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Ask HN: How can I stop forgetting “things”?
40 points by shubhamjain on Jan 3, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments
No matter how much I try I can't stop forgetting where I kept my stuff, spending a lot of time looking for frivolous stuff. Recently, for the third time I lost my ATM, and I just can't recall where I might have lost it, despite being rarely careful about keeping the card in my wallet.

It is really an annoying problem for me. Any solutions?

My solution is to build habits. I wear only 3 things, wallet, keys and phone each always in the same pants pocket. When one's missing I notice right away.

When I remove them from the pants they're always gathered in the same place. When I remove a thing from the wallet I always put it back in the exact same slot.

I've noticed that every time I walk through an exterior door (in either direction) I unconsciously tap my pockets to confirm the presence of the things that are always supposed to be in them.

It's called 'the triple tap'. Phone, wallet, keys.

Be careful with doing that in crowded public places. It's a helpful behavior to you, but its also a helpful behavior to pickpockets.

The bulge is enough for an attentive pickpocket, especially with how large smartphones have become. Prevention is unlikely, so just check periodically so you aren't surprised later. Further, I think it might even signal to a potential pickpocket that you are aware of you surroundings, even though it's just habit.

I carry 3 thigns: keys, phone, wallet. Each in a different pocket. I tap both front pockets using both hands at the same time, then repeat for back pockets.

So essentially I've told a pickpocket: I keep things in my pockets. Not sure what new information I've armed him with.

You have given him indication that you have something in your pocket worth saving from getting stolen. That's pretty big.

Do you often have things in your pockets not worth saving from being stolen?

If it's in your pockets, is probably at least moderately valuable. Wallet and phone area obviously valuable. Keys might be. Those are the only things a pickpocket is likely to expect from your pockets, and tapping your pockets probably doesn't change that

Suppose you are the thief. In a crowd of people, no one but one person is touching is pockets to check something. You will be attracted to that person and become curious as to what is in his pocket. He's the odd one out.

Probably not. The guy who is checking his pockets just seems like a riskier target.

Good idea. That balances out.

Put things in your front pockets. If you're in a really suspicious area (like traveling through tourist traps abroad) use a hidden body wallet / money belt (they're like a small fanny pack that ties around your stomach under your clothes).

I read a lengthy article about the demise of the pickpocket a while back. Probably on HN. From what I remember, it basically said that pickpockets have gone all but extinct, their skills a thing of a bygone age.

So you haven't been in Barcelona recently :)

I managed to merge my keys and wallet into a single lump by getting a wallet with a grommet for a keyring. It's MUCH harder to forget/misplace than two smaller items.


As for an ATM card, I make a special point of keeping my wallet in my hands while I am using the ATM and my ATM card (or anything else that belongs in the wallet) is not in my wallet. If I put my wallet back in my pocket while something is missing from it, I am much more likely to walk away and leave it behind without realizing it until later.

Yup. I started doing something similar when I was a teenager. I appointed a single place to store my outdoor gear - i.e. a container on a cupboard next to my room's door to put wallet and keys inside (the phone almost never leaves my pocket). It quickly started to feel natural. The only adjustment I do is for colder seasons - instead of storing things in a container, I just keep them in my jacket all the time. Each one has a dedicated place, and stays there whether I'm outside or inside.

This is exactly what I started doing a few years ago, and it's worked wonders. I do still occasionally forget things, but I notice their absence much sooner, and not when on a flight halfway around the world (it's happened.)

I have the exact same configuration too. Keys, phone, wallet. Everything else can easily be replaced at an opportune moment given I have those three items.

When traveling, I replace the keys with my passport. I still bring keys usually, but I put them in my carry-on so as to avoid dropping them. Keys are easily replaced anyway, given a phone, wallet, and passport, so it doesn't matter so much if they go missing then. The passport however, I keep close at all times, it's the key to replacing everything else. The other items, phone, wallet, just makes it easier.

This habit has saved my skin more than once.

Yup, as a forgetful person, I have a similar system - make sure I have inhaler, keys, bankcard and then I'm good to go. Secondary things (like metro card) can be sorted by having the first three.

The movie Memento (about a man without the ability to form new memories) talked about such a system. It works!

Another useful habit for me is to look around when leaving a place. It helped me immensely to avoid losing coats and umbrellas.

Also know as triple tap or 3 point check. I am now so used to it that I feel uncomfortable if I intentionally leave one behind.

Reduce stress in your life if possible, it can negatively impact memory:


Get more meaningful (and the right amount of) sleep, lack of sleep or too much sleep will negatively impact memory as well:


You are exercising regularly, right? If not, you may be missing out on a subtle way to improve your memory as well:


What are you eating in your diet? Reduce the amount of foods - like steak - that increase LDL and change your drinking habits to increase or decrease your alchohol consumption to one drink a day:


Have less stuff.

This may seem like a snarky answer, but I'm deadly serious...

Your mind should be spending it's energy processing important thoughts, not constantly doing read-seeks for the "frivolous". It's trying to tell you something. Listen.

Do whatever you have to do to make that transition as much as you can. I did years ago and it's probably the best thing I ever did to improve my ability to get things done.

For some people, "two" is too much stuff to remember.

You'll never stop forgetting "things". It's just impossible, unless you suffer from having an eidetic memory -> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eidetic_memory

Although personally, I used to forget a lot of things :( you can learn mnemonics to remember/recall more things easily. Reading this book really helped me(fun to read too) http://joshuafoer.com/moonwalking-with-einstein/

I used to use an acronym: KWiK (Keys, Wallet, Knife)

Have a single place you put things, and put them there as soon as you're at that place. I put a small shelf by the door for the wallet and keys, the knife/multi-tool is an always-carry.

Now that I also carry a small flashlight at all times I'm in search of a new acronym, but mostly for completeness--once the habit was built it's almost never a problem anymore.

The phone still gets forgotten on occasion, but it's rarely an issue.

Be mindful of where you place stuff after you use them. Decide on fixed places for all your stuff and make it a point to place them there after you use them.

Its not about remembering where you kept stuff, rather more about where you keep stuff in the first place.

When things have a home, you know where they live and can go find them. My ATM card lives in my wallet. Whenever I take it out for something, it always goes back when it's done.

My wallet is usually in one of three places, although when it's not it's visually easy to find.

I used to sometimes leave my house without my keys and would lock myself out; or would be afraid I lost my wallet accidentally while I was out. So I bought a chain wallet, and attached my keys to the other end. So now I know if i've got my wallet I've got my keys, and vice-versa.

In short, having some systems, reducing or limiting (or simply defining) the homes of things, can go a long way.

I lock the door when I leave the house, requiring me to have my keys by the time the door is locked.

This is an unintuitive connection, but if you aren't already, try to get more sleep. Memory is generally dulled with lack of sleep.

Another detail that goes hand in hand with reducing sleep need is exercise and nutrition (green veggies).

And take some fish oils. DHA is brain food. I think there may be(admittedly tenuous on this one), a brain benefit to coconut oil. Also, try fasting(shown to increase BDNF when entering the ketotic state).

I've just started reading "The Organised Mind" by Daniel Levitin and it seems that there will be answers in that book.

"...memory retrieval requires our brains to sift through multiple competing instances to pick out just the ones we are trying to recollect. (...) This is why it's difficult to remember where we left our glasses or car keys - we've set them down in so many different places over so many years that all those memories run together and our brains have a difficult time finding the relevant one."

I'm about half way through this at the moment - I'm sure a lot of the comments here are completely independent, but most could have easily cited this book! e.g. having a system/habit for things which need to be remembered, reducing the number of things to keep track of, eliminating distractions are all discussed/suggested in the book.

My solution was to have less things I can forget all over the place, so now I only have a phone and wallet on me and everything else goes into a bag, if I need more than phone and wallet.

I agree - less things. Simplify!

As people have mentioned already, its definitely about forming habits. 2 things that are helpful in doing that are lists and alarms. My understanding is that we forget things because our attention, at that moment is focused on something else other than what we are supposed to be doing. We have fantastic alarm systems for getting nutrition or getting rid of waste materials from our body - but alas nothing for products of our thoughts. Lists are great tools for refocusing thoughts. So start with lists. Put it contextually, like on the back of door or the place where you keep your shoes if you want to remember what you should leave the house with. Then add alarms to add the space and time awareness. Check some IFTTT recipes or set location based reminder on your phone to go over the checklists. What would be challenging is refocusing from the current context to what you are supposed to when the alarm goes off. Don't be too harsh on yourself - remember its a leaky bucket by design :P

I've noticed that some ATMs make it near impossible to forget your card by requiring you to take it before dispensing the cash. Even better are the ATMs that just let you swipe the card. I wonder why that's not standard on all ATMs.

There was a particularly bad ATM near my college that did the worst possible thing. It would hold your card during the transaction but then dispense it after the cash. The tellers inside the bank emptied the machine of forgotten cards regularly and kept them in a box behind the counter. They had to dig through a lot of cards to find mine, so this was snaring lots of people. I don't understand why you'd design an ATM that way.

These days I'm just hyper-aware of this. The "walking away from ATM" thought immediately leads to the "do you have your card" thought. Just like checking for wallet, phone, and keys when leaving a place.

How you get better at anything: practice.

Try to catch yourself the next time you put your ATM card somewhere other than in your wallet. Try to catch the moment where you think "I'll just put this here for a second so I can juggle this other stuff", and instead, put it in your wallet.

It's tough. I'm still constantly looking for my phone when I've left it in an odd place. If I'm distracted on my way out the door, I might forget it altogether. Making it my wallet has helped - one less thing - but I have had a few embarrassing moments where I've taken everything _but_ my phone and have needed to ask a favour.

Best of luck in the struggle!

Having a system is definitely a solution. However, maybe you have in reality a different problem than forgetting "things". Let me ask you, did you ever knew where you put your things?

Most people's mind is quite capable of remembering things. The problem is, we are creatures of habit. We are used to execute routines automatically and unconsciously. This is a problem as often it's hard to recall things which are perceived or done unconsciously. So, maybe you want to try to do things - live your life - more conscious and mindful?

Healthy lifestyle will do wonders for your memory. Try to keep your stress levels down, eat right and sleep well. Memory can be trained too. Look up Dominic O'Brien or Tony Buzan. Their books are a bit sensationalist, but the techniques work, e.g. you'll quickly be able to memorize a full deck of cards. Don't know if that kind of training will improve all aspects of memory, but it certainly won't hurt

Some old gas stations used to require you to get a key to use the restroom. The key was sometimes wired to a hubcap, or some other ridiculously large item.

This may seem like a petulant response, but it's one that most therapists would initially ask:

Have you tried to remember them?

Is that the therapist equivalent of 'Have you tried turning it off an on again?' ;)

Counting is a shortcut I use sometimes. For example: instead of focusing exclusively on the 6 specific things I want to get from the grocery store, I remember the number 6. Then before I checkout, I ensure I have at least 6 items. Works for short lists, not so much for long lists.

1. Exercise 30 minutes daily. 2. Sleep 8+ hours. Plan for 9 hours of sleep - that is how you might actually get 8 hours. 3. Don't read newspapers/twitter/facebook - too distracting. Read books, long articles instead.

Make a place for everything, the ATM card goes here (period)

Do that for important stuff and follow the rule to put things back in the places where they belong and you wont have to worry about looking for it.

Perhaps you’re too freaking busy and that’s your real problem, not forgetting per se. I’d suggest you take some time to chill out. Go for a long walk. It always works for me.

You might want to get checked out at a memory clinic.

They have tests and coping strategies regardless of age.

Get rid of all your other crap that is concealing the things you actually need or want.

Do you have sleep anea? It's proven to cause memory issues.

Have you tried using a Bluetooth tracking beacon like TrackR?

I've tried using these things in the past. They're too bulky for some purposes, and when the battery dies you're out of luck.

My bigger problem is not forgetting where I've left things, but forgetting to take things with me when I leave the house. I've often had to turn around and go back to the house to get something I've left behind.

My tip: when you know you're gonna leave the house, prepare for exit earlier.

too much stress and/or reefers will reduce your cognition

I don't think anyone has a problem where they lose stuff so quickly that they need to make a thread about it (though it is getting upvoted).

My best tip is to put ur things next to things u can forget. Do you go outside without shoes because you forgot to wear them? Didn't think so, so put ur keys or "ATM" inside your shoes.

Simple stuff like that... put things u keep losing next to things u never lose.

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