How to Do a Home Inventory Before Disaster Strikes

by Lauren Leazenby
taking picture of living room couch with smartphone

Tips for Taking a Home Inventory

  • Use an app
  • Go room by room
  • Take photos and list identifying info
  • Get the kids involved
  • Don’t get too detailed
  • Inventory outbuildings and storage units
  • Store it safely
  • Update it regularly

If you had to make a list — from memory — of every object, appliance, piece of clothing and furniture item in your home, could you? Of course, you might remember most of the big, expensive stuff, but no doubt you’d forget to list the air fryer you just bought or the antiques you’ve stored in the attic for ages.

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Thankfully, most of us will never have to do this. But if a tornado, fire or other disaster befalls your home, you may have to supply your insurance company with a list of your belongings in order to file a claim. If you don’t keep a detailed list of what you own, this process can make a difficult time that much more stressful.

Creating a home inventory may not sound so hard at first. But once you get into the weeds, marking down every single item in your home can be a tedious task. Read on to learn how to create and maintain a home inventory — plus a few tips to make the process smoother.

What’s a Home Inventory?

Simply put, a home inventory is a list of all your possessions — from major appliances and home systems to the clothes and shoes in your closet. According to the Insurance Information Institute, a good home inventory also lists the estimated price of these items, purchase dates, receipts, serial numbers and other identifying information. If you want to get really fancy, you can even include photos of your stuff.

What Items Should Be Included in a Home Inventory?

The short answer is that pretty much everything you own should be on that list. Here are some major categories to guide you in the process:

  • Furniture
  • Décor
  • Personal electronics (computers, TVs and video game systems)
  • CDs, DVDs and books
  • Knickknacks, keepsakes and collections
  • Clothing, jewelry and accessories
  • Textiles (rugs, bedding, blankets, curtains and towels)
  • Small appliances (hairdryer, toaster and blender)
  • Large appliances (fridge, oven and clothes washer)
  • Kitchen items (silverware, dishes, pots and pans)
  • Musical instruments
  • Hobby items (sewing machine or sports equipment)
  • Outdoor items (tools, lawnmower, bicycles and outdoor furniture)

Why Should You Take a Home Inventory?

Fires, storms, theft and other disasters happen, said Scott Holeman, III media relations director.

“There are events that we cannot control,” Holeman said. “And while we think we may know what we own, when we’re in a catastrophic situation, we’re not always thinking clearly.”

In addition to peace of mind, Holeman said having an up-to-date home inventory helps with the following:

It Can Ease the Claims Process in Case of Catastrophe

If your home and belongings are damaged or destroyed in an incident covered by your insurance policy, you can file a claim with your insurance company. The company will determine a settlement amount and send you a check. (Basically. Most of the time, the process involves additional steps.)

During this process, you’ll want to have a list of what you lost so you can receive enough money to replace everything. Being able to hand over a list of exactly what you own means your claim can be processed that much faster.

It’ll Help You Gauge Your Coverage

Hopefully, disaster never strikes. Having a detailed home inventory can still benefit you when it comes time to discuss how much insurance coverage you have. If you know how much stuff you own, you know how much it would cost to replace and, thus, how much coverage you need. Armed with a list of your possessions, Holeman said you can have a productive conversation with your insurance agent about whether you have the right coverage for your home.

Do Renters Need a Home Inventory?

Yes. If you’re a renter, you likely have renters insurance rather than homeowners insurance, but the same rules apply. In the case of theft or damage, you’ll need to have a list of the stuff you own to file a claim. If you have roommates, GEICO recommends making a clear list of who owns what so that doesn’t have to be sorted out later.

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How to Do a Home Inventory

If you’ve lived in your home for years or decades, taking a home inventory may seem like a headache-inducing process. Holeman’s advice is to calm down a little.

“Don’t look at this as a daunting project that is going to be something that you just don’t have time for,” he said. “Take it a step at a time.”

Use these eight tips to get started:

1. Use an App

If you consider yourself even mildly tech-savvy, a home-inventory app is the way to go. These apps not only store info about what you own, but all the model numbers and barcodes you need to keep track of. They often offer an easier way to take and store photos of your items, too.

Many insurance companies have apps with inventory functionality built right in. Or, check this list for apps created solely to keep track of your stuff.

2. Go Room by Room

The easiest way to go about creating an inventory is to start and finish in one room before moving on to the next one, Holeman said. For the first one, maybe pick a simple room with just a few items in it, like a bathroom or even a closet. Once you’ve inventoried everything in that space, continue to add to your list.

3. Jot Down Items and Identifying Information

Make a list of everything in the room. If you can, take photos of each item. List or attach as much of the following information as you can:

  • Item description
  • Brand or manufacturer
  • Model or serial number
  • Barcode
  • Receipt
  • Price or estimated value
  • Estimated purchase date
  • Appraisals and proof-of-ownership (for high-value items)

If you’re short on time, you can also go through your home and take a video of each room. You won’t end up with an itemized list, but it is still a record of what you’ve got.

4. Get the Kids Involved

“Kids love technology,” Holeman said. “Have them go take pictures of things. Or have them walk through a room with a video camera and start opening drawers and doors.” Let them tell you the toys, books, electronics and clothes they have.

5. Don’t Go Overboard

Holeman notes that you really only need to include a barcode or serial number for items that cost several hundred dollars or more. With smaller appliances, like blenders or toasters, making a note of the style and brand should suffice.

Similarly, you don’t need to list every T-shirt and pair of heels as a separate item; unless they’re particularly expensive pieces of clothing, just list them in categories: 5 pairs of jeans, 4 blouses, 2 winter coats, etc.

Also, don’t be afraid to take a break if you need to. Finish one room and save the others for another time. Trying to go too quickly may result in some major items being left off the list accidentally. A partial inventory is better than no inventory.

6. Inventory Items Outside Your House

Don’t forget to inventory items you own that aren’t stored in your home. This may include items kept in storage facilities or stuff you store in outbuildings or garages.

7. Keep It Safe

If you used an app to take a home inventory, the information will be stored in the cloud, connected to your account. That said, you’ll want to keep track of the app you used and any login information. You can also store a digital document or spreadsheet in the cloud with something like Google Drive or Dropbox, or email it to yourself and a trusted friend.

If you took your inventory the old-fashioned way (with pen and paper), you’ll want to make copies and ensure those copies are stored in a safe place — after all, the point of a home inventory is that you know what you own in case your possessions are destroyed. You can’t do that if your paper inventory is destroyed, too.

Give a copy to someone you trust. If you have a good relationship with your insurance agent, they may be able to hold onto it for you. Put an additional copy in a safe deposit box.

8. Update Regularly

Holeman recommends updating your inventory annually, adding new items and scratching off those you got rid of throughout the year. Keep a running list of any home improvement projects or renovations, too. Make it easy on yourself and update the inventory every time you make a big purchase. That way, the barcode and receipt are right in front of you, and you only have to add one item at a time. Take items off the list as you donate or throw something away.