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Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, fires: Disaster strikes all the time. But until it hits close to home — literally — most people assume it could never happen to them.

Unless You Have a Photographic Memory …

Sure, most of us have insurance. But how many have a full home inventory? Without one, if you lose it all, it’s highly unlikely you’ll remember everything you own. Which means you won’t get what you could from your insurance company.

You’d think that because that’s the case, everyone with insurance would have an inventory. But you’d be wrong.

Property-loss consultant Rich Connette says he’s never met a homeowner who knew exactly what they owned.

Here’s how to create an inventory of your home:

Pick Your Software & Storage Methods

Even scribbling on a napkin or taking a few snapshots is better than nothing. But there are easier options, including programs for recording and managing your inventory. Many are free. Here are a few:

  • Customizable spreadsheet: Here’s a home inventory spreadsheet that you can use with Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice or Google Docs. Store photos and receipts separately, online or in a paper folder. CreatorVertex42.com suggests recording quick video clips of each room and storing them, with your inventory and digital photos, on a flash drive. Cost: free.
  • Know Your Stuff: The Insurance Information Institute, an insurance industry trade group, offers this guided online home inventory. Users can store information and up to 1GB in photos in it. Cost: free.
  • What You Own: CNET recommends this standalone program for a clean interface and ease of use. It and III’s home inventory let you link photos and receipts to your record of items. Cost: free.
  • Home Inventory Pro 2011: Top 10 Reviews, an independent reviewer that tests and rates products,reviews 10 home inventory products ranging in price from $10 to $40 and liked Home Inventory Pro 2011 best. Cost: $30.
  • The Liberty Mutual Home Gallery App: The home insurance company offers this app for Android and iOS devices (a separate app is offered for iPad) at iTunes and Google Play. You can catalog items by room and category, add details or scan item bar codes to add images and descriptions, incorporate photos of possessions and receipts and export the inventory as a spreadsheet or PDF to share and back up. Cost: free.

Store Copies Away From Home

Whatever your solution, remember you can’t store your inventory only on your computer’s hard drive because it could be destroyed in a disaster. Print copies or copy your inventory to a digital storage device and stow it in a fireproof safe or in a safe deposit box. Or swap lists with family and friends.

Another option: Save your inventory to the Cloud so you can access it anywhere. Do this by emailing it to yourself as an attachment or storing it at Google Docs.

Or use free Cloud storage. Network World lists 19 sources for free online storage, including:

  • Google: 15GB
  • Apple iCloud Drive: 5GB

(Note: Hive’s unlimited free storage plan has been discontinued.)

Do One Room at a Time

Start your list in one place; it’s easy to accidentally skip over things if you go category by category (electronics, furniture, etc.) Write down the name of every object you own, although you can group items of the same kind where it would be particularly tedious to list them individually (like kitchen utensils or books). Make notes on condition, model and estimated value. Keep receipts if you have them.

Take Photos & Video

Use a digital camera or smartphone to photograph your property as another way to document its condition. (Don’t forget to list the camera or phone, too.) Also, walk around making a brief video of each room while narrating what it is and what it’s worth. Remember to open closets and drawers to show everything, and don’t forget to record storage and utility areas like the basement, laundry room and tool shed.

Don’t Forget Important Paperwork

Replacing records, financial and legal documents, and identification can be a major hassle. Read  “How to Replace Lost, Stolen or Destroyed Personal Paperwork” for advice on preserving or recovering this stuff.

List Valuables Separately

Big-ticket items like jewelry, collectibles and high-end electronics may require separate insurance, and you may want a separate section on the list for them. If you’re especially thorough anywhere, it should be here. Try to include make, model, serial number, purchase date and location, and multiple photographs. Rule of thumb? The more you paid, the more you document.

What would you add to this to-do list? Share in comments below.

Marilyn Lewis contributed to this post.

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News.

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