I lose everything and I need to stop!
June 9, 2014 2:40 PM   Subscribe

Not sure how to express this problem. I've had this as long as I have lived. Basically, I am little absentminded and lose track of where things (like wallet, phone, keys) are really easily. It hasn't been too bad until recently.

Lately, it's been getting a lot worse. My problem is that I when I lose stuff, I have been paying the price for it. For example, I somehow lost my keys and had to leave my car and then it was towed. That was two weeks ago. Then I lost my badge. Then this morning I lost my license on my way somewhere and I happened on of ALL DAYS get pulled over by a cop. And he likely charged me a lot of money. The thing is I lose my things in places where I shouldn't -- like my apartment, car, etc.

I have been diagnosed with short term memory loss. I think that is part of the issue. I just don't really think all the time - like I left my keys in the ignition when I was leaving my car (but turned off). My dad is exactly the same in losing stuff all the time so I suspect it's a larger issue. I lose things regularly, at least once a month, and at it's peak three times a month.

I guess my question is -- is this normal? Second, are there specific things I can to do NOT lose my stuff? My dream would be have some of kind GPS tracker on everything. I also want to know if there are mental exercises or habits I should force myself into.
posted by pando11 to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I guess my question is -- is this normal?

Well, if you've "have been diagnosed with short term memory loss" then no, it probably isn't normal, but rather symptomatic of the short term memory loss. Tips or exercises we could give you might not be at all responsive to the cause of your memory loss and therefore, not helpful.

Did you want to provide some more information about this diagnosis? It seems fairly central to the problem.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:45 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

This little tag/app combo, Tile, could help when it comes out in the fall. But it's really helpful to have a routine and a designated spot for everything. Once those things become engrained habits, "not thinking" isn't as much of an issue because you do the right thing even when in autopilot mode. Get home, put keys on special designated key hook. Wallet and phone go in designated basket. License stays in your wallet, always. And so on.
posted by karbonokapi at 2:55 PM on June 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

You need to develop habits and stick to them. Always put your wallet in exactly the same place. Always put your keys in the same pocket (or spot in purse, if you use a purse), and frequently check that they're there. That sort of thing.

There is this new bit of technology that might help but crucially, it depends on you having an iPhone. So you can't lose your phone.
posted by adamrice at 2:56 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

You really need to talk to a neurologist sooner rather than later. Leaving your keys in your car and walking off isn't losing them, it's an inability to complete a task.

There are occupational therapists trained in brain injury and memory care, and you probably need to be working with one of them to set up a system of exercises and workflows to help with this.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:56 PM on June 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

I have this problem, and it is linked to my ADD/ADHD. I'm reading the very cheesily named book "Your Life Can Be Better," written by someone with similar challenges, and it is full of helpful strategies that may seem absurd to people who don't struggle with losing things and with poor short-term memory, but that have been very helpful for me.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:56 PM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Get one of those over-the-door shoe organizers, (the kind with clear pockets). Label each pocket clearly, "wallet", "keys", and so on. Hang it somewhere you can't avoid seeing it (on the inside of your front door, or the outside of your front hall closet, maybe. This is the super-organized version of having a catch-all dish on the table in the front hall.

There are also apps designed to help people with short-term memory loss stay organized (and avoid leaving a cake in the oven, etc.).

You can also go old-school with post-it notes. Carry them with you, write yourself a reminder (include the date and time) and put it where you need it.

Also, if this issue has worsened significantly, it'd be a really good idea to make an appointment with your doctor to rule out any possible changes.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 2:57 PM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Second, are there specific things I can to do NOT lose my stuff?

Do you carry a bag or purse? If you don't, start, that will help.

You need a small table by your front door, and on that small table you need a basket. Into that basket you will put your keys and your wallet EVERY time you come home. Where are my keys? They are in the basket where the keys go. Where is my wallet? It is in the basket with the keys. DO NOT PUT ANYTHING ELSE IN THIS BASKET. THIS BASKET IS ONLY FOR YOUR KEYS AND YOUR WALLET.

How did you lose your license? Your license should always be in your wallet. Don't ever put a credit card or your license anywhere except for your wallet. Don't ever put your wallet anywhere except on your person or in your basket.

Every time you leave the house, do a check. Phone, wallet, keys. Phone, wallet, keys. Every time you leave anywhere do a check. Phone, wallet, keys. Always be checking. Go in to use a public restroom? Before you leave the restroom, check: phone, wallet, keys. Sit down for brunch? Before you leave, check: phone, wallet, keys. Drive your car to the store? Before you get out of the car, check: phone, wallet, keys.

This sounds incredibly tedious, but this is what I do, and it has just become automatic. I am always checking (and checking means confirmation with line-of-sight AND touch, don't just pat your pocket) for phone, wallet, keys. (For me, "wallet" includes also checking my public transit card and "keys" also includes checking my building pass for work.)

Once you get into the habit, it will be much easier. The hard part is getting into the habit of it. Leave yourself signs around your house and your office. Maybe put a post it note on the bathroom mirror ARE YOUR KEYS AND WALLET IN THE BASKET? And on the fridge ARE YOUR KEYS AND WALLET IN THE BASKET? And one on the door you use to exit your home PHONE, WALLET, KEYS. And one on your steering wheel PHONE WALLET KEYS.

I used to "lose" my keys 50 times a day. Now I never lose my keys.

There are also these things.
posted by phunniemee at 2:57 PM on June 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

Second, are there specific things I can to do NOT lose my stuff?...I also want to know if there are mental exercises or habits I should force myself into.

To answer this generally, without knowing the specifics of your memory loss: yes and yes. The main thing is consistency. The ONLY place you EVER put your keys in your apartment is (e.g.) the hook by the door. The ONLY place you EVER put your keys when you're out is (e.g.) in your right pocket. This way, you may forget what you did with your keys, you may not actually recall putting them anywhere, but you know there are only three places to look (hook, pocket, or ignition) because those are the only places your keys EVER get to go. Basically, regular habits and organization. I don't have your same issue with memory but I have a terrible memory, and I'm often trying to do five things at once. I never remember having locked my front door, but it's always locked, because I lock it every freaking time. Even when I go downstairs for one minute to grab my mail. I'll never remember if I did it that day, but I remember that in every apartment I've ever had, I always do it, every time, and I always will. Which is a different type of memory.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:58 PM on June 9, 2014

Leaving systematic issues aside, KeyBak make the best retractable key cables.
posted by zamboni at 2:59 PM on June 9, 2014

I used to be like you. I'm not qualified to determine whether this is symptomatic of a deeper issue, but for me at least it was controllable through a few techniques. I still occasionally lose or forget things, but more like once a year rather than once a month.

First, develop a standard system for carrying around your stuff. For example, I have three bags I use regularly - my work bag, my backpack and a small handbag. During the week I use my work bag exclusively. I know that I will place my wallet, keys and phone in the front pocket of that purse. If possible, be even more precise. I know exactly where my wallet, purse and keys will be when using my other two bags as well.

Second, start a routine of checking for these important items before you leave anywhere. For example, when I leave for work, I check for these three items in the front pocket of my work bag. Only then do I close my front door. This ensures that I am not locked out and that I have a conscious memory of locking my door.

Third, resist all attempts to deviate from these routines. If you're the kind of person who uses several different bags, modularize! For example, my mom uses many purses but throws the same small purse and makeup bag into any large purse she uses. Be consistent about where you put your stuff. Reduce the number of separate items you have to worry about.

Fourth, return items to your predesignated place as soon as you're done using it. For example, I return my house keys to the front pocket of my work bag as soon as I open my front door. It is literally the first thing I do when I walk in the door.

Fifth, be extremely wary when circumstances require you to change your routines. This is usually when things are forgotten. In such circumstances, keep a mental list of the stuff you need to keep track of, and physically check that it's where you expect it to be.

This is all a non-trivial amount of work, but if you're not naturally organized, it will really help you keep track of your stuff.
posted by peacheater at 3:03 PM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have always had a mild version of this that I try to make light of with people but it really can be weirdly lonely, stressful, timewasting and costly. Was going to suggest the key hook that has been the biggest help I've come up with. Few other things - always leave a copy of key with neighbour.

Think about having a file with photocopies of your imporatnt document stuff or scanning them onto your computer.

I have an 'important' box where I shove a load of shit (no!.. bad attitude - un-shit).
Try not to swap coats and bags too much or always carry your phone and keys in you pocket (I like to have those bits on my person).
Use calendars - I'm old school so have a paper one).

This sounds extreme and I've never done it but what I've been curious to do is FILM MY MOVEMENTS ONE NIGHT! Cos.. what the hell do I do? How can you have something one minute and then just not have it?! I get curious.

You might also notice that though you lose a certain thing actually it's often the sane place your putting it (or out of 3 or 4 places) but you still never remember.

Isn't this something to do with being creative and left (?) brained.. I never totally hit it off with those rigid very organised types and they seem to assume I lack intelligence.
posted by tanktop at 3:05 PM on June 9, 2014

Elaborating on my comments above: I don't know if you have undiagnosed ADD/ADHD or not, and I suggest you seek out professional guidance if you think it's possible, but your challenges sound a lot like the challenges that I associate with my own ADD. If this is your situation, many of the suggestions here by people without ADD/ADHD experience may not be very helpful. Developing a system will only work if you can remember to USE the system.

The book I recommend above ("Your Life Can Be Better") talks about the importance of developing and fully internalizing habits that help you overcome your habitual challenges. For example, I never EVER close a door that has a lock on it unless I am holding the key that will unlock that door IN MY HAND. I can't be looking at the key. I can't be holding something that touches the key. I can't be certain that the key is in my pocket or my purse. I've locked myself out of my car in Death Valley on the hottest day of the year because I thought looking at the key was enough, and there it was, right in front of me, stuck in the ignition when I shut the door. I locked myself out of my car in a snowstorm in Virginia because I remembered putting the key in my purse and I was positive it was still there -- but it had fallen under the seat. I locked myself out of my house in Oregon because I was holding a very long keychain rope with my key on the end, and I didn't notice that the key was on the wrong side of the door as I pulled it shut behind me. MY RULE: NEVER GO THROUGH A DOOR UNLESS YOU ARE HOLDING THEY KEY THAT WILL OPEN IT.

People with ADD/ADHD tend to act so fast that they skip steps, and coupling this tendency with poor short-term memory (a trait associated with this diagnosis) is a recipe for disaster. Deciding to develop a habit that is a rule can be an effective way to train yourself to put on the breaks before you make a mistake that you've made repeatedly in the past. I think of it as being like a religious ritual or ceremony, almost. To go through a door without pausing to feel the keys that will unlock that door is a violation of my principles, a deed I dare not engage in.

Now that I've mastered that one, I'm working on a new goal: DO NOT PUT DOWN THE PHONE OR THE WALLET UNLESS THEY ARE IN A SECURE LOCATION. EVER. I've always lost my wallet and phone a few times a year, but after losing both repeatedly this spring it's become clear that I need to tackle the situation.

Seeking help for my challenges - which include losing things and forgetting things, but also poor time-management and weak organizational abilities - introduced me to a world of gurus offering guidance that seemed both logical and completely irrelevant to my own situation.

Seeing that tips and tricks that work well for most people DO NOT work for me was the first step in getting a diagnosis when I was a 30-something adult. I have mixed feelings about ADD/ADHD as a "disorder," but it has been a very helpful paradigm through which to try to improve my life.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:13 PM on June 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have been diagnosed with short term memory loss. I think that is part of the issue.

Yes, that. In addition to the good develop-a-habit advice above, talk to your doc about seeing an occupational therapist who works with people with your diagnosis. It's unlikely in the extreme that you will have to reinvent the wheel.
posted by rtha at 3:24 PM on June 9, 2014

You can get reels for keys and badges.
posted by yohko at 3:28 PM on June 9, 2014

You might be able to get key rings you can whistle too still (they beep back at you).
posted by tanktop at 3:35 PM on June 9, 2014

My solution for this is to have a specific place that I ALWAYS put these things. I can't lose my keys, because they are always in the same pocket of my purse. I can't lose my phone because it is always in the back right pocket of my pants, or in the same spot on my desk at work, or on my nightstand. Etc. Even within my house, I tend to have particular places for these items.

And also, things like my drivers license or work ID badge, I just never ever take them out of their usual spot. License is in wallet. Wallet is in my purse unless I am in the act of paying for something or showing someone my license. Period. My work badge is in my laptop case unless I am actively going through reception. Period. Etc. They never get lost because they never go anywhere.
posted by Sara C. at 4:06 PM on June 9, 2014

I have my keys on a rightly-colored lanyard; it makes them more visible. I've trained myself to go through mental checklists. Before I leave the house - Laptop? Wallet? Mobile? Glasses? Meds? to make sure I have the things I need and have taken medications. I have only 1 set of keys for my car, so I try really hard to leave them in the dish next to the back door or in my purse. But they still end up in the pocket of a jacket or whatever. Things that help: recognizing that memory and misplacing things is a big problem and that I won't remember, saying things out loud when I need to mark them in my memory.
posted by theora55 at 4:39 PM on June 9, 2014

I've had the same issue my entire life. I'm pretty sure the reason is that I allocate a much lower % of my brain to monitoring myself and my surroundings. I'm still kinda young (early 20s), but I work in academic research and am going into academy. I mention that because I devote almost all my brain power all the time to thinking about various academic issues/math/theories, and lose shit all the time. This morning I spent 15 minutes looking for my headphones, then walked to the bus stop and didn't have my headphones on me and spent another 15 minutes tracing my steps (to no luck). I lost my work badge twice in six months, and lost my wallet a few months ago.

I really hate being like this, and in fact I used to really hate myself for this stuff. Just really deep self-loathing. I don't really seem to be able to get a hold on myself, but I've just started forgiving and accepting myself. If I lose my wallet it's not "Oh jjmoney you're f***ing worthless, get it together, what is wrong with me???" it is "Oh well, this is just what I am like. As much as I hate it, this is who I am, and I'm not going to hate myself for this, because overall I'm a pretty cool guy. Time to call and cancel my credit cards..."
posted by jjmoney at 4:41 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

also, when life is very stressful, this gets a lot worse for me, and reducing stress is critical to resolving it.
posted by theora55 at 4:51 PM on June 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am like this, and I'm not diagnosed with anything, as far as I know. I lose things, lock myself out of my car, leave cellphones in stores, forget my keys, and can't find my ID or registration or whatnot more than anyone I know. The only way I have been able to manage this issue has been through extremely strict and extremely consistent ritual for every item on the "frequently-lost" or "frequently-forgotten" category. Hook for keys by the door, and special pocket in purse for them. Only one purse at a time with everything sorted. Specific routines for door locking. Lots of individual ideas upthread. I literally will write a note in my phone to tell myself the aisle/side of the mall/etc that I parked on, which seems ridiculous to most people but after hundreds of hours of life spent wandering parking lots in the past it's a small price to pay. I still forget things occasionally, but it's much much less frequent when I have a system in place.
posted by celtalitha at 5:12 PM on June 9, 2014

(For me it isn't once a month but more like several times a day that I lose something, at bad times, greatly exacerbated by periods of high stress and anxiety.)
posted by celtalitha at 5:15 PM on June 9, 2014

I tend to put my keys and wallet in my everyday shoes. When I come home, shoes go off and pockets get emptied into them. Minus any receipts, etc. When it's time to leave, I have to refill my pockets with those things in order to put my shoes on.
posted by K.P. at 5:39 PM on June 9, 2014

Muscle memory: same stuff in the same place every single day.
posted by jpe at 6:08 PM on June 9, 2014

I used to kinda do this a lot. I'd have to walk around the place every morning trying to find my wallet/security pass/car keys/cigarettes/lighter, etc. Then I got a little table just inside my front door. So all that day-to-day stuff get's dumped there as soon as I walk in the door home from work, then I know where it all is the next morning. It's simple, and may not help your specific situation, but it works for me.

I also have a small carboard box where I put all my important but not used day-to-day stuff, like spare keys, torch, screwdrivers, various paperwork, etc, and this sits on top of my refrigerator.

So I guess my point is, have one or two places where you put your STUFF, and try to stick to it.
posted by Diag at 2:53 AM on June 10, 2014

Nthing places for stuff, particularly keys, wallet, glasses. Make the place visible: I use a big red bowl. Also making your stuff more visible, for example, attach a brightly colored key chain, not only to keys, but also to your wallet.

Also, it may not be (or may only partly be) a memory issue, and is just as likely to be an attention/distraction issue.

But perhaps most importantly, DON'T PANIC. Develop the coping mechanisms that work for you, and other than that, resign yourself to being one of us, what I like to call a "reverse kleptomaniac" because we compulsively put stuff down in random places. It may not be "normal", but it's pretty common, and not the worst quirk to have.
posted by sarahkeebs at 8:55 AM on June 10, 2014

Good Morning! I am forgetful, as well. I, too, have concerns about my short term memory. I see a psychiatrist on a regular basis for other conditions. At this point, he thinks the issue is more age-related than anything else and doesn't see the need for meds or testing at this time. I trust him implicitly. What I do to help myself is this: I take notes and make lists; that helps me more than anything. When I leave the house I say OUT LOUD, "oven is off!", "patio door is locked!", "front door is locked!". I have my husband a little paranoid now. When he leaves the house he says out loud, "Garage door is shut!", and if he forgets to say it, he ends up driving back home to double check. My mother has severe dementia and recently moved to an assisted living facility. There are meds that help. If you don't already have one, I would find a good psychiatrist who specializes in memory loss and take it from there.
posted by htm at 9:30 AM on June 10, 2014

Hi, I too have had a bad short term memory all my life & like many of the other posters here cope with this by having a set place for everything. But the mental trick I have that really helps me is a rule I have for myself - I am not allowed to put the thing down anywhere except in its place. Therefore if, for some reason I can't put my keys back in their set pocket on the inside of my one handbag, I must hold them in my hand until I can put them in the right place. I must not put them down anywhere else, even for a moment, even if it would be much more convenient, because them I will have to remember where that place is. And I also agree with everyone else about simplicity & consistency. I only have one handbag. I only have one place inside my home where I put that handbag. I have one place in the office where I put my handbag etc. This actually works very well for me - I almost never lose anything important, unlike most other people I know!
posted by cantthinkofagoodname at 4:37 AM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older How can I stop looking at websites that just make...   |   Help me find a memorial poem my mom and I both... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.