In recent weeks I've had something of a wake-up call: several friends and family members have had their houses broken into and some expensive possessions stolen. I'm talking laptops, big-screen TVs, and the like. This got me wondering how prepared I'd be if the same thing happened to me. For example, would I be able to provide serial numbers to the police? And how could I prove my losses to my insurance company?
One cheap and easy solution: a home inventory, which includes details about each valuable item you own.
You can create a simple home inventory using any spreadsheet program: Excel, Google Docs, OpenOffice, etc. But what information should you include, and how should you organize it? (And if you've never built a spreadsheet before, even the basic mechanics might prove daunting.)
Have no fear: a company called Vertex42 offers a free Home Inventory spreadsheet. It's provided in XLS format, meaning you should be able to open it in any spreadsheet program on the planet. (If you're a Google Docs user, you'll have to download it to your PC, then upload it to Docs.)
This nicely formatted document has room for your personal and insurance information. It also comes with pre-populated fields for locations in your home (family room, kitchen, etc.) and popular items (computer, TV, etc.). Of course, you can edit at will.
For each item, you can supply any or all of the following information: purchase date, warranty, price, model, serial number, notes, and even the filename for a photo. When you're done, you'll have an extremely useful document you can supply as needed to the police or your insurance company.
It may take an hour or two for you to complete your home inventory, but it's worth the time. Block out an afternoon this weekend, get it done, then print and file a copy of the document. I'd keep a copy online as well, assuming it's not already in Google Docs.
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at firstname.lastname@example.org, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums.