The Art of Losing Things Isn’t Hard to Master

Jane Friedman (1994)

One of many high school ID cards

I am very careless with my belongings.

This past week, when I flew to NYC for Digital Book World, I left my purse and coat in the plane overhead bin.

I walked right out of JFK after claiming my bags, climbed in a cab with a colleague, and it never occurred to me I didn’t have these belongings with me—until near the hotel when I thought about paying for the cab.

My mom has said that she never knew someone so smart who could be so dumb.

For all of high school and college, I rarely carried a purse, and even then, always one that slung across my body (so that when I sat down, I would not take it off).

This tradition continues today, and it is by far my best method of self-protection, though not infallible. When I was married, my husband was the Purse Savior, always ensuring it was with me when departing from coffeehouses, restaurants, theatres, vehicles, and foreign lands.

A catalog of things I recall losing or misplacing:

  • about 9 student IDs … I lost so many that, at a reunion, someone returned one of my IDs (after seven years)
  • three cell phones—including one iPhone
  • three purses including wallets
  • two megacases of CDs
  • two iPods
  • two retainers
  • two coats
  • numerous power adaptors
  • countless rings, necklaces, bracelets
  • shoes
  • pajamas
  • god knows how many floppy disks and files—I had to stop keeping an electronic journal in high school because I lost disk after disk after disk

One year—notably, the last year of my marriage—I lost my purse so often that my credit union started charging me a $10 fee whenever I called for credit/debit card replacements.

On my latest loss this week, I had to call Delta’s Lost & Found (a division of Baggage Services—my new favorite!), and file a claim. I had a good feeling my items would be recovered, so I tried not to worry about it. My colleagues and friends were more skeptical. “Only on the West Coast I wouldn’t worry,” my friend Christina stipulated.

So then I started to worry enough that I called The Conductor and asked him to overnight my passport and fifty bucks.

But as I expected, in 36 hours, I got a call. My stuff was safe and I could pick it up on my way home out of JFK.

In fact, my stuff was SO secure that it took 30 minutes to find someone at baggage services who could unlock the safe it was stored in. Delta also had fastidiously cleaned out my wallet of all bills and change to prevent staff theft. In place of the cash was a voucher for $59.16 to be redeemed from a Delta customer service agent.

There’s a beloved Czech novel called The Good Soldier Svejk. In it, Svejk bumbles through his service in the army, and does the stupidest things, but so good naturedly that he always comes out on top.

I try to view my foibles in this light. Nothing really bad has ever come from losing my things (e.g., no identity theft), and I have developed a healthy detachment from material objects.

Or maybe it’s my detachment from material objects that makes me so careless.

This reminds me of my great love for the poem—one of the best villanelles of all time—”One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop. It starts like this:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Read the entire poem at

Posted in Life Philosophy, Travel.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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I'm glad you got your stuff back!

Once, on the way to catch a plane out of Toronto, I left a bag on the subway containing my wallet (and ID), my iPod, a notebook and a bunch of other stuff. Surprisingly, for domestic flights in Canada, showing photo ID before boarding seems to be more of a guideline.

Three weeks later my bag was turned into lost and found with everything intact, including the cash in my wallet. I've no idea where it was for three weeks but I quite pleased to get it returned to me.

Jane Bretl

Jane,That is good midwestern optimism at work! And I am glad that this story had a happy ending. When I left for college, I developed a knack for leaving something of importance behind when visiting home. Sometimes it needed to be sent back to me Fed Ex (not a convenient errand in rural Wisconsin several decades ago); sometimes not. I chalked it up to a mind overflowing with ideas and plans. Perhaps it was an unconscious desire to be two places at once.Either way, it was annoying for all involved.This past Christmas, I left an entire suitcase behind at someone's… Read more »

Terry Petersen

I'm fantastic at losing things, too. Three coupons and they are lost by the second aisle in the grocery store. I lost five cell phones. Actually, the first was stolen, at Christmas time. Someone put eight hundred dollars worth of 900 calls on my phone that had only called family and maybe for an occasional pizza. Fortunately, I had a police report and didn't have to pay. The others slipped soundlessly away, like socks in a dryer.

Darrelyn Saloom

That is hilarious. I carry a messenger bag and even buckle myself into my car around the bag. That way I never take it off to abandon in shopping carts. Or in the overhead compartment of planes. But that has not saved me from leaving the house without it.


Love your writing style and certainly empathize with losing things. Made me feel lots better. thanks.


You are one lucky woman. I carry my purse safely slung around my body, paranoid of losing it. I won't even put my cell in it. I shove that in the pocket of my jeans, causing a wear spot that eventually becomes a hole. You may have a problem losing things, but I have a problem with the fear of “leaving a man behind.” I actually envy your carefree attitude about possessions. I'm neurotic. I may have to lose something just for therapy! 🙂

iPhone Wallet
iPhone Wallet

The art of losing really makes your life more strength. It's better to have a positive thinking than negative so acceptance of losing something won't hurt.

Monika Wiger
Monika Wiger

I am not in the habit of loosing things. If I do I usually find it sooner or later. This goes for everything exept my black woolen basker. I have left it in different places at least fifteen times, but always been able to remember where I last left it. Not yesterday. I might have left it in a bus, or at a place I visited in the line of duty. I got the weirdest thougt; why go on and on worrying about that basker wich had cost me so much grief? I decided to let go of it. By… Read more »


[…] high school, for a brief period, I switched to disk, and promptly lost every disk by the time I graduated. So I got smarter, and started a habit of only journaling by […]

Used Cars

This I know well; ask my wife.


Oh man, I am a master at losing things, anything and everything. In fact, it seems I spend half my life looking for those things, and trying not to let that panicky feeling take over. I have detached from clothes. It’s expensive/important items I have a hard time with, like cameras, passports, wallets, phones… I sometimes feel completely powerless over this mind of mine that works so strangely. I’m doing some research now on how to keep track of one’s stuff, as I am embarking on a big round the world trip.

Desiree C
Desiree C

This is awesome! Wonder if the new Tile App could help?


[…]   […]


For all of us who lose items a must read novel is ‘ A Place Called Here’. I leave behind things all the time! MLS


I am on a train. Two hours ago I forgot my laptop bag at the hotel. I got to the hotel to bring my bag. So we lost the train. We took a taxi and got to the next station and we got on the train finally. I feel ashamed because the taxi driver had to drive really fast and we had to put our lives in danger because I was not cautious enough. I was looking for a solution to not lose/forget things and I saw your blog. Reading your blog was like a tranquilizer for me. But you… Read more »