SAN FRANCISCO — Step away from the Hallmark Christmas movie marathon over the holiday vacation and do yourself a huge favor. Grab your phone, put it on video mode and walk around your house for 15 minutes getting footage of every room, every wall and if you can manage it, the inside of every drawer.
That's the advice of insurance experts, who say if there's one easy thing you can do to aid the insurance recovery process from any natural disaster, it's having photos of your belongings.
Once you've got the video, upload it to the cloud (it's free on Amazon, Dropbox, and multiple other sites). You can then go back to your cookie making or football viewing secure in the knowledge you'll at least have a chance of accurately creating an inventory should disaster strike.
“Don't worry about your house being messy. It's more important to do the video than waiting until it's clean!” said Janet Ruiz, a California representative with the Insurance Information Institute.
The video will help trigger your memory when you sit down to list what you lost in a fire, flood, earthquake or other catastrophe.
It can also be a proactive thing to do in the face of natural disaster. In the recent fires in California many residents were put on evacuation warning, with a mandatory evacuation possible at a moment's notice should the fire move.
"Some people spent that time doing a video inventory of their house, then uploading it to the cloud," said Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Insurance.
At a time when there was little to be done but wait and worry, making the videos was something positive to do, she said.
Once a year after the holidays
Making an inventory video once a year is good because it gives you a chance to record home improvements, new furniture and household items such as new televisions or other electronics. Right after the holidays is an opportune time because you can capture all the new items you might have gotten as gifts.
Send everyone to the movies or the mall and then wander the house, the experts suggest. Feel free to talk as you film, you can add in a lot of information that way.
"Oh, here's the coffee table we got at Macy's. And here's the antique globe that Cousin Ivan gave us for our wedding. And oh right, the rug is new because we had to replace it after The Great Tomato Sauce Incident this summer. That's from Room & Board.”
Getting photos of the inside of closets and drawers helps because most people don't realize how many clothes they have — or how expensive they are to replace or treat in a high-concentration oxygenated room to remove the smell of smoke.
We all know we should make copies of important papers and receipts and store them someplace safe, like a safety deposit box. But few of us do so because it seems like such a daunting task.
As the French philosopher Voltaire said, don't let perfect be the enemy of good.
"You can just take out one folder at a time, put the pieces of paper you want a copy of out on the table, take a picture and then put them back. Then upload the photos to the cloud and you're done," said Kincaid.
No more guilt. Pass the eggnog.
You own more than you realize
Insurance companies realize people don't have receipts for everything they own. But they do require some sort of proof that you really have had a pristine set of Fabergé eggs sitting in your whatnot cupboard for the last 20 years.
Photos can be that proof. Kincaid's daughter Allison and her husband Blake discovered that when a fire destroyed their home in Stevinson, Calif., recently.
“They had their wedding registry, which helped, but also many things in the kitchen for which they had no receipts,” she said.
In the end, friends and family supplied holiday dinner photos and pictures from other get-togethers.
It was a huge help, said Kincaid. The couple was able to use the photos to show their insurance adjuster the origins of “some of their dishes and appliances that melted into piles of metal and gooey plastic.”