The Lost and Found Guide: Tips for Finding Misplaced Items in Your Home

Andreea Draguleasa
Last Updated on March 28, 2024

Having one of those days? You’re ready to head out, but your keys have vanished. Or maybe it’s movie night, and the remote has mysteriously disappeared. Losing track of things at home is all too common. So common, in fact, that we thought it was high time we created a guide on how to find something you lost.

But why stop at just finding lost items? Let’s make it easier for you to keep your space tidy so your belongings stay put and are easier to find. We have peppered this guide with expert tips, ideas for organizing and some nifty tech tools to help locate your elusive stuff.

Strategies for finding lost items:

Lost Items = Time Lost

If you’ve ever spent more time than you would like trying to track down your car keys, you’re not alone.

Americans spend an average of two hours each week looking for misplaced items in their home, according to a recent survey conducted by SpareFoot for National Moving Day.

That adds up to more than 100 hours a year of digging through couch cushions and piles of clutter to find missing objects. For some, the amount of time dedicated to searching is even greater: 27 percent spend two hours or more looking for belongings in their house, the survey found.

Top Strategies For Finding Lost Items

To save time and reduce frantic hunts for missing items, follow these strategies to  locate your errant possessions quickly and effectively.

Calm Down and Retrace Your Steps

When your grocery list is nowhere to be found, and you’re about to leave for the store, your first instinct may be to frantically rummage through the entire house.

Before you do, follow the advice of Professor Solomon, findologist and author of “How to Find Lost Objects.”

Solomon says to sit down, relax, and clear your mind. Take a deep breath. To carry out a successful search, Solomon recommended following the “Three C’s,” which consist of comfort, calmness and confidence.

Once you begin your search, if you don’t find it in the usual spots, think back carefully.

“Mentally envision all the places you have been since you last remember having the object,” said Solomon.

Try to remember where you last saw the item. If that doesn’t work, retrace your steps and go to each place you ever remember seeing the object in your home.

“It’s important, while following your trail, to do so in a slow, calm, watchful, meticulous manner,” said Solomon.

While lost items are always discovered hiding in the last place you look, if you start with the most cluttered parts of your home you might find what you are looking for in the first place you look. A study from University of Aberdeen in Scotland found that the brain tends to automatically search for things in the cleanest area first. This is counterintuitive since if the lost item was in a clean area, you would probably see it right away and it wouldn’t be missing.

Instead go straight for the most cluttered piles in your home, where your missing item is most likely buried. It might take a bit more effort, but at least you might clean up a little in the process.

Utilize Search Patterns

Ah, trying to find lost items — so little time, so many possible hiding spots. That’s where the beauty of systematic searching techniques comes into play. Nathaly Vieira, a professional home organizer and owner of InspireClean, advocates for a methodical approach when faced with this familiar predicament.

“Before you begin, make a mental list of all the places your item could possibly be. Once you have your list, start searching in each place one at a time and mark it off your list once you’ve completed the search,” she said. This step-by-step process can prevent chaos, ensure that no stone is left unturned and bring you closer to finding what you’re looking for.

Initiate your search in the most logical locations based on the item’s usage. For instance, if you are looking for your reading glasses, start by checking around your favorite reading nook. Gradually expand your search to cover the entire house if necessary, room by boom and section by section. This approach saves time and ensures you cover all possible areas without repetition or confusion.

Check Unusual and Hidden Places

We just saw how helpful it is for finding lost objects to be methodical and thorough. But searching techniques aren’t all work and no fun. The thing is the usual suspects — tables, drawers or countertops — might not be where your lost item chose to hide. So, if you have to play a game of hide and seek, you may need to challenge conventions. Vieira believes that creativity is a key ally in finding something you misplaced.

“Don’t just look in obvious locations like drawers or the kitchen. Try thinking outside the box and look in unlikely places like between couch cushions, underneath furniture, under rugs, in coat pockets and behind furniture,” she said.

Seek Assistance From Others

Ever heard of the saying ‘Two heads are better than one’? Well, when figuring out what to do when you lose something, this motto holds quite true. Searching solo for a misplaced item can often feel like a wild goose chase, especially when the item holds value or importance. But you don’t have to do it alone.

  • Communicate efficiently: Ask if anyone (such as your mischievous children perhaps) has seen the missing item. Sometimes, someone else might have unintentionally moved it or know of its whereabouts. 
  • Recruit a fresh pair of eyes: Invite a family member or friend to join the hunt. They might bring fresh perspectives, helping you inspect the original spots more thoroughly or even remember clues about the item’s last known location. Make it a team effort and work together to cover more ground efficiently.
  • Expand the search area: If you’re certain the item isn’t in the house, extend the search. Call the places you visited before losing the item, like the deli, gym or bank, and inquire if it’s in their lost-and-found bin. Even if it’s not there, you’ll have one less place to worry about.

Stay Calm and Patient

Don’t know what to do when you lose something? Here’s a hint: Don’t panic! Yes, an often overlooked, yet critical step is to stay calm and patient. The process can understandably be frustrating, especially when the lost item holds sentimental or practical value. But agitation only muddles your thoughts and hampers your search efforts.

Maintain a level-headed mindset with these tips:

  • Seek silence: Cut the noise around you. A quiet environment not only helps you hear any clues to your item’s whereabouts, such as a phone buzzing or a piece of jewelry jingling, but it also allows for a steadier, calmer mind.
  • Take breaks: If the search proves to be prolonged and stressful, remember to take breaks. Step away, reset your focus and approach the situation anew. This can prevent burnout and maintain your determination.
  • Maintain a positive attitude: Above all, remember that many lost items can be found eventually. Keeping a positive outlook can fuel your search efforts and increase your chances of success.

How to Prevent Misplacing Items in the Future

We’ve all heard that a tidy space means a tidy mind. But did you know that it could also mean less time spent searching for misplaced items? Jaye Harrison, an event planner, organizational expert and founder of Parties Made Personal, knows this all too well and recommends fostering an organized environment as a great preventative measure.

“Drawing up specific places for different categories of items can save you a world of trouble. You’d be amazed at how a simple thing like a ‘keys bowl’ can streamline your daily routine,” she said.

This mantra, known as ‘mise-en-place’ or ‘everything in its place,’ goes beyond chefs in the kitchen and is a principle that Harrison has adopted in her professional and personal life.

Here are some more ways to organize your space to avoid turning it into a blackhole for your things.

Organize the Entryway

“Create a ‘Command Central’ area where you keep keys, handbags, backpacks, cell phones, and other important items you need on a daily basis,” said Leticia Pfeiffer, organizing stylist and founder of Styled & Organized Living in Dallas.

Set up this station by the door that your family members use the most. Add tools to make it work, such as a basket for electronics or phones, trays for glasses or keys, and drawers for smaller items.

Make Spaces Work For You

When organizing your dressing area and closet, think about how you like to find pieces. If you love open spaces and neat arrangements, organize your wardrobe to reflect that perspective.

“Open shelves and cubbies make it easier to see each garment,” said Deb Broockerd, a senior designer at Closet Factory, a custom storage solution based in Los Angeles.

And if you prefer everything in one spot, but not folded perfectly, consider cabinets with doors, advised Broockerd. When you’re looking for a shirt, you can open up the cabinet and search through the spot to get the one you have in mind.

There’s an App For That

Technology can significantly simplify your search and help you stay organized.

For instance, Harrison leverages gadgets like label makers and tracking devices such as Tile to keep her world organized. The way Tile, and other bluetooth trackers like AirTag, works is that you attach the tracker to your item – anything that might need finding. Then download the app to start tracking with the push of a button.

“Being able to track my frequently misplaced items with an app is a game-changer,” she said. These tools clearly come in handy for a party-organizing crew like hers but you can also put them to good use in your home.

Vieira advises utilizing automated systems and home assistants. While robotic vacuums and lawnmowers can take care of household tasks without needing to be reminded, it is “home assistants like Nest or Cozi that allow you to store all your family information in one place for easy access and tracking,” she said.

Develop Strong Organizational Habits

When it comes to preventing the loss of items and avoiding the need to retrace steps, adopting good organizational habits is key. By implementing habits like immediately returning items to their designated places, you can eliminate the chaos of searching for things you lost at home.

Here are a few habits from organizational experts that can help you keep track of your stuff better:

  • Use a catch-all basket: Amy Bloomer, founder and owner of Let Your Space Bloom, LLC, a professional residential organizing company, swears by having a well-placed bin that can help contain items that consistently get lost. “I encourage clients to keep a basket at the bottom of their stairs,” she said. “This becomes the ‘catch-all’ for things that have migrated downstairs or out of place. Once a day, preferably in the evening, make it a habit to put back everything that you’ve accumulated in the basket.”
  • Follow the one touch rule: Harrison endorses the ‘One Touch Rule‘. “Put things away the first time you touch them. It keeps clutter at bay and ensures items go back where they belong,” she said, recounting a story of a missing storage room key that brought about a moment of panic at a wedding. The event was a wake-up call leading to an operational overhaul, including adopting the ‘One Touch Rule’, diligent labeling and nightly tidy-ups.
  • Schedule a 15-minute clean up each evening: “Implementing a quick 15-minute clean-up each evening has worked wonders too,” shared Harrison.
  • Create zones around common activities: “Establishing routines and leaving items in the same place minimizes ‘misplaced’ items,” said Jennifer Zientz, head of clinical services at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth. For example, if you keep all of the clothes you regularly wear, along with accessories such as belts and scarves, in the same closet, you’ll have a central spot to get ready in the morning. Set up a habit to fold and put away clothes as soon as possible after they come out of the dryer.

Master the Hunt for Lost Items

Learning how to find things you lost at home or at work isn’t rocket science but it does take a complex blend of skills and habits. Take systematic searching, mix it with creative thinking and add equal parts of asking for help, utilizing smart technology and developing good organizational habits.

When every item has its place and armed with the right strategies, you’ll be able to reunite with your missing belongings swiftly and efficiently. Just remember that no matter what searching techniques you employ, they benefit from a calm mindset, patience and a persistent attitude. Happy hunting!

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 23, 2023 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Andreea Draguleasa

Andreea Draguleasa showed an affinity for foreign languages and literature at an early age and started writing when she was 6. She studied journalism, advertising, and public relations at the University of Bucharest and worked as a content writer for a tourism agency and as a journalist for a magazine in the hospitality industry until 2010. After seven years as marketing manager for a Home & Deco online shop, she realized that learning something new every day brings her the most joy, so she went back to researching and writing informative articles. Through her experience traveling the world, she's picked up tips and resources she now shares on self storage solutions. When not writing about home organizing and storage, Andreea spends most of her time reading, playing video games, and spoiling her cat.
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