BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - The damage from recent flooding reinforces the importance of having an up-to-date household inventory. Imagine trying to compile a detailed list of property for an insurance claim just after a natural disaster. You will remember big items like the furniture and appliances but not the small things that your family needs to function comfortably. A household inventory offers tremendous emotional security even if you never go through the painful experience of having to document an extensive loss.

The first step is to ask your insurance agent what documentation you need if your home is damaged in a disaster. Some insurance companies want receipts for major purchases to determine the value of the items. But what if you do not have receipts? Most American households probably would be hard-pressed to produce receipts for appliances and furniture bought more than a year ago. Ask if dated pictures or video would work as evidence that possessions existed and be adequate to determine the quality of those possessions. Ask if a written household inventory filed with the agent before any loss occurs would serve as adequate proof.

Once you know the type of information your insurance company requires, you can begin the process of actually developing a household inventory. Do not expect this to be a quick process; try creating a list of possessions one room at a time.

If you use paper and pencil to do the inventory, get a clipboard and a package of notebook paper. You will need at least three columns on each page: One for the name of the item, another for the estimated year of purchase, and a third column for the cost of the item at purchase. Start in one corner of the room and work your way around.

Organizing the inventory by room offers definite advantages over organizing the inventory by type of possession. If damage is limited to just a portion of the house, it will be easier to determine what was lost. If you are doing the inventory through pictures or video, follow much the same procedure, completing a single room before moving to the next area.

There are computer programs to assist with completing a household inventory. Before investing in such software, be sure you know how the program works, what information you need to enter and what data the final inventory report will provide. Some programs ask for more information than necessary and produce a final report that is reams of paper long.

Be sure to store a copy of the inventory in a safe place outside your home. A safe deposit box is a good place to store a copy of your inventory whether it is on paper or saved to a CD. Keep another copy at home so you can easily make changes as you add or discard possessions. Once a year, replace the copy in your safe deposit box with an updated inventory.

Next, make an appointment with your insurance agent to review the household inventory. You may think you have adequate insurance coverage, but you may not have enough coverage on certain types of possessions. One example is jewelry; many homeowners' policies limit coverage on jewelry to $1,000 or $1,500. Other types of possessions that may have set dollar limits in a typical policy are guns, silver, furs, artwork and electronic and photographic equipment. Reviewing the inventory with your agent is a good way to determine if you have adequate coverage.

Review your homeowner's policy with your insurance agent so you understand exactly what is covered. For example, the average homeowner's policy will not cover flood damage. Backup of drains or the sewer into your basement may not be covered. In many cases, it takes a special rider to a homeowner's policy to insure this type of damage. While you may decide it is not worth the extra cost to carry flood insurance or coverage for drains backing up, at least you will know what types of damage your policy covers.