I Lose Stuff When the Least Bit Sleep Deprived
May 1, 2019 10:49 AM   Subscribe

If I sleep even an hour less than normal, I lose stuff...especially while traveling (e.g. red-eye flights). Most often my phone, but also jackets, umbrellas, luggage, etc. Having learned to expect it, I endlessly repeat the mantra "don't lose anything!", but to no avail ("remembering not to forget" is an oxymoron). Any suggestions?

Coffee makes it worse (leaves me jittery). Also, I am strangely energetic and clear-headed even when very sleep deprived. I just lose all multi-threading. Something occupies my attention, and possession consciousness drops utterly.
posted by Quisp Lover to Grab Bag (75 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Travel: Keep a checklist of your stuff on your phone, and make it a habit to review the list as you're exiting airplanes and airports. If you do forget something (including said phone), you won't be too far away to retrieve it.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:57 AM on May 1, 2019

Make a jingle and hum it whenever you leave a place (plane, hotel room, restaurant etc). Re-use a classic tune or make your own, include your most important stuff like phone, wallet, keys etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:02 AM on May 1, 2019

Frequently updating and checking a checklist requires remembering to do so. And you can't use remembering to forestall forgetting!

Also, when I, for example, set my phone briefly in my lap at a boarding gate as I fish something out of a bag, and phone falls to the floor (and stays there), consulting a checklist 30 mins later won't help much. Plus, a checklist of every item in every pocket and bag would be impractical to maintain and check.
posted by Quisp Lover at 11:10 AM on May 1, 2019

You can tether a phone case to your bag, as one would tether keys. It will be somewhat inconvenient, but if you're rejecting other options...
posted by praemunire at 11:14 AM on May 1, 2019 [8 favorites]

My current amazing idea that I haven't put into practice yet is, wait for it, laminated luggage tags with the must-have checklist! For example, my <7>
✓Medication for entire stay
✓Glasses case and glasses
✓Charger cord and brick
✓Power brick

And I'm picturing this as a card in or a tag on my backpack so I can check it every time.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:16 AM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Amphetamines and other stimulants are the main answer although perhaps not suitable for your purposes.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:17 AM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I try to always keep things attached to me or in something that I'm not likely to forget. For example, I only put my phone in my pocket when it is not in my hand. I don't set it on a table or somewhere that I might leave it. Glasses or sunglasses go on my body or in a bag.
posted by bruinfan at 11:17 AM on May 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

Make a new mantra instead of don't lose anything. Eg i have my phone, jacket, glasses, hat and key with me. Or whatever rhyme works for you. No negative phrases. Repeat as you exit the plane etc. I do this and works.
posted by 15L06 at 11:23 AM on May 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

Routine is the only thing that works for me when traveling - have a pocket or bag for everything that will ever need to be taken out, and never put anything anywhere else, even temporarily.

Nothing's going to help you if you drop something and don't notice its gone. Important things (phone, wallet, keys, passport) stay on my person, in the same pockets every time. It becomes really obvious when something isn't there.
posted by Jobst at 11:23 AM on May 1, 2019 [15 favorites]

You should also maybe considering getting a sleep study, especially if you snore...I only get this kind of memory problem when I'm multiple days down on multiple hours of sleep. (Like, I've only been getting 5 hours for multiple weeks on end.) This problem may indicate that your sleep quality is very poor overall.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:26 AM on May 1, 2019 [10 favorites]

I lose stuff when traveling too. I mitigate it (like other posters) by keeping everything contained if it's not in my hand. Phone never goes on a table, wallet never goes on a counter, even for a second, it's either in my hand or back in my purse.

If not your bag, keep things contained in one area. Anything that gets taken out at a hotel room has to live on one tabletop, anything that gets taken out during a fight has to live in the seat pocket.

Once that's set, keep track of big items. When I have my backpack and my duffel, I know I can't leave anywhere until I have two things with me.
posted by EmilyFlew at 11:27 AM on May 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

"Don't lose anything" is useless because there is no value identified for "anything." Repeating "phone, wallet, keys" would be vastly more useful.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:27 AM on May 1, 2019 [15 favorites]

What helped me with this was developing a strong physical reflex to turn around and look at/around wherever I was sitting before I leave. It’s less asking myself the question “did I leave anything beside/under/on the chair?” and more a habit to direct my gaze to the chair (or wherever I was just sitting) before I walk away.

If I am on a plane or similar I either get out my phone flashlight and look under the seat before I get up or kneel down quickly and look at the floor before I leave. Every time. I try not to put things in the overhead. This is an extension of the “turn and look” reflex— I gave up on asking myself if I forgot anything. I just physically do the search. (Also I have an apple watch so I can make my phone beep if I’m leaving somewhere and wouldn’t otherwise have the energy to dig in my bag or pockets.)

For the record I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. Medication helped some, but it was just as important that it led to me giving myself permission to do whatever was helpful with these things even if “I shouldn’t have to” or it was kind of silly-seeming.

posted by delezzo at 11:30 AM on May 1, 2019 [17 favorites]

Having a routine and a place for everything works for me, for the most part. My phone is in my front left pocket, my wallet & keys, my front right. The umbrella is in my work bag, as is my laptop and all my cords. Before I get up and go anywhere (even if I've just sat down to take a rest), I check pockets and bag (and jacket, if there are things I keep in my jacket) to make sure everything is where it should be. I tend to have more, "I don't feel my phone!!! Oh wait, it's in my hand, I shall now place it in my pocket" events than losing stuff events these days because of my very specific habits of putting things in very specific places every time. It becomes like a muscle memory eventually.
posted by xingcat at 11:36 AM on May 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

I keep a short mental list of 'the most important things', which are different in different situations. Normally out of the house, the most important things are keys, wallet, phone, and possibly bag/jacket/umbrella. When flying, add passport, each piece of luggage, and boarding pass after I've gotten it. Where possible I have a set place for things - pockets, a specific compartment in my bag. That way any time I move from one place to another I can pat myself down and/or look at each item to make sure they're all there. It's a short list, so it's easy to remember and with practice it becomes an automatic habit. (If you can use a consistent style of clothing and fairly consistent collection of luggage it helps make the process more automatic.) Focusing on the most important things somehow helps me stay more organized regarding the smaller things too. Another habit is paranoia: I usually don't leave a place without looking everywhere to make sure there's nothing on the floor/chair/table/wherever. I also try (not always successfully, but fairly so) to only have one thing out at a time: so if I have my phone out but want to look in my bag for something, the phone goes back in its place.

It's basically a combination of habit, consistency, and paranoia. It works pretty well (knock wood). On preview, what the last few comments said!
posted by trig at 11:38 AM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Most of these tips sound great, but require remembering, and remembering is the problem!

Sure, I intend to scan for objects when I change location. But if I suddenly hear a boarding announcement, or experience some other action trigger (especially stressful ones), look-backs are no more high-level memorable than the usual processes that normally keep my possessions possessed.

If my attention is not interrupted, and stress is not activated, sure, I can remember to look back...but there'll be no stray objects to spot because my process wasn't interrupted!
posted by Quisp Lover at 11:38 AM on May 1, 2019

Yes, as a Never-Thing-Loser, it is definitely routine/habit and checking behind me that do all the work. The phone is either in my hand or in its designated pocket. Every time I get off the subway or bus I look back at my seat. Just yesterday spouse stood up to get off the bus and his hat dropped out of his lap and he did not notice; I grabbed it from the floor on my way out. Another time it was his wallet that somehow exited his pocket and was left on the seat. Even if I'm really sure I haven't left anything behind I always, always look.

Of course, the trouble with keeping things in the right place always is that on the rare occasion when the thing has ended up in the wrong place it leads to utter panic. "My bus pass is not in the designated pocket. Therefore it has ceased to exist. I can't get on the bus and search my bag there; it is gone forever. I will let the bus go by. Goodbye, bus. Oh hey found it it was just in the other pocket whoops"
posted by little cow make small moo at 11:40 AM on May 1, 2019 [8 favorites]

This happens to me too. I put my book to read in the pocket of the seat on the plane and then i forget it is there and leave it on the plane. I put a bag in the overhead bin and forget i did so and leave it there. i set my umbrella down on the seat next to me and forget and leave it there. All the time, even when I have had sleep. Have you been screened for ADD/ADHD? Because that's a classic symptom. I solved the problem when traveling with a friend or spouse by asking them to help prompt me to check for things I may have left behind before exiting. When traveling alone I try to prevent the issue by putting things back in my bag as soon as I finish with them...not allow myself to put stuff in the seatback pocket for example.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 11:41 AM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have this (getting worse over time and as technology requires us to carry more shit around like chargers, plugs, batteries, cables) and I see other people in my family struggle with it too when we travel. I see them always showing up to the airport with about 100 small bags and then an assortment of things they just carry lose in their pockets and glom out of there in big handfuls at the security line and watching them juggle all of this stuff just makes me crazy. I'm not saying you do this of course.

Anyway perhaps a better mantra than "don't lose stuff!" is "a place for everything and everything in its place". After having watched my whole family with their many bags of crap I take that as a template of what not to do. I try to take advantage of having full access to my brain while at home and try to pack in such a way that accounts for what I'm going to need so that it's easy to pull out and put back away, and consolidated into fewer bags. Like typically I just always have my phone out so it doesn't typically have a home but at the airport it absolutely does and I have to be religious about where that home is and making sure it goes there and stays there. Maybe another strategy is to try to be mindful (easier said than done, I know) about when you find yourself multitasking and forcing yourself to stop. If you're eating you're eating. If you're walking you're walking. Etc.
posted by bleep at 11:43 AM on May 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Put together a special bag that you always use while traveling. Label specific pockets for the highest-risk/most-lost items (phone being #1) and store the items in the same place every time. Instead of going through a checklist whenever you travel, you just have to do one thing—check the bag. When you leave your house, leave the taxi, leave the plane, leave the hotel, you check the bag at each stop to make sure everything is in its right pocket.
posted by sallybrown at 11:47 AM on May 1, 2019 [8 favorites]

The point of the jingle or mantra is to make it an automatic habit, not something you have to consciously remember. Do it all the time, not just when you think risk is high.

I’m guessing you don’t forget to put on shoes right? It’s a habit. You probably don’t think “make sure to remember to wear shoes!”, it probably just happens. The goal is to leverage this for other things like phones and wallets.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:48 AM on May 1, 2019 [23 favorites]

I lose stuff even when not tired.

Important things are tied to me: crossbody purse does not come off my body, keys are tied to it. If you can't trust yourself not to remember to pick it up, avoid putting it down, eg, I always keep my phone in a purse, in my hand or (in a pinch) in my teeth when travelling. Same for passports and boarding passes.

As for the looking behind: you drill it and drill it until you just don't forget even when tired. I do this when commuting every day, when leaving a cash register, when getting up from a table in a restaurant If anything has come off my body (eg put a travel mug down, taken off my purse), I do a look-behind. It took losing many important things, but this is now an unconscious habit, and it feels weird if I don't do it.

I also work with others: when leaving a plane or bus, my SO and I will designate one of us to double check the seat. We do hotel once-overs, including shaking the sheets and opening all drawers.
posted by jb at 11:49 AM on May 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

More generally (but more difficult), try to slow down. Try to slow down to half speed. Do only one thing at a time. The example you gave of your phone falling off your lap—what are you otherwise doing at that moment where you don’t even notice your phone falling on the ground? Why is your phone on your lap instead of stowed away in its proper place? Take your time and move slowly. If that means planning more time for the airport, etc, so be it.
posted by sallybrown at 11:50 AM on May 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Most of these tips sound great, but require remembering, and remembering is the problem!

I know I maybe sounded like I was joking above but the people I know who work odd/weird hours really do deal with this using amphetamines and related medications. (Adderall, ritalin, provigil, etc.)

The other option is to not travel with anything you can't afford to lose. When I was at my most stressed and sleep-deprived I would travel with a set of clothes and my cell and that was it. Always had my headphones in playing music = always had my phone. Would purchase toiletries at my destination or go without. Only brought one debit/credit card; got a backup gov't photo ID and expected to lose it. This way of traveling is stressful but better than losing nice luggage, laptop, all your credit cards, etc.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:50 AM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you basically need to train yourself not to move without doing your basic search/patdown. It's not about consciously remembering, it's about turning it into an automatic instinct. You have to move to a new gate? You stand up and turn around. You look at and under your chair, run through your important stuff. You're paranoid, so you look again. Then you turn around again to go where you need.

The important part is the instinct to not leave your chair without turning around and actually looking at it and your bags. That's more important than remembering your list. When you're done looking, you take a minute and a breath and ask yourself if there's anything you think you might have forgotten. And then you can move.

You don't mention if you're habitually short on time, but it definitely helps to know you have the time to turn, look, and check. Whether that means scheduling longer layovers, standing in line before your boarding call, or just taking your time getting on and off the plane, you have to make turning and checking the automatic first step in any move you make.
posted by trig at 11:51 AM on May 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Hello, I lose things a decent amount, to the point where I have systems to get around their loss, like a Skype account to make phone calls so I can call my own phone from my computer or call somebody else, or backup credit cards in my backpack separate from the ones in my wallet, or apps on my phone that can buy me a bus ticket in case I forget my wallet in my office and I'm already at the station.

Corded headphones have saved me from losing my phone many a time. The headphones stay on my head or around my neck and the cord stays plugged in. I notice the tug if my phone falls out of my pocket and disconnects or gets dragged along behind me.

People always recommend a wallet on a chain to me but I've never been able to warm to it since a bunch of my clothing doesn't have belt loops, but that's an option.
posted by foxfirefey at 11:52 AM on May 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

Forgiveness to yourself for losing stuff
A fanny pack/bum bag
Looking at seat floor before heading to next place
posted by PistachioRoux at 11:57 AM on May 1, 2019

I do this, and alas even when not tired. I suspect that training yourself to check XYZ items so firmly it becomes subconsciously programmed is the optimal way to go, but I have been trying to train myself to do this for most of my adult life and it's not taken yet.

With travel I have had some success with setting an alarm on my phone, set up at the beginning of the journey and programmed to go off shortly before we should be reaching the destination at a point when I can still act on it. This works bestwith specific items ("Get your coat from overhead rack", "check pocket in front of you for Kindle" etc) but you could also do "Check your frequently-lost-items checklist NOW" and put all the usual culprits on that list.
posted by Catseye at 11:57 AM on May 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Another thing I find helpful is I have a wallet case on my phone so looking around for a wallet is one less thing I have to think about. The case also has a strap so it's easier to hold & less likely to drop, and I can clip it onto things.
posted by bleep at 12:02 PM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

As someone who has left a trail of personal items scattered across three continents now (and without even needing to be sleep deprived...), the only thing I have found that helps even a tiny bit is physically tethering things to other things, and to me. From now on, you have one bag and one suitcase. Everything you need lives in there all the time. Get a second set of everything you need (phone charger, hairbrush, toiletries, whatever) and keep it in your suitcase. When you travel, that stuff has to get laid out the same way in every hotel, every time. I like to keep all my toiletries either still in their bag on a counter, or laid out on a hand towel or washcloth, so that I know everything is in one place when it's time to pack out.

If you need a transit card, put it on a retractable badge holder on the One Bag. Get a case for your phone with a wrist strap. If you are in an airport and need to plug in a laptop AND use your phone at the same time, you put the wrist strap around your wrist, and you loop the laptop cord through the shoulder strap of the One Bag. Only own umbrellas with wrist straps, and stick a plastic bag in the One Bag that is big enough to hold it. If you're on the train, umbrella goes around your wrist. Otherwise, into the bag. Keys go on a keychain that has a designated pocket, or ideally are attached to the bag.

You can either have variety or you can quit replacing your stuff all the time. You'll still probably lose things, but this has kept the losing of the hardest-to-replace or disruptive-to-replace things, like my phone and wallet, to a relative minimum.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 12:03 PM on May 1, 2019 [13 favorites]

When I leave the house, I run through a checklist. It took a short while for this to become habit, but now I seldom have to turn around because I forgot my phone, wallet, coffee, laptop. Women's clothing doesn't have consistent pockets, but I make an effort for my phone to go in the inside pocket of my bag or in a small cross-body bag I wear as a substitute pocket.

For traveling, write a checklist, put it on the back of your phone and practice it. If you have to, go to a train station and practice, or at least some place less familiar than home; memory can be tied to location. I seldom do my checklist when I leave a cafe, just leaving home or work.

Being a person who is easily distracted, I make sure my baggage, phone, etc., are labeled with my 2ndary email, Google Voice # and "reward". My travel charger has red tape on it, and a red cable. I should put some tape on my phone case to make it stand out more. I didn't find one in blaze orange. And use an app, enable Find My phone because stuff happens. I had a phone fall out of my pocket as I walked in to work. Someone found it, left a message with the most recent caller, and I was never able to recover the phone.

Just looked at phone cases on ebay, and I may mount magnets in my large-ish wallet and keep the phone there. I have a magnetic mount in the car, and a metal piece in the phone case. Very strong, small magnets(neodymium) are cheap and effective.

I lose my keys much less often since I added a loop of blaze orange cord to the keyring. I can't be that bad; I've had the keyring since college.
posted by theora55 at 12:04 PM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Focus on the bigger picture: prioritize your sleep needs. Pay extra for the day flight, etc.
posted by gyusan at 12:05 PM on May 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh, and my spouse, who is male and not as committed to the Bag Lady lifestyle as me but still loses things (seriously, the two of us lost a car for a whole weekend once) keeps things in the same pockets always and pats himself down every time he stands up for phone, keys and wallet. Always. He also keeps his keys on a long-ass lanyard so that he can feel more easily if they aren't there, and has something to fidget with.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 12:05 PM on May 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

So I deal with this the way most other folks do (primarily by compulsively looking around/checking for my stuff every time I move to a different place, plus having a place for each thing; my things are in my hands or my bag or pockets at all times - I NEVER put down my phone, wallet or keys down on a surface anywhere that is not in my own home.) But I have a different suggestion for you:

Big Weird Blingy Traveling Ring.

It should be on your dominant hand, on whatever finger it will annoy you the most, especially if you don't wear jewelry. You could write on your hands in a pinch, I do that too. But a Big Weird Blingy Traveling Ring (or bracelet, if jingly and obnoxious, or scrunchie on your wrist, or whatever accessory will constantly obtrude itself on your consciousness in an unmistakable way, this is a concept more than a specific piece of jewelry,) especially if you don't wear this type of accessory ever, will help you remember to remember. Every time you hear an announcement and go to grab your bag, you should notice the flash or weird feeling of wearing this big dumb ring or bracelet and it should remind you to CHECK FOR YOUR STUFF.

This is the same concept as tying a ribbon around your finger. You want to wear the BWBTR just long enough that you don't get used it, but often enough that the habit becomes ingrained even when you're not wearing it. Good luck!
posted by prewar lemonade at 12:09 PM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also, you can consider a Tile system and train yourself to use it regularly. I'd like one that would make a sound if I got more than 5 feet from my phone while traveling, srsly. Train station & airport lost&found must be full of phones.
posted by theora55 at 12:09 PM on May 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

You could drastically minimize what you carry. Can you get by with your phone and one small bag. You don't need to bring toiletries if the hotel has them, clothes can often be worn a couple of times before washing so you really don't need to pack much more than a couple fresh shirts, undergarments and a comb. The less you have to pack, carry around and keep track of the easier it will be to not lose your stuff.
posted by waving at 12:12 PM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Try re-framing your statement, it is, as you correctly note - an oxymoron. When we tell ourselves *not* to forget something, the brain often leaves out the "not", and thus 'tell's us to forget that very thing! Brains are weird.
Instead, tell you self to "remember to pack this stuff", "remember to look around before I leave " - I KNOW this 'requires you to remember', but you're telling yourself to remember, not forget - it often works!
(it also drives me crazy when important reminders are posted as "Don't Forget to !")

posted by dbmcd at 12:14 PM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

There are a variety of electronic devices you can stick onto stuff that makes noise if the stuff gets more than 5 metres from you?

That sounds ideal! They need a smartphone to work though.
posted by Murderbot at 12:16 PM on May 1, 2019

waving: "You could drastically minimize what you carry. Can you get by with your phone and one small bag. You don't need to bring toiletries if the hotel has them, clothes can often be worn a couple of times before washing so you really don't need to pack much more than a couple fresh shirts, undergarments and a comb. The less you have to pack, carry around and keep track of the easier it will be to not lose your stuff."

If remembering is the thing and the suggestions are just other kinds of remembering, bring less. Much less. When I go to a Grateful Dead concert, I only bring what I need and can afford to lose. That comes down to just like a $20 bill (or a few), my picture ID and one credit card just in case. Keys I leave in the car or at home stashed in the bushes or something so that they are in location where I will need them. I may bring my phone if I am expecting to hook up with someone, but if not, I ain't talking to anyone anyway during the show so why bring it.

For traveling, go minimal. Usually the hotel will have sample sizes for you or you can usually find a place to buy what you need when you get there. For reasons other than remembering, I have shipped my bags home. FedEx picked up at the hotel and delivered a few days later. Did not need to remember anything about it.

Bring less and what you do bring, tether to your body.
posted by AugustWest at 12:28 PM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Generally, "thanks", all.

There appears to be a fundamental diff between general forgetfulness and being distractable-into-forgetting while in certain debilitated conditions. That's why meta-remembering works for some better than it does for me. When sleepy I lack multi-threading - which they retain, but must be trained to extend to possession management. Very different scenarios/faculties.

N.b. this is the longest thread without a single favoriting I've ever seen. Lots of people seem to share my issue, but none appear interested in logging solutions! Or maybe they just forgot?
posted by Quisp Lover at 12:32 PM on May 1, 2019

I've also heard of people writing a number in texta on their hand -

eg if you have jacket + 2 bags, you write "3"

and every time you stand up to move from one location to another, you check that you have that number of things before you walk away.
posted by Murderbot at 12:35 PM on May 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

Always look back. It will take time to train, but do it every single time you stand up from anywhere. Standing up from the kitchen table in your own home - look back. Standing up from the toilet, look back. It takes less than a second once it’s reflex and you will do it automatically when the call for a gate change happens. I know it’s not a fast fix and it sounds like remembering one more thing. But it is a long term solution. And if you are like this now, you will only get more forgetful as you age and building the habit now will save you a lot of grief later.

I’m a chronic forgetter who rarely loses anything because I have spent years training myself to always look back. I don’t even realize I’m doing it now until my eye snags on something I was about to forget.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:38 PM on May 1, 2019 [8 favorites]

ie - take this out of multithreading and turn it into a physical motion that just happens. Your only other option for taking it out of being an active brain thing you have to do is tethering things to yourself. It has to be below the level of conscious thought because turning around and looking back is part of standing up.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:43 PM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lots of people seem to share my issue, but none appear interested in logging solutions!

The thread is full of proposed solutions. Maybe you forgot to read them?

I tend to make a mantra, such as people above have said as well. It's best if it has a good rhythm to it. "Keys and coat and passport... wallet, suitcase, bag."
Yes, you have to remember to say it, but you gotta start somewhere. Don't just say it when you need to, hum it to yourself even when you don't. That's how you imprint stuff.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:44 PM on May 1, 2019 [8 favorites]

If you know that no amount of training a habit or other tools will work when you're sleep-deprived while travelling, I think there's no magic solution except for heavily restricting what you take with you. If this often happens with travel, strip down what you have with you; one piece of luggage that gets immediately checked and always is by your side (no trunks in cabs, etc), dress in layers that are breathable and can't be removed (no jackets or umbrellas), literally tether any critical objects to your body so that they can't be fully removed (phone/keys). Reduce the total number of items you have with you and create situations where they can't be lost. This will be an inconvenience in some ways, but you'll lose fewer things because you have fewer things to lose and the most critical items are physically tied to your body.

I'd second the suggestions to get a sleep study. Missing one hour of sleep and becoming so debilitated that you can't manage tracking your belongings could indicate that you have a chronic sleep problem that is leaving you vulnerable to not being able to function well with basics.
posted by quince at 12:55 PM on May 1, 2019 [11 favorites]

When you're tired, you operate on habit and instinct, so you need to implement the solution when you're not tired and practice it consciously - that way it becomes an ingrained habit that you don't have to devote a "thread" to.

For travel especially: get a small foldable bag and carry all things you will need to use outside of luggage in it. Even if you're on a cheap airline that limits hand luggage, no-one objects to an extra small tote and it makes corralling things so much easier, plus independent of what you're wearing (including pockets that may or may not fit phone, probably won't fit umbrella etc). Fold your jacket so that you carry it between the bag's handles, hook the umbrella over a handle if it's too big to fit inside, etc. Then nothing ever has the right to be anywhere except in your hand or in the tote, and the only moment the tote leaves your hands is when you stow it for landing and takeoff. Then all you have to remember is the number of things you should have with you, counting the tote as one single item - forgetful as you are, I'd write that on the back of my hand/wrist and live with the stares.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:58 PM on May 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

OK here's an actionable plan:

Get a phone lanyard. Get a "Lock Screen memo App" for your flavor of phone. Commit to not detaching the phone from around your neck. Make a list of things you MUST remember -- these will probably be day-specific -- to appear on the lock screen.

Or make a lock screen wallpaper that lists out everything you routinely travel with and might forget: Phone - Wallet - Keys - Jacket - Coat - Umbrella - Laptop Bag - Gym Bag - Suitcase - Credit Cards - Kindle - iPad - Tickets - Passport. Set a timer to go off every 10 minutes while you are in transit and review the list.

PS: If you have never thought about it, you might consider being screened for Adult ADHD.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:59 PM on May 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Also - no more red eyes. They're no good. Just reduce the problem as much as you can.

Book travel when properly rested

I don't have much to advise except practicing the 'look around you' also when rested.

Less travel if you can do any of this stuff remotely
posted by PistachioRoux at 1:01 PM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Along with Internet fraud detective squad, station number 9, I think you might have a sleep disorder.

And your previous question about 'extreme physical suggestibility' fits right into that because perceptions of and concerns about being attacked by bugs are a very common feature of prolonged sleep deprivation of the sort experienced by meth addicts and others.

I'd suggest getting evaluated specifically for narcolepsy, because the episodes of inattention you're experiencing remind me of accounts I've read from diagnosed narcoleptics who experience episodes of altered reality akin to sleep walking as well as the outright paralysis of cataplexy.

Incidentally, but perhaps not irrelevantly, one of the pioneers of CRISPR attributes his celebrated scientific creativity to an apparently hereditary (his son also has it) form of narcolepsy.
posted by jamjam at 1:09 PM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah if no amount of life hacks as suggested here will solve the problem, that's when you know it's time to see the doctor.
posted by bleep at 1:12 PM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

[One comment deleted. Quisp Lover, follow-ups arguing with the answers aren't how AskMe works. You've asked your question, now you can read the answers and mark the ones that are most useful to you.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:13 PM on May 1, 2019

Have an organizational system for your belongings, and maintain it scrupulously. I used to be someone who lost things all the time, but I'm not anymore because everything that leaves my house has a place: I have a sturdy satchel that I carry every day -- I never switch bags to go with my outfit, for example. It's a smaller Timbuk2 messenger bag, but you could use anything with plenty of pockets, that's roomy enough for travel + daily use. Keys are clipped to a carabiner on the strap; wallet goes in my back pocket, phone in my other back pocket (other rule: no pants without legitimate pockets). Of the things that go in the bag, each one has a specific physical "spot." When I'm traveling, my passport always goes in the same pocket, and I make a habit of putting it back as soon as I'm done with it. Same for plane tickets, etc.

Basically, assume that you're forgetful and guard against it by creating systems. Some of these systems will be limiting (I often don't buy jackets or sweaters that I can't fold up small and stash in my bag, even if they're fantastic), but the payoff in that sameness is that you establish physical routines (putting things away, checking around your seat for forgotten things) and expectations (everything has a specific place) for your everyday life that carry over into messier times when your mind isn't as sharp. For me, establishing those routines when my mind is sharp is key -- the very everyday-ness of them is necessary for their success in non-routine situations like travel or post-insomnia fog.
posted by tapir-whorf at 1:22 PM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

For folks interested on developing habits before leaving on a trip, I'll plug B.J. Fogg's interesting free Tiny Habits course. For travel, maybe the habit is simply to stop and breathe every time you stand up.

For our household, setting up lots of packing systems -- zippered bags, pockets, cases, packing cubes, straps -- and then trying to develop habits using the systems before we leave has really made a difference. I am currently working on "when you stop using the lightning earbuds, they ONLY go in the case, never in the pocket of a random hoodie. The case ONLY goes into your pants pocket or on your desk, because they're the only damn lightning earbuds in the house." Works about half the time...
posted by troyer at 1:22 PM on May 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm someone that doesn't really lose things but when I first started traveling internationally I wore something like this neck wallet because I was worried about losing my passport while traveling and being a brown person. I would suggest putting everything in there before you step out of your house into the car/taxi/subway to the airport. Passport, wallet, cell phone. Anything important. It may look dorky, but it's better to be a dork with a passport in a foreign county than missing your flight and being penniless without any identification.

I don't wear the neck wallet anymore but it did help me worry less when I was a beginner traveler. Now I prefer to place my passport in a secure, designated spot in my backpack while traveling.

You probably already know to e-mail/upload a copy of your passport to a secure online location or to a trusted family member/friend. I also keep an extra paper copy of my passport in a bag that's separate from passport.
posted by mundo at 1:29 PM on May 1, 2019

Three simple steps:
1. Keys and wallet tethered to bag. Have bag = have important things.
2. Phone has a credit card in the case. Have phone but no bag = can survive.
3. Always be prepared to evacuate. Items are in bag; bag and jacket are in lap. Anytime I am out in the world, I am in “ready to evacuate” mode.

Generally speaking, I would say that my “have my stuff” anxiety is higher than my “gate just changed” anxiety, and this is why I don’t lose things.
posted by xo at 1:34 PM on May 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

I'm going to argue with you. Your position in this thread is that you can't remember or retrain yourself to double check for things. I used to feel like that too! I lost my Drivers License 5 times in a single year once, two of which were part of losing my entire wallet. I think I lost two jackets that year as well. I now haven't lost my DL or ATM card for five years. That's because I never ever do anything with them without putting them immediately back in my wallet. And I've found the perfect wallet size that is big enough that I can always find it and will hear it if I drop it but small enough that it fits in the bag pocket I want to keep it in. Long story short, through a process of optimizing how I carry things and training myself to follow a few simple rules with no exceptions ever, I've dramatically cut down on losing things.
posted by salvia at 2:09 PM on May 1, 2019 [10 favorites]

I used to have a phone that had a loop for a split ring so I could attach it to things, like my keys or bag.
posted by theora55 at 2:18 PM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm paranoid about losing things (although I did lose many bank cards when younger)...so my NORMAL mode is scanning behind me, under things, checking things, counting things etc. You make this your default, not "what you need to do extra when you're tired". Always check and always put important things (cards, keys, phones etc) back in safe places.
posted by bquarters at 2:25 PM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

This works well for me also. No need for a checklist, no need to remember what, only counting. For me, on a normal day, it's *patting pockets* "keys, phone, pocket knife... three! Good to go!" It's not perfect, but it catches a lot of errors.

*pat pat* one... two.... .... uh oh.
posted by buxtonbluecat at 3:04 PM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think you are conflating remembering with habits. Every time I get in my car to leave for work I say to myself “lunch, ID, phone” for which the acronym is LIP so that also serves to remind me to check for chapstick. It’s about doing it so many times that it becomes an automatic habit. It took months but now I don’t get to work without those crucial items anymore. You have to train yourself and practice to develop those habits like those suggested by others above.
posted by amy.g.dala at 4:52 PM on May 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

When I flew to a project location EVERY week, we had to develop a rigorous system that worked for me. Without my daughter I would have been lost. I emphatically resisted any kind of routine most of my life until it became obvious that it could be more help than hassle. Thank you, child of mine.

Now that cell phones are so expensive, losing one would be very painful. My daughter insisted that I have loss or damage insurance on mine for a while. I love having a car key that I never have to remove from my purse because I have locked my keys in my car so many times. And often in the same places, like the toy store that I like to stop at in Issaquah.

I can be more preoccupied and/or distracted than anyone else I have ever met. For several years (10?) now I have been putting each week's medications into two of those 7 day pill holders. One is orange (morning) and one is blue (night). It has only been in the last 3 years or so that I reliably make that association. Taking long acting adderall just before bed is so much fun. It amazes my daughter that I can be so not-here and she is just as ADHD as I am. I can simply be unaware of my surroundings to an extreme degree. I definitely live in my head and not so much in my body. I used to have to have multiple house and car keys hidden and stashed with friends because I was so absent-minded. In the last few years I lost my favorite in-ear sound blocking earbuds, and my wallet and my gloves (not at the same time) on the train while commuting. Someone turned in my wallet completely intact, but I still miss those ear buds.

I am memorialized by the phrase space-case. Being hungry or tired or not feeling well makes it worse. In the early days of travelling I mostly forgot things by leaving them at home. My daughter FedEx'd my glasses, my wallet, my medications, etc. more than once. The things I lost on the plane etc were mostly annoying, like the book I was reading, although I did leave my wallet in an overhead bin somehow when I was sitting at a bulkhead.

In addition to the pain and frustration(it is so much fun to have to replace the contents of your wallet, and so expensive to replace your glasses/phone/charger, etc.) what probably helped me get more aware and more disciplined was having a system that worked for me. Incidentally I am 64 years old, so I recommend a system sooner rather than later.

I had a basic wardrobe of very nice work clothes that I washed and re-packed every weekend. I didn't care if people noticed that I was wearing the same clothes week after week. I cared that they were comfortable and very good quality. I never unpacked my toiletry bag, I just replenished it. (Keep duplicates at home). Since I was often returning to the same place for weeks or months, I would have a bag of toiletries and other unimportant things that I could check in at the front desk of the hotel for the weekend and pick up when I returned.

I also generally didn't use my phone or laptop on the plane so I didn't unpack those things.It took a long time to find a purse that had exactly the right number and placement of pockets that putting things back in their places worked for me. Sometimes a more complicated system works better than a simple one for me. For example, I put each major item of clothing in its own labeled ziplock bag and reused those every week, and I grouped things like underwear in one bag. I didn't much like the regimentation, but I sure liked getting to my destination with all the things I needed and wanted intact.
posted by Altomentis at 5:02 PM on May 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Well - it happens to everyone - traveling is stressful. Personally, I have lost two top-of-the-line e-book readers in airports since 2014 - because, I would be carrying it (as I was just reading a book), then would put it down to do something else (like pickup my coffee at a Starbucks, or get money from an ATM). A co-worker forgot his iPad on flight this past December (yay, someone turned it in and he got it back).

These days, I have found that since having my sleep apnea treated with a machine, I have not been as forgetful (or as stressed out in general) - in fact, I haven't lost anything since getting my machine.

And - well, I get a little OCD-like, I check and re-check and check again. Pat down or go through each pocket on my person, each pocket in my computer backpack, etc. Rinse and repeat every time I move to a new location (coffee shop, restaurant, gate, and seat on the plane)
posted by jkaczor at 5:57 PM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Okay, I have a weird technique that's been working for me for a last 10 years or so. I've trained myself to say a number every time I move locations. Getting on the bus, say the number. Getting out of a taxi, say the number. Leaving the airplane, say the number. The number is the number of items I have on my person that I need to keep track of. My number tends to be 5. Once I've said the number, it reminds me to check on those 5 items (carry on, phone, kindle, jacket, purse). Once I've located the correct number of items, I can continue on my way. It's a bit weird in the beginning because it causes a delay before you proceed to the next action...but soon it becomes 2nd nature and I do it all the time now. I swear I haven't lost anything in years.
posted by victoriab at 6:30 PM on May 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

At the macro level, I would suggest that your purse/wallet/phone situation should be as similar as possible while traveling to your usual routine. (e.g. the cell phone always goes into the one zipper compartment in the purse. There is exactly one wallet, and it is never switched out. When in a public space, the purse is on or touching the body.

I would also suggest reducing the number of times something could go wrong. Use a paper boarding pass instead of an electronic one. Make one (not multiple) purchase after security. While waiting for a flight, read a paper magazine.

Have you tried setting alarms to remind you to do a thing? I think a smart watch could be useful here.
posted by oceano at 6:50 PM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's funny how many people mention counting, because I do that too. 1, 2, 3: Phone, wallet, keys.
posted by salvia at 7:36 PM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

It would seem that having a mental checklist of critical items you would like to have on your person would be best practice for every day life. And at that point then it is a habit, not something you have to remember. As a habit, it should be less likely to fall by the wayside because you had a short night. For me that would be phone, keys, wallet, laptop bag/handbag. A few years ago my job required weekly international travel so at that point my passport started to live in my handbag, where it still resides to this day. This list therefore never changes for me, it is always these four items, irrespective of whether I go to work or fly half way across the world.
If you can get into the habit of making sure you locate these items before you go anywhere it should become second nature. And that sets you up for success also in more stressful situations. Pick your 3/4 items and check them off every time you go anywhere. And become strategic about what you will put down anywhere.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:54 PM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am a climber, and so am trained to just not put stuff down. Gear goes from one hand to the other hand to the harness. You don't just take your shoes off at the top and leave them on the ground because you might accidentally knock them and lose them.

I lose things, but it got better when I decided to extrapolate.

So, what I do is that I don't put anything "down". Jackets don't go on the back of chairs, they go on top of my backpack. Same for books, phone, wallet, etc. It's more awkward, because you have to hold your jacket in your lap to get to the stuff under it. But, it seems to work.
posted by lab.beetle at 9:34 PM on May 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

So, I'm literally writing a book on how to improve your memory.

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of memory: retrospective memory (remembering stuff that already happened) and prospective memory (remembering to do stuff in the future.)

RETROSPECTIVE MEMORY: "Yesterday, I put my keys on the table."
PROSPECTIVE MEMORY: "Tomorrow, before I get on the plane, I'm going to pat my pockets and make sure I have my keys."

If I understand correctly, your issue is with your prospective memory. Unfortunately, while there are millenia-worth of techniques to improve your retrospective memory, there are many fewer to improve your prospective memory.

The best one I've found is enactment. At some calm moment before you leave for the airport, you imagine that you are there, and you physically act out the situation you'll be in and how you want to respond. Your mental picture and your physical actions should be as detailed as possible. Actually lift your feet and mime walking, as you imagine yourself heading towards the gate. Sit down in a real chair and imagine you're sitting down waiting for your plane. Picture the announcement in your head, then actually stand up and pat your pockets to check your keys.

It feels goofy, and it's not guaranteed to work-- but in my experience, it really does improve the odds that you'll remember to do whatever it is you've rehearsed.
posted by yankeefog at 2:22 AM on May 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

Having learned to expect it, I endlessly repeat the mantra "don't lose anything!", but to no avail

If you have enough awareness of your tendency to leave things behind that you're able to repeat a mantra, then what would be the harm in seeing if changing your mantra to something more specific to your situation ("phone, wallet, bag", etc.) makes a difference?

Perhaps you're correct in insisting that your specific brand of memory lapses are different than other peoples' and could not possibly be corrected by proven tactics like building unconscious habits or repeating specific mantras at specific times but, gently, if that is really the case, and your brain without sleep really does laugh in the face of a well-established neural process such as an ingrained habit or mantra, then you probably have a bigger problem than just losing stuff at the airport. Maybe get thee to a medical professional.

Like others have suggested, once those are off the table, your remaining options seem to be to either make it a point to NEVER travel sleep-deprived when you know full well that doing so robs you of the faculties needed to not leave all your stuff behind OR travel light and never take anything off of your person, ever ever full stop.

Pack super light and only things you wouldn't mind losing, use a backpack which you wear at all times, even sitting at the gate (and is small enough to fit under the seat in front of you rather than the overhead bin), and maybe invest in a handy-dandy all-in-one wristlet or something to keep your phone, cards, and keys physically attached to your arm at all times. I used something similar to this in college to keep all of my essentials handy and it worked great because it was big enough to hold the important stuff but small enough that it wasn't a burden to keep it looped around my wrist all day.

Also, having a PopSocket on my phone has been a help—when my phone is in my hand, the PopSocket is out and between my fingers and I have a firm hold on it. When it is not in my hand, it is in its specific place that it lives when it is not in my hand.
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:25 AM on May 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

As others have posted above, this isn't about remembering where things are, it's more about never putting valuable things down when you're out and about.

Magazine? Snacks? Sure, put it in the seat pocket, or on the little table at the gate.
Phone? Passport? Only in the hand or the bag.

In a General Life sense, rather than specifically while travelling, I know a lot of people, myself included, that do a modern version of the 'spectacles, testicles, wallet, and watch' mnemonic literally every time we stand up, quickly patting our keys, phone, wallet, and glasses.
posted by Kreiger at 12:19 PM on May 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

Make a list, and consult it whenever you leave a place.
Use a mantra--The old Catholic gag using the sign of the cross is tacky, but works. Physically, but unobtrusively chant "spectacles, testicles, wallet, watch", but use phone in place of watch for your right shoulder/pocket. If you don't wear spectacles, just use the head touch as a preliminary for your chant. If heaven forbid you have a problem with forgetting your luggage, put a wrist band loosely on your right wrist to flap a bit and notice as you do your mantra.

Use a jacket, vest, or shirt with multiple pockets, and make sure everything has it's place, and everything is returned to it's place. Ticket in left shirt/jacket/pants pocket, wallet in back left pants/etc pocket, cash in left front, chapstick in right, pocket knife in front right, phone in right jacket/shirt pocket etc. This is the only way I can remember to leave the house with the things I need for the day. You probably won't carry what I carry, but substitute the things you normally carry. Make a habit of putting things in the exact place they belong when you are wide awake, and it will be automatic when you're tired.

If your phone is a pain to carry in a pocket, the idea of a headphone tether that you always keep either in your ears or around your neck works well. Or if you worry about headphones, use a passport bag or a cord as a lanyard sized to your phone. Don't take it off your neck, and it can be the 'first touch' of your mantra. Waist belts are bulky, and wrist belts get in the way.
Either strap or tie your jacket/coat and umbrella to your bag. Make sure the fasteners are always available and that your outer wear is either on you or tied down immediately. No pausing for 'just a minute before you fasten it.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:30 PM on May 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

LOL, Kreiger posted before me and has the same advice about physical reminders. (And owes me a coke!)
posted by BlueHorse at 12:31 PM on May 2, 2019

The plan-forward stuff - e.g. never put anything down ever, hook/tie stuff to body/clothing - is viable, since I’m hyper-aware of the risk, and don't mind the extra work. Thanks for the tips. The rock climbing scenario is especially apropros.

Tricks to increase mindfulness at transition points (gate’s changed or closing, I need a charging outlet ASAP, negotiating a foreign metro ticket machine or acquiring a local SIM…or, most dangerously, juggling multiple such tasks at once) - e.g. consult lists, survey pockets, count possessions or look back - is not viable. If I had a generally poor memory, such moves would help. But my memory is fine, so if I were mindful enough at transition points to do any sort of checking, my everyday/inherent checking regimen would suffice.
posted by Quisp Lover at 4:11 PM on May 2, 2019

I have this problem too and I agree with all the answers that have a component of prioritizing. There are probably only 3 or 4 things you absolutely can't do without. For me it would be phone; wallet/ID and credit card; any prescription medication. And right now, my retainer although that is marginal. The latter two can live somewhere deep in my bag for the duration of the trip. The other two have a place right inside the bag, either an inside pocket or a small bag in a big bag. Having the right bag, and not changing bags unless you are somewhere that you can do it really systematically, really helps.

I would change my mantra while underway to "Phone, ID, money or credit card!" I consider the loss of the occasional article of clothing or book to be a cost of travel for me. I get frustrated with the amount of small stuff I misplace but try not to let it bother me too much because that actually seems to feed the habit.
posted by BibiRose at 6:30 AM on May 3, 2019

I just remembered your question at the gym when I was reaching into my black gym bag and spotted my bright red phone case and bright red wallet. Get red, lime, or yellow covers, (and a red item for your key chain) ASAP. That's a start. You have many good other answers here that you can implement over time. But the bright color alerts on three items you keep losing doesn't require any brain power. (If someone already suggested this, then ignore--didn't have time to read through all the great answers.)

My mantra is: DO NOT PUT DOWN! (that seems to trigger all the other stuff--putting the item in its "home."
posted by Elsie at 8:15 AM on May 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

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