Inventory Your Belongings Before Disaster Hits

There’s no doubt that storms are becoming more intense, due to the effects of climate change. Wildfires, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes are striking at unexpected times and places, leaving devastation in their wake. In addition, no one is immune from non-weather-related disasters, from fires to gas explosions to burglaries.

You may already have prepared for disasters: stockpiling water, food, and medications, and having a family disaster plan. But Billshark wants to suggest one aspect of disaster prep you may not have thought of, and that’s having a detailed inventory of your belongings.

Why bother?

When your life has been turned upside down, you’d be surprised how difficult it is to remember everything you owned. While some insurance companies will pay a flat fee only (check with your carrier), others require you to list every item you owned for reimbursement. Lacking such a list, experts warn that you can leave thousands of dollars on the table.

Most insurance companies require not only a detailed inventory list, but receipts, serial numbers, detailed descriptions, and photos. Therefore, having one can not only help you get the money you deserve, but it can help speed up the process.

Who should have one

All homeowners and renters need insurance against loss, not only on the structure (homeowners) but on the contents (both). Thus, everyone should have an inventory of their belongings. If you have an especially valuable collection—artwork, stamps, coins, jewelry, etc.—you will need to cover that separately, and your insurance agent can tell you how.

How to do it

This is the hard part. If you haven’t yet Marie Kondo’ed your home, you’ll be amazed at how much you own. Even if you have decluttered to the max, you’ll still have a daunting amount of belongings that you’ll want reimbursement for in the event of loss.

1. Get organized

Do one room at a time. Take a video of the entire room, then distance and close-up photos of everything in the room, from drapes to furniture to lamps. Open every drawer and closet, open boxes and other storage areas, check under beds, and don’t forget the attic, basement, garage, and storage shed(s). Note not only your computer or entertainment equipment, but any associated software or apps you’ve bought for it. Document everything you would want to be replaced, from cosmetics to shoes to ties.

2. Find receipts

Hopefully, you’ve saved receipts for at least your largest purchases (electronics, appliances, etc.). If you bought things online, check your email notifications if you saved them, or your online accounts for a record of your purchases. At the very least, look inside or under such items for make, serial, and model numbers and note those. (And start now to save receipts for such purchases in the future.) Be sure to include dimensions and composition of furniture (e.g.,  six-inch lead crystal vase, eight-foot mahogany dining table).

3. Update frequently

Once this daunting task is complete, be sure to keep it up to date. Add to it if you make a major purchase, and update it annually.

Get some help

Check with your insurer to see whether they have apps or other software to help you document your stuff. Many, including Liberty Mutual and Allstate do. State Farm offers a home inventory checklist to everyone.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners also provides a checklist, available to all.

Finally, the consumer advocacy group United Policyholders offers a free home inventory app by Encircle.

Where to store it

Not in your home. If you don’t want to upload it to the cloud or some similar service, put it on a flash drive and ask a long-distance friend to store it for you. Or email it to yourself. You could also rent a safe deposit box to store it. The important thing is to keep it somewhere away from your home.

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