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Why Do We Misplace Things?

Why Do We Misplace Things?

Think about how often you misplace regular, everyday items — your cellphone, keys, money, sunglasses. Annoying, right? Yet we all do it. (On Seinfeld, the gang even misplaced Kramer’s car in a parking garage!) If you’re like me, at some point you’ve probably wondered why you mislay things in the first place. I mean, it was just in your hand a second ago. Why can’t you find it?

The Rumor: We misplace things because we’re distracted

Life can get pretty hectic. Between juggling chores at home, completing a million tasks at work, and squeezing in some downtime with friends… well, a few things are bound to fall through the cracks, and there’s little we can do to change that.

Searching for misplaced items can be frustrating and time-consuming, though we mostly just accept it as par for the course. And it’s OK when it only happens now and then. But have there ever been times in your life when you seem to be misplacing things constantly? What’s that about?

The Verdict: Constantly misplacing items is a warning sign that we’re mentally overloaded

The simple truth is that the human brain is just not built for multitasking — but that certainly doesn’t stop us from trying, especially when faced with the relentless demands of a modern lifestyle. If you’ve been misplacing things a lot lately, it could indicate that you’re trying to do more than your brain can cope with and may need to start making some changes to your schedule (i.e., cutting things out).

“A lot of times we’re just not being mindful,” observes Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and author of The Friendship Fix. “While we’re setting down our keys somewhere we’re already thinking of something else entirely, and we’re not really in the moment.” There’s an old memory adage that goes: “If you don’t encode, you can’t retrieve.” In other words, if you don’t pay attention and consciously think about something, your brain won’t record it — and you won’t be able to remember it later. So when it comes to remembering where you left your keys, there’s really no way you can do it, because you weren’t focusing when you put them down in the first place.

That said, some people are a little more absentminded than others, and more prone to forgetting things even when they think they’ve “encoded” them. “It happens more with creatively [minded] people,” says psychotherapist Steven Berglas, Ph.D., author of Your Own Worst Enemy: Understanding the Paradox of Self-Defeating Behavior. “They don’t have that same rigidity in the way they [do things].”

If you’ve been misplacing things more frequently lately, there are steps you can take. First, Bonior suggests that you try to get more sleep, because people misplace things more often when they’re tired. And since increased stress hinders people’s ability to recall details, she says, try not to panic next time you misplace something important. Instead, take a few deep breaths and stay calm — its location may suddenly pop into your mind. And finally, you can try training yourself to remember things later by saying whatever it is you want to remember out loud (e.g., “I am parking my car on level 2F”). Speaking engages a different area of your brain, says Bonior, and that will increase your chances of remembering details for a longer period of time.

Frances Masters

Frances Masters is a BACP accredited psychotherapist with over 30,000 client hours of experience. Follow her @fusioncoachuk, or visit The Integrated Coaching Academy for details about up coming training.