Creating a home inventory list: 5 quick tips

Creating a home inventory list

Buying insurance is a great way to make sure your things are protected, but it’s just the first step. You’ll also want to think about creating a home inventory list—a catalog of your belongings, their value, and other key information.

This helps to ensure that you’ll be reimbursed if your possessions are damaged or stolen. After all, it’ll be much easier to get money back from your insurance company if you can tell them what’s missing—and prove that you owned it in the first place. So, how exactly does one go about creating a home inventory list? Here’s our handy guide.

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5 steps for creating a home inventory list

1. Pick a method for your home inventory list.

Are you a spreadsheet whiz, or are selfies and snapshots more your speed? Maybe you prefer to download a home inventory app and let it be your guide? There are multiple ways to go about creating a home inventory, so pick the system that makes the most sense for you—something easy, and something you’ll remember to update as needed. You can:

  • Take photos. Take pictures of each of your possessions and save relevant information as captions or descriptions. Include key details, including purchase price, estimated purchase date, place of purchase, brand, model, serial number (especially important for electronics), and anything else that might help with identifying and replacing an item.

You should also take photos of any receipts or proofs of purchase you have on hand. To make it easier, you can take a few shortcuts—photograph the interior of each kitchen cabinet, for example, rather than giving each pot and pan its own individual photo shoot—but make sure your photographs are clear, and that they capture a good deal of information. Opening a drawer and snapping a pic of the first layer of T-shirts isn’t going to reveal much about what’s underneath. Similarly, if you take a photo of your closet and your expensive handbag is hiding behind a free canvas tote, you might have a harder time proving that you owned the pricey purse.

  • Make a video. If video is more your speed, record video tours of each room, cupboard, and closet in your apartment. Narrate as you go, describing what you see onscreen. Include the same key details as you would in a written description, including the purchase price, serial number, and brand of each item. If you have receipts, get them on camera, too.
  • Create a spreadsheet. Use your Excel or Google Spreadsheets skills to craft a database of your belongings. Write up an itemized list of your possessions, and log all of the important info we’ve described above—price, brand, model, serial number, etc. Even if you’re not taking photos of your items, you may still want to take photos of any receipts you have on hand.
  • Use a free home inventory app. There are multiple free or inexpensive apps, like Sortly (iOS, Android) or NestEgg (iOS), that can help you log your belongings and track new purchases. If you decide to go with a free home inventory app, make sure to do your research—find out where the app stores your information, and download a copy. Apps come and go, and you don’t want to invest time and energy itemizing your belongings, only to have the app go under, taking your data with it.

Which brings us to our next tip for creating a home inventory list…

2. Back it up.

Make sure you have more than one copy of your home inventory list. If you took photos or videos, save them in a folder on your phone, computer, or local hard drive, and be sure they’re also backed up to the cloud. If you went with a spreadsheet, store a digital copy on the cloud, then print out a hard copy and ask a friend or relative to keep it in a safe place. You don’t want to be in a position where a fire or storm damages the contents of your apartment, and your home inventory is one of the casualties. That’s when you’ll need a renters insurance inventory list the most.

3. Keep it current.

Make sure your home inventory list is updated to reflect any recent purchases—or any items you’ve donated or thrown away. Get in the habit of logging or photographing items as you buy them, and scanning or filing corresponding receipts.

4. Tackle it one area at a time.

Creating a home inventory list can feel like a daunting task, particularly when you’re starting from scratch. Make things more manageable by dividing your apartment into sections, and tackle one area per day.

You can also take a few shortcuts. While it’s important to make sure that your most valuable items—electronics, designer clothes, expensive kitchen gadgets—are catalogued in as much detail as possible on your renters insurance inventory list, you can be a bit more relaxed when it comes to things like clothes or books. Write “five pairs of slacks,” and an estimate of their total cost, rather than itemizing each one separately, or take a photo of all the slacks hanging in your closet and include a total estimated cost in your description.

5. Pay attention to exceptions.

When it comes to your most expensive possessions, a detailed home inventory may not be enough to protect your investment, even if that inventory includes receipts, serial numbers, and appraisals. Why not? Most renters insurance only covers items of average cost. If your apartment contains any big-ticket items—a family heirloom, a custom-made guitar, an engagement ring—you’ll likely need to add extra coverage to make sure they’re protected. (Learn more about how renters insurance works.)