Know Your Stuff is a place to keep an inventory of your belongings in case you need to make an insurance claim someday.


As you struggle to find places to store holiday gifts, it’s a perfect time to get rid of things you no longer use. Broken items, worn shoes and the like need to go into the trash or a recycling bin. But with a little effort, you can make sure that whatever still has life winds up with a suitable new home. It’s convenient to drop off items at places that take a wide array of things, but targeting your donations to places that share a passion for them is more satisfying — and you can be more confident that your discards will wind up in the hands of people who can use them. A couple of options: Give books, DVDs, CDs, laptops and digital cameras to Books for America (202-835-2665), which improves libraries in area schools, shelters and prisons. (You can also shop for some of these in the organization’s used bookstore, at 1417 22nd St. NW in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.) Blankets, coats and unopened and unexpired food — all sorts of things needed for daily life —are welcome at shelters. N Street Village, which serves homeless and low-income women in Washington, updates its wish list weekly. Body lotion, shampoo and other personal-care products are welcome at Alternative House’s emergency shelter for teenagers in Vienna (703-506-9191). More ideas are at Charity Choices.

Take inventory

You’ll need a record of what you own if you ever need to file an insurance claim for storm damage, theft or disaster. New online tools make creating an inventory easier than ever, and you can store the results on a hosted server, meaning you can access the information even if your computer crashes or your home is destroyed. The Insurance Information Institute sponsors Know Your Stuff. It’s free. There are also fee-based services, such as Stuff Safe. Taking pictures or walking through your house with a video camera is a good backup.

Start fresh

It’s a new year, so stop worrying about all the home repair chores you didn’t get to last year. Instead, give yourself a fresh start. Walk through your house and fill out a sheet of paper with two columns. In the first column, note major tasks, such as repainting a room. In the second, note repairs you can do in less than a day, such as replacing burned-out bulbs or cracked switch plates. When you’re done, decide on a handful of top-priority major projects, get out your calendar and pencil in dates for starting those. Then get ready to tackle a bunch of little projects. It’s often said that success breeds more success, so doing these first gets your year off to the right start. Shop for everything you need in one trip, and reserve a weekend day or two for the repairs. Then load up a tool caddy and power through your list, one room at a time. As you go, test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they are working properly.

Make a safety plan

If your family doesn’t have a safety plan, the beginning of a new year is a perfect time to develop one. Make sure everyone knows escape routes and where to gather once you are out of the house. In case some family members are away at the time, decide on a relative or friend who lives elsewhere whom everyone can call and check in with. Also make sure everyone knows how to turn off gas, water and electricity.

Go over what the various alarm systems in your house mean. If you have a smoke detector that sounds frequently, family members might be used to checking for obvious problems, such as smoke coming from a piece of bread caught in a toaster, rather than fleeing right away. But that relaxed approach doesn’t make sense if the alarm is from a carbon monoxide monitor. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, so there is no easy way to determine where it’s coming from. So if that alarm sounds, everyone needs to get out of the house — unless the chirping means that the battery needs to be changed or that the device itself needs to be replaced. That’s why going over the various sounds is important.

If you’re not sure what the sounds from your monitors mean, check instructions for the models on the manufacturer’s Web site or call the company’s help line. Kidde, one manufacturer, has a help center on its site, where you can click to hear the different sounds and learn what they mean.

Update safety gear

While you’re thinking about safety, consider whether it’s time to replace the safety equipment in your home. Kidde conducted a survey in 2012 that found one in four homes built before 2002 needs updated fire safety equipment, according to spokeswoman Heather Caldwell. Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years, and carbon monoxide alarms every five to seven years, depending on the manufacturer. Fire extinguishers should be replaced every 12 years.

Get inspired

If you are contemplating a big remodeling project in 2013, January is a perfect time to gather ideas, line up contractors and order any designer-type fixtures you need, because delivery on those often takes many weeks. Attending a home and garden show is a great way to start. The season opener in the Washington area is the Home & Remodeling Show at Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly the weekend of Jan. 18-20. Hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 9 to 6 on Sunday. Adult tickets are $10, but you can save $3 by buying them online.

If that date doesn’t work, you might want to mark your calendar now for the Spring Capital Home & Garden Show, Feb. 22-24, also at the Dulles Expo Center, and the Washington Home & Garden Show , March 22-24 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the District.

Plan ahead

Besides attending a home show, there are plenty of other good ways to do your homework for major repairs you plan to tackle once the weather warms.

Research the best materials and methods. Reliable online infomation sources include This Old House and Ask The Builder. Line up a contractor. To see the National Association of Home Builders’ advice and type “checklist for hiring a builder or remodeler” into the search box. Apply for permits at your local building department. If you live in a historic district in Washington, the historic preservation program within the D.C. Office of Planning (202-442-7600) helps with this and gives tips on how to avoid expensive mistakes, such as undermining the structural integrity of a brick wall by installing the wrong kind of replacement window or repointing with an inappropriate kind of mortar.

Score on deals

Home-improvement stores consider this the “storage season,” which means you can probably find an unusually good selection and great prices on plastic bins, closet organizers and the like. A few tips: If you’re buying plastic bins, go for ones that are clear so you can see what’s inside. Look for straight-sided containers. Ones with tapered sides waste a surprising amount of shelf space. If you’re planning to store the containers on shelves, match the size of the boxes to the depth and width of the shelves so you aren’t left with hard-to-use gaps. Consider forgoing plastic and instead get a supply of free and wonderfully designed, extra-sturdy cardboard boxes from a discount store such as Costco. If you want to stack containers (eliminating the need for shelves), get boxes with interlocking tabs and slots on the top and bottom. Boxes with bin-style fronts that are partially open allow you to reach in and retrieve items from all levels without moving any boxes.

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