How & Why to Inventory Your Household Contents, Part 1

How many times have colleagues asked me if I’ve inventoried everything in my house. The honest answer…Well, no. I haven’t. I should, but I haven’t. 

The day of the Camp Fire, November 8, 2018, was a strange one here in Chico. The fire seemed a long way off, but as the day progressed it became clear that it was huge, burning fast and completely out of control. One of Chico’s most beloved features is Bidwell Park, but on that day it was a potential wick the wildfire could use to consume its way into the center of town. We live next to Bidwell Park, so we began to prepare in case we were told to evacuate.

On that first night of the fire I ran around our house taking photos of each room while Tom picked up my mom so we would all be together if we needed to bug out. I was keeping track of the pets, pulling out their crates, and fielding phone calls from worried friends and family. I knew that after loading people and critters, there wasn’t going to be a lot of room left in the car for things without a heartbeat. In other words, I wasn’t prepared at all.

We were lucky that we didn’t have to evacuate, but we realize in retrospect that some calm pre-disaster planning would have yielded better decisions had we needed to go. First, having important documents, & irreplaceable family photographs in one place (say an expandable folder in a file cabinet or drawer) would make it easy to grab those items in a hurry. Add to that file a “GRAB THIS” list of other items we should take with us (jewelry, medications, prized possessions, etc.), because it’s really hard to think straight with the threat of disaster hanging over your head. (Some of our friends made it out of Paradise only because they didn’t take time to make another trip into the house.) Second, we need to create and maintain a residential contents inventory that can be stored in the cloud and updated easily.

I am regularly engaged by probate attorneys, executors of estates, and divorce attorneys to perform residential contents appraisals, which generally involves inventorying everything in a home except for the food in the refrigerator and the cleaning products under the sink. Accounting for all the stuff in an average house with photographs, descriptions, measurements, etc. is a big job—daunting even. But what we need for disaster preparedness is an inventory, not an appraisal. That’s why I’m approaching the inventory process at my house a little differently.

Since “Perfect is the enemy of good” (Voltaire), I’ve been looking for a way to simplify the inventory process so that I can have a chance of actually getting it done. Once the inventory is complete, updating it should be easy.  I’ve considered several inventory apps, and finally settled on NestEgg.  At $3.99 it is very affordable, and I’m finding it easy to use.  It is only available for iOS devices (iPad, iPhone), but there are other similar apps available for Android. A little Googling will lead you to some Top 10 lists for home inventory apps. I concluded that the FREE apps are too limited to be useful in completing a full residential contents inventory, and some of the apps that are highly rated are more appropriate for maintaining a business inventory—they tend to be too expensive and too complicated for my purposes.

In Part 2 of How and Why to Inventory Your Household Contents, I will describe steps to efficiently and comprehensively complete your own household contents inventory.