To make a complete and accurate inventory of the property of a family is not an easy task and is one that consumes an amount of time that few will care to assign to it. To run the household on a real business basis not only should there be such an inventory, but at least yearly it should be revised, the proper depreciation charges deducted, and the money value of the total thus be brought up to date. But those who keep the real purpose of household accounting in mind will not think such a task a necessary one. There are some to whom it would be interesting and amusing enough to justify them in doing it, but they are not many. Those who have had occasion to inquire the cost of such an inventory, made by the individuals or firms who do such work for those who wish it as supplementary to their fire insurance, are probably amazed and perhaps disgusted at the price charged. But if they once try to do the task for themselves with equal care, even with their advantage of knowledge as to original cost, they will generally speedily decide that the price is reasonable. It is, in colloquial phrase, a pernickety job.
Yet it is quite evident that one is in far better position to collect insurance in case of fire if some list exists. The inventory for this purpose need not, however, be complete. A list of the most expensive items of household furnishing and equipment, with a lump sum to represent the small items of each type, is generally sufficient. If the Clothing inventory suggested in Chapter IV has been made once, it gives a good basis for judgment on Clothing. Any valuable articles of jewelry or such expensive items as furs should be listed separately.
Such a list is most conveniently kept on loose leaves fastened into a cover, under such general heads as:
China, Glass, Silver Clothing Floor Coverings Furniture Kitchen equipment Household linen Pictures and Ornaments Miscellaneous
For here, at last, one may safely indulge in a "Miscellaneous" heading, to save the wear and tear on the mind of trying to decide whether a Victrola is Furniture or whether an umbrella stand is an Ornament
The only practical way to make the inventory is for two people to work at it, one calling off the items and the other writing them down on large sheets in pencil, to be copied later into the book. The division under Floor coverings, Furniture, Pictures and Ornaments, will naturally be by rooms, but the description should be definite enough so that if the piece of furniture is moved it will still be identified. "Six dining-room chairs" is accurate enough, but under Sitting-room to write "two side-chairs" is not. It should be "two mahogany side-chairs, cane seat" or "two oak side-chairs, blue covering." As the inventory is taken, it is well to write down the cost when that comes to mind, and the date or approximate date of the entrance of that item into the family life. All this information is interesting and sometimes it proves valuable.
When the inventory is complete for the important items of each room, the general value of minor items should be noted, under the proper heading. "Miscellaneous" must of course always be itemized.
The next step is to fill in on the rough sheets the column of original cost of each article. This must often be a matter of judgment, sometimes one of guess, but a value must be set on each piece. It is of course possible to set down the present value rather than the original cost, but this is more difficult and time-con-suming. Shall the value in that case be the original cost plus a general depreciation charge, which in theory at least reduces the value to zero when the article has degenerated to the discarding point, or shall it be the sale value? In the latter case the basis is difficult to choose, since at a forced sale, say to the secondhand man, the sale value is much less than that of a sale made under no compulsion to some housekeeper who wants or needs the article. It seems a useless waste of time to exercise individual judgment on such problems. Calculating the value of each piece as original cost minus depreciation can be done with a greater degree of accuracy, but is time consuming. The total of original costs can be turned into an estimate of present value by deducting from it a general depreciation charge of say 25%, where there is considerable furniture whose value increases rather than decreases with age, or 50% where none of the furniture is of this type. Such general judgments are just as likely to approach that of the expert as are those more carefully calculated.
In inventorying books it is not necessary to do so individually. They can be grouped as "76 novels, 13 volumes of poetry, 22 volumes of biography" and the like, with an average value assigned, and only books of high cost of value listed separately.
The store-room and the attic are usually "lumped" in such an inventory, but the occasion of taking it might well be the one to look through the heterogeneous collections of such places and to discard some of the useless or worthless things. Sometimes there are things of value that should be listed. Trunks, for example, may make a goodly sum total.
In some states the insurer, to receive full value in case of loss, is required to take out insurance of at least 80% of the value of the things insured. The fire insurance agent explains all such details, but many insurers listen so carelessly that they are surprised disagreeably when the occasion comes to collect after damage by fire.
The inventory once made needs a yearly revision. This can usually be made well enough by one person, who takes the inventory book about and annotates any changes in pencil, noting additions on a separate sheet. If these changes are made in green ink for one year, red ink for another, starred for another, the sheets need be rewritten only at long intervals. To keep such an inventory in duplicate uses more time, but of course one copy must be left in a secure place - preferably a safe or a safety deposit box - outside the house. If the house should burn or be damaged by fire and the list destroyed, the purpose of the list is defeated.