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?

27 thoughts on “Do You Know What You Own?”

    1. Most people don’t, but it is certainly something to think about, especially in light of recent natural disasters. At least consider providing a record of your most valuable items!

  1. I’ve heard such great things about the NERCPO conference…and Jill’s session sounds like it was chockful of amazing information. Interesting that in going through my parents home, I found some photo and video inventories that they did, along with an appraisal that documented the house’s contents. I didn’t find the types of detailed receipts that you mentioned, at least not all in a neat notebook or file.

    With all the natural disasters that have been happening lately, the idea of compiling a home inventory is compelling. And of course, the first series of questions you posed are also worth thinking more about. What is most important to take or have access to?

    Looks like we’ve got our work cut out for us.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…What Are The Possibilities When You Clear Your “Space?”My Profile

    1. I had so much fun at NERCPO… we missed you, but totally understand! All three sessions were great, and we had a small group “breakout” which I also enjoyed. Jill’s talk really got me thinking as well. Better to have good backup for your top 10 or 20 possessions that not at all. I think the feeling that we need to do everything is what keeps people from starting. I do think think this is a service where POs can help make the process much easier:)

  2. I had created an inventory soon after my husband and I were married. It was easy to do then because we didn’t own much. But, uh, it’s been decades and way too much accumulation since then. Starting a new inventory would be a great way for me to inventory and purge at the same time. Now just to get going on it. 🙂

    1. That is the challenge! My husband and I laugh because when we were first married, he could fit everything he owned in his car. Now, we have a house full of stuff. We are trying to cull through and let some of the accumulated items go, but it does take time. Plus, my husband is more of a “keeper,” so that is a bit of a negotiation. He is coming around, though, and I agree that the inventory process and purging process work well together!

  3. My husband created a detailed inventory 25 or so years ago. I came across it many years later and it was so out of date that it served little purpose other than a reminder of what we had at that time. We’ve never attempted to make a new one. Thank you for sharing this valuable insight from your conference!

    1. We touched on this in our discussion time… the need to refresh and update the inventory periodically. Another reader was talking about how she had created an inventory shortly after being married, but that now she has a lot more stuff. I would put myself in this category. Of course, the more you have, the more intimidating the process can seem. Nevertheless, watching people lose everything in the hurricanes and fires had refreshed my determination to get this done!

  4. Jill’s questions are a great tool for highlighting the need for an inventory. Thanks for including print and digital options. I plan to move this to the top of my November list, as well as share this link with my blog readers.

    1. Jill’s presentation was very good – and fun! She is a wonderful speaker. I think the whole room was motivated by her ideas, both for clients and for ourselves. I need to move this to the top of my list as well. My husband and I had started this process earlier in the year, but then sort of lost our momentum. Time to start again!

  5. Great advice. I found that taking pictures of the items and storing them online and offsite works best for us. Insurance companies also love receipts so keeping the receipts for the larger ticketed items in a fireproof box works great too. Thanks for sharing. Glad to hear the event was a success.

    1. Hope you can join us next time, Sabrina! The firesafe box is a good tip. If you have a lot of receipts, you can scan them and store in the cloud, or even put them in a safety deposit box.

  6. I’m sure Jill was a fabulous NERCPO speaker! Such thought-provoking questions she gave you all. I have a home inventory (old school in a notebook with pictures), but I really need to get better about updating it. We all buy new things, replace things, etc and it’s one of those things that you really need to stay on top of.

    1. The need for updating was one reason I found the apps with the Amazon integration kind of intriguing. Not everything I buy comes from Amazon, but it would be a nice feature!

  7. Great post! This has been a big topic of discussion out here in NorCal due to the fires. It made us think for sure… some folks were given 2-3 days to evacuate, some a few hours, and some a few minutes. I was away at a speaking engagement so had to think what I would ask our dog sitter to grab in our absence. It was stressful but made me realize that I pretty much have a photographic memory of our things! And thankfully, some of the really important memories are in bins in the garage on easy to access shelves and are labeled. But a few are at the top of my closet in lovely hat boxes. And while they are pretty and I like having them close to me, they won’t be as easy to access/grab or even find in an emergency so I will be rectifying that pronto!

    Another comforting realization is that I photographed many of our things, and rooms when we moved into this rental home 2 years ago and our photos are backed up on the cloud using iCloud Photo Sharing so easy to access even if our computers get damaged.

    Thanks again for a great post!
    Lisa Montanaro recently posted…Featured As Guest Expert for Comstock’s Magazine Article: “Get Focused: The Science Behind Why Multitasking is Ruining Your Ability to Get Things Done”My Profile

    1. Sounds like you are ahead of the game, Lisa! Moving seems to be the common theme that has nudged people to inventory and photograph. I think it might be time for me to move:)

  8. I created our first inventory of our belongings when my husband and I moved to Bangkok, Thailand. It was required by his company. Every time we moved (and we moved often) the company required an updated inventory. The first one was handwritten. My inventories have more recently been created on spreadsheets. This past year I started a new inventory on HomeZada. I like this system as it’s stored in the cloud and can be accessed anywhere at anytime. I recommend having a complete inventory and updating it once a year.
    Diane Quintana recently posted…New Routines and HabitsMy Profile

    1. You are the gold star winner, Diane! Moving is definitely one of those life experiences that can light a fire under this process. So lucky that you started this early on. HomeZada has so much functionality! I agree with your recommendation:)

  9. This has been a topic here in Houston due to flooding. It’s been important for us all. I love the low and high tech options. We have videos however a list with the values is important.

    1. I can certainly imagine how many conversations you are having about this down there. Inventories are one of those things that feels easy to put off, as if we will always have plenty of time. Of course, you just never know, so it is worth at least trying to make a record of your most valuable things.

    1. This is the kind of stuff you learn when you go to conferences on organization:) I do believe it is wise to make a record of what matters most. You just never know when something could hit, such as a fire. I need to work more on this myself!

  10. I’m embarrassed to say I really don’t know what we have. Cassidy sort of takes care of all that storage stuff. We still have wedding gifts we haven’t opened or used, he says!

    1. I think this is true for many people! Believe it or not, I encounter plenty of couples with unused wedding gifts. No guilt in moving those along… might be someone out there who would love to be using them.

  11. As someone who had to evacuate with only 30 minutes thanks to Hurricane Harvey, this post really hits home. No one can ever know when they will have to leave their home and valuables and how much time they’ll have to make those decisions. Great post and lots of good points to consider – thanks Seana!
    Liana George recently posted…5 Ways to Make Tomorrow Better, TodayMy Profile

    1. Your experience really makes this whole conversation real! I am as guilty as anyone in not taking time to think this through. I don’t have a lot of valuable items, but if I lost everything, I wouldn’t be able to replace it.

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