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Vicki Norris
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Restoring Order to Your Home
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Getting Organized

Creating a Simple Household Inventory

Vicki Norris
Restoring Order Let’s face it; very few of us have a household inventory. We all know it is an invaluable tool. If your home is burned, flooded, burglarized, or suffers some other unfortunate fate, an accurate list of your belongings and their replacement value will be required. An inventory is also essential to aid in the distribution of property in the case of a death or divorce.

An inventory takes time to create and most of us don’t know where to begin.  What do you list? How detailed should you be? These days you can buy sophisticated software programs helping you categorize, subcategorize, and label every item you own. But is that necessary?

Coming from a professional organizer, it might surprise you to learn that a household inventory really doesn’t have to be that complicated. While I can’t offer legal or financial advice on inventories, here are some things you may want to consider to customize a simple household inventory that works for you:

I don’t even recommend that my clients create an inventory until they’ve begun to reclaim their space. If their home is buried in clutter, the first step is to ditch the deadwood in their space and get things organized. Why inventory a bunch of things that you aren’t even going to keep? After the home is simplified, the time is ripe to create an inventory.

Before you tackle a household inventory, ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you trying to establish the cost of your belongings or replacement value (which takes into consideration depreciation and appreciation)? Are you looking for a feeling of safety or accomplishment or something else? Do you just want to have a master list for family members? Your motivation for recording your items will direct how to proceed.

How detailed do you want your inventory to be? Do you want to know the make, model, brand, price, purchase location, identification number, and description, or just the item and value?
You’ll also need to decide what to include. Do you want to record every single item you own, or only those high dollar items, like electronics, appliances, outdoor equipment, artwork, jewelry, etc.? Don’t forget collectibles and sentimental or irreplaceable items.
To address these issues, recall your motivation in creating an inventory in the first place. For example, if you’ve decided you just want a basic list of major items “just in case,” then don’t overdo the scope of your inventory or the details.

Consider the format of your inventory. Do you want to compile it manually in a simple document, spreadsheet, or database format? Does the home inventory software appeal to you?
My best advice is to begin your inventory only as you have the means and desire to continue it. Don’t start a spreadsheet and then never add to it again. Your inventory should be a living document, one that you continually update as you make acquisitions and dispense of your property. If you add or subtract items and neglect to update your inventory, it quickly becomes obsolete.

In addition to your list, you should take digital photos of your most valuable belongings. Some people advise taking pictures of everything, but I think that every knick knack doesn’t deserve its own photo (unless, of course, it is some kind of valuable collectible!) Save your photos to a special disk and burn a few copies.
Others advise taking a video of your belongings. If you do this, ensure that you keep the format updated as the years (and formats) go by and avoid overdoing the commentary to keep it short and sweet.
Keep your inventory and digital record in a safety deposit box or somewhere offsite, or even at a remote electronic site. Let loved ones know the location of your inventory and accompanying images.

Keep your home inventory simple. Review your insurance and family needs, check out your existing policies, place a quick call to your financial or legal advisor, and decide if it makes sense to spend an afternoon with your spouse or a friend creating a basic inventory. Then, determine your motivation, desired level of detail, and preferred format. Start the inventory only as you can keep it up. You can always build on it later.
Who knows, in the process of listing your belongings, you might just find:

  • You need to get organized first!
  • You were sorely under (or over) insured
  • A long forgotten treasure or two
  • You can let go of some of your overage to someone less fortunate (and receive a nice tax deduction)


About the Author: Vicki Norris is an expert organizer, business owner, speaker, television personality, and author who inspires people to live out their priorities. She is author of Reclaim Your Life™ © 2007 by Vicki Norris and of Restoring Order™ to Your Home, © 2007, a room-by-room household organizing guide, both published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR (available now at Norris is a regular on HGTV’s nationally syndicated Mission: Organization, and is a recurrent source and contributor to national lifestyle publications including Quick & Simple magazine, Better Homes & Gardens, and Real Simple magazine.

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