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Never Say “I Left My Stuff Behind!” Again: 4 Memory Tricks

How many of these people in Florence, Italy forgot something because they didn't follow these tips?
How many of these people in Florence, Italy forgot something because they didn’t follow these tips?

Ever misplace your keys or phone, then spend hours looking for them?

Find yourself asking, “Where’s the lost and found?” too often?

During travel, have you ever accidentally left behind pieces of clothing or toiletries… or even your passport?

Do you ever arrive at work or school only to slap your forehead, wailing, “I can’t believe I forgot that paper at home!”?

Follow these four rules, and you will never again forget behind or lose your belongings.

By the time I traveled to Greece, I had this system down and lost nothing.
By the time I traveled to Greece, I had these four rules down and lost nothing.

RULE #1: Always keep things in the same place.

It is shocking how effective this trick is.

At home: keep your essentials (keys, wallet, cell phone, etc.) in the same bag or pocket every single day. If you ever have to remove one (ex: your keychain), replace it to the same place as usual immediately upon reentering the house.

The one time I forgot to do this (I was tired and plopped my keychain on the kitchen counter), I left for work the next day, then returned home and realized I was locked out… for the next four hours!

This rule also holds for storing important but less daily items such as your passport. I always put my passport back in the exact same storage space, after the debacle when I returned from Mexico, threw my passport in the basement, then couldn’t find it for a full year.

During travel: Keep all your stuff in one central heap around your backpack or suitcase. Do not strew your clothes or toiletries around the room, or I guarantee you will forget to put at least one of them back in your bag. (This rule is particularly vital for rapid travel where you stay in one place fewer than three days.)

In Japan, I forgot my awesome soap behind because I didn't follow tip #3.
In Japan, I forgot my awesome soap behind because I didn’t follow tip #3.

RULE #2: While clear-headed, pack for the next day.

Let’s face it: There are times when you are awake and paying attention, and there are times you are not. Rushed mornings are not one of those sane times, so plan accordingly.

At home: Pack everything possible for the next day the night before. If any of my seventh grade students are reading this, this means your homework and notebooks. We both know what happens when you don’t!

During travel: Many departures and check-out times are in the groggy early hours of the morning. If you’ve followed rule #1 in this article, scooping everything into your bag the night before will be no problem.

During motorcycle travel across Vietnam, I didn't lose a thing! Though my computer did get smashed.
During motorcycle travel across Vietnam, I didn’t lose a thing! Though my computer did get smashed.

RULE #3: Always do one last “look behind.”

This takes between two seconds and five minutes, but will save you so much heartache.

At home: Whenever you leave a place (ex: subway, classroom, taxi), turn your head as you are walking away. Look at the place you were sitting and assess if the seat is clear, or if you left behind a book, hat, backpack, or even purse.

I lost one of my favorite sweaters due to forgetting this rule once, and my students forget agenda books on a daily basis because they neglect this two-second trick.

During travel: In addition to the head-turn as you leave transportation, always do a five-minute sweep of your hotel or accommodations before leaving. In particular, check the bathroom, and really do check under the bed.

The main spot to check in the bathroom is inside the shower, as the curtain masks your view. (Oh, Japan, you still have my nice soap container that I left there in 2009.)

In the bedroom, lift the bed’s dust ruffle and take a peek. This move is so cliched that many people skip it, but during a cross-USA train trip, I got to the New Orleans train station ten minutes before departure only to receive a call from the hotel that I had left my tickets under the bed. That was a costly mistake, because there was no time to do anything but to buy new ticket.

My students in Ghana always made sure to pack their books!
My students in Ghana always made sure to pack their books!

RULE #4: Short on time? Take 5 seconds to verify you have the essentials.

You’re bound to lose or misplace a few small things at some point at home or travel, but those are a lot easier to cope without and replace than your most vital belongings.

At home: For daily life, the essentials you should check are: “Keys? Wallet? Cell phone?”

During travel: For travel, the essentials to pack and check are: “Passport? Money? Camera and electronics?” Take the few seconds to verify you have each, and spare yourself days and hundreds of dollars of hassle to deal with their loss.

When traveling in Shanghai, China, we forgot behind a pretty fan because we didn't follow these tips!
When traveling in Shanghai, China, we forgot behind a pretty fan because we didn’t follow these tips!

What are YOUR tricks for keeping track of belongings?

So those are my four tricks, and they’ve helped me to almost never lose or forget anything behind, despite having traveled through over thirty countries. Now, what tips and tricks do YOU have to keep track of your stuff? What tales do you have of remembering or forgetting things? Do share.

Never say "I left my stuff" again!
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Friday 4th of August 2017

Great advice! I am notorious for leaving things behind when I travel... mostly in bathroom stalls or in cabs. I've lost so many things that way. With practice, I've become a bit of an OCD check so now it's instinct to do a once over in every place I go before I exit the premises. Thanks for all the advice.

Lillie Marshall

Wednesday 30th of January 2019

Glad to help!


Wednesday 26th of February 2014

That's when I appreciate having a very OCD dad and now my hubby is the same! They are so organized, I have learned to make mental lists, to double and triple check things and to know exactly what I am carrying, down to the last bit of underwear. It is a chore at first but it works amazinly and have never lost anything ever! thanks Daddy and Oso!


Thursday 17th of October 2013

Great tips Lillie! I always carry a notebook with me and write everything down there. That keeps me more organised and thanks to that I never forget about what I should do :). Love the tip number 3 to always do one last look behind - I'm gonna try this one soon!

Sandy Ottenberg

Friday 18th of October 2013

I lecture frequently and I set up my lecture the nite before. Write everything that I need and check my computer and powerpoint to make sure it is working. Then when I leave in the A.M. I have everything packed, etc. I also have extra extension cord and lamp for the projector.

Sandy Ottenberg

Thursday 17th of October 2013

I had house guest this week and they took a last look around and took my cord to my I-Pad thinking it was theirs. They really looked around!


Thursday 17th of October 2013

Yay! I've been obsessive about teaching my 7th grade students the "look behind" trick this year, and it seems to have significantly cut down on left-behind goods!

Emelia C.

Monday 23rd of September 2013

Thanks for the great tips! I'm a very last minute person, so the tip about doing it all the night before should help. Sad about that fan isn't it.

Grazielly D.

Saturday 21st of September 2013

I'll make sure to remember these helpful tips! Beautiful pictures by the way!

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