The art of losing things: Keep moving them around


The worst thing about losing things is that when you eventually find them, they're always where you left them. (This assumes you live alone or otherwise can control who touches your stuff.) I have a mental place for most things, and I keep them there, which is great, because when I need, say, my passport, I know where to go.

Except that I undermine my own organizational system. For example, the passport will be in the passport drawer for months, and then a trip is coming up, so I go to the passport drawer and confirm, yup it's still there. And then here's where I undermine myself: I take the passport out of the passport drawer and move it to a "better" location. In this moment of temporary insanity, I've convinced myself that this new location is better because it's more convenient, more obvious, more... something.

And then shortly before the trip, I go to the passport drawer and... it's not there! I then realize, "Oh right, I moved it a few weeks ago to a better place. Where was that better place?" I spend the next hour or so searching through my entire house looking for the passport. Eventually, I find it, but it's a few hours of my life I'll never get back.

After repeating this comedy of errors year after year, I finally figured it out: Don't move stuff around! Leave it where it is, even if where it is happens to be, in your momentary opinion, suboptimal.

That rule has served me well, but some time ago it backfired. I needed to recharge the battery in my digital camera, and I looked in the obvious locations without success. And then I remembered, "Wait, I saw the recharger two weeks ago, and I resisted the urge to move it to a 'better' location." Unfortunately, I couldn't remember the original location.

I didn't find the recharger for two days.

Reminder: This Web site will be on autopilot next week and most of the week after that because I will be out of the country. Assuming I can find my passport.

Hopefully nobody will post a comment that gets me fired.

Comments (39)
  1. required says:

    As long as you don’t take your own advice too literally and forget to move your passport into the "better place" which is your travel bag: have a good trip!

  2. that’s funny, has happened to everyone (the worst is when you are looking for things that are in your hands), I agree for the most part, but I think is a bit extreme to not move things before traveling, you could have a place for "important things to take" like passport, documents, keys, etc

  3. Nathan_works says:

    Where was the "better" place you left the charger ?

    And trust me, having other people around, and trying to blame them is a sure fire one way ticket back to being alone.. I’ll only say, "Honey, where’d you put my ____?" in jest now..

  4. Tom says:

    Oh man.  You are so right, Raymond.

    The worst for me is when I do something stupid with my glasses.  I have three places that my glasses go: on my face, on the table next to me, or on my nightstand when I go so sleep.  Sometimes, I get crafty and put them in some other location — for example, when working on my car I might take them off to prevent them from getting scratched — and I immediately forget where I put them.

    The worst part about it is that I can’t see my glasses, because I don’t have my glasses on!  It can take me hours and hours to find them.

  5. Will says:

    Darnit Raymond, my first thought was to make a comment to get you fired while you were away, but I guess I won’t since you indicated that is unwanted.

    Would it be okay if I posted some comments which would get you barred from reentering the US or maybe even arrested and wisked away by Fatherland Security?

  6. Fred says:

    I must have found a MUCH better place for my camera charger.  I haven’t seen it for over a year now.

  7. bramster says:

    They:  Your house is a mess.

    Me:  It’s my mess.  I know where everything is.

    As soon as I "clean up",  I spend a couple of hours "tidying up", and then many more hours searching for stuff. . .

    Now, if I could put a Rfid tag on everything. . .

    Hmmm. . .   Business opportunity?

  8. Aaron says:

    I did this with my ring once.  I was moving, and I’d left it on the passenger seat of my car, and at some point I guess I realized that it wasn’t a very safe place and put it in a little zipper pouch.

    Only problem was that I didn’t remember moving it.  So for nearly a week I was freaking out that I’d lost it, thinking that it had fallen out when I opened the door.

    The sense of relief after finally opening the pouch for some totally unrelated reason and seeing that ring was pretty intense.

  9. J says:

    "Hmmm. . .   Business opportunity?"

    No, because if you don’t have the ability to organize your stuff now, you’re certainly not going to be able to manage an inventory system.

  10. Thom says:

    There’s no need to manage an inventory system.  In a few years everything you buy will be pre-tagged so all you’ll need is to purchase a set-top box and a few remote RFID detectors for your rooms.  Where are your keys?  Turned on the tv and it tells you what room.  You’re only out of luck if you lost your tv remote and can’t figure out how to turn the tv on without it.  I think it’s a great money making idea even if it never does work as advertised.  Think of all the venture capital money you could rake in selling this concept… especially as an aid for the forgetful, elderly, and the like.

  11. Mikkin says:

    Happens to everybody. In my family the phrase "in a safe place" always and unambiguously means "misplaced and can’t be found."

  12. Krenn says:

    This happens to passwords, too. Once I forget a password and have to change it, I change it to something EASIER to remember. Later on, of course, I can only remember the original password, not the "easy-to-remember" one.

  13. steveshe says:

    That business opportunity was already identified and filled: http://www.loc8tor.com/

  14. Jim says:

    Password is a bitch, you can not know what to do with it. Specially for my work phone voice mail password. One of my co-work got famous on the story. I used to work at this company some years ago for the customer service. We just hired a young beatiful female customer service rep. She got a request on her first day from one of our VP for reseting his voice mail, cause he forgot his paaword. She did it in a hard way, which means she erased all his voice mail (blown up his voice mail). And the VP got so pissed and he made sure that everybody in the company knows whos she is. Well it’s not too hard anyways, cause she was so engaging.

  15. Kip says:

    I’m not trying to get Raymond fired, but I talked to him on the phone last night and he said he hates his boss and all his co-workers and all his friends and all his family members.  Then he started dropping obscene racial slurs all over the place.  Then he started talking about how he was involved in a terrorist plot of some kind.  Then he pirated a song from the latest Justin Timberlake album (right there while he was talking to me!).  Then he talked about how he wanted to burn down an orphanage in the middle of the night while all the orphans were sleeping.  Then he started making homophobic remarks.  Then he dropped even more racial slurs.

    All this is 100% true and is not at all a joke based on the fact that he said for people not to leave comments that would get him fired.

    PS That was sarcastic.

    PPS No it wasn’t.

    PPPS Okay it was.

  16. Jay Bazuzi says:

    At one time, I had lots of duplicate tools, because I couldn’t remember if I already had what I needed, so I’d buy another.  Of course I couldn’t remember – I had too many.  I had tools I’d never used.  I had tools I hadn’t even opened!  

    If you can’t keep track of your stuff, it means you have too much to fit in your brain.

    Better organization helps only marginally.  

  17. Thom says:

    At one time I didn’t have enough tools.  No matter what I needed to do I could never find the right tool for the job.  Then I moved down the street from this guy, I’ll call Jay, who was so out of it that he couldn’t remember what tools he had – and he had a LOT of tools.  

    Now I have a lot of tools.  More tools than I need.  I borrowed them all from Jay and he never missed them.  The funniest part is that, last summer when I was out of a job, I had a yard sale and sold many of the unopened duplicate tools – to Jay.

    I think I need some new tools.  I wonder if Jay will be home this weekend?

  18. Jeremy says:

    Systems for living.

  19. Drizzt says:

    I’m the only one here who still believe that objects sometimes move around by their own will?

  20. John C. says:

    I’ve learned a similar lesson with regard to filing paper. In Getting Things Done, David Allen recommends having a single filing system that is ordered alphabetically. I used to resist this notion intensely, figuring I always had some reason that *this* folder or *that* folder was special and deserved its own order, usually based on some cache-like frequency-of-use model, combined with different conceptual clusters. What a mess.

    Anyway, I finally decided to try his absurdly simple approach for a month, and to my amazement found it to be vastly superior to my previous "improvements".

    Now if only banks would stop messing up my beautiful files with their constant mergers…

  21. Igor Levicki says:

    Again Raymond demonstrates that Microsoft will never get it right. In Vista they moved EVERYTHING around.

    [And people thought I was being unreasonable when I created the

    Pre-emptive Igor Levicki comment
    category. -Raymond
    ]
  22. Nick says:

    @Igor: Come on. Tell us how you really feel about Vista!

    Don’t worry Raymond.  I won’t tell anyone anything about all those things you did that would get you fired if anyone knew. Nope, not a soul.

  23. Igor Levicki says:

    Oh but I love Vista! I really do, I was merely pointing out some minor quirks, that’s all, it doesn’t mean I hate it or Microsoft or one of their greatest employees, Raymond. I love you too, may the stars of love shine bright upon thee for eternity!

  24. Igor Levicki says:

    The above comment obviously wasn’t posted by me.

    >And people thought I was being unreasonable when I created the Pre-emptive Igor Levicki comment category.<<

    That means I am one of a kind :)

    Hey, isn’t this blog on auto-pilot or you still haven’t found your passport?

    Anyway, I just pointed out how Microsoft, guided by your personal experience should have left things (those which worked of course) in a place where they have been for the last decade.

  25. klojo says:

    Raymond, can’t you give a colleague or relative access to your account so (s)he can take 5 minutes every day to delete snarky comments? Maybe even someone from HR? (I’d volunteer, but I don’t think you’ll be sending your account details to the address where I can be contacted, klojo@mailinator.com, anytime soon. ;)

  26. mastmaker says:

    In response to Igor Levick’s comment (and a significant number ‘Vista Sucks’ comments in general):

    I think I figured out what the problem is: The baby-boomer-generation-of-PC-users have hit middle age just in time for Vista release. They suddenly hate innovation, the changes it introduces. They wax eloquently on the virtues of old thing (XP) and the vices of the new thing.

    For the record, I belong to this baby boomer generation, and I am using Vista (with aero) on a pentium M laptop, and earlier a P4 desktop and I don’t find it slow or unstable or buggy or hard to use AT ALL. Am I just different or have all these commenters (Igor Levicki excepted – it is obvious he used it) have really played around with Vista, before they made their pronouncements?

  27. Cooney says:

    I think I figured out what the problem is: The baby-boomer-generation-of-PC-users have hit middle age just in time for Vista release. They suddenly hate innovation, the changes it introduces. They wax eloquently on the virtues of old thing (XP) and the vices of the new thing.

    Meh, having Vista interrupt my fullscreen whatever to ask me if <unrelated thingy> can do something or innovating the driver model a few months before release or telling me I can’t play some HD video because I might have an insecure datapath doesn’t sound like the sort of thing I’d like.

    But then, I’m a unix head who tunnels everything over ssh.

  28. Jamie says:

    I was going to make a similar Vista comment, but aimed squarely at the Vista UI design team and not at Raymond.

    I know exactly how it feels to implement something that seems to be pointless, but nevertheless mandated by someone higher up the food chain.

    Keep up the good work Raymond. You certainly know what you’re doing, even if others around you are clueless at times.

  29. steveg says:

    >>And people thought I was being unreasonable when I created the Pre-emptive Igor Levicki comment category.<<

    That means I am one of a kind :)

    You mean you were the one person who thought Raymond was being reasonable?

    Anyway, I just pointed out how Microsoft, guided by your personal experience should have left things (those which worked of course) in a place where they have been for the last decade.

    No, you were just whinging again like a teenager.

  30. tonyschr says:

    In the spirit of the last sentence of the post –

    Raymond, do you know if using ROT13 encoding is a safe way of encrypting data written to the registry?

    :P

  31. Morten says:

    It helps to have a dog to blame it on but sadly that only works for slippers. He sleeps on them in strange places and never where they’re easily accessible. Why he does it is a mystery to me as they’re not very comfortable to sleep on, esp. not when wedged behind the washing machine, but it’s probably a dog thing.

  32. noone in particular says:

    Drizzt:

    I’m the only one here who still believe that objects sometimes move around by their own will?

    No, I am positively sure that socks are an alien life form from another planet, who for some incomprehensible alien  reasons decide to serve us to warm our feet.

    And then all of a sudden they decide it is time to leave and never come back.

    Pens simply get stolen by the dwarwes inhabiting the offic at night, but socks actively leave us!

  33. DysgraphicProgrammer says:

    Drizzt:

    I’m the only one here who still believe that objects sometimes move around by their own will?

    Not by their own will exactly. You see, I have a hyperspace vortex attached to me. Any item I have touched, looked at or thought about at any time in the past has a finite chance of being sucked into hyperspace when no one is looking. Later, it falls out of hyperspace in a random time and place.

    I also seem the have a pen repulsion field that causes all my pens to end up in the hands of others.

    I am not sure if these effects are related or not, but it seems likely.

  34. manyirons says:

    No, I am positively sure that socks are an alien life form from another planet, who for some incomprehensible alien  reasons decide to serve us to warm our feet.

    And then all of a sudden they decide it is time to leave and never come back.

    They return to their home planet, safe behind the drum of your dryer.  Remove the protection of the drum and they’ll return to you.

  35. N. Velope says:

      Well I got a tablet PC with an empty hard drive from ebay, then bought a boxed copy of Vista.  It’s awesome on tablets – handwriting recognition with a little option thingy on the side that lets me enter cursive or tap at a screen keyboard to enter text into any application.  

  36. Igor Levicki says:

    If you wish to keep censoring my comments then say so and I am gone.

    Your posting of "pre-emptive Igor Levicki comments" isn’t funny when I can’t defend myself.

  37. Hayden says:

    @RFID item tracking.

    Many years ago at college, I had one of the "whistle" keyrings –  you whistle at just the right pitch, and it beeps at you. I was so utterly lousy at keeping hold of my keys that when friends came around before going down the pub, they would say "are you coming" then whistle themselves, to speed up the inevitable  look-under-every-book-and-discarded-underwear process that ensued.

  38. Alex says:

    The moral of the story is not that you should keep moving things around, or that you should not.

    It is only that you are getting older.

  39. Steve says:

    Igor said:

    If you wish to keep censoring my comments then say so and I am gone.

    Your posting of "pre-emptive Igor Levicki comments" isn’t funny when I can’t defend myself.

    Yawn.

    Boring.

    It took a while for this to get to the point where Raymond invented the category: googling your name + vista on this blog gives 30+ results older than one month.

    You get dinged 3 times and you start crying.

    I call sore loser on you.

    • Steve

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