Taking Inventory of Your Possessions in Case of Loss

by Gary Foreman

DIY Landscaping for Less photo

It pays to be prepared. Taking inventory of your possessions can help ensure you recover stolen items or receive compensation for any damage from your homeowners insurance or renters insurance.

Let’s play ‘make believe’. Pretend that you just came home and your house was burglarized. Try to make a mental list of all the things that you own.

Let’s start with some of the most expensive items, your electronics. Could you name the model number of your TVs? How about the microwave oven? I can barely remember who the manufacturer is, much less the model numbers. Can you remember all the furniture, clothes, china? 

Don’t Rely on Your Memory

Unless you’re a very unusual person, you’ll have a hard time remembering most of the things you own. But that’s exactly what you’ll need to do if you have a fire or burglary.

The police, IRS and your insurance company will all want to know as much as possible about the things that were lost or destroyed.

A more accurate list will provide you with a better chance of recovering your possessions or being fully compensated for the loss by your home insurance or renters insurance.

Choose an Inventory System

It’s easy to solve the problem. Just take an inventory of each room of your home.

The inventory can be a written list, individual photos or a video. The key is to get as much information as possible on your inventory.

The best method is to use a combination of a list with photos or video.

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How To Take Inventory

Start in one room of the house. List the major items in the room. Copy receipts for major items if available and attach to your list. Make notes of when items were purchased and what they cost if receipts aren’t available. Include serial and model numbers where appropriate.

Take pictures of the more valuable items. Use close-ups where details are important. You may have keepsakes from your grandmother that are of sentimental value to you, but that also have a cash value. You can’t ever recover the memories. No need to lose the cash value, too.

If you’re taking a video, slowly survey the room. Provide a running commentary of what the pictures show. You can ‘read’ the serial numbers onto your tape if you’d like. It may be useful to have someone lift and turn smaller items so that all sides can be seen. Spend a few seconds on each item. Don’t worry about how professional the tape is. Your hope is that no one will ever see it. But if someone does, you don’t want an Oscar. You want a check!

Don’t forget to include items in closets and cabinets. You’ll want them on your list and your photos. If you’re taking still photos, write a description of each item on the back of the picture. You might even want to use a photo ID number that you can reference on your list thereby tying the two together.

You’ll want to do every room of your house including the garage, tool shed and utility room. If you’ve shopped for a vacuum, washer or lawn mower lately you’ll understand why. After 40 years of owning a home I’ve accumulated a fair number of tools. I know where to find them, but I sure couldn’t list them all from memory.

Where To Store Your Inventory List

After you’re through making the inventory, you’ll need to find a safe place to keep it. Your safe deposit box is a good choice for a physical copy or a fire-proof lock box or safe hidden in your home. Also keep a digital copy that is stored on a cloud server — not just on your home computer or phone that you could potentially lose to a fire or theft.

You’ll want to make additions to your inventory list as you purchase new items. Once you’ve done it the first time, it doesn’t take much effort to keep it current.

An inventory of your possessions is a little like fire insurance. If you’re fortunate it won’t save you any money. But if you do need it, there’s no way to go back to yesterday to do it. Robberies and fires are an unfortunate part of life. We hope they never happen. But if they do happen, it’s the wise person who is prepared to keep the damage to a minimum.

Reviewed August 2023

About the Author

Gary Foreman is the former owner and editor of The Dollar Stretcher. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and has been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com.

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