Another Paperwork Blessing: Inventories

As mentioned in a blog last August, there are endless paperwork tasks in our lives today, and the piles of paper only multiply when we are out of work, visiting the doctor, or taking care of a funeral.  Consequently, there are many ways you might provide much-needed service on paper, if that’s your thing.

The previous blog provided a simple start with gathering everything into one place. Today’s blog isn’t any fancier.

An Inventory:

Make a simple LIST of the stuff located in one particular place.

Something to Do Together

If you’re looking for something to do together and you like paperwork, then you might mention your skill and offer to make a list of some sort.  There are lots of lists that might settle swirling thoughts into something tangible, and an inventory is one type of list.

An inventory can be as simple as listing the contents on the front of a box when moving.  That way, when you realize you need something that’s been packed, you don’t need to open every box in order to find it.

At one point, I started to take an entire home inventory.  It was the year I was heading toward major surgery, and I suddenly felt compelled to tell our kids a little of the history behind different things around the house, in case they ever wondered what had sentimental value.  In our family, we know only too well that things happen to people, and signing those consent forms that year was just another reminder.

I needed to feel like I was being responsible.

Even more, I probably needed to just be doing something.

An inventory felt like a solution on both fronts.  Your someone might want to feel as if he’s doing something, and doing it together with you can make for an enjoyable day.


An inventory can be done using a special binder, a video camera, or even an appraiser, if needed.  However, a piece of paper is an easy way to get started.

The most important thing is to create an easy-to-understand list.  It’s not a matter of tackling a complete household — when I had a goal that large, it never got done.

Instead, you might inventory a bookshelf, a pile of bills, a safety deposit box, a pantry, a shelf of knickknacks, or a file drawer with genealogy info. An entire room might be do-able if you do it in stages, maybe starting with the major pieces.

Inventories can be as varied as we are.  I once longed for a simple inventory listing important items which were not in the home, at a time when my husband’s family was spending hours in search of heirlooms that were rumored to be in a family home and for whatever reason were never found.




Reducing the Overwhelm

When reaching out to your someone, an inventory might come to mind when you sense she is overwhelmed.

One day last year, I was helping a recent widow go through some of her husband’s things.  I knew she wouldn’t be thinking clearly, so I volunteered to do a little organizing as she moved things out of a room where she needed space.  It was too early to make big decisions about anything, but endless moving back and forth didn’t make sense, either.

I suspected the way it would go before we started, because I had been in her shoes.  There were lots of  Wait, I think that goes with something else, and Let me tell you a story about this, and I’m so confused about these.  Lost in the memories and the confusing details, we may have ended up just as disorganized as when we started.

Where to Begin?

As in the blog about gathering everything into one place, I began with a focus on gathering groups of things that were alike in some fashion.  But with so many groups, I needed to label each pile with a little inventory.

These were black-Sharpie-on-scratch-paper kinds of lists — easy to see, easy to change.  I only added descriptions that seemed helpful.  Record Albums:  Records with the W label are the most valuable; the X album is missing an insert.

As the day progressed, the original piles might be split or combined as needed. A pile of books might be separated into history vs. biography, children vs. adult, or cookbooks vs. novels.  As piles shifted, I could easily make a brief new inventory, or combine piles by stapling a couple of shorter lists together.  When we finished, we boxed up some groups and just taped the final inventory to the front of the box or set it inside.

Then later, when my someone was clearly tired and muddled and asking questions like, Why is this here? or, Where did I put that? we could look over the little inventories that went with each group, and neither of us had to try to remember anything.

Special Handling

There was one special pile where I gathered the most important things.  That was the pile of things “for the kids.”  For that group, I wanted to create a more detailed inventory, so I upgraded to an inexpensive spiral notebook and pen, rather than just a piece of paper and a marker.

When I was handed something “for the kids,” I listened for any remarks that seemed meaningful — the reason one of the kids would value this, or a funny story behind how they ended up with that.  I wasn’t writing a biography or even using perfect grammar, but I did create a little inventory with notes about what I had learned. You might be surprised at how often even your kids don’t actually remember who gave the funny hat to dad or who created the crooked bowl in second grade.

More Examples

Here is an example of going through a room to make a list:


Rocking chair: J found it and restored it by hand – notice the curved edges cut to match the other furniture

Green end-table: A favorite, waited a long time to get, kind of a splurge for us

Lap Blanket: Sewn by Auntie K, in the colors of our first home, love it a lot

Pencil holder: Made in kindergarten by L, give it to his kids

Mention the location.  Jot down any details you discuss, including fond memories.  Add specific names — there are too many people called grandma for that to be useful!  Once you get going, you may discover more details that would be fun to include:


Piano: Both the piano and the picture above it were once in the home of my parents, M & N. The piano bench is on a pedestal because O was so tiny that her piano teacher built the pedestal himself, so she could reach the keys properly.

Framed painting of a cow: Given to us as a wedding gift by great uncle P, who said it spoke to him but we suspected it mostly made him laugh, because that’s the kind of fun uncle he always was.

You might even mention things that have zero value, either emotionally or financially, just to reassure others that it’s okay to let go of these things right away:


Sofa: Yes, it was once grandma Q’s but it’s getting worn out, likely will need to haul away

Lamp: Bought at thrift store, has no value and I don’t even like it

Or in a situation like my friend’s, something like this could be taped to the front of a tub:


Calendar – has special notes about events with X, and X will like the calendar theme

Storybook – we used to read this aloud to Y when he was little

Plaque – made in school by Z, so he might like to keep it

Will the Inventory Ever Be Used?

It’s possible that an inventory will just provide peace-of-mind at the time you are doing it, never to be looked at again.  It’s also possible that a simple inventory will be used in ways you might not even be thinking about.

  • An inventory can prevent that stressful feeling of Where is it? or What was I going to remember about that?
  • It can be a preliminary step in a bit of home organization. Now that it’s clear what we have, the next step might become evident.  In some cases, the inventory might be a way to let go of the pile and just keep the list (maybe with a photo).
  • An inventory can be used if there is ever a need for an insurance claim.
  • It can reassure your someone that keepsakes will be identified and family stories preserved for future generations. No one may remember that the blue vase was hand-made by Great Aunt Mabel unless it is written down or marked directly on the vase.
  • An inventory can also reassure loved ones that treasures will be distributed fairly, in terms of both sentimental and monetary values.

An inventory can be useful in unexpected ways.

Blog #26, COMMENT BELOW:  Have you taken any sort of an inventory that’s turned out to be especially useful?

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