Creating a home inventory

I can only imagine how difficult it must be to lose your possessions to a theft, fire, tornado, or other disaster. But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be trying to remember exactly what I owned during such a stressful time. And that’s why I have a home inventory.

A home inventory also helps you decide how much insurance you need for your home’s contents. If you’ve been in your home for a number of years, do you have any idea what it would cost to replace everything in that home? Until I did a home inventory, I certainly didn’t.

And here’s a side benefit: As you go through your home, noting everything in it, there’s a good chance you’ll wind up doing some uncluttering.

How do you create a home inventory? There are lots of options, so you’ll want to pick the one that works best for you. You may also choose to combine two or more techniques.

Photos and/or videos

This may be the quickest and easiest answer, especially if you have a smartphone that records videos. You can walk through your home, capturing images of what you own and narrating what’s what. Be sure to include important details about your items, such as model and/or serial numbers. You might also want photos (or scans) of receipts for your most valuable items.

Former professional organizer Margaret Lukens wrote that you can do a video inventory of an average 3-bedroom house in about an hour. The one disadvantage: If you get new things or move things around, you’ll need to create a new video. But given how quick the whole process can be, this may not be a big problem.

Home inventory apps/programs

There are plenty of these, including the following:

Some other programs, such as HomeZada, have a home inventory function as part of a larger home management toolset.

Some of these tools are free; others are not. One concern with tools like these is that there’s always a chance the company behind them will go out of business or decide to stop supporting the program. (I noticed that a number of programs I’d bookmarked years ago are no longer being sold.) You may want to investigate what the company says it will do under such circumstances; will it provide a means for you to export your information?

Generic software programs

You may already own some software that will work just fine for creating an inventory. When I created my home inventory over 10 years ago, I used a simple Excel spreadsheet. Vertex42 even provides a home inventory spreadsheet template, for those who’d like some help getting started. Other people like using Evernote to create a home inventory.

Cataloging/collection management software

When I did my home inventory, I didn’t always list each individual item. For things like CDs, trade paperbacks, basic hardcover books, and bottles of wine I just counted how many items I had in each category. But if you have a collection where you want to know exactly what items you have, you may want to use software that is designed for managing the type of collection you have: books, music, wine, etc.

Paper tools

A home inventory can also be done with paper and pen (or pencil). You can find sample forms online from many home insurance companies. In the U.S., many states have departments of insurance that also provide home inventory forms.

Home inventory companies

You can also pay someone to create a home inventory for you. Some professional organizers provide this service, and I’ve seen other companies that have home inventories as their main service offering.

Reminder: No matter how you create your home inventory, you’ll need to be sure the resulting inventory components (digital files, paper, photos, videos) are safely stored away from your home. And you’ll want to have a process for updating the inventory over time, since things will change.


This post was updated in August 2017.

7 Comments for “Creating a home inventory”

  1. posted by Pammyfay on

    Does anyone here know whether some of these inventory programs have a calculator function? For instance, I’ve taken photos and put some details (date of purchase/cost) in the caption fields, but I’d really like to find a program that will total the prices up so I can see at a glance how much I have in home electronics, say, or furniture, or any other “sector” of my possessions.
    Also, do any of you have your inventory in ‘the cloud’? How’s that working for you? I have a portable hard drive that I’ve uploaded things on, and generally keep it somewhere other than in my home, but sometimes it takes a while to return it there after I’ve uploaded a few new acquisitions. I haven’t dipped my toe into ‘the cloud’ yet (how’s that for a mixed metaphor!), so any specific advice on that would be appreciated.

  2. posted by Seng on

    These are great ideas!! We had some basement flooding a few years back and wish we would have done this prior!


  3. posted by Annie9656 on

    My sister actually did lose her home to a wildfire, and one of the first things her insurance wanted was a list of all the items she had lost along with the house. Underpants? How many pairs? What model vacuum cleaner? Etc. It was incredibly stressful for her, when she was already traumatized by the loss of her house. Something to do right away would be to make a quick video, not super detailed, but a walk through that just shows the large view of what you have in each room. Then, if the worst happens while you are trying to get to making that detailed inventory, you at least have some documentation, and something to serve as a mental tickler if you do find yourself having to come up with a list after everything is gone.

  4. posted by G. on

    so far we’ve fortunately lost only a freezer of food when it stopped working and the alarm was turned off somehow. Coming up with an inventory after the fact was not pleasant, not just from handling the thawed smelly mess. There were also the “it’s how old!?!” items, the “why do we have this?” items, etc. Even more shocking was the total that it added up to.

    I dare say most of us have possessions that total up to much more than we realize. The big ticket items are no problem to remember, it’s all the little things that add up.

  5. posted by Diane on

    This is a great article and something very important to do that most people tend to neglect.

    Annie’s idea above is a good one for a temporary fix. Prior to evacuating for Hurricane Katrina, we walked through the house taking photos of each room from every view, opening closets, cabinets, etc. Remember to include your garage & shed, & possibly attic, if those apply. We did this again before evacuating for Hurricane Gustav, several years later. We were fortunate to survive both hurricanes with minimal damage and I put off doing the actual inventory that I should do!

    I need to do a quick video run through now, and then start the actual written inventory that should be done! Thanks for the reminder~

  6. posted by Margaret Lukens on

    Thanks for this great overview of the methods and tools available for making a home inventory, Jeri, and thanks for mentioning my blog post on making a video inventory. Of course, whatever method a person uses, they’ll want to back up their data; it’s no help to do an inventory if the only copy of it is in the property itself! Back up in the cloud, or make a copy and store it elsewhere — or both!

  7. posted by Michael on

    I’ve been researching inventory apps for things like home inventories and insurance. It seems that Sortly and MyStuff2 are the most popular. I think I’m going to go with MyStuff2 because the export and import functions and multiple categories and item fields give it a lot of flexibility. I like that it backs up to dropbox as well. Just thought you might want to check these apps out if you use an iPhone or iPad. I think they’ll work for our business as well for keeping track of equipment.

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