Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and fires: Disasters strike all the time. But until one hits close to home, most people feel it could never happen to them.
Sure, most of us have insurance to make us whole if the worst does occur.
But here’s the thing: If disaster strikes, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to remember everything you own. And unless you have accounted for all that stuff, you are unlikely to get what you should from the insurance company.
So the key is to have a full inventory of your possessions: Here’s how to create one:
1. Pick your software and storage methods
Scribbling on a napkin or taking a few snapshots is OK, but many better options exist and cost nothing:
- Customizable spreadsheet: CreatorVertex42.com offers a home inventory spreadsheet that you can use with Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice or Google Docs. Store photos and receipts separately, online or in a paper folder. CreatorVertex42.com suggests recording quick video clips of each room and storing them — along with your inventory and digital photos — on a flash drive.
- Know Your Stuff: The Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade group, offers a guided online home inventory with that name. Users can store information and up to 1GB of photos in it.
- What You Own: This standalone program has a clean interface and is easy to use. As with Know Your Stuff, you can link photos and receipts to your record of items.
2. List your possessions
Tackle this project by concentrating on one room at a time. Write down the name of every object you own in the room, although you can group items of the same kind, such as kitchen utensils or books. Make notes on condition, model and estimated value. Keep receipts if you have them.
3. Take photos and video
Use a digital camera or smartphone camera to photograph your property. Make a brief video of each room while narrating what is in it and how much things are worth. Remember to open closets and drawers to show everything, and don’t forget to record storage and utility areas, including the basement, laundry room and tool shed.
4. Don’t forget important paperwork
Replacing records, financial and legal documents and identification can be a major hassle. Read our story “How to Replace Lost, Stolen or Destroyed Personal Paperwork” for advice on preserving or recovering these documents.
5. List valuables separately
Big-ticket items such as jewelry, collectibles and high-end electronics may require separate insurance, and you might want a separate section on the list for them. If you’re especially thorough anywhere, it should be here. Try to include:
- Serial number
- Purchase date and location
- Multiple photographs
A great rule of thumb is that the more you paid, the more you document.
6. Keep copies away from home
Whatever your solution, remember you can’t store your inventory only on your computer’s hard drive. After all, your computer could be destroyed in a disaster.
The best option is to save your inventory to the cloud so you can access it anywhere. Do this by emailing it to yourself as an attachment or storing it at Google Docs. You can also use free cloud storage services.
Otherwise, print copies or copy your inventory to a digital storage device and stow it in a fireproof safe or in a safe-deposit box. Or swap lists with family and friends.
What would you add to this to-do list? Share in comments below or on our Facebook page.
Marilyn Lewis contributed to this post.