Lost Your Keys Again? 8 Tips for Finding Misplaced Objects.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: 8 tips for finding misplaced objects.

Samuel Johnson wrote, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible,” and I’m often struck by how much happiness I get from making improvements in small, seemingly trivial aspects of my life.

And one of those aspects? Keeping track of my stuff. Not being able to find something is a minor challenge to happiness, of course — but it’s one of those minor things that can make me crazy.

Today, Sumathi Reddy wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal that had a great series of tips about how to find a lost object.

Apparently — and this is no surprise — the most commonly misplaced possessions are: cellphone, keys, sunglasses, purse, umbrella, bank card, tablet, documents (that’s a little broad), and wallet. The average person loses up to nine objects every day.

The article included these tips from Michael Solomon’s How to Find Lost Objects:

Don’t look for it yet — wait until you have some idea where it might be

Look where it’s supposed to be — I’ve found this tip strangely useful. It’s surprising how often I overlook something, or don’t look quite carefully enough, to see that an object is pretty much where it’s supposed to be

Repeat the name of the object as you search for it

Check to see if it’s somehow hidden in its proper place

Look carefully and systematically — don’t just rummage around (which is very tempting)

Note: objects are usually found within eighteen inches of their original location. This sounds impossible, but I’ve found this to be uncannily accurate.

Be philosophical. Most things eventually turn up. True. But, I feel compelled to note, they don’t always turn up in time!

I would add a tip of my own:

Clean up — this is very effective. Plus, even though I’m annoyed by having to look for something, having a tidier environment cheers me up.

Also, here are two of my tips for never losing something in the first place — beyond the familiar “put things away in the same place.”

As much as possible, put things away in an exact, rather than an approximate, place. Counter-intuitively, it’s easier and also more fun and satisfying to put something away in an exact place, like “the basket on the third shelf of the coat closet” rather than “in the closet.”

If you see something that’s obviously out of place, don’t absent-mindedly think, “Hmm, I wonder why someone put a cell phone in the bathroom cabinet?” but move it — either to where it belongs, or at least to a place where it’s very conspicuous. So many times I’ve raged to myself, “I saw that thing in some unexpected place, and I sort of noticed how weird it was to find it there…but where was it?”

Do you have any tricks for finding lost objects?

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  • Diana Cherry

    ‘when you can’t find something, clean up’ has been a surprisingly useful mantra I got from your first book. I do it every time I have lost something. It’s funny, because I used to actually turn everything upside down to find a lost object. I thought it was a good strategy, but I think the most it did was let out steam. Cleaning up really seems to help!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that it works for you!

    • Penelope Schmitt

      Yes, ‘clean up’ is an awesome piece of advice. I am pretty good about my keys, I can ‘call’ my own cell phone if I have to, but I often misplace things in my (never tidy) sewing room. I definitely clean up as a way of looking for things. Then the ‘object is within 18 inches of where it should have been’ rule seems to play out very nicely for me. And I DEFINITELY love the progress I’ve made ‘cleaning up’ while searching. That, Gretchen, is my best piece of advice from you on finding lost / misplaced objects!

  • colleencc

    my own tips are (1) I try to ask myself “where WOULD I put it” (for example, for things that might not have only one “designated” place to be, such as something that I might have bought “extra” and stashed away the “extra” till needed) (2) try to remember where I did in fact last use it and (3) “find my cellphone” app feature has been VERY helpful in helping me find my cell when I have misplaced it somewhere around the house but just don’t know where

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, I do this all the time.

  • Blair424

    This tip doesn’t apply to objects you use often (like keys) that you should just always put back in the same spot. It applies to things you rarely need. For instance, my watch band broke, so I decided to wear my old watch until I got a new band. I figured the old watch would be in the top drawer of my nightstand. But it wasn’t there, so I started looking in other places. I eventually found the old watch, and I must admit it was in a fairly logical spot. But after I got the new watch band, I put the old watch in the top drawer of my nightstand because that was the first place I looked for it.

    • gretchenrubin

      That is a brilliant insight into yourself! I often wonder, “Why is it so hard to think like myself?” but it is.

  • Caitlin Van Essen

    I always ask my angels – haven’t failed me yet!

  • AnnaKate

    I scan the room looking under things till I find it, or think about where I was when I last used it. I also try to put important things like my cell phone where I can see it.

  • Steve Osvold

    A trick I learned when I had a small, but busy, cubicle: If you can’t find it, look at eye level or just above. I realized at some point that I often put things on shelves at eye level, but my tendency was to look down at my work area. It’s proven useful at home too, though I have fewer eye-level surfaces here to worry about.

    I also have come to realize that there’s a direct relationship between the amount of stress I’m feeling and the frequency with which I misplace things. I think it’s about distraction. If I start misplacing things frequently, I know it’s time pay attention to my own well being and deal with whatever is causing the stress. I’m not sure that’s a trick, but it’s been a good preventative.

    • gretchenrubin

      I notice the same relationship between stress and misplacing things. And of course it just makes the stress worse! I agree, it’s a helpful if annoying cue to slow down, and deal with the stressfulproblem.

  • statmam

    When I misplace something that already has an assigned spot, it’s often because of some disruption to my usual routine (e.g. entering the house with hands full so no hand free to throw keys into the key bowl). My searches begin with recalling the disruption and then reconstructing the path of the item during the disruption (e.g. put package down, took coat off… aha!…keys still in coat pocket OR unlocked door, picked up big package from porch, pushed door open with shoulder… aha!..keys still hanging in the lock). Even when I can’t remember exactly what happened, I can usually imagine several ways it MIGHT have happened. But the “key” step for me is to recall what the disruption was.

    • dogbaker

      I agree it is routine change that causes me grief ,but I need to remember what caused it to find the object

    • gretchenrubin

      Great suggestion for people who are usually pretty good about a routine.

    • http://www.thetileapp.com Tile

      cool insight

  • Renia Carsillo

    Hmmm, I wonder if I pass this on to my significant other if it will help him find his glasses. 10 pairs all over the house and he still misplaces them all the time. Good tips!

  • Mimi Gregor

    My husband misplaces his keys quite frequently. I find it helpful to ask him what he was wearing when he last used them. Most of the time they will be in his jacket pocket — which he DID hang up in its rightful place in the hall closet, only with the keys in the pocket. If they are not there, I try to jog his memory about where he last used them. We have a gate at the end of our driveway that must be unlocked to get in, and it has a little ledge just below the keyhole. Since we both knew he had needed his keys to get in, I retraced his steps all the way to the gate, and there they were on the little ledge. Apparently he had been distracted by something momentarily and left them there. I think that being distracted before one can put things in their proper place is the main reason people misplace things. Since the distraction is out of the normal routine, it is easy to forget that it even happened, let alone where it happened or the nature of the distraction.

    • penelope schmitt

      Yes, distraction is right. I have a designated place in my purse for my car keys. Recently I was enjoying an away time with my significant other, and we chose to drive my car locally. When he gave my keys back to me, he was still ‘in the drivers seat’ and I dropped them while rummaging around in the car and not paying attention to my routine when I am the driver. Result? Keys locked in car and locksmith had to be called to open it up. But between us, we figured out where they MUST have been left and were confident about calling the locksmith. Sure enough, they had fallen under the seat just where we thought they must be.

  • http://www.Furries-happyclub.com/ Just Smile

    I found it very interesting that “The average person loses up to nine objects every day.”. Is that really true? I hope this really means that the average person looks for up to nine objects every day – and finds them. Otherwise we would all run out of objects quite quickly… On the other hand “up to nine” is a strange way of putting it… Does that mean that one of those “average persons” lost nine and the others just one…

    Anyway, thanks for some great tips! For me it’s vital that 1) I don’t have that much stuff to begin with. 2) Everything has a dedicated “home” and should be put back there. 3) Regular cleaning sessions. 4) If I loose something the first question is: Where did I use it last?

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, I wondered about that myself. Couldn’t resist throwing it in, though, because it was intriguing!

  • Beth T.

    In addition to looking where I expect to find it, when I go back to look there I try to lose my expectation for exactly what it looks like. Not my keys, obviously, but if I’m looking for almost anything else, I tell myself not to focus on “red box, 8.5 x 11” because often when I find it, it’s a yellow box with a bright red splash of color, for example. Or the dvd case has a different picture on it than I remember, but I’m looking for the one in my head, I can easily overlook the actual case, even when it is in the right place, or close to it. (Why I don’t know what common things look like is a different problem altogether…)

  • Mimi Mugler

    In spite of my own under-buying tendencies, I have started buying more of things that I can’t find frequently. For example, I like to have scissors in the kitchen. “People” (apparently named “not me”) often take the scissors. So, I bought scissors at the store every week, until there are now consistently two pairs of scissors in the kitchen. I just didn’t want to have to keep track of a small inexpensive object like scissors. (And I guess there was more of a need for scissors in the house than I thought.)

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, I have forced my under-buyer self to do the very same thing.

      I bought A SECOND PHONE CHARGER. I don’t even want to say how much self-talking this required.

  • Eppie

    I too find it easiest to have a specific place for everything. I’ve worked very hard to establish the habit of putting things away AS SOON AS I walk in the door–keys here, purse here, etc. This has helped a lot.

  • EmmaPurl

    In our home, the standing joke is that little gremlins live, unnoticed, in the house with us, and hide things because of their mischievous ways. So if something goes missing, you have to stamp around saying ‘gremlins, bloomin’ gremlins, how dare they steal things!’ Then, you go and look in the place where the thing should be, and lo and behold, it is there. (I think this is a variation on the ‘look where it’s supposed to be’ rule.)

  • Jeannej

    Gretchen, I’m still getting sent to the wrong place when I click on the link to join the conversation. When I get there, I need to search using keywords to get to the discussion I want. When I clicked on the link for lost keys I got to a page on playing guitar versus playing solitare. Not the end of the world, but a little irritating. My method about losing things is to be tidy and organized, put things in places that are logical to me (so I can go back and say, where would I logically have put this?) and just calming down and waiting for a visual, which is the way I typically find things.

    • gretchenrubin

      Hm….I’ll investigate. Unfortunately this is an issue with WordPress, the platform I use to write my blog, so I fear there’s not much I can do about it. but I’ll see.

      • Agnes

        I think it automatically takes you to the most recent post, and the email comes out a bit after the original post, so if you wait too long, you go to a later post.

  • Molly

    Every time I lose something, I find myself thinking about this (very funny) video and walking around my house, patting my legs…”The Jan Hankl Flank- Pat System!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DY-Zdgo0OXo

  • cc

    When I am deciding where to keep something I ask myself “where would I look for this?” Keys, glasses, sunglasses, chapstick, all go in a colorful bowl on the small “office” counter in my kitchen.

  • sheepherder

    One of my favorite subjects here – losing and finding. I have a gift for finding other people’s lost items, I can find their car keys in a grassy field etc. If I lose one of my own BIG NINE I am frantic and, in my dotage, it seems like I lose all BIG NINE oblects NINETY times a day. And don’t we pretty much always find THEM? It’s just about whether you find them in time to get to work on time. When we lose the other NOT NINE things, the PRESCIOUS things, the thrill of finding them surpasses even the thrill of acquiring THOSE things in the first place. You and THE thing are reunited. You and Buck Owens are singing, “TOGETHRRR ………AGINNNNNN!!!!! I have come to expect and trust that when I lose some BIG SHINY NOT NINER that there is a thrill just around the corner.

  • http://momhomeguide.com/ Mom Home Guide

    I often misplace things, and immediately go into a panic, even though I usually find the object a few minutes later. When I lose something, my husband says to my kids, “Step away from Mommy,” and, ” She put it in a safe place,” meaning don’t get near Mommy when she’s in her “I’ve lost something” panic, and that most likely I put the object away in a new place trying to be organized. I went through a time (when my kids were tots) when I was always misplacing my keys. That doesn’t happen too often now – I guess now that my kids are older, I actually have time to put my keys where they belong — in my purse! I still frequently misplace my purse, however.

  • Marietta Hills

    My lost things normally do turn up, except for a box I misplaced recently. I still can’t find it!

  • www.livetolist.wordpress.com

    You know what – as a ‘grown up’ I have pretty much given up losing things! I have an entry buffet, handbag is ALWAYS there. The phone moves around. Papers have set places. It’s all pretty seamless.

    When something can’t be found, it’s almost bizarre to me – like some cufflinks. In the end, my BF’s cufflinks were on one of MY shirts. I checked every shirt and pocket of his, and every possible ‘nook’. Alas, now we both have a pair, so all is not lost! haha

  • ni na

    My tip: Find it in your head! (Think, trace back, rewind the events…) Works almost allways for me, unlike my husband, who runs arround like a headless chicken, as we say, creates a mess behind him, upsets us all, and finds it in his pocket!

    • Zafar Khan

      You are right. The mind stores everything, we just cannot recall it. I have some tips on my Memory Pad site for this type of strategy for recall.

  • http://www.thetileapp.com Tile

    You can also use the “Tile App” to find your keys. Its a small beacon you attach to your keys so they will chirp when you press a button on your smartphone. Essential app to have to get peace of mind. http://www.thetileapp.com

  • Teddy

    I think there is already a familiar solution to this Opportunity & Challenge.(Please pardon my jargon as we used to call “PROBLEMS” in my old Company as “Challenges and Opportunities”). The friendly JAPANESE businessmen call it “5S”. That is seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. There’s lot of documents discussing this.Google it, BING it, or YANDEX it.Whatever. There will be thousands of results. Please try it.

  • Edwin Mwintome Bozie

    Quite interesting how you presented this theme. I find it particularly effective to divide the room into sub-blocks and then search through everything in sections.
    Like I always say;
    “For anything to be cleaned up, it must become messy first”.
    Interesting observations.

  • Wyatt

    I’m interested in this: “The average person loses up to nine objects every day.” What exactly constitutes “losing” something? If I forget where I set down a glass of water, walk into the other room and instantly find it, does that count as one of the nine losses? Also curious, where did you find this statistic?

  • http://www.thetileapp.com Tile

    Check out the Tile app – for about 2 bucks a day, we can help you find your keys, purse, and ID badge for peace of mind. http://www.thetileapp.com

  • JR

    Hey Gretchen,

    I was at my wits end trying to find my keys. I guess I really must have been to Google “How to find lost keys…”

    I read thru the “repeat the name of the item…most items are found less than 18 inches…” So I go back to where I usually hang my keys (which have been missing for 3 days now) and…bingo!

    Doubtless I would have found them soon enough, but it felt like a nice little bit of magic!

    Best, JR

  • Sugaroo

    Hi gretchen josh and becca here, i found this article really helpful, having recently lost my marbles.

    Two eggs
    A cup of flour

    Stir for 15 seconds.

    Hope the kids are ok.

    All the best.

  • Rina Esquieres

    Of course, when we lose something important, we always tend to PANIC; that is a natural reaction, but when you relax, you definitely could think clear and you ca start to plan how to find lost items. And when you clean up, you would definitely find all the things you lost. This blog shares useful details. http://www.petroruba.com

  • Rina Esquieres

    When we lose something important, we can’t help but panic, right. But, thinking straight to find lost items would greatly help for your search. A relaxed mind could help recall where you last saw the lost object. And yes, most often than not, you’ll find the thing just near where you usually put it. Do not rampage on everything in the room while in panic because you will never find it if you do, it would just stress you up more. http://www.petroruba.com

  • JP

    I found the perfect product that works for me and my family – we use it everyday! Its called a Walhub, I bought it on their walhub.com site. Seriously it solved all our misplacing keys problem.

  • katndog

    I 9 times out of 10 leave my door key in the lock because it’s to my bedroom and I have a curtain over the opening so none of my roommates knows the keys are right there. Today I was rushed to get out of the house, I had a neighbor ringing the door bell, and so I thought I’d thrown them in my purse as I was leaving. I did not. I was locked out of my room, had to use a CC to get in and thought I’d find my keys on my bed, but again NOT there. So I’m looking everywhere, cleaning as I go, but it’s not dirty or cluttered really. I’ve retraced steps, emptied my purse, checked the car, so thought I’d ask google as a joke to lift my spirits before I go buy a new lock – hmmm

  • http://www.espritentrepreneur.ca/ Anick Globensky-Bromow

    I have a weird habit of losing things…. forever. As in, I can look for it for DAYS, and never find it. I call that a vortex. It is very frustrating… Lately, I lost a most precious pen, and an earing, and never found them. Same with my Ipod last year.

  • Eerie Peep

    what about keys? i need a sleeping policeman.

  • Ouch!

    The author obviously misplaced the 8 tips.