In Search of Stuff

The average American spends 153 days of his or her life searching for misplaced belongings—car keys, shoes, homework. There are days I can’t find my sofa.

            Being above average, I’ve already used my 153 days, and quite possibly yours as well. In an effort to keep my remaining time free for more important activities, I’ve developed the following list of household rules.

            1) The less STUFF you have, the easier it is to find the STUFF you’re looking for. That’s why, whenever you get something new, you should get rid of something old, the only exception being children. (The rule does, however, apply to spouses.)

            2) Likewise, if you don’t desperately need it or absolutely love it, don’t buy it. If it’s too late and you already have it, don’t keep it. Unload it on someone who doesn’t pay any heed to my advice. (It should be fairly easy to find someone like that.)

            3) Touch mail only once. At our house, junk mail arrives by the truckload daily. Sometimes we open it; quite often we do not. Either way, it winds up beside our telephone, though I'm not sure what it has to do with the telephone. Occasionally we sort it, open some, discard some—and put the rest back in a heap by the telephone so it's there the next time we feel like doing the whole thing over again.

            Weeks pass; mail accumulates. Then something happens, for example, our lights are turned off, and we discover by candlelight that the light bill has been buried under a foot of advertising flyers and credit card applications, each of them nicely buttered and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. This could all be prevented if we would learn to pay it, file it, or toss it immediately, with tossing being the preferred choice.

            4) If you’re going to have a place for everything and everything in its place, it’s important you make it the SAME place all the time. I won’t mention any names, but someone I’m married to doesn’t put things away. He puts them somewhere else—until he has time to put them AWAY. (Or until I do it for him.)

            If you have a similar system, you’ve probably discovered that when it comes time to use a particular object, you will have forgotten that you didn’t put it in its proper place, although, for many of us, that should be a given. When you don’t find it where it should be, you ask your spouse, “Where is it?” in that tone that really means, “Where did you put it?”

            After a heated argument, you will remember that, as usual, you put it somewhere until you could get around to putting it away, which you never actually did. Then, not only will you have to apologize to your spouse; you will have to look in all of the places you normally put things until you have time to put them away. You can see how putting things in their proper place right away actually saves time, even if you have to borrow a ladder from the neighbor, carry it across the street and up two flights of stairs, and crawl into the attic to do it.

            5) And finally, if after following all the rules, you still manage to lose something important, don’t spend more than ten minutes looking for it. Give up for now, trusting that it will eventually reappear, probably when you’re looking for something else. It could be years from now, which may be too late to turn in your child’s math homework, but it WILL show up. 

I’m counting on this, not only because I’ve already used 153 days of my life looking for misplaced “stuff,” but also because I haven’t seen my reading glasses in three days. 

 (Dorothy Rosby is the author of the humor book, I Didn’t Know You Could Make Birthday Cake from Scratch: Parenting Blunders from Cradle to Empty Nest. Contact