I have been using a system similar to that proposed by drcode for many years and it works well. I got started when I had to move, so I packed everything into boxes, numbered each box, and kept a list of what I put into each box. This way, when I arrived at my new house, I knew what box to look in for the toaster or whatever I was seeking. After unpacking, I had about 20 boxes left with stuff in them. I stacked the boxes in my basement and used the list to keep track.
1) I didn't number or label the items in the boxes. Since the items had personal meaning and weren't just meaningless inventory parts, I could easily recognize them by description.
2) I found that I could describe most items briefly in a way that called to mind exactly what they were. Instead of "Boots, Raichle, black, size 10, leather," I would write down "ugly swamp boots." I borrowed this trick from a memory improvement course I once took that recommended that you use silly or outrageous mental pictures because they are easier to remember.
3) the most challenging part is keeping the list up to date when you remove something. After a few times looking for something in a box and not finding it because your significant other removed it, one tends to lose trust in the sysytem.