How to Stop Losing Things

Get tips on how to stop losing things you have a habit of misplacing.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #119

How to Stop Losing Things

Some of us are absent minded. We lose stuff. We forget where we keep it; we forget where we leave it. We leave our cell phones in the coffee shop, our wallet in our car, our glasses on the bureau, and in my case, I sometimes run around looking for my keys with my right hand, not noticing I’m holding them in my left. There’s a reason the neighborhood kids weren’t allowed to play with me growing up.

How to Stop Losing Things

I try to help myself remember. I always think, "This time I’ll put my keys someplace special, so I’m sure to remember." Of course, "someplace special" is different every time, so this strategy just becomes a wonderful way to lose the things that I care most about keeping.

Next time you visit a zoo, look around. You know what you’ll never find? You’ll never find an elephant’s wallet left on the concession stand cash register. Why? It’s because elephants never forget. They can’t or else they wouldn’t be able to find the nuts they stored up for the winter. We aren’t so lucky, but we can learn a lot about memory from elephants.

Make a Place for Everything

Elephants are creatures of habit. Many live in small artificial zoo enclosures without a lot of storage space. Most even have to share a closet. So they’re meticulous about giving everything a place. And I mean everything!

They have a little grassy nook right by the entrance, where their wallet, keys, and coin purse goes. Every time they come home, they drop things there. It takes practice to create a habit, but it’s well worth it.

Learn the elephants’ lesson. Create a place for your most important things, like your wallet and keys. Use a test run. Walk into your house carrying your things, and look for a place you’ll be able to put them every single time you get home. Your keys, for instance, could always go just inside the door in that priceless Four Dynasty Chinese Urn you found on eBay.

Create Multiple Places If Necessary

If you use both your front door and your back door, create a home in both places. Buy a second priceless urn and put it by the back door. When you get home, you always put your keys into the nearest urn. When it’s time to leave, you know your keys are in one of two places.

My class ring got lost for years at a time. Now, it only has three homes. It lives on my desk to the right of my computer monitor when I’m typing. It lives next to my iPod charger at night, and it lives in a special pocket in my luggage when traveling. When I need it, I only need to check those places. If it’s not in any of those, then it’s probably on my finger, so I check there.

Teach Your Brain to Remember

It’s often immature and petty to try to put people in their place, but it’s extremely good form to put things back in their place. Here’s how to train yourself to put things where they belong. Once you’ve decided where your wallet will live, make a mental picture of you putting it there. Next, imagine the view into your house when you first walk in. Put a tiny dot in the center of that picture. Imagine the dot rushing towards you super-fast, getting bigger and brighter and turning into the picture of you putting your wallet in its place.

Give everything a place, and train your brain with imagery to remind you to put stuff away the moment you get to your home or office.

Blank your mind and do this again, faster. See the view into your house, add a dot, and woosh! into a picture of you putting it away. Do this ten times, faster each time, until you do it in under a second. If you come in multiple doors, repeat this for each view. You’re teaching your brain to remember to put your wallet away as soon as you get home.

Stop Leaving Things in Other Places

This is great for putting things where they belong at home, but what about leaving stuff in unexpected places? That’s simple. Do it again, but instead of starting with the view into your house, start with a mental picture of your wallet, itself. Teach yourself that any time you see your wallet, you immediately think of putting it away. That can be very helpful if you’re trying to save money.

As a final check, create a habit of scanning places before you leave. Always. So you don’t think about it.


Quick and dirty tip: Before leaving a hotel room, I put all my luggage by the door and do a final scan through the room from wall to wall to catch anything I may have left behind. Even when I know I have everything, I do the scan. By making it a habit, I may do it when I don’t need it, but I’ll also do it when I do need it.

You lose things that don’t have a home. Give everything a place, and train your brain with imagery to remind you to put stuff away the moment you get to your home or office. Add a habit of doing a final sweep whenever you leave somewhere, and pretty soon you, too, can be an elephant.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.