1. Take photos of all rooms and valuables
Making a catalog of what your home looks like and what occupies each room will make dealing with insurance much easier in the event of a disaster. One of the easiest ways to create this catalog is to photograph it all, top to bottom. We recommend using a higher quality camera, but if you don’t own one, your smartphone can do in a pinch. Record the timestamp with each photo. If you have the date and time settings correctly dialed in on your camera, this should happen automatically. Capture as many details as possible, and cover every angle of each room, as well as the different angles of each individual valuable. If this task sounds time intensive, that’s because it is. The length of time it takes to complete this preparatory step will depend on the size of your home and how many belongings you have, but regardless of those factors, doing this correctly will take time. You can break it up into smaller chunks by doing one room a week or dedicating a weekend to one half of the house and finishing up the following weekend.
Even if you’re not sure if something is worth documenting, photograph it. Often, it’s losses made up of larger volumes of smaller items that cause the greatest financial setbacks. For example, take your closet. It might seem silly to take photos of the individual items therein, but most closets are actually worth a significant amount of money. If you want to be able to bounce back from a disaster as quickly as possible, having your closet documented can help you receive the proper compensation from your insurance company.
Remember, no detail is too small when creating a visual library of your belongings, especially when it will be the driving force to recovering if you find yourself the victim of a natural disaster.
2. Organize and store your catalog
Once everything has been documented, it’s time to organize and safely store the catalog you’ve created. There are a number of ways you can go about this, but whichever way you choose, it has to make sense to you now and in the future.
Depending on the volume of photos, this may require drilling down to a few different levels of organization. Think about how your phone’s photo gallery organizes things. The most obvious starting place is by date. We highly recommend making this part of your hierarchy. Each time you update the catalog, sorting by date will automatically give you the most recent, and thus most accurate, set of photos to send to insurance. A complete update should be done at least twice a year. If there are no updates to be made, keep a written record of that as well.
Further ways to organize these photos include by room, valuable type, and dollar amount. Whatever organizational method you go with, where you store them is another crucial factor to consider.
We recommend going cloud-based for maximum security, flexibility, and future-proofing your access. At Photobucket, we offer secure cloud-based photo storage that can be organized in folders, by utilizing tags, and preserves the high quality of your belongings catalog. Once your Photobucket account is set up. you may consider creating folders and uploading photos by room. Then, you can utilize tags within each folder that labels your belongings as “vintage,” “heirloom,” “replaceable,” and “irreplaceable.”
3. Digitize important documents and store originals properly
Chances are, somewhere in a storage room or in the back of a closet in your home, there’s a safe. Inside, you’re likely storing big, important documents. Things like tax return information, birth certificates, marriage licenses, social security cards, house deeds, car titles, etc. It’s carefully kept under lock and key and you know it’s safe, right? Unfortunately, unless you can guarantee that the safe is natural disaster-proof, you could be putting very big parts of your life in danger if you don’t have these documents digitized and stored elsewhere.
You can scan important documents into your computer and store them securely in your Photobucket account, too. Those major life documents require a level of protection that we provide with password-protected folders.
Once your documents are digitized and properly stored, we recommend keeping the originals somewhere secondary to your primary residence. This could be a vacation home, the home of a relative that lives nearby, or even a a safe deposit box at a bank that offers the protection you need. This way, if a natural disaster (think: tornado) hits your home, you can rest assured the important documentation you need to get your life back on track in the aftermath remains untouched.
4. Know what things are worth and keep a record
It’s one thing to photograph everything you have and keep that digital record in your Photobucket account, properly organized and tagged in a way that makes sense to you. It’s another to know not only what everything looks like, but also what it’s worth. For some of your heirlooms and antiques, this might mean taking them to an appraisal shop and having their value properly appraised by professionals. You might be surprised to find that your great great grandma’s ring is worth a lot more than the family thought, or that the vintage dress that’s been passed down but lost the tags generations back is actually designer.
With other large purchases, we recommend keeping the receipt and filing that both physically and digitally, so you have that record of the value stored, as well as proof of purchase if it’s ever required. Rather than having to look back at piles of receipts to have an idea of what everything in your home is worth, create a spreadsheet and keep it in several places you can easily find (make one of those places the cloud). That way if you lose your computer in a natural disaster, the calculations are not lost.
Once your initial spreadsheet is created, make sure to maintain it by adding each new purchase or heirloom as it’s acquired. It seems like a lot of data entry, and certainly isn’t the most sentimental way to mark a big moment, but it is practical, and taking a quick minute to keep these records up to date can save you tears, heartbreak, and debt in the event of a natural disaster. Besides, you can always toast your big moment after the details have been recorded.
5. Convert analog photos and video into digital memories
We know we live in a world where a lot of the photos we take and share are digital, but that wasn’t always the case. Even in today’s world analog photography and video holds a special place in our décor and our memories. Think about your wedding photo album, or the canvas print of the family photos you took last fall. Now, think back even further, to your parents’ wedding photos, all those VHS tapes full of home movies, even the DVDs with your more recent video projects on them. Think about all the old photos that have been passed down to you alongside some of the valuables you’ve already accounted for. These memories are some of the most precious, but also the easiest to lose. Analog photos and video definitely fall under the “irreplaceable” category – it’s your memories, your family’s stories told over generations through these visual mediums. It’s important (so important, we’ve made cherishing those mediums our philosophy) to do whatever you can to keep these things safe from the devastating hands of natural disaster, too.
It may not be quite the same as running your hands over the photos or flipping through the pages, but digitizing these analog photos and videos gives you a chance at keeping them if the originals are ever destroyed. It’s like creating a backup of your important work documents or storing something in more than one place because you know you might forget where you put the first copy. It’s reassurance that those memories, and the stories attached to them, will live on regardless of what happens to the originals. Thankfully, we make it easy to store and cherish those memories digitally in a library of photos that is intuitively organized for you and your loved ones.
The value of your analog treasures can’t really be given a dollar sign, at least not a fair one, in the eyes of insurance, so we encourage you to take your own steps to make sure that their true value is kept safe and sound.
6. Make sure you’re properly insured
This is a less…. heartfelt point, sure, but it’s undeniably important. All the documenting of assets and their values in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t have the proper insurance in place to help you recover what you’ve lost when a natural disaster does strike. If you rent, renter’s insurance is a non-negotiable. If you own a home, the same goes for homeowner’s insurance. We also recommend doing research into whether or not natural disaster specific insurance is offered in your area, and if that coverage is necessary. For example, in some floodplains, flood insurance is required, above and beyond your traditional homeowner’s insurance. Do this ahead of time, because waiting until disaster strikes is way too late.
Some of the steps we mentioned above, including the photographic library of assets and the recorded value of your things will help you determine what amount of coverage is right for your family, and what kind of coverages you might need to recover.