An Often Missed Prep: Your Home Inventory

inventory-listOne area of preparedness that I don’t think we preppers take as seriously as we should is inventorying our household possessions for an emergency situation. I’m not talking about organizing your supplies (I’ve written about that in the past here). This post is purely about “what happens if it’s all lost and now I need to file an insurance claim?”

It’s a seemingly simple act, no doubt. List everything you own or, at least, everything of significant value. This should include, furniture, electronics, prepping equipment (of course!), jewelry, dishes, firearms, precious metals, books and dvds, clothing, yard and garden tools… you get the idea. I also recognize that there may be some things you don’t want to list so it’s entirely up to you what you include.

The problem occurs when you go to file a claim and your insurance agent wants you to PROVE IT. Can you? Do you have receipts, a record, pictures, video recordings, etc?

There are actually quite a few tools you can use to better inventory your stuff and I’ve tried plenty of them, from Excel files to online databases to writing it down, pictures, video, and I can’t remember what else.

What have I found that works the best for me and didn’t cost an arm and a leg? I actually do two things.

Action 1

The first thing is to list in some fashion (I like spreadsheets) the more expensive things we own, including those items mentioned at the start, furniture, appliances, firearms, etc. I won’t bother to list each and every DVD we own but, rather, simply estimate the number and combined cost. It’s just not worth the effort. The same can be said for lumping things like kitchen dishes together… I just estimate. However, taking a moment to list our couch that cost a few paychecks is worth it to me. The same can be said for the television, stereo equipment, etc. It is quite possible to go overboard when listing what you own and spend way too much time here. That’s not the point. Hit the major things, lump what you can together, and leave the rest to the video tape (discussed later).

What to include?

Usually the more details the better. They like to see make, model, serial number (if available), date purchased, and cost. Receipts are greatly appreciated. One thing I’m told they like to do to you is to give you the actual cash value of your possessions which deducts deprecation and, therefore, gives you less money. What you WANT is replacement value coverage which attempts to give you the money needed to replace what you’ve lost in today’s dollars. The moral of this story is to CHECK YOUR POLICY for what type of coverage you have and accept nothing less than replacement value. Regardless, you could be very surprised at how much stuff you actually own. Therefore, ensure your coverage is actually enough to replace everything you own!

Action 2

The second thing I do (about once a year) is to take my video camera and go room-by-room briefly narrating what inside as best as I can because we’re always bringing in new items and even discarding old possessions. The more up-to-date this video is the better off you’ll be if/when you need to deal with your insurance company. You don’t need to get fancy here. Just do a good pan of each room, open drawers and cupboards, and mention important specifics as you deem necessary. You know the old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” then a video has got to be worth ten thousand. If you can’t do a video then take plenty of pictures.

Additional Steps

Once you have everything chronicled in multiple ways, it’s best to get this information off-site. After all, the whole point is to have something to fall back on in the event of a catastrophic situation. Send this information to a trusted family or friend or perhaps a bank box is a good choice. Even if you choose to keep this information in a fire safe on your property, please choose to make a copy and send it somewhere else as you never know what could happen to your primary list/video if on site.

And, remember to occasionally update your information. Write it on your schedule, such as when you replace your smoke alarm batteries or at each New Year or whatever works for you. You don’t have to completely re-do everything; even a short five minute video update of your possessions is better than nothing. Of course, be sure to date each tape so you know when it was last done.

Hungry Mouths Consume A LOT!

hungry-mouthsI was helping my mother-in-law the other day bring up some canned food from her food storage so she could make spaghetti for various friends that needed a bit of help. Cooking meals for other people is, in fact, something my in-laws do quite a bit in part because they enjoy doing so as well as being one of their ways of doing charitable work.

Anyway, by then time I was done I had brought up a dozen 28-ounce cans of spaghetti sauce. This was almost an entire row of cans from her Harvest food storage racks! And the sad part is that it was for a single meal. Granted, there were at least a handful of families that benefited but I couldn’t help but ponder “what if we had to feed these people three meals a day, every day?” Obviously, our food storage wouldn’t last long at all.

For those that have seen the recent Hobbit movie I found myself cringing when the Dwarves showed up to the Hobbit’s house unexpectedly and ate him out of house-and-home the whole time thinking “yup, that’s exactly what happens!”

While I’m not worried about feeding people I don’t even know, close family and friends would be people that are very likely to show up TEOTWAWKI+1 with their hands out and mouths open. And, while I’ve written about this topic in the past it’s always been from a standpoint of a moral obligation to do so, not purely from a logistical “can I do it?” standpoint.

You see, the “can I do it” standpoint has little to do with whether I should be helping people that otherwise could do so but choose not to; Rather, it’s simply asking whether I, according to my expectations of the disaster, can feed people who need help… in this case, most likely family and friends?

I would say that in all but the most devastating of scenarios I could do so. Should I? Well, I’ve often heard people comment on forums and other blogs that they would have no problem shutting the door on anyone that didn’t show up with a U-Haul of food and equipment. To me, that’s just not being either realistic or a good human being.

After all, I would think I would have a hard time willfully surviving if all of my family and friends had perished. Maybe a honest-to-goodness civilization-altering scenario would change my mind, I don’t know.

Back to the point of the post, I was shocked at how much food had disappeared from my mother-in-laws food storage for one simple meal. If this was food saved for just my family, for example, we could have had enough for several dinners (maybe a week’s worth) rather than just one meal. Multiply this scenario out over a few weeks and what you thought was enough to last your family for months was quickly depleted.

So, we’re back to square one: do I or don’t I share my preps? Honestly, I flip-flop almost every time I think about the topic. It’s a tough call either way. I truly hope you make the right one.

A Simple Prep Saved The Day Today (I’m So Proud of Myself!)

I thought I would quickly mention that even the smallest of prepping acts can pay off. I’m referring to the fact that my wife locked her keys in the car while at her office (about a 45 minute drive one way) which would have required me to either drive down there to unlock the car or pay someone to do so… can you say “bye bye $100 or a few hours of my time?”

Fortunately, I’m such a wonderful husband that I had the foresight to include a spare key in her day planner for just such an occasion. Of course, if she had locked her day planner in the car as well then it wasn’t so much of a great plan… will have to fix that too… argh!

Taking Your Preps to the Next Level With the P.A.C.E. Concept

A while ago I read this article from Survivalttp.com that got me to thinking about how robust my emergency preparedness plans really are. And, after a short deliberation, I concluded that they really are not as robust as they can be. Granted, we’re better off than most American families, but not yet good enough in some areas and perhaps woefully inadequate in others.

The P.A.C.E. acronym stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingent, and Emergency. I think it has origins in the military–maybe special forces–but I’m not sure about that. Regardless, I feel it’s a great way to look at your emergency preparation plans. The idea is simply this (definitions taken from Survivalttp article):

  • Primary – The normal or expected method or means used to achieve the objective
  • Alternate – A fully satisfactory means or method of achieving the objective
  • Contingent– A workable means or method of achieving the objective
  • Emergency – A brute force means or method of achieving the objective

As preppers, we understand the need for a backup plan. For example, if the power goes out we pick up a flashlight and set out lanterns. If the heat goes out we start up the wood stove or propane space heater. If the stores are out of food we’re eating from food storage. Certainly, the list can go on. But, even as preppers, perhaps we don’t take this quite far enough.

Let’s look at a simple example: adequate area lighting when the power goes out. I would suspect your primary means of area lighting will be lanterns of some sort, be they battery-operated, liquid-fueled, or propane. If those go out or fail then your last resort is probably candles, right? That’s my plan, anyway. While there are other forms of light that I keep around, suchas flashlights and patio solar lights, that I can use if need be, the very specific need is adequate area lighting… not just any form of lighting that I might have.

If I apply the P.A.C.E. concept to area lighting, for example, I’m really only fulfilling two of the four requirements and, honestly, probably the contingent and emergency aspects. I’ve never really fulfilled the primary or alternate aspects at all.

The question, therefore, is: what other options do we have? Well, for starters, a small solar setup with DC lighting might be a good start and if I worked it properly could be my primary means of indoor area lighting. As I already have a basic solar setup I could easily connect a set of RV lights or string lights to illuminate a room, I just need to buy them. There are other DC lighting options that I could explore so long as I have a basic renewable power source.

What about an alternate option? I’m not so sure about this one. If I were desperate I could consider my current supplies (lanterns and candles) as alternate and contingent aspects and then I could throw in something like a hand-crank light or cyalume light sticks as emergency options, but I consider this as “cheating” a bit. I really need to come up with a better alternate option and I don’t honestly have one.

That’s just one example. Here’s another: fire in a bug out situation, an area I actually feel like I have covered well. The original article gave their own suggestions, but I might consider the following:

  • Primary – butane/bic lighter
  • Alternate – waterproof matches
  • Contingent – magnesium/ferrous rod
  • Emergency – fresnel lens

The concept sounds easy enough to follow, right?

Well, think about all of the aspects that emergency preparedness entails:

  • shelter
  • water (storage, procurement, treatment)
  • food (storage, procurement, cooking)
  • personal safety/security
  • area heating/cooling
  • area/tactial lighting
  • communications (receiving information and among group)
  • home security/defense
  • personal defense (weapons, martial arts, etc)
  • hygiene
  • sanitation
  • first aid
  • chronic medical concerns
  • alternative health options
  • entertainment
  • financials
  • and more

…now, multiply this by what may be covered for when you’re at home, in the car, on foot, at work, and the P.A.C.E. concept can seem overwhelming! No doubt I’m not even close to being as prepared as I thought I was. 😉

But, to be thorough we need to think this way. We need to take our preps to the next level and the P.A.C.E. concept can help get us there. So, the next time you consider your preparations, decide exactly how and where said preps fit into your P.A.C.E. system and what other preps you have (or need) will fill the rest of the plan. Heck, make a list and write it down. That’s probably the easiest way to decide where any holes might be.

EDIT: I’ve created a one page worksheet [PDF File] you can use to get started with this concept. It’s easy to create your own too and rename the categories as you see fit. Right-click on the link to download it.