Cross section of a house full of items ready to be listed on a home inventory for insurance.

Q. Do I need to inventory every item I own in the event of a house fire?

A. The more detail about your belongings that you can relay to an insurance adjuster in your home inventory, the more you stand to recover from your insurance claim, says Tobie Stanger, a CR senior money editor. At the start of your home inventory, focus first on the big and valuable: major appliances, jewelry, furniture, rugs, electronics, and art or collectibles.

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Using your smartphone's video feature, sweep the camera around a room, narrating the 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.

Once you've cataloged the pricier items for your home inventory, then open cabinets, drawers, closets, and boxes and do the same. "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," Stanger says.

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. Several insurers even offer free web-based home inventory storage tools and apps. American Family Insurance's DreamVault, for instance, lets anyone create a digital home inventory; it's available online and as an Android and iOS app. 

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the August 2018 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.