Always Losing Things: How I Learned To Let Go Of Material Possessions

The day she misplaced her engagement ring, Lotte Jeffs realised that her life-long habit of losing things had a deeper meaning than mere carelessness

I knew I would lose my engagement ring, and I did. I took it off at the gym, threw it into the front pocket of my rucksack, where I keep my keys and small change, and forgot about it.

Or yes, maybe a fox ate it, or a pigeon, or the man who plays the accordion outside the Tube proposed to his girlfriend with it… whatever, it's gone; don't rub it in.

The average person loses roughly 200,000 items in their lifetime; misplaces up to nine items a day and spends an average of 15 minutes searching for keys, paperwork or their mobile phone, according to a study of 3,000 people in the UK. It's reassuring to know that I'm not alone in losing things, but the difference with me is that I never find them.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Ever since I was a child I've had a preternatural ability to lose items that are precious to me. My entire school years were punctuated by major disappearances: my clarinet, my prized Carhartt hoodie, a year's worth of science coursework, my GCSE textiles final piece (it was a pretty scrappy patchwork quilt, if anyone's seen it?).

The average person loses roughly 200,000 items in their lifetime; misplaces up to nine items a day and spends an average of 15 minutes searching for keys, paperwork or their mobile phone.

Most of the time I can conjure up some kind of pseudo-moral reason why I lost the thing in the first place; in the case of my most recent indiscretion, I decided there was an important lesson to be learned. My fiancé and I had agreed not to give each other engagement rings – we didn't need jewellery to prove our commitment to getting married, and we decided to save money for the wedding bands.

Then one lunchtime, as I was browsing in Liberty, I stumbled across a nice, simple, rose-gold, diamante-encrusted ring, and I thought I'll just buy it for myself and we can call it my engagement ring.

It turned out that whatever higher power is looking out for me in such matters had other ideas, and lo the ring vanished from my possession via a series of bad decisions and general carelessness to prove that I should never have bought myself an engagement ring (what was I thinking!) or have gone against the decision we had made as a couple not to do so.


It was an expensive 'learning moment', for sure – but the moral narrative made it easier to get over. Plus, I'd only had it two weeks – not long enough to develop what psychologists call the 'attachment' to an object that entangles it with your sense of self, and thus makes losing it more of a crisis.

My fiancé very sweetly offered to buy me back the same ring. But trying it on again in the shop, it didn't feel right. I didn't want it back. I had let it go, and along with it I'd let go of that rash, independent aspect to my personality that lead me to buy the ring in the first place.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Something similar happened a few months ago when I left my gym kit on the Tube – box-fresh Nikes, Ivy Park tracksuit, LA Lakers baseball cap. When I got a call from London Transport the following week to tell me the kit had been found and was residing in the annals of the Baker Street Lost Property Office, I couldn't bring myself to pick it up.

I was over it. I wasn't the person with the Ivy Park tracksuit any more; I'd moved on.

I lose things so frequently that I have consolidated the seven stages of grief into roughly three. First is the sinking recognition that said item is no longer with me. Then there's the head-in-hands annoyance with myself, the frantic retracing of steps and rummaging through bags. And finally comes a calm acceptance that it doesn't really matter, it's just 'stuff', after-all, and I figure I must have lost it for a reason, even if that reason is to learn to take better care of my belongings from now on.

From April 2015 to March 2016, Transport for London processed 43,068 lost bags. Only 17,323 of these bags were ever picked up – that's 40.3% of people who probably feel as ambivalent as me about the things we leave behind.

I lose things so frequently that I have consolidated the seven stages of grief in to roughly three.

My annual travel card, an Issey Miyake fan, my work pass (twice), my debit card, two pairs of earrings and my favourite fountain pen are just some of the things that have fallen through the cracks of my ownership in the past few months.

The reason, on the whole, that this happens is that I am never entirely focused. My mind is always multi-tasking, and at any given moment I'm thinking about work, my family, what to have for dinner and wedding plans – all while reading emails and scanning Instagram. It's not that I don't care about my things – I am just more tuned in to my internal world than my external, material possessions.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

What is hard to reconcile is that I am so organised in every other aspect of my life.

My home and work desk is always tidy, I never miss a deadline or forget important information, and yet when it comes to keeping hold of stuff, I'm an absolute scatterbrain.

Some argue that being 'a loser' is a genetic disposition. In a recent study published in the journal Neuroscience Letters, German researchers found that the majority of people surveyed about forgetfulness and distraction had a variation in the Dopamine receptor D2, or DRD2, that makes them more prone to losing things.

My mum, it must be said, is an even bigger disaster than me in this area, and we have spent much time together returning to cafés, parks and galleries on the hunt for her missing spectacles. So, yes, I definitely think my genes are partly to blame.

In The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Sigmund Freud argued that, 'We never lose what we really want.' But then Freud probably never left a Helmut Lang blazer in a bar in Soho. However, when I consider that I have not once lost my passport – and, given my track record, this is significant – I think I understand what he means. My passport isn't just an object, it represents my ability to explore the world and enrich my life with experiences. It is the item in my possession that I am most careful with because losing it would matter profoundly.

Freud argued that, 'We never lose what we really want.' But then Freud never left a Helmut Lang blazer in a bar in Soho.

I'm hoping the same logic will apply to my wedding band when I get it. The gold ring will signify something far more valuable than the object itself; it's meaning that we really want to hold on to.

Nothing puts this into sharper focus than losing a person that you love. The loss of material possessions pales in comparison. My cousin Billie, who was like a sister to me, died of a brain tumour at the age of 31.

Three weeks after her death, I left my partner of 10 years. I walked out of the house we owned together one night with just my passport, wallet and a change of clothes. If life went on without Billie, it would sure as Hell go on without my Nespresso machine and all the other 'stuff' I had come to rely on.

Being a habitual 'loser' meant I was accustomed to leaving things behind by mistake and then desperately trying to retrieve them. But this was different: it was the first time I had ever knowingly walked away from my possessions. After Billie's death I realised I could replace everything I owned – but I could never replace her.


It made me think about all the years I was wasting sticking out a bad relationship. Nothing would bring Billie back, but I could get my own life back. And happily, by leaving my ex that night, I did.

In the past few years I've tried all sorts of techniques to stop losing stuff – I even have a special shelf in my bedroom where I put all the things I most frequently misplace so I can keep better tabs on them. I do mental checklists when leaving anywhere – keys, phone, bag, wallet – and I try not to daydream when travelling on public transport. Yet still I arrive home from work missing at least one thing I started the day with.

Losing stuff is annoying; it's an inconvenience, and more often than not an expense. Losing people is a tragedy, something that shakes you to the core and changes your whole perspective on life. But loss, even the most profound kind, has a purpose – it creates the space to find something new.

In my case, a tragic loss led me to discover real happiness and to fall in love with someone who is kind enough to ask me constantly if I've 'got everything'. And now, regardless of what I may have lost along the way, the answer is always yes.

This article originally appeared in the December issue of ELLE UK

More from ELLE UK: