Losing Something in the Dreaded Safe Place

I’ve done it plenty often. Likely you have too. You have a Very Important Object, be it a button to a blazer, a spare key, a refund to deposit, a passport, et cetera. (Heavy on the et cetera.) Einstein mislaid a paycheck as a bookmark, if I recall correctly. So why don’t we feel as brill as Al?

Of course, the problem with the Dreaded Safe Place (DSP) is that for all it seems terribly obvious at the time, it’s not. Later on we can’t remember where we put the Very Important Object (VIO). Hell, after a while, we can’t even remember what the VIO was, just that we had put a VIO in a DSP, and there we are standing there quite vexed because it needed attending to. Or will need attending to shortly. Quite likely something financially, socially, or professionally terrible will happen if we don’t remember the VIO and DSP soon. ::sigh::

There are Safe Places (such as safe deposit boxes at the bank, which are quite safe, especially when we put our key in a DSP), and there are Safe Places that are so safe we can’t find stuff ourselves. This latter kind of situation is what my Home Economics teacher used to call a “False Economy”: something that only seems like a good deal, but really costs you more in the end.

Meanwhile, Yours Truly (who seems to be afflicted with a major case of Title Case) has succumbed to pacing recursively about the house in a perseverative frenzy because searching for the VIO has become a Quest, and she can’t rest until she has found it. Doubtless you know how that goes, too.

Once the object is found (either from brute-force tenacity and thoroughness, or from some sideways manner of recollection), there is the “Ah-HA!” followed by the “DUH!” followed by the usual lines of self-recrimination about “Not-doing-THAT-again” yadda-yadda-yadda.

The reason that DSPs are such is because there are too many possibilities, and not enough parameters. Where does one keep a blazer button? On the hall mirror shelf? In a dish on the dresser? On the kitchen window sill? In a drawer so a cat doesn’t play with it? In the sewing box? In the desk drawer at work? At the bottom of the briefcase? Any of these are DSPs, but none of them have the two necessary qualities of being rational and inescapable. Meaning, you can figure them out again later, and your search actions should naturally default to them.

Rational and inescapable is tied in with the behavioural concept known as “incompatible behaviours”; meaning, if you are doing A, then you can’t be doing B. It’s one of those brilliant, obvious-in-retrospect things. The best kind of SP involves putting the object in such a location that completing the necessary action will require you to encounter the object. Bonus points if you can figure out how you can make yourself remember to do the activity!

When I go on a trip, I will definitely want my bathing suit in case I stay in a hotel with a whirlpool tub. Therefore, I keep all of my trip things in the best Safe Place of all, my suitcase! (I also have a note to myself reminding myself of those things I keep forgetting to pack, namely my kimono and woolen slippers, emergency flashlight and a belt for my slacks.) This way I can’t pack my suitcase without the necessary items.

A good rational & inescapable Safe Place for the button would be a blazer pocket. Of course, when Our Hero has ADHD, remembering to sew on the button at some other time than getting-dressed-running-late is another issue. This is why a dry-erase marker lives next to the toothbrushes, so I can make myself a note “blazer button” on the bathroom mirror for when I return home.

Just don’t ask me where to put books. There are so many of them around here that they become naturally camouflaged! I’m just glad they don’t require feeding.



  1. Penelope said,

    12 April 2011 at 1:52

    I love this site. I just found it and so much of it hits home that it’s almost scary. I was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD a few months ago – at the young age of 44. Having an explanation has provided me with the tools and knowledge to begin helping myself and to forgive myself for what I have seen as my scatterbrained behavior such as my walking in circles, my fuzzy thinking, my apparent laziness when I know that I am not, my inability to attend to and figure out what people have said to me (I often get the message wrong), my …. Well, I am sure you get the picture. For example, recently I went to an appointment a week before it was scheduled. I had looked at the calendar many times to avoid such a situation. Fortunately my counselor (the one who diagnosed me) took it in stride, we had the appointment, and I never knew until I looked at my calendar again a week later – though there was a niggling feeling that something was wrong. P.S. If I have something that must go with me to work the next day I either put them in the car at night or put them with my keys; I can’t leave without the keys. Of course, getting them from the car and into the building where I work is a whole different set of problems. PPS I have so many things in my safe place that I am running out of things to put there :)

  2. 24 August 2008 at 0:51

    […] my desk was that out-of-sight meant out-of-mind.  (Plus, there were the random moments of putting Very Important Objects in Safe Places and then forgetting where they were.)  The only way to literally have everything in sight would […]

  3. susanne said,

    11 February 2007 at 0:42

    I just had a cunning idea-what about making first a rough division with elements? Fire,water,air,earth.
    I have various drawers with names-the pigdrawer(Schweineschublade),the annoying drawer(unpaid bills),and then the holy drawer(kid s passport etc).
    My mum also gave me a good advice,always let similar things” flat “together.Bless her,she s got the biggest collection of loose pieces of papers,it s called Zettelwirtschaft.
    I taught myself to only ever use one supersized agenda,no floating papers.
    Being a creative little jeweller,I also made a ring for myself with a tiny blackboard on top,so my wrist gets saved from millions of little ballpen notes.Pitty I always forget where I dropped it…P.S. to which planet do black socks dissapear?

  4. 26 January 2007 at 18:58

    My VIOs seem always to be hidden in alternate universes until they are no longer needed for anything. Now, when I place VIOs into DSPs, I think, “this is the last time I’ll see this lover or this book of 37 cent stamps.”

  5. qw88nb88 said,

    19 January 2007 at 23:03

    Jacqueline, that sticky-note on the library card an excellent example! I have done the same thing myself, and it’s so very gratifying to “outsmart” one’s self.

    It finally occurred to me that the coat closet was a poor place to keep the canvas shopping bags because I don’t go shopping in the coat closet. Now I keep them on the passenger seat, which at least improves the odds of remembering to take them in with me (assuming I’m not driving my husband’s car).

    mcewen, my problem is that there’s usually a lag time between the stowing and the using of the VIO. And because the DSP seems so logical at the time, I’m not inclined to note down the location.

  6. mcewen said,

    19 January 2007 at 19:35

    Sharpie [permanent ink pen – lots of them] so that you can write where the VIO is. If you happen to be an OCD hand washing type, then use your wrist!

  7. Jacqueline said,

    19 January 2007 at 15:24

    Oh, I so very much identify with this! And I feel so triumphant when I manage to figure out a “rational and inescapable” place for things. Recently I heard about a book that I wanted to read, so I wrote the information down on a post-it note, and (here’s the brilliant {but obvious} part) stuck it to my library card. Of course by the time I went to the library, I’d completely forgotten about it, but then I pulled out my card so that I could check my account on the computers there, and – victory! Also, the book was good :).

  8. 19 January 2007 at 13:35

    I always keep extra buttons in the sewing box, unless for some reason they get caught up in the general household mess and never make it that far…

    As for passports and such, we learned our lesson when we lost ’em last year, and we bought a household safe for important documents. (The passports turned up in the middle of a stack of my husband’s old T-shirts, which I had thought about throwing away, but fortunately never did it. I don’t know what made him think that was a good hiding place!)

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