Color Coding and Collections with Beth Penn

The founder of Bneato Bar tells us how she stays organized.

Ordered & Placed

Getting organized is tough for most of us, but then there are rainbow unicorns like Beth Penn. A professional organizer and the author of The Little Book of Tidying: Declutter Your Home and Your Life, Beth is a natural when it comes to keeping it all together. Her company Bneato Bar provides organization services to everyone from individuals overwhelmed by their closets to big corporations looking to streamline their processes.

At Adero, we’re always looking for ways to get more organized, so we sat down to chat with Beth about color coded closets and keeping it all together.

What are some of the most frequent problems you see your clients try to overcome and how do you help address them?

Finding more time is one of them. Getting rid of stuff is another, and then coming up with systems.

What Adero has done is take the guesswork out of the system so you don’t have to remember things because this device is going to do it for you. A lot of our work is helping clients come up with systems that are going to fit their needs. I like coming up with simple solutions because I think when it’s difficult or challenging, the client is not going to put the item back.

Helping people come up with systems based on what they end up keeping is a big part of my job. Most of our clients can get rid of stuff. That’s not where the heavy lifting comes in. It’s more creating a solution that’s going to work long term.

I’ve read about the Marie Kondo method of deciding what to keep and what not to keep, and I’m curious what your thoughts are on collections.

Well, are they enjoying the collection? Marie Kondo likes to say, is this bringing you joy? That’s important to ask, and if it’s not, then that’s why we’re here, to go through your stuff and let it go.

If someone’s not enjoying something and they’re not using it, then we have to figure out a better way. Is it keeping the best of the lot? Is it donating them to an organization that you’re really familiar with? Will knowing someone is going to enjoy them make you feel okay about letting them go? A lot of times it is them talking through it outloud, and letting them tell the story around the collection. It gives them the confidence, telling the story, knowing someone else is hearing it, they’re honoring it. After that oftentimes they feel okay letting it go.

What are your favorite items you use to stay organized?

It depends on the space, but I love containing things in drawers.

Often, a clear container with a label goes a really long way whether it’s a cabinet or a drawer, and if they don’t have those things, shoe boxes are great to repurpose for stuff like that. In the kitchen, a lazy susan is magic. A really good hanger. Having all the same hangers, I love doing that for a closet.

Personally in my home, I think people would be surprised to know I don’t have a lot of containers. I have a lot of baskets which catch shoes or my children’s toys. I don’t have a ton of labeled bins.

In my kitchen, I do have glass jars for decanting beans, pastas, flour, sugar, all that good stuff. That really makes me happy.

I love your Instagram. You have a lot of color in your spaces. Is that part of your process?

One of the things I do is organize by color in the closet. It just makes things more inviting. If I’m looking for a black shirt to wear with a particular color pant, they’re all right there for me. And clients can do it themselves; they don’t have to spend any money. It really changes things quite a bit visually.

For me, it’s a nightly routine. If I don’t have certain things set up in the morning, then it’s not going to run smoothly. It leaves one less question mark in the morning.

I saw on your website you also have a “time hacker” service, and I wanted to know how you keep your time organized. Do you have a paper planner, digital calendar, to-do lists?

I use Todoist. It’s an app, and I absolutely love it. There’s a free version but I do the paid service because it has a lot more fun stuff with it. There’s an inbox where you can drop everything you need to do, and then I pull out of that what needs to be done on a daily basis and I break it up by time.

I try to do it by the half hour because I like to use the Pomodoro technique when I’m working from home. The timer keeps me focused and on task. You get a 5-minute break after every 25 minutes. The timer is magic. You just use an app, and it ticks while you’re working. It reminds you that you’re not doing other things, you’re just doing what you decided to do at 9 am. I find it really helpful because we can get distracted pretty easily. That paired with Todoist is my favorite.

Do you have any tips for someone looking to organize their time more efficiently?

It’s like learning how to cook. It’s really hard to get four things ready at the same time. It’s the same thing with time management. It’s not the easiest thing to master. It takes a lot of tweaking and reassessing and figuring out what’s working versus what’s not. So be patient. Don’t give yourself a hard time. You’re trying to do something totally different than what you’re used to doing. Be kind to yourself.

I like to start organizing the same way I start anything: research. There are so many ways you could go about it. You can be a minimalist. You can have all the containers. Start by assessing what you want to get out of it.

And then, number two, be realistic. Time out your day. You’ll see pretty quickly what is realistic and what isn’t. Also, building in do nothing time is important because you might wake up to an email that becomes the priority.

And then as far as prioritization, some of that is calendar based. Some things need to be made a priority otherwise they’re never going to get done. If something has been on your to-do list for 6+ months, unless you just make a time to do it, it is never going to be a priority. A lot of people look at the to-do list and are like, “What do I do next?” Sometimes you just have to tick something. If nothing is getting done, we just have to get started, and then that will empower and inspire you to do more.

What do your mornings look like? Do you recommend people establish a morning routine?

I don’t have one set in stone. For me it’s a nightly routine. If I don’t have certain things set up in the morning, then it’s not going to run smoothly. If the sink isn’t clear, if the coffee isn’t ready to go, if I don’t have the next day planned, if I haven’t looked at my calendar or I don’t know what’s coming up and what I plan to get done, it’s not going to help me out. It leaves one less question mark in the morning.

So for me, I think about what needs to happen the next morning. Because my days are always different, having a set morning routine is tough.

As far as recommending a morning routine, I definitely encourage people to try it. If that’s going to work for them and they have the same schedule everyday, sure, having that set up is going to help save time.

Once the systems are set up and you’re all organized, it doesn’t just stay that way you have to maintain it. Everybody is going to be a little different, but just knowing those parameters is helpful.

What are the things you can’t get through your day without? What’s in your purse?

I’m pretty simple. A reusable Starbucks cup. My pink notebook and a pink pen that match my pink bag that I always have with me. Sometimes I’ll have my very small laptop. My phone, my iWatch, my sunglasses, and keys. That’s me.

When it comes to mental organization, do you have any habits or tricks you find effective?

Meditation is great. Taking walks. Driving while listening to music is a great time to think about stuff. Those are my top three. Going on walks is huge for me. Any type of exercise, yoga, running, anything where you can tune out and not be bothered is a great way to mentally check out and regroup.

Okay final question: what would your top three pieces of advice be to someone who is trying to get organized?

I like to start organizing the same way I start anything: research. With organizing, there are so many ways you could go about it. You can be a minimalist. You can have all the containers and your home could look like Martha Stewart’s. Start by assessing what you want to get out of it.

Then find a community that supports that. Whether it’s an organizer, a book you’re going to follow to a T, a handful of Instagrammers who have the content you’d like to receive.

Finally, accountability and maintenance, just like with anything. How are you going to be held accountable? That might be a friend, an organizer, a system you put into play. Maybe you mark an X on the calendar every time you tackle something in the organizing realm. However you keep yourself accountable, it’s just the ongoing maintenance. Once the systems are set up and you’re all organized, it doesn’t just stay that way. You have to maintain it. Everybody is going to be a little different, but just knowing those parameters is helpful.

For more from Beth, check out her website or follow her on Instagram.