Tips on finding things
August 22, 2020 12:11 PM   Subscribe

In the past few months, I've lost a lot of things in my apartment and am finding none of them. Anybody have strategies beyond "retrace your steps?"

I live alone in a 1-BR apartment with spacious rooms and two big closets. I have a lot of clutter (mostly clothes, art supplies, and books tend to pile up).

Between pandemic brain and being in and out of my apartment, I've lost a lot of things. Partial list includes my ID (already replaced), two spare keys (ditto), a special book I was making, a favorite bottle of perfume, a mailer containing a pack of cpap liners, and a bunch of a certain art supply I panic-bought. It seems strange that none of these have turned up, despite searching everywhere, including couch cushions, under furniture, etc.

What are your go-tos when you're desperate to find things? I am open to practical strategies as well as more woo ideas. I just want to find my things.

Because of fibro, I'm not able to do a ton of bending, etc, but I can sit on the floor and sort things.
posted by mermaidcafe to Grab Bag (28 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Are you certain nobody's been in your apartment?

My lost things are usually under displaced piles of other stuff, so my strategy is "clean up EVERYTHING", but I'm not sure how feasible thatis for you.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:21 PM on August 22, 2020 [15 favorites]

If it’s something pocket-sized, like keys or an ID, I’d check all the pockets—in shirts, pants, bathrobes, jackets—in those piles of clothes. If you always put your keys in your front right jeans pocket, you’re most likely to forget about the one time you put them in a shirt pocket instead. I’d also check any backpacks, bags etc.

Perfume seems like it would wind up in the general vicinity of where you tend to use it, so if it normally lives on your dresser, maybe it fell into an open drawer and lies amid the socks.

Mailers, books and art supplies... look in the stacks. It’s easy for flat things to get quickly tidied into a pile where all you really see is the uppermost item.
posted by mumkin at 12:23 PM on August 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

"Life pro tip" I saw recently: speak the words aloud when you put something somewhere. "Keys are on the kitchen table" etc. – it engages more of your brain and you're more likely to remember.

Now, for the things you've lost, tidy up! My mother would have said “say a prayer to Saint Anthony” but this is optional.
posted by zadcat at 12:35 PM on August 22, 2020 [16 favorites]

When I've looked everywhere and then some: get down on the floor, relax, stretch out, and let your eyes wander around. See also: stand on a stepstool or sofa for a minute. It helps to get a different eye level. The idea isn't that you'll suddenly see the thing you lost, but the perspective shift may give you an idea for the next place to look.
posted by prewar lemonade at 12:43 PM on August 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

I lost a set of keys in an apartment years ago that never materialized, even after packing up to move. So sometimes, things do just disappear.

But, having just packed up and moved again, I can tell you that your best bet isn’t to look for items individually, but rather to embrace the opportunity to throughly organize/tidy your apartment. I found many many items I had forgotten about during the packing process. Many of them were behind my bed, buried under clothes I rarely wore in my closet/dresser, and behind/within my sofa.

Good luck! I have been in my new place for three days, have no furniture, and have somehow lost three books—the struggle is real!
posted by nancynickerson at 12:46 PM on August 22, 2020 [6 favorites]

I also clean when I've lost something, but with an emphasis on both weird places and stuff I've used recently. So, laundry (so I check all the pockets) of the clothes I've worn recently, but also, vacuuming behind the couch, etc. for weird places.
posted by lab.beetle at 12:54 PM on August 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you can't find something in the expected places, I think it's worth putting in the time to truly declutter. Systematically go through your belongings (including pockets in clothes, etc) and choose where to store things or get rid of them. As you're going through everything, I guarantee you'll start to find the missing items.
posted by pinochiette at 1:02 PM on August 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

My mother-in-law's strategy (mentioned at least once in this thread) is the best: clean up. You'll most likely eventually find what you're looking for, and if not, at least you will have cleaned up.
posted by number9dream at 1:07 PM on August 22, 2020 [10 favorites]

Sit down in any stuffed furniture and run your hands deep along the sides of the cushions. This is different than merely checking them by bending over and poking around because your seated weight can squish open fabric tears you'd otherwise never notice, and those let pocket stuff fall into the mechanisms of the furniture. One of our chairs is almost always the culprit, even when it doesn't seem so at first. And once I found a watch that'd been lost for months this way.
posted by teremala at 1:11 PM on August 22, 2020 [6 favorites]

Do you drive? Thoroughly search your car. I have numerous times found lost things, especially keys and credit cards in the nooks and crannies of my car (or in one memorable case, my long-lost car keys in my mom's car!)
posted by wsquared at 1:23 PM on August 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

Plus one for a closet reorg. Especially the bottle of perfume is likely to be somewhere among the many clothes. But it always feels good anyway to go through clothes to see what doesn’t fit anymore or what you don’t wear anymore. Embrace the idea of empty space in the closet. The konmari method is good for this and pretty quick.

I feel that in the same vain, the book you were making is probably also among like items (within one of your book piles). The mailer might be among your art supplies as sometimes it just makes sense to keep things in envelopes and it’s possible you assumed at some point that the envelope held art supplies and not cpap liners. Items that look alike tend to cluster.

And as someone mentioned above, if things get truly desperate...“Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, please come around; something is lost and cannot be found.”

Good luck!
posted by donut_princess at 1:37 PM on August 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Anything flat may be marking a place in a book.

Sometimes things hide in plain sight. I turned my kitchen upside down last week looking for something I *knew* I'd bought. I had indeed bought it, and it was right where it should have been, but I thought the box was red and it was actually black, so I looked straight past it, time after time after time.

Have you tidied up at any point? A moment of inattention whilst tidying can land you with misfiled items, as donut_princess suggests. It's also possible to move a pile aside onto what you assume incorrectly is a clear bit of floor or furniture... I mislaid a small item of clothing for about six months that way.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 1:46 PM on August 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

Don't look. Clear your mind, stand in the middle or so, don't think of a white horse, then breath a bit and don't try for a bit.


a seriously deep cleaning one room at a time, empty the room, put everything out of place in a basket in the middle.


at utter last resort, like for a bearer bond or life and death certificate, move to a new place, amazing what turns up

posted by sammyo at 1:53 PM on August 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

First I change my eye level and perspective. Usually up high helps. Second, I openly state out loud to the gods of lost items that they win and I give up. Usually a day or two later, after I stopped looking, they turn up. Consider offering the lost items gods a sacrifice. "OK, keep my keys, but I need the perfume.. Two keys for 1 bottle of scent."

Once I relax and mentally stop looking, I find it.
posted by AugustWest at 1:58 PM on August 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sometimes looking for the shape of something rather than the image you have of it works for me, especially when it's hiding "in plain sight" — so instead of looking for the ID card, look for everything that's rectangular. (Maybe it's flipped over! Or vertical or whatever! And while in your head you're looking for "a little thing with my picture on it," what you wind up NOT looking for is "a little thing with a bunch of bar codes and a sticker" because it was picture-side down.)

When I was a kid, whenever we lost something my dad would suggest using a flashlight, no matter what it was. I swear: It works! Just kinda changes your mental gears enough to see things with fresh eyes for a second, which as a fellow clutter-person is sometimes all it takes.
posted by Charity Garfein at 2:07 PM on August 22, 2020 [6 favorites]

practical strategies as well as more woo ideas

As mentioned above, if there's a concern about access to your place, you can have your locks re-keyed.

Things I've accidentally done, a sampler: arrived home, left keys in door; swapped keys for milk carton in refrigerator; put keys on top of fridge to free up hands for roasting pan handles; left keys on pantry shelf. While groggy, kicked smaller, rolling items under bed, fridge, radiator, and so on. Stored keys, lip balm, paper, coins, etc., for safekeeping in coat, trouser, and bag linings. Threw away lightweight purchases because I thought I'd fully emptied the shipping envelope or shaken out the crumpled shipping materials. Living in a multi-storey walk-up, my mind on other matters, I'd set my keys on the warped cover of the bathroom's old-fashioned cast-iron radiator; the keys plummeted behind the radiator on at least three occasions. (Given this history, and that a Leatherman-type mini tool can drag the whole key ring shebang southward, nowadays I hang my keys on a hook by the front door and often attach them to a clip inside my handbag when out of the house.)

So: "Landing strip" in entryway for keys and IDs (and I like hooks for this, too); eye exam or eyeglass prescription check if applicable; search the fridge and freezer, including inside bins and on top of the appliance(s); look on closet shelves; try better lighting in your home in general and during searches. If you can ask a friend to have a look around, their fresh eyes can help, too. Search behind bigger furniture pieces, radiators, etc. If you carry a purse or tote, turn them inside out looking for tears in the linings (terribly attractive to small items) or holes in the shells (aka escape hatches), and do the same for jackets and coats.

We share similar frustrations, and I wish you good luck.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:26 PM on August 22, 2020

lab.beetle's vacuuming tip is solid. For retrieving smaller stuff, secure a stocking, sock, or cotton handkerchief over the hose with rubber bands or string. (If the vacuum's attachments run hot, skip materials like nylon and rubber.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:40 PM on August 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've heard that using a flashlight as a spotlight helps. It makes you slow down and look at each spot individually, rather than glossing over it as you might normally.
posted by moogs at 2:52 PM on August 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

I've never actually used his techniques, per se, but Professor Solomon's How to Find Lost Objects is at the very least an entertaining read. The Twelve Principles that he lays out:
1. Don’t Look for It
2. It’s Not Lost—You Are
3. Remember the Three C’s
4. It’s Where It’s Supposed to Be
5. Domestic Drift
6. You’re Looking Right at It
7. The Camouflage Effect
8. Think Back
9.Look Once, Look Well
10.The Eureka Zone 11.Tail Thyself
12. It Wasn’t You

I especially like that Principle 3 mandates that you begin your systematic search by getting comfortable in an armchair, perhaps with a cup of tea or a stick of gum.

It's all a bit of fun, but I remember reading it and thinking that it actually seemed like a pretty good system. And the fact that it's written like a mix of earnest 19th-20th century manual and eccentric quackery is part of the charm, I think. The book has been posted at the author's site for free but you can also buy it.
posted by col_pogo at 3:20 PM on August 22, 2020 [16 favorites]

If I've lost one of something small and have another--an earring or a screw, for example--I take it and toss it on the floor, in the grass, in the bedclothes: wherever I think the first one might have fallen. If I do this a few time, I often learn something useful, like what it looks like half buried in carpet pile or how it bounces. This helps me think differently when scanning for the lost item.
posted by carmicha at 5:34 PM on August 22, 2020 [13 favorites]

Late to the party, but we have successfully used Professor Solomon's Twelve Principles to Find Lost Objects. Definitely worth a look. I linked the long form but I believe there's a shorter version on his page.

Edit: Doh! Beaten to it. Sorry. But it's a good method that bears extra mention, and I personally vouch that it has helped my family find our misplaced stuff on a few occasions.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:55 PM on August 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

1) Imagine you have the item in your hands. You know it's important. You want to put it away somewhere safe. Where would you put it? Look there.

2) Pick a closet or a cabinet or a drawer. Empty it out totally, to the bare walls, like you're moving out. Selectively replace things one at a time, Marie-Kondo'ing the crap out of stuff as you go. Maybe you'll find lost treasure. If nothing else, you've improved part of your habitat. Repeat with another location whenever you can stand it.

3) Check travel gear. Even if you didn't take it on a trip, suitcases and bags are tempting places to "temporarily" store stuff.
posted by sourcequench at 7:28 PM on August 22, 2020

It's always in the last place you look. A change of perspective is good; countless times I've looked for something and found it right behind me or under the the leg of my chair or just under the edge of the couch... somewhere you can't see without looking from a place you normally don't inhabit.

Trust thyself (every heart vibrates to that iron string) that if you left it somewhere on purpose... that you left it somewhere that would make sense to you (eventually). It's where you once thought it should be. Akin to know thyself and being kind to your future self. If nothing else, carry this along from now on to think about your future self and where you would look for the thing if you didn't know where it was.

Adam Savage always touts a bit of workshop knowledge that has been mentioned previously... if you drop something and can't find it, drop something similar in the same (likely) place and see where it goes to give you an idea of where the original lost thing might be. Things have legs and can go mysterious places, but they have no arms and can't open doors or anything like that.

Take a deep breath, close your eyes and be the thing and ask "Where am I."? You might just find the thing.

Anyways, thanks for the question. I just found the Zippo that I've been looking for for a couple of days (slowly). It wasn't on the shelf with the random shit, it wasn't in the tool box, it wasn't at the bottom of the jar full of pens, it was on the other shelf behind some bottles along with my old checks, my box that holds the weed pipe (yes, I checked there like second), beside the sewing kit. But it was there where I knew I would find if if I tried.

If you've looked everywhere, you've only looked from where your eyes have been. The flashlight and change of perspective and cleaning are all good, but try to put yourself into you and then the thing and think about where you both could have parted company and gone.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:45 PM on August 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

The archaeological approach is to figure out what strata the items should be in. If you lost your perfume in March, then think of what you were doing in March and hunt for items that you were using then. The perfume might be with them. If you lost your keys in May then think of what you were doing in May and look for other items you used at that time.

Also consider where those items would go if there was drift. You thought you put the perfume on your dresser. A perfume bottle is relatively heavy. If you banged into the dresser where could the perfume bottle end up? In the open top drawer? On its side underneath something else? Down the back of the dresser? How about if you were moving other things on the dresser? You might have thrown make-up into a bag. Is it possible you grabbed the perfume unintentionally and it's in with the make up?

Are the keys on a key ring? Is the ring useful in anyway? If there is a fob that needs a battery, could you have taken it somewhere to replace the battery or use the fob?
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:06 AM on August 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

I generally find these items either when:

1) I finally give up, and get a replacement for said lost item.
2) In the process of looking for the next thing I lost.

More practically, thinking not "what are the places that make sense for me to have put this item" but "Where is absent minded/distracted me likely to have dropped something or thrown something."

Like last night, I was looking for something - it has a normal place, and a couple back up places, and it wasn' there - then today I found it in the drawer of my nightstand. Which is never somewhere I would have intentionally put it, because my night stand drawer is where things get lost. But my nightstand drawer is where I tend to absentmindedly throw things (which is why it's a black hole that things get lost in.)

If you are decluttering and emptying drawers, empty the drawer into a clear plastic bag. I find that can make it easier to sift through then a cardboard box or whatever.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:39 AM on August 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is what my grandmother taught me. I know it is totally woo-woo, but it works for me- most likely because it makes me refocus myself. I take a ribbon (or in a pinch anything long and thing- sock, robe tie etc) and I tie it around a doorknob (if no doorknob, then anything) and I say:

"I am tying up the devil so I can find what I have lost."

This works for me 90% of the time.

Good luck.
posted by momochan at 1:06 PM on August 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Another vote for the St. Anthony Pray r, if it doesn’t offend you. It’s a “woo” strategy but I think it works for prosaic reasons that match Solomon’s “don’t look for it.” When I finally break down and say the prayer, h am basically saying “I am officially letting this go and handing it over to other non-cognitive processes.” Almost invariably, the item will turn up. It’s fun to credit St. Anthony but I suspect that it works through other brain systems. But it works .
posted by Miko at 6:54 PM on August 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Secular spell: Stand in the middle of the room. Say out loud: "I believe in the law of the conservation of matter. Therefore [item] cannot have disappeared."

I've found this to work. There are times when I wonder about conservation of matter, but I believe the universe doesn't like to be caught cheating.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 7:46 PM on August 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

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