#PhoneKeysWallet: The Making of a Mnemonic Device

A distant ex of mine would make the sign of the cross every time he left the house. He wasn’t deeply religious or scared of getting hit by a bus. He was reciting the classic “spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch” before leaving the apartment to always remember his keys. It was bemusing since he didn’t wear glasses or a watch and he forgot his keys at least once a month. He told me he learned this from his grandfather, but he’s the kind of person who gained most of his knowledge from shows like Monty Python, so I find it more likely that Nuns on the Run taught him as a child rather than his grandfather.

But he tapped into an age-old solution to the all-too-common problem of forgetting your keys. By creating a new habit–the recitation of a clever rhyme–he attempted to remember his keys.

More recently, Comedy Central’s Broad City has updated this classic saying through the character Lincoln Rice, played by Hannibal Burress, in his incessant reminder “PKW: Phone, Keys, Wallet.” From Twitter hashtags to home decor, Burress seems to have created a fresh, more relevant way of remembering your necessities.

At the core of any great mnemonic device is the power of habit. In his book The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg mines studies of human behavior and finds that, by changing just one behavior in a “habit loop”–a daily behavior pattern that rewards you with its familiarity–you can break your most damaging habits. So by intervening in a major way into the way you do things each day, you can break your forgetful cycle and remember things more easily. Mnemonic devices are a great way to do that.

#PKW isn’t the only way to utilize the power of habit to stop forgetting your keys. Here are just a few ways you can avoid forgetting.

  1. The Drop Zone: Create a bowl, a corner of a table or a hook where you can drop your keys when you walk in the door. That way, they are always in the same place. To enforce the habit further, try placing something you never forget (like your phone or wallet) in the drop zone as well. That way, when you go looking for your other essentials, your keys are right there. And if you forget and see your keys out of the Drop Zone later, make sure to put them there to reinforce the habit.
  2. The White Board: Buy a whiteboard and place it next to your front door. Place big, bold notes to yourself that you can’t miss when walking out the door. This works great not only for remembering to take your things, but also remembering to errands or appointments. This also helps disrupt your normal habit loop by introducing a new memory trigger.
  3. The Pockets: The power of routine can be very strong. If you always do something the same way, it helps set off an internal alarm when something is missing. Try this: always keep your phone, keys and wallet in the same place in your pockets. If you don’t have pockets, keep them in the same place in your purse or bag. If you do this long enough, and you don’t change the contents of your purse, pockets or bag, you will eventually be able to feel even the slightest weight change. It takes a while, but it works like a charm.  

But while all these memory games are great, the most interesting part about the story of my distant ex is that his mnemonic device didn’t work. See, the brain games and tricks are a good backstop against losing your things, but they aren’t foolproof.


That’s why, with KeyMe, you can put off those brain kegels for a few more years. Simply download the KeyMe app and save your key. You can even forget your account password and you’ll still be able to access your key using just a fingerprint if you are ever locked out. There’s also a share feature on the app that will allow you to share keys with others, in case you have pesky roommates who are always locked out.

Broad City put a modern spin on a classic saying; but KeyMe has gone one step further and created a technological platform for a technological generation struggling with forgetting their keys. So, go ahead – try it out! And the next time your roommate or boyfriend or ex calls you at midnight, asking if you can come let them in, you can simply share your key and then promptly turn your phone on silent.

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