How can I stop losing my keys and phone?
February 21, 2012 6:49 PM   Subscribe

How can I stop losing my keys and phone?

On Sunday, I lost a bunch of important cards from my wallet. Every day, I lose my keys and my phone...several times. Tonight for instance, I am without phone (in my car which I left at the car repair shop), and without apartment keys (in my mom's car who came to visit me today and lives an hour away.) And Sunday and Monday I didn't have my phone at all because I couldn't find it.

On Sunday, I went out without my phone (didn't know where it was) and without my purse (I forgot) which is why I was carrying around my wallet in my hand and was therefore how my cards fell out (I've had to contact three card companies and now have to get a new driver's license.)

I bought a new purse to help me. I have a hook by the door for my keys. I have a charging station next to my bed. My apartment is impeccable...I organize and clean every day.

But damnit, I am always losing these three items. I irritate the people who love me by frequently (multiple times a week...seriously) being unreachable, not having my cards or money with me, and/or being locked out of my car and house.

What can I do? I have a system in place, and despite the fact that I know where everything is in my apartment, these items are constantly getting sucked into a black hole.

I feel like my mind is messy and disorganized, so maybe that is part of the problem. Meditation perhaps? Or is something wrong with my brain?
posted by DeltaForce to Grab Bag (41 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a possible solution for losing the phone.
I have a friend who owns this type of clutch (not sure what brand, it's a different color), but it seems like an easy way to make sure you always have your phone and wallet.

As for the keys, perhaps a lanyard/carabiner? I know it might be tacky, but if your problem is this bad, desperate times...

Or perhaps you could attach your key to the clutch, and then you'd only have one thing to lose. (And all your eggs in one basket)
posted by petah at 6:54 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a carabiner that hooks my keys on the strap of my purse. It helps a bit. I also always have a special pocket in each purse I have where the phone goes and I check it a lot. (I use the same purse every day until it disintegrates and I get a new one. So I get very used to the phone being in it's spot. You can also hang your purse on the front doorknob so you'll see it when you leave.
posted by artychoke at 6:55 PM on February 21, 2012

These things can help:

1) Have a place for your purse/wallet/keys/whatever you lose. Put those items only in their designated place. Nowhere else. Ever.

2) Watch as you put them there. One thing Mrs. Director does is drop things off as she passes by so she can't go back in her memory to find them because she never saw where she dropped them. So put your eyes on the objects when you let go of them.

3) Before leaving the house, I do a self-pat-down. Wallet? Check. Keys? Check. Glasses? Check, etc.

4) If you tend to leave the house without something, make sure #1 is by the door you leave from.

5) When you put something down away from home, only put it where you will be unable to miss seeing it and make absolutely to do #2 above.
posted by trinity8-director at 6:56 PM on February 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm a fan of the "pat-down", as well. Keys-phone-wallet. Keys-phone-wallet. It has a nice ring to it. Do it where every you go. About to leave the house. About to leave the car. About to leave the store/restaurant, etc.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:59 PM on February 21, 2012 [9 favorites]

You need a silly song! I made up a song, to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" about the things I need to take with me when I leave the house. I sing to myself any time I leave one location for another, every time, and I check off each of those things as I sing its name. It feels ridiculous, but I never forget my stuff.
posted by decathecting at 7:02 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

It seems like you lose items while inside of your place. You should have a checklist on the fridge or somewhere that you walk past before leaving the house.

Buying a new purse really helps so it's great that you bought one. Personally, I found that having a purse like this really helped me stop losing things.

Use your purse as your go to place for these items. Look inside your purse before leaving your place and always put things back into your purse after using them. You won't have to look elsewhere because everything will be with you in a purse which you can take anywhere with you.
posted by livinglearning at 7:04 PM on February 21, 2012

Not a very high-tech solution, but I find I make these mistakes when I'm trying to do three things at once. One time I failed to set the alarm at work because I was taking a call from someone I was upset with.

When I try harder to "live in the moment," as cheesy as that sounds, I pay more attention to what I'm doing and as a result am less likely to make silly mistakes. Like leave the coffee mug on top of the car, for example...

Try to be mindful and focus more on what you're currently doing, rather than what the next 10 things on your list might be.
posted by Pomo at 7:14 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

The key is in routine. My keys, phone, and wallet are ALWAYS in the same spot, every night, every day.
posted by HuronBob at 7:18 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

You've chosen a place for those things to go: in your purse. That's where they go. Where? In the purse. In. The. Purse. Keys? Purse. Wallet, phone? Ditto. You may need to move the purse to a table near a plug so you can charge the phone in your purse.

Get a more secure wallet, too. Nobody needs a wallet that stuff falls out of. Make sure it's a wallet that fits comfortably in your purse, so that it is always in the purse and you're not taking it out to look for your keys and phone. If the purse you just got doesn't have a dedicated place for a phone, get a new one. You can get a nice-looking carabiner at REI or similar for clipping the keys to your purse. Make it easy on yourself in every way you can.

And then, you have to sit down and have a talk with yourself. Because these are weird things to be so low-priority for a person. Are you distracted at the moments you go in and out of your house/car? You can afford to think only of your immediate requirements in the two minutes or 30 seconds it takes to transition from one place to another. You can focus on whether or not stuff is flying out of your wallet for a couple of minutes a day.

And identify your payoff. Not to get all Dr. Phil, but you must be getting something out of this behavior that exceeds your inconvenience or you wouldn't do it. Is it the attention when someone has to bail you out? The concern when you can't be reached? You're going to need to deal with that before this issue is going to truly stop.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:22 PM on February 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

I used to do this a lot.

Now: phone in right front pocket or in the charger by the bed, always. Keys in left front pocket or on the hook by the door, always. Wallet in back pocket or on the bedside table, always. No exceptions ever.

Adjust per your sartorial needs, of course; the important part is to stop putting the things down in random places like other people's cars. The objects are either on my person or in their one and only designated spot in the house; if I ever succumb to the temptation to set my keys on the counter while I do this one quick thing, I will lose those keys. So I don't ever do that; they go in my pocket or on the hook, period.
posted by ook at 7:22 PM on February 21, 2012

Tech solution - ZOMM.
But yeah keys-phone-wallet patdown (though that's more for guys who keep this stuff in their pockets.
posted by pyro979 at 7:22 PM on February 21, 2012

Where is the hook by the door? We had one at our old place I never used and the keys would live on the dining room table and get buried. The new place, we put hooks in ourselves right at the spot where I lean to take off my shoes. Since my hand is there anyway, and full of keys from opening the door, and I need to get rid of the keys in order to untie my shoe, it's easier to put them there than anywhere else. It's amazing the difference this has made.

Everything else lives in my purse, which generally lives on the little hall table under the keys, so everything I need to leave the house is in one area beside the shoes, because I am unlikely to forget my shoes.

The patdown of phone/keys/purse is how I deal outside of the house.
posted by platypus of the universe at 7:24 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I suggest getting a wristlet (my old one was from Coach, but there are lots of others) or other device that can contain your keys, phone, and money/cards but NOTHING ELSE (ok, maybe a lip balm). If you have a giant purse it's easy to lose things because it's hard to feel around to check for things. A wristlet has two benefits: one, it stays on your wrist even when you're using your hands; two, it's so small you'll grow accustomed to its shape and weight and will notice when things are missing.

You mentioned that you bought a new purse. Does it have inner pockets? Establish a routine of putting your keys/phone in the inner pocket so it's easy to feel for them.
posted by acidic at 7:24 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Having a staging area, key carabiner, and theme song (yea!) are all good ideas. For your home, I would also put a note on the door ("Check for keys and phone!") that covers the doorknob. You need to have to physically move it to leave.

As for work, could you set up an alarm that sends you a text message ("Check for keys and phone!") before you leave? For going out, never put your phone/keys/wallet on the table. I have a friend who has the same issue, and sometimes the entire night has been going back to the places we just left to get his stuff. (Once we went back twice because he got his stuff, started chatting with the people, and left them again. Irritating.)
posted by sfkiddo at 7:26 PM on February 21, 2012

Routine + checklist/patdown is the key. Put your keys/phone/wallet/purse in the same place, everyday. Before you leave the house, run through the checklist while physically touching and/or looking at where all of your stuff is. Run through the checklist whenever you leave anywhere (work, friend's house, store, etc.) and patdown. This may seem like a pain in the ass, but once you get used to it, it takes about 30 seconds and will practically guarantee that you won't leave your stuff somewhere, because you are physically verifying that everything you need is on your person.
posted by yasaman at 7:32 PM on February 21, 2012

To begin with... Yes, you have a problem, but CALM DOWN if you have not already:)

I prefer clutch purses, now. I'm a great and famous loser of these types of items. I've been losing expensive sunglasses almost before you were probably born. I was famous for losing keys. (Great story there about the time my apartment door closed behind me as I was retrieving my NY Times paper in my PJ's while bra-less... only reason I got back inside was that a neighbor down the street had my spares to feed my cat when I was out of town...)

Here's how I stopped all that...

- Stop carrying so many disparate items.

I'll get to the sunglasses in a minute. But for keys and wallets? I paired down the number of keys I needed to carry - if they fit inside the change section inside my clutch-size wallet (possible when I did not own a car) PERFECT.

When I carry a handbag, I assume everything is in there, which is often not true. But if my HABIT is to carry my keys/wallet/phone in one hand, the hand feels "empty" when an item is missing. I haven't lost wallet or keys in over 18 years since I started this. I lost the phone only once on the last 15 years since phones have been common to carry.

- Having a certain "check three items in hand" helped me develop a sound habit of checking for them whenever I leave a spot. No relying on bags or what may or not be in them.



You did not mention these, but I surmise you lose them regularly, too.

I wear mine on my head, usually. Now, I never buy a pair over $20 in value (after losing MANY in the $100+ range.) I'm an expert at searching out inexpensive glasses with quality frames and lenses. I've lost fewer less-expensive frames over the years than expensive ones, since I switched price-points. Make of that what you will.

Develop a habit of keeping everything you need in one hand. Your sensory memory + behaviorial habit will make it impossible to exit any situation/place without checking what is in your hand.

That's what works for me. This was a real problem for me back in the day!
posted by jbenben at 7:34 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

You just need to brainwash yourself to always be mindful of where your stuff is. After an expensive spate of "Oh, where's my sunglasses?" and "Oh, where's my wallet?" I now never leave a place - any place, including other people's houses, restaurant tables, trains, cars - without looking to see what I left behind. This was easier for me than remembering specific items, but anyone can see if they've left their sunglasses/keys/phone if they just get into the habit of looking where they were. Seconding the advice with songs, lists, and places for everything. It's just a new habit you need to create.
posted by thylacinthine at 7:34 PM on February 21, 2012

In dire circumstances, I set my phone so that the alarm goes off every hour or two. Either the noise will help me find it again, or I will have just enough social anxiety about it going off in front of other people when I'm not there, it motivates me to keep an eye on it.
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:39 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


...Came back to some great answers and my cat sitting on the keyboard. She says hi, apparently, or just "TGGGGG, etc."

Thanks everyone, a lot of options for me here!
posted by DeltaForce at 7:57 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

There was an article in the Times this weekend (also the subject of an FPP the other day, I think), that was mostly about companies using creepy data mining techniques. But it also had a fascinating explanation about how we create habits:
The process within our brains that creates habits is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward — becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges.
In your case, you want to create a new cue/routine/reward loop that will let you automate your key and wallet issue, rather than screwing it up in new and exciting ways every day.

Personally, I deal with this with an ironclad routine. I'm a guy, so I'm always wearing pants with pockets; keys, wallet, and phone all have their locations and every time I stand up or move around I do an instant pat-down routine to check that they are there. If anything is missing, I don't have to look far, because I check frequently. Patting your pockets doesn't work if your clothes sometimes have pockets and sometimes don't, but having routines about what you carry in your purse, checking that at intervals, etc, will work. The real key is what the article describes: creating a process that becomes automatic, rather than something you have to think about. Automatic things just plain happen; things you have to think about get forgotten.
posted by Forktine at 8:09 PM on February 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

Train yourself to feel naked without them. Before exiting any room/building, check for your keys, wallet, sunglasses.
posted by k8t at 8:43 PM on February 21, 2012

What works for me:

1. Establish a place for everything at all major stopping places. For example, when I had a car, there was only one place in the car that I was allowed to place my iPhone. In the office, the distance-vision glasses go on top of the computer and nowhere else.

2. When you leave a place, look back at where you were. For example, look back at the restaurant table and chair before you walk away. In my car, I would look at the designated iPhone spot as I got out. Hey, look, an iPhone!

3. Do the purse version of the pat-down every time you're leaving somewhere. Give each item a designated pocket or spot in your purse. Quickly pat each place to make sure its inhabitant is in place before you leave.
posted by ceiba at 8:43 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

On my bookbag, which is constantly attached to my person, the keys are attached to a clip that hangs between the pocket where I keep my phone and the pocket where I keep my wallet. The keys, phone, and wallet live only there unless I am actively using one of them. Whenever I move (not just leave the house or work, but anytime I shift my bookbag weight), I instinctively check that they're still there. It only takes one hand because they all live so close together.

I should note that I haven't lost anything since I was 9 years old. The system works.
posted by phunniemee at 8:54 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Similar issue here. Wallets and purses just do not work for me, except as a special occasion thing when I need to look polished. The only thing that keeps me functioning properly on a day-to-day basis is bundling the necessary items.

I have a $1 bus pass holder that contains my pass, my debit card, my license, my work badge (hooked to a retractable clip), and my house key. All the vital things, without which I could literally not do anything other than stroll around my neighborhood- even the act of closing the front door is a reminder for me to check if it's with me. Every morning on the way out, I clip it to my shirt like a five year old's mittens, because I know if it is not physically attached to me, it will wander off at some point. At night, I clip it to my coat.

My secondary bundle, a cell phone case that also contains less-urgent cards like my health insurance card and membership cards, lives in my coat pocket. I have my phone charger arranged so that I can charge my cell while it is in my coat pocket, and the coat hangs close enough to my bed that the cell alarm functions as my wakeup alarm. Since putting all of this together a few years ago, I have only forgotten my cell bundle twice, and have never forgotten or misplaced my keys.
posted by notquitemaryann at 8:55 PM on February 21, 2012

I'm a chronic misplacer, but I got much better after I put my keys on a carabiner, and always clip them to a very visible desk drawer handle. I know immediately with a quick glance if they're not where they should be.

I also do the "pat down", for keys-wallet-phone. Phone goes into the front pocket of my 5.11 Tactical Pants.

Failing that, I recommend an awesome spouse.
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:16 PM on February 21, 2012

I got locked out in college a lot - we had large heavy dorm room doors that swung shut and locked automatically so that you couldn't ever open it without a key. It stopped when I painted a large sign saying WHERE ARE YOUR KEYS in bright eyesearing colors and hung it on the door where it was impossible to not see on the way out.
posted by casarkos at 10:56 PM on February 21, 2012

Move somewhere cold! I never lose stuff in the winter because everything is in my jacket pocket. I spend all summer, however, looking for my phone.

The key hook works for me and I have a good purse that has cut way down on my leaving things. It's big enough to fit those netflix envelopes and my lunch, as well as my day to day stuff.
posted by fshgrl at 11:41 PM on February 21, 2012

I am messy and disorganised too but I rarely forget my keys and phone - although I forgot my keys today!

I accomplish this by placing keys and phone in the same place everyday. In my case on the table by the front door. Grabbing them on the way out becomes a function of my "lizard brain" in the same way that, you know, you don't think about wearing shoes to go out, you automatically put them on. I have a routine when I go out. Shoes, coat, keys, phone, out.

Today I forgot my keys because that routine got disrupted - I got distracted and had to go and attend to something. But 99% of the time that routine does not get disrupted and I do it all on autopilot.

So my advice to you is (1) keep them in the same place; (2) have a routine of which they are an integral part. Sure, you'll have to think about it the first couple of times but after that it'll become habit.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:25 AM on February 22, 2012

I don't think you need to look for deep reasons for this. This happens to a lot of brilliant people.

The answer is this: everything lives on the same hook, except for your phone, which lives on you, and charges by your bed when you sleep.

Wallet? In the purse. Purse? On the hook by the door. Work badge? On the hook by the door.

The routine that works for me is: when I come in the house, after I lock the door behind me, immediately next to the door is a hook where my keys live. Next to that is the hook where my purse/badge live. The phone lives in my pocket. When I lie down in bed, it goes on the charger. When I get up from bed, even if it's to get a snack, it goes with me or on something I cannot avoid.

Thus, wakeup, lay out clothes, put phone on clothes, shower, get dressed, get phone, put it in pocket. When leaving, grab keys and purse.

If need be, repeating "the hook is where the keys live" can be helpful, as then the "where do the keys live?" Can easily call it back.
posted by corb at 4:19 AM on February 22, 2012

Urban Outfitters to the rescue!
posted by theraflu at 4:29 AM on February 22, 2012

I solved this (largely) with a zip pouch. (There are like a million designs.) Money and cards go in the pouch, replacing a wallet. Keys are permanently attached to the pouch. Phone also goes IN THE POUCH. The pouch may or may not go into a purse; I also attached a wrist fob, so when I am just running out for coffee or whatever, I just hook it to my wrist. If it doesn't weigh enough, because my phone isn't in it, I now notice that.

This system worked well until I broke it with a card holder in an attempt to tidy my pouch and make it more grownup. I was constantly leaving the card holder outside the pouch and forgetting it places. Total fail. "No more card holder" fixed this again.

You absolutely 100% need to learn and repeat, many times a day, the "keys, money, phone" mantra. Repetition at a really juvenile level is required here.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:50 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a Tom Bihn bag with little rings to clip my wallet and keys to, and a pocket for my phone. Doesn't much help if I move my wallet and keys to another purse, but for everyday use it's great.

At home, keep your phone plugged in, either to your computer or a designated wall outlet. Also consider using your phone as an alarm clock if you don't already, so you know where it is the moment you wake up.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:34 AM on February 22, 2012

I have the "drawer by the door." It has a desk organizer thingy in it, and the phone charger cord threaded through from the back. The second I walk in, everything goes in. When I get ready to go, the last thing I do is open the drawer and load everything up.

Otherwise, I would find my keys in the refrigerator, right where I left them. Next to my glasses.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:38 AM on February 22, 2012

How about just going retro and putting it all in a fanny pack that stays around your waist at all times- except when you're in bed or in the shower? Let's start a new fad.
posted by mareli at 6:13 AM on February 22, 2012

decathecting, please, share the song? an mp3 would be even more awesome! Many lost-key people will thank you and sing hosannas to your name!
posted by canine epigram at 6:47 AM on February 22, 2012

I bought a CLEAR zip pouch, so that I can see what's inside it without opening. Here's one from Timbuk2 (clear on one side) and one from Tom Bihn. They're both amazing quality and have changed my bag organization!
posted by barnone at 8:02 AM on February 22, 2012

canine epigram, it's literally just a list of 8-10 things I have to take with me when I go out, set to music. You have to make up your own song for your own stuff. You have different stuff than I do, so my song wouldn't work for you.
posted by decathecting at 8:06 AM on February 22, 2012

Cehenever I close a door (house or car) I reflexively do the pat down. Strip your wallet down to only the essentials that you need every day.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:19 AM on February 22, 2012

In addition to what everybody else is saying, all of which helps a lot, is this mantra for when you're out and about:


At a restaurant? Don't put your phone on the table on the table because that table doesn't belong to you.

At your friend's place? Don't lay your keys on their kitchen counter because that counter doesn't belong to you.

Good luck!
posted by functionequalsform at 9:08 AM on February 22, 2012

I'm dyspraxic and have lost more things than I own, probably. As far as routine goes, I have to see things to remember them - if my deodorant is in a drawer rather than out on the dresser, I forget to put it on. So here's what I do:

Phone - encased in bright green rubber case. This also helps when I drop it, as happens frequently.

Keys/travelcard - again, both are in bright colours so I'm less likely to put down and forget. I keep these in my coat pocket, rather than my jeans. I still forget and leave them on my desk when I wear a dress (we need keys to get in and out of the office) but I make sure they live in my coat pocket, so they're there in the morning when I put it on.

Wallet - bright colours apply again here. (It does annoy me that if you want to buy tech things that aren't black, as I do to avoid losing them, they only seem to come in pink. Grrr.) I do have a habit of putting it in other bags if I go shopping on the way home, but I try and keep it in my handbag. I only ever use one handbag at once, though, which might be the key here. When I went overseas recently and was paranoid about pickpocketing or losing things, I bought a small slim wallet which just about fitted a credit card and some cash, and I kept this in my pocket on the grounds that I'd notice if someone tried to snatch it - but this might also work in terms of keeping it on your person all the time.
posted by mippy at 9:58 AM on February 22, 2012

I like to carry a big purse because I like to always have a book and a bottle of water. But everything else I carry lives in it's own spot — both in my purse and out of it. My wallet is a very old Fossil wristlet that is big enough for all my cards and cash, my iPhone and a tube of lip gloss. My keychain is a carabiner which I can clip to the wristlet if I'm somewhere where I don't want to carry the giant purse.

Everything in my life has a home. Everything.

A lot of people have recommended setting up a "staging area," usually by your front door. Leave things there the minute you get home, pick them back up when you're ready to leave again. Unclutter calls it a landing strip.
posted by Brittanie at 3:26 PM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

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