The Value of Maintaining an Inventory of All Your Stuff

by Thursday Bram · 7 comments

Let’s be honest: even those of us who have successfully cleared the junk out of our lives have stuff. It might be easier for someone living out of a backpack to keep track of her stuff, but the fact is that we all have clutter in our lives. And, no matter how much stuff any of us have, it’s a good idea to create an inventory of the various things we own.

Of course, creating an inventory isn’t likely to be a simple matter, unless you actually are living out of the aforementioned backpack. But even just getting a list of the big stuff put together can have value. There are a lot of valuable ways that you can make use of an inventory of your possessions, especially if you set it up so that it’s electronic and accessible even when you aren’t in your home. Here are a few.

More Effective Buying

Generally, I don’t have a problem with impulse buying. But I do have a tendency to pick up used books just about any time I pass a garage sale or a second-hand bookstore. I have quite a few books as a result and, in the past, more than once came home with duplicates. By keeping an inventory of my books that I could access on my phone, I can at least keep myself from buying books that I already have.

The same sort of inventory can keep you from buying an accessory that doesn’t work with the gadget you have at home, keeping your wardrobe to pieces that match and so on. In an ideal personal finance world, most of us probably wouldn’t be out buying more stuff, but the fact is that we do — and that an inventory can at least help us make sure that we’re buying the right stuff.

Interestingly, maintaining an up-to-date inventory can have an unusual impact on some people’s buying habits. When you have to come home and write down what you’ve purchased, you can start thinking a little more about each item you’re buying.

Getting the Most Out of Possessions

How many times have you purchased something that broke after a while? Were you able to find the warranty information — or even remember when and where you purchased it? Many companies will repair or replace broken items, provided that you have the right information. Setting up your home inventory so that you keep track of the manufacturer and the seller of your possessions makes asking for that sort of help a matter of looking up a few pieces of information. Just a few such replacements could pay for the time it takes you to set up and maintain an inventory.

Simplified Crisis Response

In the event that something unfortunate happens to a person’s home — be it flood, theft or something else entirely — the first question the insurance company will ask is whether that person has an inventory of their possessions. If the answer is yes, the insurance rep will probably breathe a sigh of relief, because it doesn’t happen often. If there is a thorough inventory in place and no dispute about the claim, an insurance company can cut a check and the owner can start replacing items immediately. If not, the best case scenario is that the insurance company will come up with a rough estimate and the owner will hope that it’s enough to replace everything.

No one wants to be in a position to actually need an inventory to replace his belongings, but the fact is that it’s better to be prepared.

Actually Creating the Inventory

Figuring out the value of creating an inventory of your stuff is easy enough, but actually putting the plan into action can be a little harder. If you’re planning some spring cleaning, you may be able to make short work of inventorying at least the big items in your home. Otherwise, you may have to make plans for creating that list. One trick I found particularly useful in entering hundreds of books is that there are several pieces of software that allow you to use a web cam or a smart phone as a bar code reader. If you can scan in many of your items, you’ll have far fewer pieces to enter by hand.

Actually keeping up with your inventory after initially setting it up is important too. That bar code reader can come in handy again as can the habit of making a note of anything new coming into the house the moment it crosses the threshold. The important thing is that you keep up with your inventory and make a point to use it.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

retirebyforty April 20, 2011 at 10:55 am

Making an inventory sheet sounds like a huge job. We really need to at least inventory the big items like TV, computer, and the major appliances. I keep putting it off though, not enough hours in the day..

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MoneyNing April 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm

How about starting now and add to the list whenever you buy something new? It’s not ideal, but you will at least be coming up with a more and more accurate list through time as you buy new things and throw/donate/give away old stuff.

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Michael April 20, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I had to create an inventory for my woodworking shop some years ago due to a funace malfunction that created some damage. It was a difficult task and quite honestly, I never incorporated all items in the house after the claim was submitted. But one thing I have learned to do is to scan a copy of the manufacturer’s warranty, receipt, and any model/serial # info and save into a file for major purchases on my computer which is backed up on an external HD. When I name the file, I try to incorporate a brief desription, along with the date (i.e. GE Microwave, Sears, 20110101).

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Melanie April 20, 2011 at 12:55 pm

I actually recently inventoried my husband’s closet last weekend. He kept saying, “I don’t have anything nice to wear to work.” But it was puzzling, because I do the laundry and iron tons of beautiful dress shirts. After we did the inventory we were able to pinpoint the things that he needed to be able to put together outfits – namely a few pairs of dress pants, brown dress shoes and new belts. If we hadn’t done the inventory we probably would have went to the store and just bought more dress shirts and ties, because those are the most fun to pick out. Good thing we didn’t, because our inventory revealed he has plenty of those.

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Rocky April 21, 2011 at 8:09 am

Man, I wish my wife would help me do that.

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Brad Jobs April 22, 2011 at 1:02 am

This actually helps on getting all your files organized and being able to locate all the needed files or things that you need quickly. This will also allow you to know which things are missing. lol

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Jameson April 24, 2011 at 6:36 am

My biggest challenge with keeping track of all my stuff is that I tend to get to “clever”. Too many layers of files and file names that never seem to make sense 3-weeks later when I’m looking for something. Also put a date on everything, this didn’t seem like a big deal when I was 26, now that 42 year old version of that guy is coming across thing and I have no idea when, other than the past they are from.

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