You Need an Inventory of Your Stuff (and It's Easier Than You Think)


Take this quick quiz:

  • What is the serial number of your computer?
  • How much did you pay for your gaming console?
  • What is the dollar value of your record collection?
  • What is the make and model of your flat screen television?
  • How many tools are in your garage?
  • How many of these questions can you answer off the top of your head?

Now imagine your house has burned to the ground with all your belongings inside of it. During this crisis, would you be able to successfully come up with this kind of information for every possession you own? Could you do that off the top of your head?

An up-to-date home inventory list should be part of everyone's emergency kit. Not only will it help you resolve insurance claims in your favor by substantiating lost, stolen, or damaged possessions, but it will ensure that you have purchased enough insurance in the first place to replace your belongings. (If you own a vintage house or a lot of collectibles, it's important that you consider buying replacement cost insurance versus market value insurance). (See also: 8 Surprising Things Covered by Homeowners Insurance)

There are a number of ways to inventory your belongings. Don't make this harder than it should be. Chose the method you are most likely to do.

1. Make a List and Check It Twice

You can be old school and use pen and paper or an Excel spreadsheet to record and describe each of your possessions. The description of each object should include the make and model number, when and where it was purchased, price paid, and its current condition. Or you can use an app such as Inventory'd or III Inventory to photograph and organize your list of belongings.

2. Gather Evidence to Support Your Claim

Keep all receipts for expensive items. These should be part of your inventory.

3. Visual Aids Are Your Friend

Regardless of how you choose to create your inventory, I recommend that you also take photographs, at least of your big ticket items such as consumer electronics, collectibles, and furniture. Valuable items such as your computer and jewelry might require a separate insurance policy. Double check with your insurance company what items fall outside your general homeowners insurance policy.

4. Protect Your Dragon's Hoard

For jewelry, I take a tip from my jeweler and make full size color copies or scans of my jewelry pieces. In the event of theft, this will make it easier for the police, pawn brokers, and others to correctly identify my stolen baubles.

5. Make a Movie

If you have access to a video camera, you can also create a video tour of your home and all its contents. Pretend you're on MTV Cribs and give a running commentary on where you bought everything in your home and how much you paid for it. Shoot close ups of small items and read out serial numbers. Don't forget to mention fancy ceiling lamps, fireplaces, and other fixtures.

6. Be Thorough

Don't be daunted by this task! If you have a house that is packed full of stuff, it might be easier to inventory room by room as opposed to itemizing things by type. Start at the door of each room and work from top to bottom, clockwise around the space. Don't forget to itemize the contents of drawers and closets!

7. Store Your Inventory Off-Site

Once you've created an inventory list, make sure to keep a copy in a safe place outside of your home, like in a safe deposit box at your bank or at the home of a trusted friend. If your house is destroyed by a tornado, you don't want the only copy of your inventory list to be lost in the rubble.

The copy can be photocopies of your original information, or a digital version that is stored on discs or a thumb drive.

If you plan on storing a copy of your inventory online in cloud storage, make sure that your information is protected from thieves, who use the Internet to window shop for future victims. Double-check your security settings, create a strong password, and use third-party authentication tools. If you go this route and don't have a photographic memory, remember to make a hard copy of your password, user name, and site-key codes and store that information off-site.

8. Yes, It's Worth It

I will be the first to admit it: Inventorying the contents of your home is a tedious and sucky job. It's a lot of work spent in advance of a disaster that may never strike. So, what's the point?

Creating an inventory is like having catastrophic insurance. It's something that no one wants to spend time and money on until disaster strikes. Then it's the best thing ever. If your house gets robbed, wouldn't you like to give yourself every chance of recovering your stolen treasures?

In addition to saving your bacon, or, at least properly ensuring your bacon in the event of loss or damage, an inventory has two fantastic side benefits: as back-up evidence for tax deductions and as a decluttering tool.

Win a Fight With the IRS

Every year at tax time, I have no problem calculating the depreciation of my office equipment and assessing the resale value of goods I donate to charity. Because I did all the heavy organizational lifting for my home inventory list, I know exactly what needs to be deducted from my taxes and where to find the related receipts if the IRS comes knocking.

Inventory Your Home as the First Step in Decluttering

One of the most powerful organizational tools you can give yourself is an inventory list. Have you watched that beautiful nightmare that is the show Hoarders? Then, you know what I'm talking about. Documenting and touching every single material possession you own gives a detailed picture of your consumerism. Most people who do a full house inventory for insurance reasons, discover that their home is full of things they don't want or need.

Don't try to declutter while you are doing the inventory. That kind of mission creep will lead to chaos. Make your inventory list first. You can go back through your home, room by room, drawer by drawer at your convenience.

Be sure to update your inventory list periodically. When you bring new things into your home be sure to add them to your inventory list. When you donate or sell goods, remove them.

Have you created an inventory of your stuff? How'd you do it?

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Guest's picture

Really wonderful piece of writing. While going through your article i realized that i am so much lazy that I could not keep my things in apple pie order. You are absolutely right that there is need to maintain a list of all belongings.