Where to Look for Lost Keys: Make Your Search More Efficient

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It’s an average Tuesday morning and the search is on for your misplaced car keys. They weren’t hanging on the usual hook or stuffed into a coat pocket; nor were your keys found in your briefcase or under the mail. This process of elimination, seemingly necessary for where to look for lost keys, is tedious and unpleasant. Plus, as the minutes tick by and the keys are still missing, your frustration doubles – now you will be late for work.

This unwanted scavenger hunt is part of the morning routine for millions of people. We lose roughly nine things a day, and based on the statistics, car and house keys are likely to be one of them. 

Despite the hundreds of millions of house keys misplaced each year, very few people have a reliable approach for finding their keys. Most of us simply shuffle papers, scan countertops, and then stomp our feet through the bedroom one more time for good measure. Yet, there are more effective strategies out there when it comes to where to look for lost keys

attractive young businesswoman looking through mag

Psychologists and anthropologists have both studied forgetfulness and search tendencies. These scientists have uncovered interesting reasons why you are unsuccessful in looking for lost keys, and some incredible tips to help you stop looking high, low, and everywhere in between and just simply find the dang keys at the start!

Science Behind Looking for Lost Keys

It turns out that a number of human tendencies are holding you back from successfully finding your car keys on a given day. Humans perform optimally when running on routine, but, for most of us anyway, looking for lost keys is outside our routine – and this actually builds a pretty big hurdle to overcome if you are short on time and the list of places to search is long.

Lost car keys are by definition not where we anticipate them to be. This intrinsic fact about lost objects, keys or otherwise, makes them very difficult to locate. From the moment you look in the usual place and do not find your keys, cellphone, or paperwork, logic begins arguing with what you are seeing. Your expectations are screaming, “the keys are in your coat,” while logic tells you they must be located somewhere else entirely.

This leads most people to check the least likely place to find their keys. We do things like check the refrigerator for our car keys or the microwave for the work FOB. These unexpected locations are so far fetched that few people are successful when looking for lost keys in appliances, sock drawers, or medicine cabinets. 

However, we still yank open cabinets, search under guest beds, and dig through the laundry while hunting down a key we had five minutes before. Here’s a little bit about why.

Expectations of the Search for Lost Keys

car whisky automobile keys

Back in 2017, the journal, Current Biology, reported their results on a fascinating visual and psychological study. What the research showed is that humans are horribly inept at locating objects in images, when the object is larger than its usual and anticipated scale. 

Whether it was a huge toothbrush, used as the example by the New York Times, or a gigantic cell phone, humans often overlook what is monstrously right in front of our faces because the proportion does not conform to our expectations. The discovery that expectation forms a great deal of our visual understanding and perception can be robustly applied to any search for lost keys and other items.

For example, you always keep your keys in a coat pocket after work. You check the pocket on Monday morning after a weekend away and there are no keys nestled at the bottom. You reach inside the pocket again – still no keys. 

This is alarming, but your weekend was not routine. You hopped on a plane for the weekend, as you left, you grabbed a different coat to wear because the weather was supposed to be warmer at the destination. You wore the coat all weekend, so that must be where the keys are hiding, but again you come up empty handed. 

What you don’t want?

Now you remember, of course, you had to get in the house Sunday night, so you start searching shelves, luggage pockets, the jeans you wore on the flight home, and even go back to scour through your coats again. You don’t know where to search for lost keys after this, when 10 exasperated moments later you spot them sitting on the end table in your living room. You swore you checked there at least once, and you did, but your eye scrambled past because that is never a place you would leave your keys.

The discrepancy between expectation and where to look for lost keys costs all of us time and money. It is why rummaging around without a strategy or plan can leave you checking the same location two or three times, only to find your keys sitting on that very table on your fourth “sweep” of the room. 

Your Brain: When Looking for Lost Keys

When it comes to human nature and the ability to find things, not all is lost. While our visual tendencies can trick us into missing the most obvious hiding spot for our house keys, the human brain performs some pretty incredible functions that work in our favor. One important neurological discovery is that our brains unconsciously record things that were different today than yesterday.

In the dentate gyrus, a subregion of the hippocampus, images of our regular and new environments are stored. When something is out of the ordinary or different from the last time we were in that space, the dentate gyrus records a new mental picture. We rely on recall of these recordings when we think back to the location of our house keys or even our work FOB through a process called pattern separation.

While not part of our conscious search, this part of the hippocampus actually allows us to separate out similar, but non-identical, recordings within the same space. If your keys are always hanging from the same, white hook in your entryway, it is this fascinating brain function that can actually help you remember if the scene was different today, if the keys were missing. 

Fascinating Twist

A fascinating twist on this helpful brain activity in the hippocampus is we often trip ourselves up. 

Another memory or remembered experience may block the crucial information you need. This is what happens when a word is “on the tip of your tongue” or you visualize exactly what you had for lunch, but not what you wore to work yesterday. There is interference from other people, other thoughts, and other actions that can make active recall very difficult, no matter how hard you focus on the information needed. 

According to certain researchers, blocked memories can occur because you are too focused on remembering. Whether you try too hard or care too much, the focus can narrow your perspective and keep you from remembering a crucial scenario or interruption to your routine. It can also make it impossible to remember where to look for lost keys.

Another way blocked memories can interfere with your search is through false realizations of where you last had your keys. It is common to recall that you had the car keys on the way to work and set them on your desk upon arrival. This makes it feel like the best place to search for your keys is in your office, but after this, you grabbed them on your walk to lunch, and tossed them in your purse afterwards.

Don’t Rely on Others to Find Your House Keys

If your eyes and brain don’t make it hard enough to find your house keys, there is another source of difficulty. Keys, whether unlocking a house, car, office, or vacation rental, are extremely valuable to the owner, but often worthless to a finder. The key is useless without the door it unlocks.

Most people, including good Samaritans, stroll past dropped car keys or ignore house keys sitting on the coffeeshop table. While the key is unique, there is no identifying information attached to the key, nor is there a discernible way to find the owner. It is hard enough to find the owner of a passport, driver’s license, or credit card, when the person’s name is present over the item. So, you can imagine the impossibility of finding the owner of a key, without more information, and how few individuals would go through the trouble of trying.

This leaves many keys thrown into a store’s lost and found box or kicked along the sidewalk for several blocks. It can also mean that a thoughtful individual picks car smart keys and FOBs, who discovers they still have no way to return this expensive key to an owner. In total, 20 million keys are lost and never found each year. 

smart car keys

Further, keys are nondescript. Even car keys of different makes and models all look somewhat similar. The similarity among house keys, car keys, mailbox keys, or garage passes and swipe keys make witnesses unreliable when they go missing. Most people won’t recall anything specific about the keys they saw, and can even forget exactly. When tracing your steps to figure out where to look for lost keys, you would be lucky to have one person remember if the set belonged to a Lexus, Honda, or Jeep. 

How to Improve Your Search for Lost Keys

People spend nearly 2.5 days in a year on the hunt for lost and misplaced items. You may spend a lot of time randomly scanning rooms, digging under furniture, and retracing an entire day’s movements. Yet, you could be finding your lost keys a whole lot faster by searching with a strategy; particularly, one that overcomes the obstacles that make where to look for lost keys a tough question.

Whether you are searching for car keys you had this morning or a spare house key seen six months earlier, you want the search to be simple. Try to search spaces and rooms only once and be thorough, but not obsessive, in how much time you spend in a space. Do not leave spaces more cluttered or disorderly than before your search for lost keys. Finally, be careful in your search. Keep track of where you already looked, rule out places that are impossible locations, and don’t be sidetracked by other tasks.

Mindset and Perspective Looking for Lost Keys

Not just where, but how you approach looking for lost keys or other items is important. Stress, fatigue, and loss of routine increase the propensity to lose things, and also make it harder to find them. In fact, it is common to start by  tearing through purses and pockets to find your lost house keys, but this will not get you through the door any faster. It is also common to jump to the worst case scenario. 

Many people irrationally think, “what if I am locked out forever?” or “what if it costs me $25,000 to buy a new car?” Neither of these scenarios are likely, but can incite the panic and stress that make finding your keys difficult. Do not let frantic, demoralizing thoughts direct where to look for lost keys. Instead, focus on open-ended questions about where and when you had your keys and a positive mindset when it comes to finding them.

When upset or worried, it becomes harder to locate what you need. A number of experts recommend you wait until you are calm and know where to start (more on that in the next section). Whether you need to take deep breaths or walk a lap around your apartment, it can be good to adjust your perspective before looking for your keys. Greater perspective on the situation can help you avoid looking in the wrong place for hours and hours.

What Order and Where to Look for Lost Keys

If you are hoping to become more efficient and effective in your search for lost keys, the order of where you look and when is important. You do not want to waste time in reassessing spaces nor do you want to end up retracing your steps. Instead, start with a place that makes sense and cross it, definitively, off the list.

You want to start your search in the most likely place. If you don’t rule out the expected place first, you will want to return to it again and again, just to double-check. However, if you don’t find your keys the first time through, they will not magically appear later. Whether it is your purse, a briefcase, coat pocket, or desk drawer, tackle the spot you routinely keep your keys. 

Once you verify your house or car keys are not in the typical place, turn your attention to cluttered counters, junk drawers, and disorganized spaces. It is human nature to pay more attention to clear, straightforward visual spaces. Essentially, it is easier for our minds to assess and comprehend an orderly space over a cluttered one. When looking for lost keys, we will naturally look in organized drawers and tidy kitchens, but this requires active attention to cluttered places, which we are apt to ignore. 

Improve the Odds Someone Finds Your Lost Keys

While you are most likely to locate your keys at the bottom of a gym bag or under the couch, keys in restaurants, yoga classes, and shopping malls all the time. When you lose your house or car keys in these public places, the number of places to search is longer and the likelihood of finding your keys lower. Where to look for lost keys becomes a difficult question to answer.

As touched on earlier, you cannot rely on others to help you locate lost keys. The legwork to return a set of keys to the owner is extensive and the information for tackling the problem extremely limited. Even individuals who would return a wallet full of cash, may not pick up a house key or know where to track the owner of a car smart key.

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While retracing your steps may lead to a lost and found box. There is a better way to find your lost keys with FOUND ME. A unique QR code attached to your keychain encourages others to scan the code. It connects with a web version of the FOUND ME platform, and make contact with you, the owner. It is a simple and global solution to the ongoing frustration of lost house and car keys.

If you are interested in learning more about FOUND ME’s easy-to-use technology and iPhone/Android APP, simply visit our online platform FOUND ME.


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