It’s got to be one of the most loathed tasks of any move, expat relocation or not: the home inventory. Many of us choose to do a low key ‘only mention the really big things’ effort, while some of us avoid it for ever. But your home inventory is one of the tasks that can make or break a move, especially one overseas, because it provides a clear, legal record of what exactly you own, what it’s worth, and what insurance you need.
The excellent news is that once it is done, it is very easy to update – especially if you use a spreadsheet format. There are many free online versions available – Google Docs is a popular one – that also allow you to save (incredibly helpful if you are traveling and don’t want to be carrying vast folders of paperwork everywhere) and share it with others (if you want to share the workload or have a moving company facilitating the move).
As someone who is on her fifth move (who has also done 3 commercial store inventories), I have now got this whole thing down to a fine art – and less than 2 hours. Which is not a bad return on investment when at the end you will have a (hopefully) decluttered home, an accurate assessment of your home contents for insurance purposes, and a document that you can use, amend and share forever. So here, with no further ado, is our very own expat guide to completing your home inventory without ruining your day, your relationship or your chances of being voted “Most Cheerful 2012”.
1. Assemble your home inventory resources.
- Packing supplies – preferably commercial packing boxes (they are regularly sized, strong and easy to stack) in a range of sizes, packing tape, labels and a permanent marker.
- Method of recording inventory – either a printed paper version or by creating your own Excel / Google Docs / Pages spreadsheet. For a copy of our printable template, click here.
- Colored stickers – one color per category (see Clear the Decks, below)
- Envelope / Scanner for storing receipts.
- Rubbish / Trash bags
- Children / handy helper. The jury is still out on whether or not it’s a good idea for children to help – I personally get mine working – opening cupboards, counting etc. The downside is that they become distracted by finding old toys, picture etc far too easily, so it’s a good idea to do their rooms and any playrooms when they are absent..
2. Home Contents Inventory Criteria – Ship / Store /Sell / Donate?
There will be a number of different outcomes for your home contents, so plan now for easier decisions later. Categories include
- Air Shipment
- Sea Shipment
- Checked baggage
- Hand luggage
Items that you are still using can be marked with different color stickers for easier packing later, whereas those for selling, donating and junk can be packed in labelled boxes. Even though you don’t intend to keep them, make sure you still include everything but the ‘junk’ as part of your inventory.
Remember fixtures and fittings that you would want to take with you when you leave – curtains, curtain rails, specialized light fittings, period fixtures etc., or that require individual care and attention for shipping insurance purposes.
Create Your Home Inventory Checklist
This is probably easiest to do as you go along, but decide what your categories and criteria are in advance will save you a lot of time and confusion. If you are using our template as a guide, you will see that we have a number of columns:
- Item – a brief description of what it is – either single item or group of X
- Destination (Ship / Store / Sell / Donate)**
- Total value – new / as-is dependent on insurance criteria. Denote currency.
- Receipt / valuation (required for high value items, helpful on others)
- Description (required for difficult to replace, high value or antique items)
Taking it room by room is the easiest, most effective way to home inventory because it lets you take it in stages and (providing you are not in the middle of a remodel or one of those people who is continually redecorating for the current season) lets you spread it over days or even weeks – perfect if you want to deal will the junk and donations categories as you go along.
Concentrate on listing every item or group (e.g. soft toys, board games, DVDs) with enough detail to recognize and value them later – columns 1, 2 and 3 in our template. If you are clear on the destination of items, apply the colored sticker (just not to valuable antiques or things with delicate surfaces, please!!) or pack into a box, list it on your inventory and take a photograph of the item /contents of the box for your records. This will be important later if you need to prove existence and value of items for insurance or tax purposes.
Don’t forget to include everything on your property – it may say ‘home contents’ on your insurance policy, but that term also covers possessions in the garage, any sheds and outbuildings, garden ornaments and potted plants.
Fill in the blanks
The remaining information is what determines loss / damage value, so you need to complete it as soon as possible and provide supporting evidence. Very few people are properly insured, and many of us have pulled an approximate figure out of the air when it comes to assessing home contents, only to find that replacing clothes is far more expensive than we realized and we have been overpaying for the horrific dinner service we inherited from Great Aunt Nellie..
Points to consider include:
- Does your insurance reimburse cost of new replacement or current value? Use Ebay, Amazon and online stores for a quick and easy way to accurately assess these, and give you a total value for insurance purposes. The results may surprise you..
- Do you actually want to replace it? If the answer is no, consider selling it, or at least excluding it from your home contents insurance.
Some items can be easily bought used, but you might prefer to buy others new. Used might include sporting equipment, tools, furniture and dinnerware, whereas clothes, shoes, electric appliances and toys are more likely to be purchased new. Insure accordingly, because clothes especially are expensive to replace..
Don’s spend hours agonizing over every last item – your home inventory is a dynamic document, so you can change your mind about whether to ship, store or sell at any point until the assessors / buyers arrive.
Keep a Back Up
Now that you’ve done the hard part, make sure you keep a duplicate, either online in a free storage service like Evernote or Dropbox, or as a photocopy in your files. If possible, store it in a variety of formats (Excel, Numbers) to allow easy sharing.
I prefer not to use discs and flash drives because of their easy loss or damage, but if you have a less destructive way with hardware, they are small, portable and convenient. Note, however, that more and more devices no longer have a CD drive, so a flash drive is more universally useable.
Get Rid of the Boxes.
This is my favorite bit – I find the removal of boxes and boxes of unwanted clutter incredibly cathartic. Don’t just remove them to the garage or garden shed, where they will stay for next three years; get rid of them immediately. And then sit down and enjoy your newfound space..
It’s Zen and the Art of the Home Inventory.. Bliss.
** Many countries, including the US, allow a tax deduction for donation of items to charities, so record the donations and keep the receipt from the drop off centre. If your area doesn’t have this policy, there is no need to record donated items on your inventory.