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Inventory Your Belongings With Your Computer and Camera


Military families are familiar with the inventory sheet which they use to diligently check off items delivered to their new home during a move. This document lists your belongings, but if you had a disaster, such as a fire, severe weather or a home burglary, this kind of inventory would not provide the details necessary to report your loss to your insurance company. To protect the value of your possessions, take the time to compile a meticulous inventory that will provide all you need to file a claim in case of loss.

Digital technology makes it easy

Preparing an inventory before a disaster occurs can provide a more thorough list, as well as more precise values. It will also simplify the task of meeting insurance requirements during a time when you may be stressed. The key to being organized is having a system that is easy to create and maintain. Digital tools such as a computer and a camera can simplify the process and make additions or changes easy to input during periodic updates. Digital files are easy to access, move and store.

To begin your inventory, select a method to list your belongings. For ease, you can use free home inventory software, which may be offered by your insurance company or can be accessed at ready.gov. Other options include a purchased program or creating your own spreadsheet that has columns to record the following:

  • Item name, description and condition
  • Number of items (e.g. 12 pewter forks)
  • Model and serial number, if applicable
  • Purchase information: where and when you bought it, how much you paid, an estimate of its current value and a column to indicate if you have the receipt (which can also be scanned into a digital file)
  • Photo data, such as a file name or number or how it is tagged in your photo files

Check with your insurance company to see if they offer advice about documenting your belongings. Many offer inventory spreadsheets and storage capabilities so your file will not be lost in a home disaster (more about storage is below).

Taking better photos for inventory purposes

Next you will need to photograph or create videos of your belongings. Use your inventory to guide the qualities you want to emphasize in the photos, such as brands or quantities. Neaten and de-clutter the areas you will photograph so the item stands out clearly. Here are some tips to get photos or a video that will support your inventory:

  • Go room by room. Photograph each room (using a flash) by standing in each corner and photographing the area across from you. This will show all the large items in the room.
  • Photograph everything. Take individual photos of the small items in each room; these items add up when you have to replace them.
  • Open cabinets, drawers and closets. Get close-up photos of these areas for an overview of the items they contain.
  • Photograph high value items separately. Detailed photos can help assess the value of an item. Here are a few tips:
    • Set the item near the natural light coming in a window on a background that enhances the item's details. Try a light or dark tablecloth to see what works for each item.
    • Photograph all sides to show condition and include brand names. If the item has an identifying mark, zoom in to capture it.
    • For serial numbers, write the number on an index card and prop it next to the item before you photograph it.
  • Photograph the outside of the house. Shoot every side of the home and include landscaping.
  • Don't forget the garage. Photograph the garage, then separate out large items (like lawnmowers) from the clutter to photograph them individually.
  • Narrate video to provide details. Partner with a narrator who can add details while you are zooming in to highlight specific qualities of items. It may help to make notes ahead of time about what details to include in your narration.

Once you have a good digital inventory, you can easily insert data when you acquire a valuable item or delete items you no longer own. Be sure to review your inventory at least once a year.

Store it in a safe place

If you store your inventory at home, you run the risk of losing it if you experience a home disaster, so it is important to store a copy in a safe place. This might be in a bank safe deposit box, or you might consider giving a copy to a relative to store. Your insurance company may provide a way for you to store an inventory electronically. Whichever storage methods you choose, you will have to remember to update all versions when you add or delete valuable items from your inventory. By creating and updating a home inventory, you'll be able to document the value of your belongings. You'll also make the task of insurance paperwork much easier to face should you experience a disaster. 


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