Creating a list of the contents of your home, where each item was purchased, date of purchase and cost is difficult enough when everything is right in front of you. It is an unfathomable, daunting task when a home has been reduced to ashes, as many were after the recent wild fire. However, most insurance companies require just such an exercise in order for their policy holders to receive compensation.

When creating inventories for clients who lost their homes, the clients who had a digital paper trail for their purchases had a much easier time. We were able to research detailed order histories on such websites as amazon, Pottery Barn, Home Depot, and other sites where purchases were made. If a client had recently moved we looked at moving records. Most moving companies keep a detailed inventory and list of the contents of each box if they do the packing.

Photos are also a huge help. Photos of various rooms in the house jogged the client’s memory about their possessions. An easy way to start creating your home inventory is to use the camera on your cell phone and take some quick pictures of each room in the house. Be sure to include the garage. Also, open each cupboard and drawer and snap a shot of the contents. If this is all you do, you will have a pretty good home inventory, and since your phone can back up to the cloud, you don’t have to worry about grabbing an inventory file if there is an emergency.

Another important part of an inventory is proof of purchase. Use a scanner (there are many inexpensive, sturdy versions on the market and many printers and copiers have scanning capability built in) to keep records of receipts and appraisals. An option to scanning is to snap a picture of the receipt or appraisal with your phone.

The non plus ultra of home inventories is an Excel spreadsheet using the categories an insurance company requires on its claim forms. These include item description, brand, model number, cost, purchase date, and place of purchase. This will be a very long document—the average home has 300,000 items in it—so divide it by room. Count the closets as separate rooms.

One beautiful benefit of the massive task of creating a home inventory is the decluttering that occurs along the way. Many people find that the act of recording items makes it much clearer when something is no longer needed or wanted.