September 15, 2008

Taking a Home Inventory

jovike, teapot, kitchen shelfTeapot by jovike on flickr

Last week, I created a home inventory spreadsheet to record just about everything in our house and garage. After the massive decluttering I did last fall, I thought it wouldn't be too difficult to count our possessions. I was wrong, it still took a lot of time. Time and patience.

There are some things I didn't count. I didn't include the boys' bedrooms because when they move out, everything in their rooms is going with them. (I don't store any of my stuff in their closets, it all belongs to them.) I also didn't count any consumable products like food, cleaners, skin care, medicine or office supplies. Everything else got listed. I went through drawers, cabinets, closets, and storage containers, not to mention everything that sits out in plain view.

Why I put myself through this:

1. To calculate our net worth. J.D. at Get Rich Slowly had an article about calculating your net worth, and even though I don't think net worth is the most important number in personal-finance, I was still curious what ours was. Unfortunately, I didn't know the value of our personal property. I needed to list everything in our house and figure out what it was worth.

2. To make a comprehensive list for insurance purposes if ever needed. The list, combined with photos or videos of our personal property would make replacement of those items much easier.

3. To really acknowledge the sheer volume of stuff in our home, and hopefully do even more decluttering.

What I've learned from the experience:

1. Doing a home inventory is stressful because it makes you face everything you own. No hiding behind storage containers or drawers, and no lumping everything into one category. You have how many movie dvds and music cds? How many books are on your shelves? How many shirts, pants, shorts, shoes and jackets are in your closets? You get the idea. When you finish your inventory, you will know exactly what is in your home.

2. Do your inventory on a computer. It's easier to go back and add things you missed, or delete things you decide to give away or sell.

3. It's easier if things are put where they belong before you start counting. This would be near impossible to do without some attempt at organizing and decluttering before you start counting. I did use the inventory process to put some out of place things where they belonged, but it's important to keep counting and not get too sidetracked.

If you have children, and they are old enough to help, have them put things where they belong when you come across items like that. *Remember to add the items to your list if you've already inventoried the room they belong in.

4. Itemize carefully. The more detailed you are, the more you'll benefit from the inventory. Avoid listing things like your dishes as one item. Separate them out, otherwise you might not realize that you have 46 serving bowls. 46! That is downright embarrassing. It doesn't matter that some are plastic chip and dip bowls, some are china, some are crystal, and some are stoneware, all different sizes and collected over 18 years of marriage, 46 is way too many serving bowls. If serving dishes aren't your weakness, there is probably something else that will surprise you when you see the total number you own.

5. Go slow, but keep at it. Do one or two rooms a day and take your time going through each shelf and drawer. After a while, you might find it hard to face another shelf full of stuff, and you'll be tempted to lump it all under one heading. That's when you need to take a break and start again later.

The important thing is to not give up if you start to feel overwhelmed. Consider starting with your more organized rooms where it is easier to count possessions. The more rooms you finish, the more motivated you'll be to do the rest.

6. You can use the inventory to help you declutter and stay clutter free.
- While you are doing the inventory, keep a box close to you to put give away/garage sale items. You will be looking at everything you own and before you count an item, decide if you even want to keep it. If you don't, put it in the box and skip counting it. Just make sure you don't end up keeping what's in the box. (and if you are lucky enough to have a ruthless friend help you with some of those decisions, even better- Thanks, Deb!)

- When you are done with the inventory, you can make goals about how many lines on your spreadsheet you want to delete. If you follow the "1 in, 2 out" rule, or decide to join the 100 Thing Challenge, use the list to decide what to get rid of.

-When you go shopping, remind yourself that you'll have to enter all non-consumables into your spreadsheet. Hopefully that thought will help you avoid impulse purchases.

I've told a few people about the inventory, and so far, no one else wants to even think about attempting it themselves. It's hard to imagine counting everything, and it's scary to find out exactly what you own, but I think it's worth it.