Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Can Making an Inventory Actually Be Fun (At Least for the First Hour)?

As we wrap up our time in Kolkata, we are trying to get serious about a more accurate inventory of our stuff. We will have our suitcases, UAB for D.C., HHE for Prague, and HHE back to storage in D.C. to organize as we leave Kolkata. And then when we leave D.C. for Prague, will have our suitcases, UAB and possible HHE with items out of storage.

I had created some spreadsheets when we left D.C. almost two years ago. They meticulously detailed all of Sicily's clothes, toys and other items. That was all. For the rest of our stuff we scribbled some things down on paper and did a walk-through of our house with a video camera. Not quite sure where the video tape is but I can find the spreadsheets, which are now all out of date.

As you shuffle stuff around, it becomes even more of a chore to keep the inventory up-to-date. She wore stuff out, we gave stuff away, we got more stuff. I didn't want to even open the spreadsheets to try to reconcile what we have now.

After reading a post on livelines about Delicious Library, I was curious to see if there was a better solution to my rudimentary spreadsheets. Delicious Library is an application for Macs that allows you to organize and manage your stuff through visual shelves.

What makes it a nice choice for our lifestyle is that you can create collections or shelves and then drag items into the shelves to organize them into groups. For example, I can create a UAB shelf and then drag items onto that shelf so that I can see what we have in our UAB shipment, and still look at all of the books we have at one time regardless of what place they are in. Much easier than cutting and pasting in Excel. You can also keep track of items you loan to people through the Friends category.

Aside from the categories, the next coolest feature is the ability to input items by scanning the bar code through your built-in webcam. I have been able to hold up a book, CD or DVD and it will read the bar code, then bring in all the information about that item. I was able to do all of Sicily's books in about 30 minutes, much faster than if I had typed the same information into Excel.

The main drawback is that it is really designed for books, games, software, toys, movies, music, gadgets, tools and clothing. If you want to capture your furniture you will have to put it under one of those categories. Right now, I see it as the start of a detailed inventory for those types of items (kitchen will go under tools) and then supplementing with an Excel spreadsheet, videotape or scribbles on a piece of paper.

We use the inventories for three reasons: 1. insurance replacement if it gets lost, damaged, stolen or eaten, 2. so that we don't buy duplicates of stuff we already have but forgot about because it is in another shipment, or 3. so that we know where to find that stuff we really need for our next post (winter clothes!). Documenting everything is a momentous task, but if you generally have enough information to help you with the three above that is more than enough.

Sicily helps enter books into the inventory.

More information on Delicious Library at http://delicious-monster.com/


Bill said...

As you get ready to leave Calcutta, here's an interesting article about the city. See if you agree.


Unknown said...

What a system---and Sicily is a big help, too.
Also, thank you Bill, for the blog article about Calcutta. You stirred up memories and emotions of my recent short visit. I do actually feel drawn to return.

Daniela Swider said...

Sounds really neat! I am a visual person and would much rather do that than spreadsheets. Plus, scanning bar codes does make it go faster, especially if you have an eager helper.

Wonder if there is a similar program for PC?

We didn't do an inventory when we moved to DC and I am hoping nothing in our HHE got damaged or lost, so I am definitely doing an inventory for our next move.

Jason said...

Have you looked at Bento for the Mac? It is more generic in nature and doesn't have the cool barcode reading functionality, but it will more easily record all the items in your inventory.

Bfiles said...

As a candidate dreaming of A100, this is very helpful to me, although we don't have a Mac. But I've heard of other systems.
But a question- is it really that useful to scan all your books, esp kids books? I guess if you have lots of books, replacement could be in the hundreds/thousands? but I would think it's a lot of work.
And how detailed should you get about clothing? Now that would be tedious.
I love your blog, have added it to my blogroll.

Natalie Buda Smith said...

@Bill, I very much agree with your opinion of Calcutta. This city has a soul that is hard to forget. The city does grow on you the longer you are here and I suspect that it is impossible to forget! Thanks for sharing.

@Daniela, looks like Delicious Library is only for Macs. In the madness of moving last time, we video tapped everything with the hope of watching it and then making an inventory from it. Two years later I am finally getting to some of it!

@Jason, thanks for the Bento 3 recommendation! Looks like a much more customizable product.

@Bfiles, Yes, I agree that it is really not worth the effort to keep an inventory of everything in your household. I inventoried the books since they are really easy to do with this piece of software, otherwise I would have relied on my memory which is getting a little buggy lately.

With clothing, the best approach I have seen so far, is to put them in categories like "clothes for snow" and "clothes for extremely hot weather" and then group them together in the same boxes, so that you know which box to grab when needed. Caution, this method only works is you are able to maintain your weight!

Please let me know if you have an inventory application for the PC that you recommend and Thanks!

Kaho said...

This was very helpful. You sound like a very organized person. Much more so than I am. We are getting ready to move to our next post as well from D.C. We are not doing any inventory yet. We don't own much, but I guess I should make an inventory at least for our furniture before sending it to a storage. I like the naming of Bento for the Mac that Jason mentioned. I have to take a look. I am a very visual person as well, so delicious library should motivate me.

Mom said...

I would be interested in knowing what is absolutely necessary for travel and what would be better replaced from post to post or simply isn't needed at all.

Natalie Buda Smith said...

@Mom - in my opinion, for inventories it is good to know what you have so you don't mistakenly buy duplicates (you may want duplicates); have enough information documented for insurance purposes; and know what boxes things - what you may want to get out later - are in long term storage.

Some people can keep an intuitive inventory in their head to avoid buying duplicates of pricey items. I seem to be less and less able to do this every year! The hardest group of items to not buy duplicates of for us was our daughters clothes, since I try to buy seasons and sizes in advance to take advantage of end-of-season sales.

We have Clements insurance which was pretty great in not requiring a very detailed list of all the things we covered. They did ask for one, but I only gave a high-level list. I do have documentation (pictures and receipts) of the value of our important things in a binder, just in case.

The one big mistake I made when we packed out of D.C. was that I put all of my winter clothes in storage. When I mentioned this to a friend she said it was actually a good mistake because I can now get all new winter clothes.

What I didn't think of in advance was that we would travel to the U.S. during a cold season and that we would travel to cold countries.

Also, since we only get one free opportunity to get things out of long term storage while we are TDY in DC before Prague, we either have to keep everything in our apartment that we need in Prague for most of our time in DC, or I get to buy more winter clothes.

You can guess which option I prefer.

Please let me know if that doesn't answer your question.