A woman with her feet on a desk making home inventory notes on a pad of paper

If your New Year's resolutions include getting organized, consider doing a home inventory.

The process only takes a few hours, but it has long-lasting benefits. For one, you may find things you thought were missing. You may identify items you can throw out. With the space those discards leave, you may be able to better rearrange what's left. 

What's more? You better prepare yourself for an emergency. After a fire, wind storm, robbery or other unexpected event, having a list or a visual reminder of your belongings can make a big difference in how much your homeowners insurance will pay, and thus how well you’ll recover financially. Without a record of your belongings, remembering what you’ve lost can be a challenge anytime, let alone during a time of trauma.

“Homeowners who set aside time to complete a home inventory have a much easier time documenting their losses and filing a claim, if and when they have to do so,” says Michael Barry, a spokesperson at the industry-sponsored Insurance Information Institute, based in New York City.

How to Get Started

Creating a home inventory doesn’t have to be difficult. It can even be as simple as standing in the middle of each room and taking a 360-degree video, and emailing it to yourself or uploading to the cloud. 

More on Homeowners Insurance

To start, focus first on the big and valuable: major appliances, jewelry, furniture, rugs, electronics, and art or collectibles.

Using your smartphone’s video feature, sweep the camera around a room, narrating a description of items you’re filming and—if you remember—what you paid. (Photograph receipts if you have them.) Capture serial numbers and brand names when possible so that the insurer can replace what you had with exact or similar items.

Open cabinets, drawers, closets, and boxes and do the same for smaller items. But don’t sweat the small stuff too much. An insurance adjuster is likely to create a “bulk estimate” of those things—for example, $200 for everything in your utility closet, insurers told us.

Options for Storing the Information

Store the images and video for your home inventory on a cloud service, such as iCloud or OneDrive, or put it on a thumb drive and stash it in a safe deposit box or fireproof safe. 

Your insurer may offer a home inventory tool. Allstate's mobile app, for instance, includes a "Digital Locker" home inventory function; it’s available for Android and iOS.   

You also could use a paid or free home inventory app. Encircle, for example, is designed for insurance adjusters but includes a free home inventory function for homeowners. It allows you to store photos and videos, and to make notes about your property—such as the date you got it and what it cost. (If you'd rather write down your inventory, download and use this worksheet from NYCM Insurance Co., and store it as you would your thumb drive.)