How not to lose things


in Daily updates, Geek stuff

A fair number of people I know have a great deal of trouble keeping track of small personal effects: wallets, sunglasses, keys, and the like. When they encounter someone who does not have this problem, they assume it’s because of some inherent superiority of memory. In my experience, this is not the case. What differs between those who lose things and those who do not is the degree to which they are systematic.

Be systematic

The first vital aspect of being systematic is to maintain consistency in where things are placed. One’s keys should always be in the same pocket when out or at work, and always on the same table of shelf when at home. One’s gloves should likewise always be kept in the same place, at least during seasons when they are required, and moved to a consistent but less accessible place during the summer. All this is made dramatically easier by choosing clothes with a similar array of pockets. Having a single jacket with lots of pockets is an enormous boon: I always know that my wallet is in the right-side breast pocket, while my camera is in the left. The small sub-pocket under that holds a four-colour pen. The inside left pocket has a pair of liner gloves, while the inside right pocket has an iPod Shuffle and space for valuable things carried rarely. Having a consistently used bag with lots of pockets is similarly useful.

Trust, but verify

The second vital aspect is frequent auditing. If you have followed the advice of using the same pockets at all times, this will soon become automatic and second nature. You learn to be intuitively aware of the presence or absence of objects from their designated spaces. If they are not there, you know to seek them out immediately and return them to their designated position.

Never trust yourself to remember a deviation from the system. Moving something into the wrong place – perhaps to make it more convenient to carry something else – will only produce anxiety while you are tying to remember the deviation and frustration when it leads to things being misplaced or not immediately accessible.

Fashion is your enemy

The real trouble begins when you have a wardrobe that has dramatically different elements: trousers with no pockets, multiple jackets, purses with differing internal compositions. For those who insist on such variety, I can offer no aid. Unless your memory is much better than mine, you are probably doomed to lose things relatively often.

Some level of variety must certainly be dealt with by anyone, and this can be accomplished by having a number of set collections of gear with defined associated positions. One might have a ‘no jacket because it is sunny out, still carrying photographic gear’ option, as well as an ‘out biking in the countryside, repair tools required’ configuration. In my experience, it is feasible to maintain a good number, provided they are as similar as possible (wallet always on the same side, non-included items left in defined positions at home) and they are always identically configured. Objects only carried rarely are by far the easiest to lose. I virtually never carry an umbrella (preferring to rely on waterproof clothing), so I constantly forget them when I have been carrying one for whatever reason.

Naturally, there are plenty of people for whom the above is too much work for too little value. The point is less to convince people that they should or should not adopt such a system and more to argue that losing or not losing objects is a reflection of planning and habit, rather than inherent cognitive characteristics. That said, a certain fascination with gear and a somewhat compulsive nature certainly help in the initial development and constant refinement of such an order.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

t January 31, 2008 at 8:04 pm

Unfortunately, the implication of this is that those in our society who are expected to be decorative, and for whom wearing the same jacket everyday would be a transgression rather than the norm, are condemned either to deviation from that norm or to constantly lose their wallet.

Litty February 1, 2008 at 9:08 am

Also wise:
Minimize the number of trinkets you own
Reduce how many you carry with you
If you are in a place where you put things down, check it thoroughly before leaving.

Emily Horn February 2, 2008 at 12:08 am

Reducing things carried to an absolute minimum is a good rule of thumb.

Milan February 2, 2008 at 1:09 pm

Not necessarily. Sunglasses are part of the gear I carry in my backpack, despite how they are only useful once every few weeks.

As long as you can keep track of such things, there is value in carrying a diverse collection of kit.

Sarah February 2, 2008 at 7:02 pm

One option is to keep related items together by having several pre-packed bags for different activities – for instance I keep all gear needed for snowboarding in the snowboard bag, all gear needed for a day cragging in my climbing backpack, all gear needed for mtbing in my mtb backpack, all my waterproofs together etc. This might mean duplicating some items (sunscreen, energy bars, sunglasses) but it saves considerable time & effort. My problems arises over the items that can’t be easily duplicated like a wallet, cellphone or ipod – I need to transfer those from bag to bag as required and don’t leave the house without checking that I have them all.
Of course, a major reason people lose things is simply because they keep their belongings in a god-almighty mess. Systematic behaviour doesn’t help if it means that you put everything ‘important’ on the top drawer but then have to search the whole chaotic, overflowing drawer several times a day. Similarly, my brother’s strategy of keeping everything he owns on the bedroom floor means that he is certain of its approximate location, but it still takes a long time to locate things. Tidyness has many benefits ;0).

Emily Horn February 4, 2008 at 3:53 am

I suppose it depends on your definition of absolute minimum. For me, the absolute minimum doesn’t include things like an extra pair of shoes in my purse, or my collection of CD’s *just incase* I end up at a friends house and need them.

But, it does include probably: sunglasses, two types of lipgloss, a russian grammar book, cell-phone, deodorant, an old muffin, a writing book, a sketchbook, an agenda, a few sharpies, and a bottle of water. (And of course, wallet and keys if I can find them.)

Essentially a city survival kit, minus iPod, which I already lost.

Milan February 4, 2008 at 10:21 am

That’s not a bad list of essentials.

Mine would be:

* Watch
* Wallet
* Keys
* Mini multi-tool
* Hipster PDA (including space pen)
* iPod Shuffle
* Headphones
* Digital camera
* Mini tripod
* Extra batteries
* Sunglasses
* USB memory stick
* Four-colour pens
* Latest issue of The Economist
* Moleskine calendar
* LED flashlight
* Headlamp
* Alcohol based hand sanitizer
* Earplugs
* Thin liner gloves
* Emergency cash

Not essential, but nice extras:

* Caribiners
* Full-sized multi-tool
* Full-sized iPod
* Toque
* Thick waterproof outer gloves

Gary Pocock August 7, 2008 at 10:41 am

Misplacing items is the most common non-event of humans. Have you ever hid something so no one could find it. Your subconscious immediately erases it from your mind so that you can’t find it later. An event or link must be made each time so you can retrieve it later from your mind.
Purposely create an event when you place something somewhere. If you do lose something don’t panic. That emotion will block your mind from logically trying to retrieve the information you need.
As an example, I lost my keys while shopping at Christmas in a large shopping center. My girlfriend panicked Two emotions triggered and my mind went blank. I told her to continue shopping and to meet later at the restaurant. I knew that if I relaxed my subconscious would retrieve the information I needed
I calmed down and thought of all the locations in the center that we had gone.
The non-event was at the Bay where I didn’t buy a watch I had asked the clerk to show me. I went back to the clerk and asked her if I had left my keys. She proceeded to hand me my keys that I had left on the counter. I thanked her and because this was now an event I remember it. That happened on the 24th of Dec 2001

James January 18, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Good advice Milan! Humans are certainly creatures of habit, so developing a system is definitely helpful. However, even if one adheres to all the advice here, there is still a chance of losing a valuable possession. Maybe an outside variable causes interruption or perhaps you simply just forget.

At any rate, it might be worth going one step further and insuring against the failure of the outlined approaches above. lets you label each of your valuables with a unique code — for free. If a Good Samaritan finds your item they can contact you and return the item.

Check it out!

oleh December 9, 2009 at 1:21 am

This is good advice.

I do my best to keep my phone, my Blackberry and my wallet in the MEC bag which my sister gave me. Much easier to have everything in one bag along with the index card system which Milan taught me.

Nic May 14, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Ever hear of ADHD.
Some people just do not have a good memory.

Systematics does help but I tell you, Ritalin too

you're a bastard to have wasted my time October 18, 2010 at 1:30 am

what a stupid article.

real reasons are: poor self esteem, bad luck.


aaa December 15, 2010 at 1:05 pm

thanks God. I thought I was the only person so forgetful.

Matt December 15, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Your list of essentials is surprisingly long; I find that my phone does the job of many of the items on your list:

Hipster PDA
-iPod Shuffle
-USB Memory Stick
-Moleskine Calendar
-Alcohol Hand Sanitizer (okay, I actually haven’t found an app that does this yet)
-LED flashlight
-Digital camera (potentially). The camera within is certainly good enough for documenting things, but not good at taking amazing photos.

Furthermore you gain some essentials that weren’t on your list:
-GPS + Maps + Compass

Milan December 16, 2010 at 12:02 am

I have a different collection of basic gear now:

Trouser pockets


Clipped to belt

Work pass
Buss pass

Inside suit jacket pocket

Business cards
Personal cards

In overcoat pockets


In messenger bag

Latest issue of The Economist (if unread)
Moleskine page-a-day calendar
Book in progress (if it fits)
Letter writing paper and envelopes
LED headlamp
Titanium spork
House keys
Various pens
Folding knife (CRKT KISS)
Elastic strap for collarbone physiotherapy
Clif bars
Tickets for upcoming Greyhound trips
Lots more business cards
Sometimes: point and shoot digital camera
Sometimes: dry bag for SLR

BuddyRich December 17, 2010 at 4:47 pm

You are missing the most important thing, a towel. ;-)

Seriously though I am surprised you carry a knife and not a multi-tool. Much more versatility for not a large increase in weight, especially something like the Charge.

Milan December 18, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Partly, it is because I know there is always a danger of having the knife confiscated at a pointless security checkpoint.

That’s an easier risk to bear with a $25-30 knife than with a $125+ multitool.

Sarah February 13, 2011 at 8:51 am

Wow. You guys take way too much to work in your pockets and bags and the like. I keep my stuff to a minimum – that way there’s less chance I’ll lose something!
That’s it really! The essentials. (:

Milan February 13, 2011 at 2:16 pm

I do have four things that I always check my pockets for before I go out: keys, wallet, phone, and bus pass/work ID.

Those are all things that – if forgotten – probably mean I need to go back home to collect them.

Earl March 29, 2011 at 12:54 pm

If you do loose something and can’t find it try this website.

Nic March 29, 2011 at 2:38 pm

And if U loose things a lot it may not be “normal”.

Nic March 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm

And if U loose things a lot it may not be “normal”.

And in coping: the trick is to have less things to forget: A phone that is PDA and camera etc is only one object.

Oh And I wanted to mention a really smart ssytem
Google Find One Find All FOFA

Sorry if I double posted.

morgan October 24, 2011 at 6:55 pm

I suck at keeping track of my phone…honestly it’s a very bad habbit that i need to take charge of. Hopefully this artical will help…WISH ME LUCK(:

nancy walter October 27, 2011 at 6:13 am

My doctor can’t find my uterus. Seriously. It has always been in the same spot…I did not put it in a more convenient place or anything like that. HELP

Milan October 27, 2011 at 12:40 pm

How very remarkable. One option would be to deliver a baby and follow the umbilical cord back to the missing organ.

May November 30, 2011 at 2:31 am

I do not have this happen too often, but I find if I have too much going on at once and get side tracked, I misplace things I normally would not have because I do have assigned places for them. Something that distracts me, from the norm, causes the item to be placed down for a minute in a place it would not have been put before. My biggest problem is my husband. His misplacements are chronic. We all misplace things but it seems I spend half my life looking for his keys, phone, wallet, etc. It drives me crazy!

Eli April 15, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Yeah this is all easy if you have ocd..ima forget to remember to do this anyway being systematic requires a whole lot of memory for those people with short term.

anon August 18, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Being “condemned […] to deviation from th[e] norm” sounds like a truly terrible fate.

Nicholas August 19, 2012 at 8:34 pm

One technique is to have something like a soup plate in each room (vs one in the house) so that I never have to go far to put something important like glasses, keys etc in a plate.
Then instead of looking all over, I focus on the plates.
Has worked a bit for me.
But do take this test:
Sounds like U might have ADHD

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: