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Creating a Home Inventory

There are so many good reasons to create a home inventory. I’ve helped clients create such documents as part of their home insurance files, for estate planning, and for preparation for a move, among other things. It can be a daunting task, but well worth the time and effort.

A home inventory will help you get your mind off your stuff. Finally, you will have a sense of how much you own, it’s approximate value, and what, if anything, you will be passing on to others someday. Instead of trying to keep track of every possession in your head—and you do this whether you realize it or not–you will have a neat list with photos and other information that can be updated, backed up, and shared with your insurance agent, attorney and family.

It is best to do a home inventory after a very thorough purge. Having to record each item in a tidy spreadsheet will be a bit of a deterrent against saving junk. Does each thing deserve to be listed? If it is not of sufficient monetary or sentimental value or is not beautiful or useful, now is the time to donate or pitch it!

There are lots of special software programs and applications to organize home inventories, but I like the super simple approach of an excel spread sheet or a table in Microsoft Word. You should designate columns for location of the item (where in the home or which storage unit), the item name, the value, who it is promised to (if applicable) and a notes column. Other columns might be date of purchase and location of purchase.

The camera on your smart phone will be your best friend for the gathering process. Photograph whole rooms, then go around and photograph each individual item in the room. Back at your computer you will be able to use the pictures to create your list: black leather couch, 2 club chairs, Noguchi coffee table, and so on. You can also print and attach the photos to your list, or forward them to the appropriate agents.

Break your inventory project into chunks. I would advise starting with your most valuable items first, whether that be art, jewelry, first edition books, electronics or silver and china. When that category has been completed (you may want to hire an appraiser to confirm the value of the items depending on the advice of your insurance agent and attorney), move on to the next category.

Of course, in the Napa Valley an inventory of your wine cellar might be in order. If a cellar inventory is something you would like to have, consider putting it on your smart phone in a notes application or printing it out your Excel spreadsheet and keeping it on a clipboard, so that every time you give away or consume a bottle (or add new inventory) you can carry your inventory to the cellar with you and easily do updates there.

I love having an inventory of my wardrobe because it also reminds me of how much I’m spending and what I already own when I go shopping. I maintain it by adding and deleting items every season. This particular category is an example of an inventory that is more of a benefit for mental clarity than for insurance or estate purposes.

I thought about creating an inventory of all of my books, but after inputting several dozen, I felt a bit obsessive-compulsive and decided to give up the project. Now that CDs are all but a thing of the past, my music inventory is easily seen every time I open iTunes, and it is backed up to iCloud. I didn’t have to input a thing. I wish the rest of the house were so easy.

Once you’ve organized your file cabinets, consider doing an inventory of your files. This list will act as sort of a map to make it easier for others to find things, if necessary. For example, you could note that Tax Documents 2006 to 2014 are located in a labeled box in the garage and Health Records are in the general A-Z filing system in the home office, etc.

A home inventory can be a real wake-up call with regards to how much stuff you really own. Every bit of it entails a responsibility of some sort. Putting each thing on an inventory list can give you a fresh perspective, peace of mind, and will probably help you let go of some unnecessary baggage.