Finding misplaced/lost items after you've looked in every obvious place
February 18, 2021 9:09 AM   Subscribe

I've looked everywhere I can think of for an old iPad that has a bunch of videos and photos I want. Does anyone have any ideas or hacks or tips for how to search successfully in non-obvious places, ones you haven't thought of? Kind of a contradiction in terms, I know, but I'd like to find an approach that doesn't entail looking, needle-in-a-haystack like, everywhere else in my house. Thanks
posted by BadgerDoctor to Home & Garden (40 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Man, if it gets to that point and I really need the thing, I just clean the house. It usually turns up under dirty clothes or somewhere that ought to be swept more often.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:26 AM on February 18 [14 favorites]

"where would i set it if i was running to restroom quickly?"
posted by j_curiouser at 9:28 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

An oft-repeated routine of mine: when I think I've looked everywhere, it's time to revisit all those obvious places again but, this time, with patience and a kind of frame-shifting detachment. For example, I'll open the closet again and, instead of glancing for three seconds and rifling through objects a little bit, I'll pause, give a full 20 seconds to just look and see and take in the space, before spending what can feel like an egregious amount of time being tactile: moving objects around, lifting things up, really being present with what I'm seeing.

I know that sounds ridiculous, almost, I dunno, like a Buddhist mindfulness practice (which I guess it kind of is?). Nevertheless, I can't count how many times the lost object has been, in fact, right in front of my eyes in one of those obvious places.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:29 AM on February 18 [14 favorites]

Stop looking for [lost item]. Think about something else for a few [time period]. Replace [lost item]. Determine best place to put [replaced item] so that it doesn't become [lost item2].

"Dammit...there it is."

Put [replaced item] in a stack with [lost item0] ... [lost itemN].
posted by GPF at 9:30 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]

I have two techniques when things remain stubbornly lost but I know for a fact they're somewhere around here because the only other explanation is an extremely specific burgling. One is a purely rational materialist exercise; the other is a cheerful excursion into animistic mysticism folderol! Both work often enough!

1: don't get locked into trying to retrace your steps through the day or whatever since you last saw the lost thing. Memory is just too flakey on things without any emotional oomph to them, and I'm assuming "where I put my keys when I happened to put them where they don't usually live" is usually not an emotional moment here!

Instead, do ersatz as-seen-on-TV FBI profiling. What I literally ask myself is: "If I were me, what unusual place would I have put this thing?" Meaning, don't think of you as you. Think of you given a lot of data on someone else with your habits, your living space, your daily routines in moving about the living space. The kind of things that distract you as you move around that space. All that stuff. You're working a thought exercise on what this "other person" (with, you know, a doppelganger resemblance to you) might have done to put something somewhere where they lose a thing.

It's a kind of targeted dissociation or derealization to remove the frustration cycle from the dammit-where-is-the-thing?! process.

2: When the first exercise fails, I embrace the mystical. Take a deep breath. Calm yourself. Say, with absolute certainty and genuine meaning, "Hey, household spirits? I don't mind at all that you needed to borrow The Thing or move it somewhere else for a bit. Mi casa es su casa, after all, you do good work! But I really do need The Thing right now, would you please return it?"

It's in the next place I look after that enough times that it cheerfully placebos that part of your noggin that's bad at statistics. After it's in the next place you look, genuinely thank the household spirits. It's good to stay on good terms even in imagination!
posted by Drastic at 9:30 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]

Check any laptop bags, backpacks, tote bags, purses, etc? Last year I found a laptop I'd been looking for for MONTHS in an infrequently used messenger bag.
posted by LadyNibbler at 9:31 AM on February 18 [8 favorites]

iPads are tricky because they're so flat - they can end up invisible in a pile of books or papers, or slide behind a stack of whatevers.

I would make a list of the top possible locations and search them VERY WELL. Take everything out and look behind baskets etc, flip carefully through stacks of paper, that kind of thing. Here's my off-the-cuff list:
-Infrequently used backpacks, purses, briefcases (including any hiding in the trunk of your car)
-If you have a car, in the trunk or under the seats and floor mats
-Whatever passes for a junk drawer/area and electronics area at your house
-Way under all the sofas, beds and in/behind all nightstands
-Any old stacks of books and papers you have accumulated that you plan to deal with "eventually," including magazine bins

That's my list, but you should add to it based on where you store electronics and junk. A couple of questions to help you target certain areas - When/where is the last place you believe you had it? What were you doing with it then? Do you have any children? If so did you take it away from one of them and/or hide it from them at some point? If you have children did THEY take it and hide it?
posted by zibra at 9:32 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

This is only tangentially helpful but one of the best life tips I've seen on the internet is when you're looking for something, when you clear a space (like the car or a closet), really clear it so you don't have to go back to it 3 times looking harder each time. Probably sounds obvious but it's helped me.
posted by ftm at 9:39 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]

I have successfully used Professor Solomon's 12 principles for finding lost objects many times. Good luck!
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:41 AM on February 18 [11 favorites]

I've used The Twelve Principles on this hilariously dated-looking website to find lost items in the past. (I have a feeling I originally saw this recommended on the green!)
posted by Cheese Monster at 9:42 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]

I stand on a chair and survey each room, preferably with a flashlight. It doesn’t have to be in the dark, it just helps to have a different light source so things look a little different. For an iPad I would also go though any stacks of flat stuff—books, papers, magazines.
posted by corey flood at 9:43 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

Get your subconscious to figure it out:

Lie down
Close your eyes and imagine your house in great detail. Really feel it.
Ask yourself: is it upstairs or downstairs? Listen for a body based feeling that makes one answer feel better eg, downstairs
Ask yourself: Ok in left hand side or right hand side?
Then, kitchen or living room?

And so on and so forth. This will narrow your search area. Your subconscious remembers where it was unawarely placed but it won’t communicate in conscious thought. More like flashes of images and feelings and hunches.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:53 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]

Someone once told me that the thing you're looking for is always in the first placed you looked, the second time you look there—and it works more often than not because we do usually know where the thing is. The problem is, the thing either fell behind the bookcase or is under the tablecloth or whatever. So go back to where you thought the iPad would be and do a REALLY thorough survey of the entire area. Like, if you pick up a stack of magazines, separate each one and flip through it to make sure the iPad didn't end up in the stack. Good luck!
posted by wisekaren at 10:16 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

Sorry, but I have to second cleaning the house. Like, really thoroughly cleaning the house, down to reorganizing drawers and wiping the walls. Divide the house into zones; I usually sketch a quick x-y graph and rank each zone on ‘likelihood of success’ and ‘difficulty’, then decide some order on that basis. Clean small easy areas first (like, say, a half-bath). Within each zone start in one corner and move progressively so you are certain you’ve covered the whole area. This is a giant pain in the ass, but it does work, and the bonus is that at least you have a clean house at the end of it.
posted by bq at 10:20 AM on February 18 [5 favorites]

Four suggestions - three generic, one specific.

1. iPads are slim and flat, which to me suggests that they are also very easily prone to slipping down behind couches, bedframes, or other pieces of furniture. That may be an avenue of investigation.

2. If you want to go the mystical route, St. Anthony is the Catholic patron saint of lost objects. I have found myself uttering an off-the-cuff prayer to him when looking for something (as simple as "please, St. Anthony, help me out here").

3. I've read that if you actually say the name of the object you're looking for as you look for it, that sort of engages more of your focus onto things; so that thing some people do when they're looking for their keys and say "Okay, keys, where are you" out loud actually helps.

4. Finally, maybe enlisting someone to come over and help you look might be something to try. They would be a fresh set of eyes that might be more likely to spot something in a place you've sort of instinctively overlooked because you always kind of do. Or, if fate is being especially wicked, the very moment you ask someone for help will be the very moment you finally find what you're looking for (that happened to me when I managed to temporarily lose a five-pound tub of sugar one afternoon).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:25 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]

Can you use Find My iPad on Should be able to make it chirp.
posted by metabaroque at 10:46 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]

I'm also on the pro-clean-the-house team. Worst case scenario you have no iPad but a cleaner house. Also in my experience missing iPads are usually in random bags or on bookshelves like a book.
posted by mskyle at 10:46 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Clean/declutter/organize the house because anyway because it won't be wasted time. If you never find the iPad, the house is clean.

Also if anyone lives with you or you have a COVID pod, agree that you should get someone else to look. I have kids so I promise $20 or a free Switch game or something to whoever finds it. They find it.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:00 AM on February 18

I used a stand-in for my iPad mini...I found a small book that was close to the same size (checked dimensions), and then visualized the sort of places that it would fit, and the types of places I would tend to place it. It was smaller than my initial mental picture, turned out to be on top of a row of books on the bottom row of a bookshelf. perfectly logical and safe place, but dark, and not visible from a standing height.
posted by th3ph17 at 11:02 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I lift one of my arms in front of me, whichever arm feels right, and then begin to slowly walk around the house. I just meander, letting my arm guide me to various places, and also just moving my arm around in various directions, like I might go to the closet and scan using my arm throughout the space and think to open some box or look behind something. Sometimes I am led immediately to the right place, and other times it takes several tries before the item is found. The key is to not take it too seriously and make it a game. But it always works.
posted by nanook at 11:05 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

Oh yes, reading some of the posts above reminds me, I also periodically visualize the object I am looking for during the search.
posted by nanook at 11:06 AM on February 18

(Serious, but not time-sensitive answer: stop looking for it, and it'll usually pop up right after you manage to forget about it.)

A more active approach: for something like an iPad, there might be specific areas where you tended to use it: couch, bed, desk, etc.

Taking your couch as an example: Physically go there and sit down with something like an iPad (let's say a Kindle). Put the Kindle down somewhere without getting up. Is the iPad there? Has the iPad fallen down from there or been buried under other things there? If not, pick the Kindle back up, sit back in your original position, let your mind wander for a bit, put the Kindle down somewhere else, repeat. Consider all the places you can comfortably discard the Kindle from your current position.

Then reposition yourself on the couch (maybe if you were sitting on one end, move to the other, or try lying down) and do the same thing. You're lazy, you need to put the thing down with a minimum of effort - what are all the ways you can do that.

Then repeat for all the places where you typically used the iPad.
posted by trig at 11:08 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

When I've done that, it almost always ends up being somewhere that I was pretty sure it was, and when I looked there, I looked right at it and didn't see the thing, even if I thought I carefully looked through everything. A second, third, or tenth look through that location finds it.
posted by stormyteal at 11:14 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I found mine in a stack of papers and books inside a box out in the garage, if that’s any help at all. Apparently I hurriedly “cleaned up” by tossing shit in a box and somehow the box ended up out there. Took two years to find it.
posted by HotToddy at 11:25 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

The exasperating part of that story is that my house is tiny and actually very tidy. I know every square inch of it, so I KNEW with 100% certainty that it wasn't in here. But it never occurred to me that it could be in a box in the garage. I thought I must have left it in a hotel or something. So is there any weird place like your garage where it could have ended up?
posted by HotToddy at 11:30 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Along the line of saying “keys, where are you?” I try to picture the thing and almost prepare my hands to hold it, e.g., for a box, I’d open my hands the right width. It helps ease the panic that blinds me if I’m saying “they’re metal, about the size of a baseball, with a red keychain.”
posted by slidell at 12:06 PM on February 18

Every time I deep clean I end up with an unsorted collection of things that I set aside to deal with later. Sometimes it's a whole bin full of sentimental but otherwise unconnected things from across decades, sometimes just a plastic grocery bag with a few travel-size shampoos and a drill bit. Because I am not so great on the follow-through, I have a collection of these deal-with-later bins and bags in a closet that would scandalize Marie Kondo and my mother. If your brain is anything like mine, that's where the old electronics are. Probably in a sentimental bin, because of the photos.
posted by headnsouth at 12:07 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]

We had an ipad lost for several months. Finally found it cleaning the couch. It had slipped down the back and into the hollow body of the couch. So maybe somewhere weird like that -through a crack somewhere strange.
posted by ChristineSings at 12:18 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]

Just mentioning this on the off chance you did the same husband on the way out to a long overseas trip chucked his laptop in a file cabinet at the back of a closet to hide it from potential burglars. So, he intentionally hid it but then completely forgot he did it (circumstances were very stressful when he left for the trip). Any chance you hid it somewhere in a closet or drawer and forgot?
posted by The Toad at 12:36 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Do you take it on car trips? Is it out in your car, between the seat and the center console? Half the things I lose turn up there. Just last weekend, my HSA card.
posted by HotToddy at 1:22 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

A bright flashlight is essential!
We lost an iPad in a rental car.
We originally thought it fell out on the road somewhere on our road trip. But it was in a deep recess in the passenger door. pocket...couldn't see the black iPad case against the black interior cloth. Went back again, did a thorough search with a bright flashlight and found it.

And check the car!
posted by artdrectr at 1:25 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Try witchcraft/old wives tale: tie a knot in a kitchen towel while thinking about the item you're looking for. Untie the knot. Go find the item.
posted by purple_bird at 1:53 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]

Did you put it on a bookshelf, standing up like a book?

Also, nthing suggestions above to do a general house tidy-up and declutter. That will a) take your mind off it for a bit, b) be a useful feel-good thing to do regardless, and c) might help you find it!
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:53 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Invite a trusted friend to give you a Socratic once-over about where it can/cannot be. Then sleep on it; dreams can be really creative in re-evaluating certainties. Keep notebook and pencil on bedside table to capture [half]results before they fade. Can't wait over night? have trusted friend see if you are hypnotically suggestible.
posted by BobTheScientist at 3:15 PM on February 18

Only because I know multiple people who have left them on airplanes: did you check the pockets in the back seat of your car?
posted by Charity Garfein at 3:51 PM on February 18

Make a list of five places you’re absolutely sure it can’t be. Couldn’t possibly be, because even you aren’t THAT weird! The fridge, the microwave, the towel rack, whatever.

Look carefully in each of those places.

Either it will turn up (my husband’s wallet turned up in the bin we use to store dry cat food!) or a sight/smell/texture might jog a related memory about where the lost item might be.

If it doesn’t work, pick five even-weirder places (toilet tank, mailbox...) and do it again.
posted by armeowda at 5:17 PM on February 18

One technique I don't think has been mentioned yet: lose something else, and look for that.
posted by doift at 9:09 PM on February 18

Flat things like to live with other flat things. It's on a bookshelf, or with magazines, or in a stack of papers.

Things that have sat somewhere for long enough become part of the furniture: you stop seeing them. It's on a cluttered desk, or sitting on the stairs waiting to be taken up, or on the cookery book stand in the kitchen.

Things left unattended seek out dark places. It's nesting under the couch, or behind a bookcase.

Things that are portable get put in bags and taken on trips, and then there's a global pandemic, and you stop using bags. It's in an overnight bag or a day-sack that you never unpacked.

Things that need to charge get plugged in to charge. It's tethered to a power socket or a USB port somewhere. If your laptop lives permanently on your desk, it's under your laptop.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:18 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

1. Dont look in obvious places look in places more practical. For instance book shelves, book stacks or cubbie holes.
2. Things you used it for may hold clues. If you used it for games you played while waiting at the dentist...
3. The last photos you took with it may jog your memory. Or if that fails Its possibly in the garage next to your snow shovel
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 2:59 AM on February 19

My method is to relax, really relax, even give up the search temporarily. I then meditate on the object, trying to visualize how I interact with it, trying to remember the last place I used it. Often a memory rises up to the surface, and I remember something forgotten, and I thoroughly search what is often the last place you’d look. And, voila! It turns up in a suitcase, or in a box underneath something else that I was using at the same time. Good luck!
posted by coldhotel at 4:05 AM on February 19

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