How To: Make an Inventory of Your Home

... And Use It to Declutter

A home inventory list serves multiple purposes. It provides documentation of your belongings for an insurance company if your home is burglarized or damaged; it helps you keep track of items that require upkeep or repair; and (as an added bonus) it can help you declutter and maintain a lean home. Learn how after the jump...

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Part One: Make Your Inventory. Use a home inventory checklist to keep tabs on what and how much you own. Setting up your checklist can be a time-consuming process, so give yourself a week or so to complete it. Tackle one room each day, or set aside a weekend to get it done.

  • Step 1: Make a spreadsheet. There are several sites that offer tips on how to document your belongings, including FEMA and the Insurance Information Institute. Individual insurance agencies also offer checklist guidelines; check with your agent for the specifics of your plan and what it covers.
  • Step 2: Start documenting your belongings. A basic home inventory spreadsheet is divided room by room, with columns for item description, quantity, model/serial number, year purchased, place purchased, and cost. Make sure all valuable items have back-up such as receipts, appraisals, or serial numbers for electronics and appliances.
  • Step 3: Take digital photographs of the items on your list and store them in a computer file with your spreadsheet. Include photographs of the outside of your home, overview shots of each room, and close-ups of any big-ticket items. For less expensive items, take a group shot. For example, empty your toolbox and take one photo of its contents.
  • Step 4: Make sure all your data is backed up online so that you can access it if your computer is stolen or damaged. If you're using hard copies, store one set in a second location away from your home, such as a relative's house.
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    Part Two: Use Your Inventory. Hopefully you won't have to use your inventory in the event of a disaster or burglary, but you will be able to put it to use in your day-to-day life. Most people, when faced with the task of documenting their belongings, realize that they own too much stuff.

  • Step 1: Go through your list, room-by-room, and ask yourself how many of each item you really need. Highlight each item that can be reduced. You may realize that you only need five t-shirts instead of fifteen, two sets of sheets instead of four, or one frying pan instead of three. (Don't do any physical decluttering yet; just work on your list. Physical decluttering brings up emotional attachments and associations that add another layer of difficulty to the process.)
  • Step 2: Set up an outbox in your home: a waystation where you collect the things you're getting rid of. This is a strategy used in Apartment Therapy's 8-Step Home Cure that really works. Items stay in the outbox for a little while, so that you have time to emotionally detach as well as the ability to retrieve something if you REALLY need it.
  • Step 3: With your list in hand, tackle each room. Give yourself plenty of time for this process—at least one day for each room. Don't get discouraged; it will take longer than you think, but you'll feel great once it's over. Go through each room, whittling down your possessions to the number you've benchmarked on your list and placing items in the outbox. Schedule times to empty your outbox. In our experience, once a week is usually pretty realistic.
  • Step 4: After you've finished decluttering, update your list. Whenever you make a new purchase, add it to your inventory. By keeping your records up-to-date, you'll develop a clearer picture of everything you own, making it much easier to realize when you do or don't need something. Once you understand the time and effort that goes into owning something, it becomes a lot easier to buy less and buy better.
  • Photos: Chuck and Holly's High School Home, Jessica and Alex's Simple Modern on a Budget, Melissa and Matt's Design Lab