Stuff. We all have it: books, clothes, other items that just build up in our homes. Some of us have more stuff in the garage, in storage, in our parents’ basement. Stuff isn’t necessarily a bad thing — although too much stuff can be a major problem. But for many of us, the issue is that we don’t really know what stuff we have. Doing an inventory of our stuff, and keeping it up to date, can help us financially, as well as organizationally.

Why Bother?

  1. Knowing what stuff we have can be a life saver in an emergency. If there’s a flood or fire, the insurance company is going to want to know what you had before they’ll agree to give you a check to replace it. And if you don’t have insurance, taking an inventory can help you get an idea of whether you really need it.
  2. If you’ve got an idea of what you already have, you’re less likely to buy a second something you already have. I was routinely guilty of buying books I already had copies of until I went through and actually recorded all the books I have. It was a lot of work, but I’m saving money.
  3. Going through all your stuff can help you decide if you want to get rid of anything. While you may not be able to sell every piece of stuff you want to get rid of, you may be able to make money on some of it or trade it for something you really want. Those spare books I had? I traded most of them for other books on my wishlist.
  4. You may be able to slim down your stuff or reorganize it in such a way that you don’t need storage outside your home anymore. You can save money (or goodwill) on storage — and get more use out of the stuff you have without having to go root through storage to find something you want.

How to Inventory Easily

Doing an inventory can seem too huge to manage at first glance. Even if your home is relatively clutter-free, there’s a surprising amount of stuff in it. But an inventory doesn’t have to be done all at once — and it doesn’t actually have to include every single thing in your home. To get started, you need a plan of attack. Perhaps you’ll work on one room a day — or even one square foot. Perhaps you’ll start with a certain category of belongings, like electronics. You’ll also want to start with an idea of what you don’t want to inventory. You can use a lower dollar limit, or ignore those items that you wouldn’t want to replace if you lost them.

You’ll also need a system to use to inventory your stuff. While you can take the spreadsheet approach — meticulously recording every item and a description in a spreadsheet — that may not be a practical option in light of other limits on your time. There are plenty of options for creating an inventory of your possessions, however. Some are specifically designed for a certain type of stuff (such as books or DVD) while others are more general.

  • Real Simple’s home inventory worksheets: If you want to take a ‘get in, get out’ approach to your inventory, these simple worksheets can be a great option. You simply write down what you see when standing in a particular room — and for some rooms, Real Simple has already listed some standard items so that you only need to add serial numbers and brands where appropriate.
  • The camera method: Got a digital camera? You can create a quick and dirty inventory by going through your home and photographing everything. You’ll want to back these photos up somewhere outside your home, in case of an emergency. It’s also a good idea to tag or label the photos in order to simplifying sorting through them.
  • Collector software: There are hundreds of applications for ‘collectors,’ software that you can input all the books, DVDs or other items of a certain type into. From there, you can print off lists or manage them online, as well as easily add new purchases. If one category of ‘stuff’ dominates your home, this might be the easiest approach to an inventory.

It doesn’t really matter how you inventory your stuff, as long as you can easily save a copy of your inventory outside your home. Even printing off a copy and giving it to someone you trust can make your life easier in the event of a disaster, although using an electronic back up method has its benefits: it’s easier to update whenever you add something new to your home. If you do take your inventory as an opportunity to declutter your home, it’s also important to remove anything you get rid of from your inventory. It can also be a great opportunity to organize those items that you don’t necessarily have out all the time. As I was creating my own invenotry, for instance, I actually managed to get all the tools in my home into the same closet. It may seem like a small victory, but it saves me time when I’m hunting for something and when I’m putting things away. It also means that I can see what tools I have at a glance, reducing the chance that I’ll wind up with a monkey wrench I don’t need.

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