If You Can't Find a Lost Object, Clean Up

Typical American spends 55 minutes a day looking for things

A resolution that I often follow, and that has been surprisingly useful, is "If I can't find something, clean up."

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This is true figuratively, as well as literally, but here I'm talking about the literal meaning of the resolution.

Over and over, I've found, if I can't find something, I just start tidying up. Almost inevitably, the lost thing turns up, even when I'm convinced that tidying won't make any difference in the search process.

Maybe I engage more actively with my surroundings, maybe my vision is sharper...I'm not sure why.

Before I hit on this resolution, I often made my apartment messier during a search. For some reason, my search felt more thorough if I was moving things out of their places. Not so!

Also, even if I can't find what I'm looking for, my apartment is somewhat tidier, so that's a bonus.

As I'm tidying, I focus my efforts in the area where I last saw the object or where the object is supposed to be kept.

I got this tip from my friend Samantha Ettus. Her book The Experts' Guide to Doing Things Faster: 100 Ways to Make Life More Efficient includes a section by lost-objects expert Michael Solomon, who reports that most objects are right in the vicinity of where they're supposed to be, or where you last remember seeing them. This sounds so obvious as to be laughable, but somehow it's very helpful advice. Repeatedly I've found that after turning the apartment upside down looking for something, I eventually find it more or less where I originally thought it should be–but somehow I missed seeing it.

Finding lost objects is such a small aspect of life, but it can drive you crazy. One study estimated that the average American spends 55 minutes a day looking for things they can't find.

And, as Samuel Johnson observed, "It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible."

How about you? Have you found any good strategies for finding things that are misplaced?

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Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin


Gretchen Rubin is the author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, Happier at Home and The Happiness Project--accounts of her experiences test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, www.happiness-project.com, she reports on her daily adventures in pursuit of happiness. Gretchen Rubin is one of the most thought-provoking and influential writers on happiness to have emerged from the recent explosion of interest in the subject. Though her conclusions are sometimes counter-intuitive—for example, she finds that true simplicity is far from simple to attain—her insights resonate with readers of all backgrounds. Response to Rubin’s practical approach to happiness has been overwhelming. Psychiatrists suggest these books to their patients, professors assign them to their students, book groups read them, families pass them around, and groups have sprung up across the world where people do Happiness Projects together. Exhausted parents and college students, senior citizens and professionals, clergy and social workers, and people facing divorce, illness, and drift have written to tell Gretchen Rubin how she’s influenced them. A graduate of Yale and Yale Law School, Rubin started her career in law, and was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor when she realized she wanted to be a writer. She has written several books, including three novels safely locked in a desk drawer. But of everything she’s ever written, she says that her one-minute video, The Years Are Short, is the thing that resonates most with people. Rubin is an enthusiastic proponent of using technology to engage with readers about ideas, and she has a wide, active following on social media. “The Happiness Project” was even an answer on the game-show Jeopardy! She loves to connect with readers on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube—and on her popular daily blog, of course. Gretchen Rubin has a free monthly newsletter which features highlights from the blog and Facebook Page (sign up here) and the free daily “Moment of Happiness” email with a happiness quote every morning (sign up here). If you’re interested in launching a happiness project group, for people doing happiness projects together, you can get the “starter kit” here.

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