The Way to Make an Inventory, Whether You Organized or Not

You may be surprised to understand that losing all of my earthly possessions was the simple part of having an arsonist put my home on fire. The hard part was wrangling with the insurance company while attempting to construct a new property.

Perhaps you have noticed those insurance advertisements where a insurance adjuster is at the scene of a catastrophe, instantly cutting out a generous check into the devastated homeowner? In case you have, and that is what you believe happens, I’m sorry to inform you it isn’t quite like this.

Imagine you have been hit by a car. You desperately require care and survive. The paramedics arrive — O joyful day! Following a short examination, they inform you they really want to help — and they will … when you complete a small little 5K. (Full disclosure: It’s going to become an Ironman triathlon.) On your mark, get set, go! You find yourself jogging. “Don’t worry,” they promise you. “We’ll be right beside you each step along the way.” Plus they will … thwacking you in the mind with a 2-by-4.

That provides you a good idea of what it is like settling with an insurance company after a house fire.

Andrea Schumacher Interiors

“I’m sorry,” you might be thinking, “but that is not how it’s going to be for me, since I’m guaranteed for a zillion dollars.”

We too had great coverage and ended up with a very good settlement — ours is actually a success story. And here is the thing: Take a look at your policy. Right before the dollar amount of your policy, there are two very important words: “up” As in “up into a zillion bucks” The gap between that and a genuine zillion dollars is profound. (Watch Ironman and 2-by-4 thwackings above.)

How an Inventory Can Help You

I hope anyone reading this never need to face a home fire, but mathematically speaking some of you may, and I’d love to make a terrible experience a bit easier.

Here is the secret: Before your house burns down, you want to make a list. In other words, you need to make a listing of each and every thing in your home. Bonus secret: Once your home burns down and that I hope it never does — employ a a general adjuster. (Watch good-settlement success story above.)


Just reading this might have caused your eyes to roll back in your mind, and I’m sorry, but the one way to prevent having to make a list is by avoiding a home fire, an earthquake, a flood, a hurricane or a tornado. I’m here to inform you that is not always possible, and creating a list before your home burns down (is shaken apart, floods, blows off etc.) is soooo much easier than doing this after.

The Organized Person’s Way to Generate an Inventory

First we’re going to look at the Naturally Organized method to create an inventory.

My friend Jane is among the most organized people on earth and an insurance adjuster’s worst nightmare. First of all she actually has an inventory, and then it is broken down to mind-bogglingly comprehensive classes. Here they are:

“Appliances (mainly major, but such as air conditioners), artwork, brewery, china (and all butler’s-pantry-type serveware), clothing, electronics, furniture, jewellery, kitchen (small appliances go here), linens, lamps and clocks, mixed (bookends, wastebaskets, Christmas decor), carpeting, sporting goods, tools, utility (ironing board, scale, phones, lawnmower).”

Jane conducts a bed-and-breakfast out of her hundred-year-old home, and she acknowledges this impacts the complexity of her inventory. “Clearly, there is more here than most places. We have got lots of classes since it is a lot easier to find things and update. Some categories overlap a little, like utilities and miscellaneous”

Annie McElwain Photography

Here is a pretty minimalistic corner, but I see a few hundred dollars in books alone, not to mention the bed, bedding, light, curtains and hardware.

And that is not all. She keeps separate inventories for books, videos and audio as well as separate lists for electrical panel, major repair, redecorating, gardening and major medical expenses plus financing.

All of this can be in searchable Excel files, and every thing has columns such as class, space, item, manufacturer, model, serial, cost or value, and date acquired. The only addition I would suggest is one more column to indicate whether the product was a gift or bought, since the insurance carrier may wish to understand.

Jane assures me it is an easy 15-minute update every year; she enjoys to do it first thing after the holidays, when she naturally acquires new things.

When I asked her how she backs up the info, she said, “it is a computer record, but usually there is a recent downloaded backup we store in our safe. Sometimes we get cluttered, but it is never really far outdated.” I can only imagine what “cluttered” seems like to Jane. A box of cotton swabs omitted? I can not even hazard a guess.

Inventorying for the Not Naturally Organized

Naturally Organized readers, you might be clucking your tongues and noting a few classes you have failed on your inventories. You are welcome.

And now I have something unique for my Not Naturally Organized friends. Most of us know you’re never going to write down and categorize everything you possess. And that is OK.

Here is what I want you to do: Grab a smart phone or a camera, turn on the video and take a slow tour of your entire home, inside and out. Email the outcomes. In a matter of minutes you’ll have put a thousand times before the game.

Run the numbers on which it’d cost to replace all of these small items. It adds up quickly.

It does not take a whole lot more effort to do a really thorough job. Just take just a while. Walk through the home, room by room. Do close-ups of items of specific value. Turn things over to reveal marks or labels. Pan your bookshelves. Even if you don’t get each title, this will give you a good idea of the number of hardcovers versus paperbacks, not to mention some other items.

Open drawers and cupboard doors and lift bedskirts. Don’t forget the basement and the attic or garage as well as any outbuildings. Whether the regions are a wreck, it doesn’t matter. Odds are, you’ll never need to check out this, but a few of you may, and I promise you’ll be unutterably glad to have this. Don’t neglect to film your landscaping. Our claim for the gardens and yards was thousands and tens of thousands of dollars.

Special note: If you rent rather than own your home, make sure to purchase renter’s insurance plan. It is quite reasonable, and you can get it through just about any insurance agent. Then make sure to do a list!

Here is the alternative: Shut your eyes. OK, now open them. Where’s your stuff? All gone! You want it back? Alrighty! Actually, that is not likely to occur, but write down whatever you want to substitute. What’s that? Some things can never be replaced. Sorry! However, tick-tock — we don’t have all day. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

And that is a picture of a good settlement.

Sandi Gunnett Photography

My former front door.

Years back I read an article in a magazine telling everything to do before your home burns down; it was by a writer who’d been through a fire. He had not been adequately covered; he learned too late and he didn’t have a list, either. He broke down the differences in insurance and actually recommended taking a video and storing it at a friends’ home or in a safety deposit box.

That night I spoke to my husband about our homeowners’ insurance. I wanted to make sure that we were properly coated. I didn’t give the inventory another thought.

This was years and years ago, before digital cameras, back in the olden days when you needed a separate video camera, and ours had recently broken. I was not really concerned about it. I mean, it is 1 thing to ensure you’re adequately insured, but why go overboard? I couldn’t believe my home would ever burn. Who would?

Be Ready Using a Household Inventory — and Use It to Declutter Too
10 Real Ways You Can Help After a Home Fire

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