So very true. It is nice to have some order to the mess. Finding good bins that meet my needs has always been difficult. I have resorted to gettig fishing tackle boxes for some of my storage needs, but this is mostly for tools and such, not as much for components.
Like you said, having a good set of dev boards is a must. Now a days you can find them pretty cheap. I have boards from all the major ARM Cortex vendors and they all were pretty cheap. I have yet to make it through playing with all the different vendors, but I have played with a few of them. It is nice to be able to get something setup for under $15 and have things like gyros, accelerometers, and the ever necessary LED's.
Over the years I always felt some frustration find the required parts from a bin. Well organized parts bin is essential. MCU kit will be required for most projects, so get hold of your favourite one. ARM cortex-3 would be useful and cheap, STM discovery @ 10 bucks was good one. It will require some external interfacing to really use it. I built a board to have PWm's, sensors, drivers, QVGA, 2line LCD, USARTS etc etc. It allows quick and ever ready development for most prototypes.
Thanks for the well wishes. The trip went very well. I just wanted to give you an update that the list of PCB tools that I mentioned has been posted here in this blog post. Come take a read and let me know if I missed something that you were looking for.
Paul-I am glad that you found it useful. I do have a program as you indicated. I will be submitting a piece for the new PCB Design line here once I get back from my trip. In fact I am at the airport right now.