can probably also adjust the day-of as needed.

  • Thursday dinner: Five-spice prawns over cabbage (and fresh bamboo shoots my aunts brought me from Taiwan)
  • Friday dinner: Butternut squash soup, broiled salmon, and steamed broccoli
  • Saturday dinner: Breaded pork cutlets, more broccoli, and brown rice.

Week menu

Planning 3-4 days at a time is probably going to work the best for me so that I can work with what we have leftover in the fridge, so I’ll have to reserve part of Saturday and Wednesday mornings for menu planning!

Spreadsheet for Tracking Roommate Expenses

The scenario: You live with roommates and share some expenses. For example, one person is in charge of writing the rent check, another person pays utilities, another person pays for internet access. You share occasional grocery and household items. Let’s make this hypothetical scenario more complicated: Three of you share milk, but the other person doesn’t. How do you keep track of it all without writing 800 checks to each other at a time?

When I lived with four other roommates in college, I developed a roommate expense tracking spreadsheet. The spreadsheet was complicated enough so that it not only tracked items we all shared, but also allowed for tracking items that some people shared but not others. This allowed us to visibly see what we were spending money on, equitably divide expenses, and consolidate paybacks. Instead of writing a check for each item someone purchased, we settled our accounts monthly.

Now that we live with housemates again, I’ve resurrected the spreadsheet with the power of shared Google documents. In the old days, my roommates had to save, mark, and initial receipts, which I would enter into the spreadsheet and then print out each month. With a shared Google spreadsheet, each of us can go to Google docs and update the spreadsheet ourselves with receipts.

The rest of this post describes how to use the spreadsheet and includes links to view my open Google spreadsheet example and to download an Excel version.

View and Download

Hopefully my server doesn’t crash again with the Excel download. If you’re willing to mirror the download, please let me know!

  • Roommate Expense Tracker – published Google spreadsheet
    This spreadsheet includes a template and four example spreadsheets that go along with the diagrams above.
  • Roommate Expense Tracker Excel spreadsheet download – shared-expenses.xls

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Step by step through the spreadsheet

Click on screenshots to open a larger version in a new window.


If you’re using a Google spreadsheet, you can share the spreadsheet by going to the Share tab and adding your roommates’ email addresses as collaborators. This allows them to access the spreadsheet and edit it with their expense line items.

If you’re going to be using an Excel spreadsheet on a single workstation, then your roommates will have to be diligent about giving you their receipts. For easier entry, they should write their name at the top of the receipt, circle the shared items, and note if any items are shared between specific individuals (but not everyone).

My sample spreadsheet is set up for four roommates. If you have more or less people, you’ll want to adjust the spreadsheet by inserting/deleting columns and copying the formulas. You’ll also want to change the column names to more accurately reflect the names of your roommates (unless you happen to be named Bob, Joe, John, and Larry)!

You should make a copy of the template worksheet each time you are settling expenses (monthly, biweekly, etc.). The worksheet is meant as for “one time use,” not as an ongoing thing. You can date it at the top.

1. Enter receipts.

Shared expenses diagram 1

For each item:

  1. Enter the item description (“milk” or “utilities”).
  2. Enter the amount paid. Don’t forget to include sales tax if applicable.
  3. Enter in /# how many people are splitting this expense. In most of the line items, the item is being shared by everyone, so the dividing number is 4. In this example, milk is only shared by three people, and printer cartridges are shared by two. (The screenshot shows the notes I’ve added to those specific rows.) Note: If something is divided unevenly, such as “rent,” then you can leave this blank.
  4. The each column automatically calculates how much each person would owe (amount/#).
  5. Enter the name of the person who paid for this item in paid by.
  6. Now, manually type the each amount under the appropriate name. For example, Bob, Joe, and Larry split milk (but not John). The milk amount ($4.99), divided by 3, is approximately $1.66. So, $1.66 is entered under Bob, Joe, and Larry. John remains blank. Note: For uneven amounts such as “rent,” you can just type the amount under each name. In this example, Bob has a bigger room and pays more rent than the others.

Since I haven’t figured out if it’s possible to sort selected rows in a Google spreadsheet, you may find it easier to group items together that were paid by the same person.

Also — don’t worry about the “approximate” amount. The rounding issues will be dealt with in the next step!

2. Make adjustments for rounding.

Shared expenses diagram 2

As noted above, there may be some small rounding problems, resulting in some very slight differences (on the order of pennies) between what was actually paid and what people owe collectively.

The bottom of the spreadsheet accounts for these differences. The blue total shows the actual amount that was paid. The people totals in italics show how much each person owes, and that sum allocated is in italics under the blue total. The difference takes the difference. In this case, the allocated amount is 3 cents less than what was actually paid.

Some roommates won’t care about the leftover pennies. However, my roommates happened to be very detail-oriented, so we had an additional adjustment row. Taking the small difference, divvy it up amongst the roommates in a sort-of-fair way. In this case, since Bob (oops, this should have been applied to Joe!) took the brunt of the expenses by paying the rent, he’s exempt from the additional 1-cent adjustment applied to everyone else (reference the yellow highlighted cells in the diagram).

3. Indicate how much each person contributed.

Shared expenses diagram 3

Now, sum up the amount each person paid in the Paid row (highlighted yellow in the diagram). You can do this by typing “=” to start a formula in the cell, then highlighting the specific amount cells relevant to each person. This is where grouping people’s expenses comes in handy, as you can just highlight an entire block instead of individual cells.

In this example, you can see that since Bob (oops, that should be Joe) paid rent, he paid the most out of everyone.

After doing this, check your totals. The grey boxes on the right side of the spreadsheet guide you through making sure the numbers all work out. Breaking it down:

  • $1230.52 Check totals – This row takes the sum of the actual amount paid — same formula as the blue total.
  • $0.03 Does this equal difference? – This is the sum of the Adjust row. It should equal the green “difference” amount.
  • $1230.52 Does this equal total? – This is the sum of the Owed row. It should equal the blue total amount.
  • $0.00 Is this 0? – This sums up the Pay row. It should theoretically be zero, as the positive (people who owe money) numbers should equal the negative (people who are owed money) numbers.

4. Add helpful notes for payment.

Shared expenses diagram 4

The final step is to add helpful notes for payment. The negative pay amount means that this person paid the most, and other people owe them money. You can add a note in the bottom row for who the check should be made out to. If there is more than one person with a negative amount, then you can add a note for how to split the check between each person who is owed money.

That’s all!

And there you have it — a very fair way to track and consolidate shared household expenses! This spreadsheet certainly isn’t for everyone (such as those of the “who cares” variety), but for some, having a expense tracking worksheet can be a great way to avoid financial roommate conflict.

House photos: Our room and the kitchen

I finally got around to taking pictures of two of the rooms in the house we’re renting — the kitchen and our bedroom.

The kitchen is roomy with a U-shaped work area. The other side of the “u” has upper and lower cabinets but is open to the family/fireplace room.

We painted the kitchen a sunny yellow color and used Liz and Rich’s red Kitchenaid, toaster, and potholders/linens for red accent colors. I happened to have a ceramic tomato, as well, which rests peacefully on the stove. We tried to keep out mostly red, white, and chrome gear.

Eventually we’d like to paint the cabinets white and replace the hardware.


Opposite the U-kitchen area is a small eating area. To the left of the microwave cart is the opening that leads to the family room; you can just see the doorframe that connects with the entryway.

Liz is on the lookout for red chair cushions or fabric that she can use to replace the blue ones.

Dining area.

On the right wall (same wall as the fridge and stove) is a pantry closet and the door to the garage. Liz’s mom gave us a cool retro clock/timer which goes perfectly with white and chrome.

Pantry and garage door

Here is the pantry with shelves installed by Steve and I after many attempts at finding studs. We purposefully kept the top shelf one plank deep so that we could access the things easier and have a space for extra-tall items on the shelf below. We will eventually reinstall the pantry door (we took it off when painting) and get some kind of organizer on the inside of the door to hold brooms and other supplies.

We used plastic bins to hold cans instead of just stacking the cans on the shelves. This way you can pull the bin out like a drawer and see what’s in the back, so canned goods are less likely to get lost. This was useful for some of the sticky/liquid-y baking-related items as well; not only can we pull them out easily in the bin, but they don’t get the shelf all sticky and gross in case there’s a leak or spill.


That’s the kitchen.

I’m very happy with our bedroom! It’s small and cozy so we were forced to simplify and be minimalistic. This is the first room that we’ve been able to paint ourselves, as well. We used a sandy beige color.
On one wall, we have our bed, a cheap rectangular storage box on-end that acts as a nightstand, and my favorite wing-back chair and ottoman.

You can see our stuffed monkey collection hanging by their necks behind our headboard. The painting is one I got from Cost Plus on sale and perfectly matches our thick, plush winter bedspread (not shown).

Our room - the bed.

Under the bed is enough storage for a flat bin that holds my exercise gear, our winter blanket (in a vinyl case), a case with an extra set of sheets, and a brand new extra pillow. There’s enough room for Steve’s bin of exercise gear, but we haven’t dug it out from the garage yet.

Here is the other wall (opposite the window) with my wingback chair (with stuffed mama and baby sea otter) and ottoman/storage cube which holds my Bible and devotional books (and lots of other random stuff). The wall was a nice place to showcase the anniversary pictures that I make for each year of our marriage.

Our room - wall of pictures.

I wasn’t joking when I talked about simplifying. Not only did I pack away our out-of-season clothing (winter), but I also packed away from 1/2 to 2/3 of our in-season clothes! Our closet is now quite bare. I sort of like it.

Our room - the closet.

The top shelf holds bins with random gear, extra flannel sheets that didn’t fit in the linen closet, and a basket with hats and gloves. I love Sterilite brand plastic bins — we have tons of them all over the house, some with lids for stacking, and others open. (You can see several of them in use in the pantry.)

Below, we have my shoe organizer and a laundry basket with Steve’s “everyday” shoes, with space for Steve’s backpack. The rest of his shoes are in a bin in the garage.

Unfortunately this picture turned out blurry, but here’s what that wall looks like with the curtains drawn. The closet had ugly brown doors that the previous tenants had taken off and put in the garage. We stuck to their plan but added a spring-loaded shower curtain rod just inside the closet door and hung some curtains from them.

Our room - closet and dresser.

Our dresser was purchased used so it doesn’t quite match our bed, but I still love the excellent rolling drawers. At our old place, we had about 6 picture frames, candles, and a glass catchall bowl. Most of our picture frames are packed away; instead, I have a picture of us, a vase with my FlyLady duster, another vase with my silk-rose wedding bouquet, three asian jewelry/hairband boxes, and a picture for the wall. We’ve managed to keep the dresser fairly pristine so far.

Our room - dresser.

In the corner of the wall next to our dresser was a perfect place for our standing hamper.

So… those are the presentable areas of the house for now. 🙂 Hopefully we can get more done this weekend!

Two exciting new arrivals

First: Custom Shadow Box business cards, previously mentioned, but here’s the photo. I miscalculated and put the photos on the non-glossy side of the paper, so for the next printing I’ll reverse the card so that the photos end up on the glossy side.

Custom Shadow Box business cards

Second: My sister gave me a belated birthday present — a Circa PDA! She also had stacks of colored cards for herself and gave me ten of each color. Thanks, Angela!

The small size of the Circa PDA has me pulling it out instead of squeezing out my junior-size planner out of my purse for random braindumping while on the road, although I still use my planner almost exclusively while I’m at home. I haven’t really pulled together a “system” yet to combine both but will just see what I naturally use the PDA for.

If you use both a notebook and a PDA and have a system, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Circa PDA