My German-born father-in-law taught me the concept of sieben Sachen – the seven things you need before you leave the house. He has not taught me an easy way to remember the seven things – just that they exist.
This is why the neighbors will occasionally see me leave the house … and go back inside … and then come back outside and get in the car … and then get out of the car and go back inside … and then come back outside, get in the car, and drive away … and then come back a minute later, get out of the car and go back inside. The older you get, the more Sachen you need, and the more likely you are to forget one of them.
The basics are simple: wallet, keys, glasses, sunglasses, phone, and handkerchief. But the problem is that every trip is different, so the seventh thing sometimes gets left behind. It could be the directions to where you’re going, still happily sitting on the printer. It could be your travel mug, because your destination is Starbucks and you don’t want to use paper cups. It could be a hat because you’re going to be in the sun.
For women, it’s even more complicated, because they need to be able to lay their hands on makeup (including lipstick, compact, and whatever else they carry around). In the old days, they needed what used to be called “mad money” (in case they got mad and had to take a taxi home).
The real problem, I’m discovering, is that the sieben Sachen change depending on your destination. If you’re going to work, there’s the briefcase, the laptop, the charger, and whatever specific accoutrements your particular occupation requires. The Sachen for my spouse, the physician, also includes stethoscope, pager, ID badge, and prescription pad.
If you’re going to the grocery store, that trip requires the keys, the wallet, the glasses, the phone, the canvas shopping bags, the plastic bags for the produce, the coupons, and of course, the shopping list. (The last item, hanging in plain sight on the refrigerator, is actually the one I’m least likely to remember.)
If I’m going hiking in the park, that requires the basics, but also the walking stick, water, my iPod (which I’ve usually forgotten to recharge), my sun hat, my inhaler, and the pouch in which to carry them. If I’m bicycling to the park, I need my lock and my helmet. If I’m driving, I don’t. So many scenarios to keep track of.
One of the tenets of treading lightly on the earth is combining multiple errands into one trip. This requires lists of destinations, as well as comparing the list to items I need for those destinations. It does no good to list “bank” and then forget the checks to deposit. Conversely, it does no good to bring the checks if I have not written “bank” on the list. It’s a check-and-balance system for the slightly unbalanced.
I know all the tricks – leave everything in plain sight, have duplicates of everything everywhere, make up funny mnemonics to remind yourself – and still things go awry. If I go out through the garage, I miss the Sachen sitting by the front door. And vice versa. Will I be less scattered when I stop working? Or will I have more Sachen, like medication? I guess my inhalers are like medication, so I’m actually already there.
But according to a 2008 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the human brain can only retain three to four items at a time, at the most. Which explains why I end up going back into the house three times before I can actually leave to get the other three Sachen.
This really isn’t a complex problem. All I need is for someone to design an app – the Sachen app. It should be on a smartphone that senses a shift in temperature, meaning that when I’ve left the house and gone outside, it should beep and ask, where are you going? It would present a list of destinations, allow me to click on one, and then show me the sieben Sachen I need before I leave.
I would just have to remember to take the phone.