Building Your Memory Palace Collection

Mind Palace: Remember everything you want
Picture courtesy of Shanidar
Do you want to have very good memory? I do, in fact I've been interested in it since my school days. There are some techniques that exploit your brain's natural power, and the one I'm covering here is the memory palace technique.

I have already written about the memory palace memorisation technique (go and read the previous post if you don't know what I'm talking about), but I did not cover a very important point there: Where can you find memory palaces to use in your memorisation?

Why we may need a very big array of palaces

Not everyone has the same memorisation needs, as not everyone needs the same computing power. Some people are fine with netbooks, and some people need big multi-chip clusters. In memorisation, the same applies. Some memory masters try to memorise pi to very big lengths, a feat that requires a huge number of multi-room memory palaces perfectly stacked.

Obviously you may not need to memorise pi, but maybe you enjoy memorising poems or history facts and need more than the occasional shopping list enabled memory palaces. Let's see how we can enhance our mental landscape.

What to do with the 'palaces' you will find

In this post I'll give you a way to find suitable locations to use as memory palaces. What you need to do is write the list down together with a brief description and a list of rooms. If you are artistically inclined, try to draw a plan (or if you are very artistically inclined, draw the interior of the rooms!) of the buildings or routes, as this will burn them more clearly in your brain. At the very least you should write down the palace and the set of rooms.

Warming up: your home and known towns

As you may remember from the memory palace memorisation technique post (if you don't, maybe you should put it in a memory palace?) a memory palace does not need to be a house or palace: it can be anything that has some spatially ordered qualities. For example, a journey through a known town (like from your house to your office) or the stops in your underground route.

The first set of memory palaces you can create is the most basic and the one you should be using since the beginning. Your current home, the house were you were raised and the routes from these to your work and your school/highschool. These are the basic blocks that you should be using for your shopping lists, to-do list and similar very frequent tasks.

These are the basics mostly because you don't need any effort to picture them clearly in your mind, you don't even need to write them down (but you should, just to see how many palaces you have).

Getting deeper: Offices and frequent routes

The next source of good memory palaces are also in your day-to-day habits. Your office (or offices, or workplace), covering also your boss' office and co-workers den. Add to this list your walking routes around all of these, which should be between 3 and 15 memory palaces.

Now think about your frequent routes: from your house to your parents' place, from your house to the bakery and so on. The kind of walks you do weekly (or more frequent) but not the standard work commute.

These are pretty basic, too: they are always in your radar, as you are seeing them frequently.

Get exotic: holidays, foreign cities, travel routes

The next set is a little more 'foreign'. If you have been to some foreign city on holiday, you can use it as a memory palace. It will be a little harder to visualise it at first, but just take a look at your pictures or browse Google images for it. I can picture pretty easily Reykjavik (or at least some of its places), but I can use a lot of place-makers in Iceland following the route of our road trip around Iceland. You can do as well with your past holidays: in addition to being a good memory palace, the fond memories you may have will improve your mood.

This set is a little harder, but with a little help from your picture books and Google images you can use the wonderful landscapes you've been as memorisation aides.

Want it all: friends and relatives houses

You can now get a huge boost to the number of palaces by adding your current friends and relatives homes. Here I should add a recommendation: if you can't visualise properly some room of a friend or relative... It is no big deal. Just leave it empty or add some plain furniture. If you ever get back to that place, update your memory palace. The only point you need is a clear mental image, not a clear correct mental image. By adding these memory palaces you may be able to add between 10 and 30 (or even 40!) memory palaces to your list. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it?

You have to be a little more careful with these, as visiting a friend and discovering the plan is completely different can disrupt your memory for that particular palace. In practice, if you have been to a house and visited all rooms, you should be able to visualise them without any problems. If you have not been to a particular room, you can choose between creating your own picture or just keeping it closed. If you are sure you won't enter it ever, create your own: there will be no problems!

Going overkill: childhood homes and "odd places"

If you want to get all the lot of memory palaces, this is ultimate place. Time-travel to your childhood, and pick all your childhood friends homes. As I advised earlier, if you can't remember something properly, fill it as you wish: this last category is for homes you won't be visiting anytime soon (and if you do, update as needed). Add to this list your forgotten homes like ex's homes and ex-relatives-in-law homes, related routes, previous work routes and the kind of palaces and routes that would have applied to the previous categories for your past-self.

And finally, the odd buildings list. Like your local church or museum, a beloved place in your hometown, special places and similar. Whatever you can visualise you can use as a memory palace, you only need to 'think about it'.

For this list you can use the suggestions from the previous with respect to long-forgotten rooms.


Now you should have a pretty long list of memory palaces, with a description of the rooms. And I bet this is a pretty long list! What can you do with it?

Well, a very important task is to get used to all these places again. Pick the list and carry it with you anywhere, and for a week or two just take it out occasionally and read it quickly. After that time, trim the descriptions and test your recall of the places. If some of them are too hard for you to visualise, just remove them from the list. There is no point in wasting effort when your list should be long enough already.

When you are profficient in traveling your new memory palaces, you just need to use them. To memorise what? Well, this is up to you now!

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Written by Ruben Berenguel