Memory Hooks to Stay More Organized

There is an easy organizing hack I use all the time because my memory stinks. This organizing hack is for organizing thoughts, not things. In fact, I’ll warn you, it’s going to feel a bit like a dis-organizing trick because it requires you to move things out of place, way out of place. By creating a little disorganization in an otherwise organized space, you can effectively use memory hooks to stay more organized.

By the way, this is day 30 of GO Month organizing articles. I hope they have been inspiring and fun. I write every one with you in mind. Tomorrow, day 31, I have a special treat planned, and then I’ll return to weekly-ish articles. Remember, these articles are easy to find over on my website, so you never have to save them.


Memory Hooks to Stay More Organized

Use Memory Hooks to Stay More Organized

Memory hooks are real things that you “hook” thoughts or ideas onto. It’s a way to get our overworked, overwhelmed brains to use a physical object to help us remember critical information when a regular list or calendar reminder just won’t do.

Examples of Effective Memory Hooks

Have a thought in the shower? There is no hope I’ll remember it by the time I step out to dry. My mind is off to a thousand other details by then. My memory hook is to toss a random item like a shampoo bottle on the floor, where it normally wouldn’t be. I don’t pick it up again and put it back in place until I can either do or write down my random thought from earlier. I can still have my thousand other thoughts in the shower, but the important thing I need to remember is “hooked” to that shampoo bottle that shouldn’t be on the floor.

Memory Hooks to Stay More Organized - shampoo bottle on the floor

If I’m running errands I sometimes need to remind myself to make a certain stop before heading home, without my brain on autopilot taking me straight home. When I park the car, I’ll drape a scarf or gloves over my steering wheel, something unmistakably in the wrong place, which is a reminder to break my routine or make that unscheduled stop on the way home.

At the breakfast table, I’ll move things around oddly, like fold my placemat in half, to help jog my memory when I can add a task to my daily list later.

When I run out of label tape on a job, I put the empty cartridge in my coat pocket so I can remember to put it on my shopping list. It takes up my whole pocket, so it’s a physical reminder to buy more label tape.

If I’m out and about and need to remember something but don’t have a way to write it down, I move my watch or wedding ring to my other hand. That feels so strange, and helps me remember that one thing I just have to do before heading home. It’s a version of tying a string around your finger…but without having to look for a string.

When Memory Hooks Help You Stay More Organized

These memory hooks only work under certain conditions:

  • Surfaces are mostly clear most of the time. If you just don’t see the hook due to clutter, it’s not going to work as a memory device.
  • Your hook sits in a prominent spot. The middle of the floor, bed, or kitchen counter are great locations, as long as…
  • The hook is safe. Don’t create tripping hazards or fire hazards for you or other housemates.
  • You notice things, as a rule. Some people aren’t very tuned into their environments.
  • Other people don’t disturb your hook. If someone helpfully puts your hook away, there goes your reminder.
  • The hook has a regular storage spot, and you put your hook back as soon as possible.
  • It’s a short term, immediate reminder. Short term means minutes, not days. Your brain gets used to seeing things in their new spot within a very short period, hours or days. It’s the reason why bulletin boards don’t work great as reminders for many people.

When Organizing Memory Hooks Don’t Work Well

I probably use random memory hooks about three times each week or more. I am a huge list person, but sometimes I’ll write a list and then forget to look at it, so sometimes my memory hook is just me remembering to get back to that reminder or list!

I can usually hook two or sometimes three thoughts to a physical object, but that fourth thought is almost certainly a goner. If I need to remember more than two things at a time, I’ve got to stop and make a list!

Memory hooks don’t work well to help me organize creative thoughts, like article topics. By the time I try to act on my hook, that clever title or turn of phrase is long gone from my brain. Maybe you have better luck than me. Writers and other creatives, write those inspirational thoughts down as soon as you have them!

Being physically and mentally overwhelmed can spell trouble for your attempted memory hacks. If you aren’t noticing these intentional traps you are setting for your brain, then you might need to give your brain a rest, or use other reminder tools like lists, alarms, and electronic assistants, hey Siri!

Longer Term Memory Hooks for Organizing Habits

There is a version of memory hook training that helps you establish new habits, but it’s a slightly different version of what I’ve described here. Habit-building memory hooks more specifically pair an existing habit with a new habit, like when I moved my multi-vitamins into my office so I could remember to take them when I turn on my computer each morning. Or when I moved my exercise bands into my underwear drawer so I could remember to do my stretch routine every morning. With enough repetition, these things become habits, when the neurons that fire together wire together, and my brain bakes them into my day.

No Memory is Perfect

I hope that you are kind to yourself when it comes to your mental load. No memory is perfect. Forgetting things is normal. But now you have another tool in your tool belt, using memory hooks to stay more organized.

No matter when you found us, catch up with all of this month’s organizing articles here.