June was a difficult month for a good number of us at Unclutterer. Unfortunately, it came to a nasty close when one of our Chicago-based programmers lost his home in a fire. I am happy to report that he, his wife, and his pets all made it to safety without major injury. However, they’re still shaken and understandably upset about what happened.
We also know that some of our readers have been affected by the recent wild fires in California and are facing similar tragedies. To put it mildly, our hope is that July will be an easier month on all of us.
While working with our programmer to make sure that he has a place to stay and can start to get back toward a more normal life, we’ve had a number of conversations with him about what he and his wife did right beforehand and what they wish they would have done differently. Some of the things we’ve discussed have been mentioned before on our site, but some of them have gone without discussion. So, we wanted to create a master list of resources and activities to help you be prepared in case of a fire. Please feel welcome to supply additional advice in the comments. The more prepared all of us can be, the better.
- The most basic truth is that the fewer things you own, the fewer things you will need to replace in case of a fire. This is actually a good litmus test when deciding if you should keep an object — ask yourself, “Would I replace this if it were destroyed in a fire?” If the answer is no, it might be a good indication that you don’t need to be holding onto it now.
- Take a video inventory of everything in your home and store this video at an off-site location. You will be traumatized after a fire and forget a good portion of the things you owned. If you have a record of everything, then you don’t have to worry about forgetting what you had when reporting the losses to your insurance company. This video is also good in case of theft. Do not store this video anywhere in your home and do not store it in a safety deposit box, as you likely won’t grab either the video nor the key to your safety deposit box as you’re fleeing the fire.
- Be properly insured against loss from fire. After you film the video of all of your belongings, make a list of your things and review it with your insurance agent. Ask if you need a special technology rider to cover your computer equipment. Additionally, be sure to have a loss-of-use or displacement policy to cover your expenses for a hotel while you look for a new place or have your home repaired. If you’re a renter, all of these options are open to you as well.
- Create a list of important numbers and e-mail it to a personal, web-based e-mail account (like Gmail). In addition to the numbers of your insurance agent and claims department, you’ll also want to include numbers for nearby extended-stay hotels that will allow pets (if applicable) and your doctor to have prescriptions resent to the pharmacy.
- Be certain that all of your digital data is recently backed up and a copy of this information is kept off-site. See our post Reader question: Fireproof storage, part two on this topic for more detailed information.
- Have your most important papers in a fire-proof and water-proof home safe that is UL 350 rated. See our posts Reader question: What should I store in a fireproof box? and Reader question: Fireproof storage, part two on this topic for more detailed information.
- Seriously consider having your photographs and home videos digitally scanned and backed up at an off-site location. A friend of mine lost all of his pictures in Hurricane Katrina and says they are greatly missed. I know that I would be crushed. Our posts Clutter-free scrapbooking and How to digitally encode VHS home movies touch on this topic.