Do You Know What You Own?

Household Stuff

The alert sounds. You have 15 minutes to remove your most valuable belongings from your home, toss them into your compact car and drive to safety before the flood/tornado/hurricane hits.

What do you take?

Maybe the warning offers you two hours, and you have an SUV and your strong son to help you carry things.

Now what would you take?

What if the alert gave you 24 hours to load things into a moving truck with the help of you son, your husband and your uncle?

Do you know what you would take?

This past weekend, I attended the North East Regional Conference for Professional Organizers (NERCPO) in Stamford, CT. One of the sessions featured speaker Jill Yesko of Discover Organizing who asked us these questions. Believe it or not, they were surprisingly difficult to answer! The most common things people mentioned were important documents, photos, jewelry, artwork and musical instruments.

All of us acquire belongings over time and in a variety of ways. Some things are intentionally purchased, others are inherited and some are gifts. Very few people keep track of what they own, and even fewer keep records of the sources, costs, appearance and value of their belongings.

Still, there are some very good reasons to invest at least some time in creating a record, or inventory, of what you have, such as to:

  • Assist in filing insurance claims in the event of disaster or theft
  • Track items that are being moved or stored
  • Facilitate decision making when clearing out the home of a deceased loved one
  • Avoid buying duplicates of things we didn’t realize we already owned

Creating a home inventory may seem a bit daunting. After all, you probably have a lot of stuff, and the process can be tedious. If the idea of tackling this on your own seems overwhelming, you can always reach out to a professional organizer who can do it for you.

However, it is possible to construct a home inventory on your own. The key is to collect three pieces of information for each item you document:

  1. Description of the item, including date of purchase, purchase price/value and location in your home.
  2. Photos of the item. Remember to get both a close up photograph and one showing the item in the context of your home. (e.g. the painting hanging on the wall in your bedroom).
  3. Receipt of purchase or written appraisal of value.

There are a variety of tools you can use to capture this information.

If you are a low-tech person, you can get a notebook or notepad and simply write the information in rows. I suggest you number each item. When you take your photos, “name” them with the corresponding number. Then get a large envelope for the paperwork, and write the appropriate number on the back of the receipts.

If you are tech-savvy, there are some great digital tools you can use.

  • Excel spreadsheets are easy to use in much the same way as a notepad.
  • Insurance companies like Allstate and State Farm offer apps and templates you can download for free. Since they are in the business of managing claims, they guide you in collecting all the information you might need.
  • A variety of retail apps are on the market at very low price points. The beauty of these is that they synch across all your devices. HomeZada, MyStuff2 and NestEgg are all good choices. Some of these offer extra features such as barcode scanning and Amazon integration.

Regardless of which approach you take, here are a few additional tips for a successful home inventory:

  1. You don’t have to inventory every single thing you own. Begin with the high-ticket items and items that are difficult to replace. You can always add more.
  1. Have both a printed record (e.g. pages in a binder) and a digital back-up of your inventory. If you backup to a thumb drive, store it somewhere other than in your home.
  1. In addition to individual photos, it is a good idea to do a “walk through” video of all of your rooms. Narrate as you record, talking about all of the items in the space. This provides a quick and easy baseline upon which you can build your inventory of valuable items.

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Have you ever made a list of your most valuable items? Do you have a home inventory?