Doug offers some friendly quick tips for finding things that are lost

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Summary: The other day, Sarah lost her keys. We eventually found them. These are some general tips about how to find things. They sometimes actually work. Sometimes.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

(15:53:14 CDT)

Doug offers some friendly quick tips for finding things that are lost

I have a small digital stack of digital photos to sort and label and such, so I can spit out the 10 best from our weekend trip to Cathedral Caverns (including photos of my mom); but I am not quite currently in the digital sorting mood. Since I said the word digital a few hundred times in that sentence, why not indulge a bit of etymological surmising? We all know, from our good book Wheelock, that digitus refers to fingers and toes. Digits, in the sense of counting, refers to the numbers below 10. i.e., the numbers you can count on your fingers. From everything I can tell, digital in the computer sense derives from the word computer in the most literal sense. Something which computes. Calculates. Manipulates digits to a sum. Playing out six-degrees-of-separation, we have a word, meaning "parts of hand" changing over in stages until it most frequently comes to mean something that is absolutely untouchable by hands. Isn't that fascinating? I told you I was not a grammar Nazi!

The Friday before my mom came up, we had our apartment steam-cleaned. If this triggers a sense of déjà vu, I posted about this on Friday. At the end of that post, I talked about Sarah's keys going missing. Which we did, eventually, find (after the post, before my mom showed up). While searching, though, I started going through my quasi-rote tricks for finding things. I have accumulated them over the years. Some work well, some kind of just help to keep you focused on not getting angry. Use them as you will, and maybe they will help out.

A. The real reason something is lost is usually because the normal state of system was not maintained: that sounds fancy, but keep in mind that we are creatures of habit. We get used to things being where we put them. We get used to putting them in particular places. We get used to seeing things in some particular place. As I told Sarah, in all the cases of lost things I have ever seen, two common causes are frequent: (1) we put the item some place that we did not think about (e.g., we put the item some place different, we used the item after the last time we remebered using the item, we took a detour, etc) or (2) something recently obscured the item. To counteract the first one, I recommend tip B (re-enact). To counteract the second, try tip C (think in terms of the whole system). There is a number 3, there, which is that someone else may have moved the item. That is what Tip F (ask around) is for.

B. Re-enact: someone mentioned this in some book, but I cannot recall who. Anyhow, re-enacting what you did when you first came home is a great tool to help find things. This comes in some different flavors. You can pretend that you are just coming home, thinking of the item in hand, and then just let your "instinct" walk you to where you want to put it. Or, you can you walk through a checklist of things you did with the item in hand and see if the item was left nearby. If nothing else, it might jar a memory. As I said above in Tip A (system change), the reason the item is lost is because it is not where you think it is. It is quite likely that you are not remembering answering the phone, or making a snack, or looking in the mirror. Going down the list of little things you did will help greatly. Sarah's keys, by the way, were found when I came back in set in my study in the exact same way, and she got up and remembered walk around me to her arts-and-craft's shelf. By the way, notice I did chose re-enact over "remember", here. See Tip G (memory traps) for some reasons why.

C. What else has changed?, aka "think in terms of the whole system": there is a small to large chance that the item is where you would normally put it, something else just got put on top. What else has changed around the home. Did you fold laundry? Did you go shopping and leave bags around? Did you shove magazines on your coffee table over to make room for your laptop? The system might not have changed at all, in which case you can skip this step, but keep this mind.

D. Be thorough when you search and keep backtracking down to a minimum: this is a big one. No matter where you look, or how you look, just make sure you are thorough. Do not search an area and then come back to that area at random. If you search the living room, really search the living room and then move on. If what you are looking for is particularly small, or you have a lot of clutter, it might not hurt to make notes. That sounds silly, but when people search for stuff, in my experience, they often toss things around and then come back to the couch three or four times. Search something, search it well, and then move on and only come back to it once you have searched every where else.

E. Stay focused on exactly what is in front of you: Do not think ahead. Focus on what is right in front of you. If you are searching the bookcase, do not think about the kitchen (unless your kitchen has a bookcase). It is easy to get flustered and forget where you have searched. It is also easy to be distracted while searching, which never helps. Likewise, frustration and/or panic decrease the chance of finding anything.

F. Ask around: Who else could have been involved in this? Do not forget that someone may have seen your camera, thought it would be a good time to charge it, and then took it into the other room. If your immediate response is "they know better!" then you might want to rethink it. Even the best intentions can lead to problems. Here's a pro-tip, though, if you do ask, keep the accusation low. Unless you have proof they stole it or did it on purpose. You do not want to alienate the people whose help you need.

G. Watch out for memory traps: There are two big memory traps that I can think of. The first is of the "I'm sure I had it right here, last". Your mind can recreate scenes incorrectly all day. Think about the last time you had your wallet out (or whatever similar thing). Now, think about yourself being outside during the scene. Think about yourself as being near a street. You were near a bustop. There was a stop sign on the corner. A group of guys wearing green shirts stood nearby, but the shirts were short sleeved and you remember thinking how silly it was to wear such clothes when it was that cold. Most of you are able to insert those memories right on into the equation. Parts of them. It is easy for us to fake our own memories of events, based on what we think should be the answer. Just think, it only takes three of us to put someone in the electric chair. Woot. Ok, the second bit above happens moreso with DVDs, books, and CDs. We become convinced we can remember the cover well, and start looking for orange background and white letters. Except that's the back-cover, maybe, or maybe it is orange letters on yellow background. If you allow yourself the shortcut of trying to find the cover's pattern in the clutter, double check that you have the right one. Especially if you enlist the aid of a friend who may not know the item besides through your description.

H. Avoid making new clutter: Lastly, avoid making a mess while searching. This hinders the thoroughness, makes it harder to stay focused, increases panic and frustration, and potentially increases the degree with which something is buried.

I know most of those were common sense, but maybe they can help some of you out.

Si Vales, Valeo


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