Ever remember in a flash where you put something after month searching?
February 23, 2020 8:51 PM   Subscribe

Around a month ago, I seem to remember leaving a small (3 x 4 inch) piece of notepaper with important information on it inside a book. When I went to look for it inside that book, it wasn't there. Is there still any hope of actually remembering where I put (rather than simply eventually finding) the note?

No one else has been in the areas it would likely have been left in. I have a lot of books, photocopies, papers, etc., and if it's not where I remember leaving it, then the possibilities of where it could be are almost endless (it may or may not even be inside a book!). I have tried many different techniques and looked in many different books and places, tried abandoning all efforts, and then renewed the search once more, all without success.

My fear now, after spending hours and hours looking through books, papers, etc, is that whatever dim memory may have existed of the actual place it was placed is now overlaid with all my memories of the places I have thought it might be in, and all the places I have looked for it, making its actual place in my memory (obviously not very good to begin with, needless to say) like that of a miniscule needle in a haystack. Have you ever found yourself in this position and then... suddenly clearly remembered where the thing was? Hope me!
posted by tenderly to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My experience with this kind of thing is that no, memory doesn't come back. What happens instead is accidental re-discovery of whatever it was that I'd lost, sometimes years later and sometimes not by me.

This is why I don't put important private stuff on bits of paper any more; I make a point of saving anything like that inside the same KeePass database I keep all my online passwords in, then destroying any paper originals. And of all the things I back up, that database is the thing I back up most religiously.

I have not lost a single piece of vital information since I started doing that ten years ago.
posted by flabdablet at 9:50 PM on February 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Someone on AskMe recently said “lost objects are most often where they belong but obscured from view”. In the ensuing weeks this has turned out to be true for me almost every single time. Any chance it IS actually in or near the book, and you just didn’t see it?
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:51 PM on February 23, 2020 [14 favorites]

You may enjoy this website about How to Find Lost Objects. I particularly appreciate the idea of the Eureka Zone, where a lost object is usually within 18 inches of its expected location, but covered up in some way (similar to nouvelle-personne’s idea of items being not lost so much as obscured from view). Examples include a book that has gotten wedged between other books on the shelf and a pencil that has rolled under something. I once spent a long time looking for an important piece of paper that was exactly where I thought it should be, but had gotten stuck to the back of a larger piece of paper. Hope you find your item!
posted by danceswithlight at 10:21 PM on February 23, 2020 [7 favorites]

I have used narrative writing (in my case a kind of creative visualisation) to surface aspects about future spaces (I design spaces) that would not come up logically.

I have never used it to recover memories of prior activities but it would only take you half an hour of writing yourself into a typical day to start to (maybe) realise you did something different around that time - I know it's a shot in the dark.
posted by unearthed at 12:18 AM on February 24, 2020

In my experience, sadly, no.

I also most often find that the object is very close to where I initially instinctively thought that it would be (or, during a series of unfortunate events from my childhood, discover that it wasn't where I expected it to be because someone took it).

But I have definitely also had the experience of constructing various mutually exclusive and completely synthetic memories of other places that I could have put it, until I can no longer tell which of them, if any, are accurate.
posted by confluency at 1:11 AM on February 24, 2020

Best answer: I haven't had that flash of memory out of the blue. But I have had flashes of memory when I accidentally put myself in the exact same situation that I was in when I set down the object. I've found that I can recreate this on purpose too. If my memory gets fuzzy about the exact place of an object, then I think back 2 -3 steps before I let go of the object. I put myself there mentally and physically, then slowly move forward in time, as close to the time I'm recreating. Nearly every time, I find the object. This works for me for remembering a point I wanted to make, or for directions somewhere as well. Good luck!
posted by banjonaut at 4:30 AM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

You could try the sleep-on-it-to-solve-the-problem technique. Basically when falling asleep think about the fact that you mislaid the paper, and instruct your mind while you are sleeping to come up with where you put it or could have put it. It should be the last thoughts you have as you drift off, not the first thoughts when you lie down. Then you have to remember to think about the missing paper first thing when you wake up, before you open your eyes or start to get up, and the memory might come back, or a plausible idea of what happened. Try not to be anxious while thinking about it, mildly curious indifference seems to help. Also try to remember your dreams - it's that semiconscious function of the brain that you are trying to use. If you do remember your dreams, analyze them. If the dream involves putting cups away in your kitchen the missing paper could be in a cup, or in the kitchen.

This is often used for problem solving or decision making, but it can work for memory. People often have epiphanies when they first wake up, especially about things that they have become skillful at not thinking about, such as shames and anxieties. Sleep sometimes gives you access to parts of your mind that you don't access regularly or knowingly.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:42 AM on February 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

A lot of times it's right in front of you and you just can't see it.

I "lost" a 1-1/2 qt copper bottomed sauce pan. It's a pan I use almost every day and I was really mad at myself for being so careless. For over a week I looked for it. I went through the garbage, I searched all the cupboards a couple of times. After dinner one night, I stood up from the table and I saw the end of the pot's handle, just peeking out from behind a large container of breadcrumbs on a shelf right in front of me. If I hadn't been standing in that exact spot, I wouldn't have seen it. D'oh!
posted by james33 at 5:00 AM on February 24, 2020

Not something you have control over but I routinely find previously lost things while looking and failing to find the new lost thing.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:44 AM on February 24, 2020

My mother swore by "a prayer to Saint Anthony" for this. I am utterly unreligious but I've tried this, and I suspect it's the effect of collecting yourself, focusing your thoughts and "saying a prayer" that does the trick.
posted by zadcat at 7:08 AM on February 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have a technique for finding lost things, it always works. Last month I found myself locked out of the house, having forgotten my keys. I half-remembered that I had maybe? stashed a key somewhere outside the house several years before. So I just started wandering aimlessly, not looking very hard, just walking around, scanning for environment, but also just kind of meandering. The first spots I checked were logical ones, a few nooks and crannies on the porch, under a planter, but nothing. Then I found myself out in the corner of the yard, way back behind some shrubs, and thought to myself, did I hide it under this particular shrub? It is winter, and there is heavy, mushy leaf cover everywhere, but I put my hand under the shrub, felt around under the leaves, and voila, pulled up a small plastic bottle with the key inside. Literally my hand knew where to go. It was uncanny.

I am pretty convinced that you still know where that paper is. That the mind does know. For objects inside a house, what I sometimes do is start wandering with my hand out in front of me, and just let it go different places. If I know what the object looks like, I will bring it to mind every so often as I wander. But the key is to just let your mind go, don't try too hard.
posted by nanook at 7:21 AM on February 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have remembered where I put things in a flash - usually while in the shower or drifting off to sleep. Unfortunately this becomes more of a long shot the older I get. Like others above me have said, often the item is close to where I sort of remember putting it, but has fallen or gotten stuck somewhere.

I mostly find items just going about my daily business. I'm distracted and a daydreamer, so I frequently put things somewhere inappropriate and then completely forget about it (hello, frozen fish fillets in dish towel basket that I only found once they started smelling). Could you have put it in your pocket? Have you checked all of your pants pockets? Your laundry hamper? Your laundry room? Have you checked down the back of your bookcase? It could have slid between the back of the shelves.
posted by Feminazgul at 7:24 AM on February 24, 2020

Yes, I have had this happen. Sometimes I can force it, by essentially scrubbing through my memories around the last time I must have had the missing object, letting the gaps slowly fill in until I know where I must have put it.

But it doesn't always work, and some things are still lost.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 7:40 AM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

In my experience, lost items are in or near the place remembered but not seen because they dont look as remembered, or in some different place altogether. In this case, since the information is important, you may have moved it from the book to a "safer" place.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:41 AM on February 24, 2020

Don't try to think of where you put the lost item; think instead of where you were when you last had it in your hand.
posted by kindall at 3:58 PM on February 24, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks all for your replies!

I have already tried most of the suggestions above (including Prof. Solomon's book), and I'm aware that lost things are frequently in the vicinity of the last place they were seen/handled. I've combed through that area multiple times with no luck.

Alas, approaches involving thinking about/remembering where I last had the mislaid thing in hand are not as useful in the case of a piece of note paper identical to countless others that pass through my hands in the course of a week, as they would be if the item had a more distinct and memorable form.

I will have to continue with the sleeping-on-it approach as well as further exhaustive searches of the area where I last remember having it in hand.
posted by tenderly at 10:09 PM on February 25, 2020

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