E-mails you don’t want to get from your house-sitter:
“I’m leaving a month early.”
“Do you have a plunger?”
Since the end of May I’ve made two long trips, to Alaska and New Jersey, spending about 14 weeks away from home in all. During that time I had two house-sitters and two dismaying communiqués.
One caretaker was a friend of a friend. The other was someone I know slightly. Both were looking for a place to stay for a while. All I asked in return for the free flop was that they bring in my mail.
What I didn’t ask for:
- A nearly dead potted tree in the living room
- Many of that tree’s leaves on the carpet
- An oven floor covered with grease
- The relocation of a stepladder, floor lamp, straight chair, shopping cart and the contents of two dresser drawers
- My kitchen nightlight removed and plugged in under the dining table (still trying to figure that one out)
Books were moved around. The bath towels rearranged in order of size, even though the house-sitter didn’t actually use them. (More later on why that bugged me.)
The dining table and desk was entirely cleared off (I never did find the little container I use for scratch paper). Dishes and pans were rearranged in the cupboards. And I came home to a big pile of dirty towels and sheets on my bedroom floor.
When asked about that last one, via e-mail, here was the house-sitter’s response: “I didn’t have the time or money to wash them.”
But…you used them. And you make more money than I do!
At least there were clean sheets on the bed.
Why mess with things?
I will be the first to admit that my place is slightly cluttered. But I like having my vitamin bottles on the breakfast bar. I like having a piggy bank there, too, and an egg-shaped teapot, and the salt and pepper shakers that resemble pots on a stove – all three were gifts from friends, and they are cheerful.
Yes, I need to organize my bookshelves. Yes, I need to do something about the clutch of paperwork on the dining table. Yes, I need to find homes for a few tchotchkes.
But here’s what I don’t need: People to move things around the way they like and then to leave it that way – which, in turn, leaves me trying to figure out where my paperwork went.
Why move the shopping cart? It wasn’t in the way. Folded up and tucked between the couch and the cedar chest, it was barely even visible.
My bath towels are stored in a small plant rack in the bathroom. I put them in small-large, small-large order so that I can pull out one for my hair and one for my body. When I got home I had to take them all out because the sitter had put the small ones all at the bottom. But he’d brought his own towels – why’d he mess with mine?
The worst part was finding the two dresser drawers emptied, presumably so the house-sitter could use them. Some of the items in the drawers were deeply personal, including letters from old friends and from my mother. After a few minutes of frantic searching, I realized that the extra suitcase the house-sitter had set on my bed probably held the items. It did.
This rant may sound a bit querulous. But it’s my place. I have things the way I want them.
No, the caretakers weren’t paid – but neither did they have to worry about rent or utilities for a month or more. (In Seattle, that could have cost them some serious bucks.) I live within walking distance of shopping, two movie theaters and a transit center. There was Internet access. I let one of them use my library card.
Yes, I told them to make themselves comfortable. The result, though, was that I was uncomfortable when I got home from my trips.
During that Alaska visit, incidentally, I house-sat for two different people – and I neither moved furniture nor left dirty linens lying around. (However, I did pick up tree branches that came down in a windstorm, deadhead flowers, brush matted hair from around the cat’s backside and wrangle a couple of escaped stick-bugs back into the terrarium.)
Ditto for the place I’ll be watching for a few days in January: When the owners return, things will be as they left them.
It’s not my house, that’s why. I don’t get to decide that a stack of charitable requests shouldn’t be on the kitchen table. Even if it were in my way, you know what? I’d either live with it, or I’d move it temporarily and then put it back when it was time for me to leave.
A few simple rules
I’m planning a trip to England and Wales in early spring. Because I’ll be gone fewer than 30 days I can just have the post office hold my mail. However, I proposed the following deal to an upstairs neighbor: I’ll care for her cat while she’s away for long weekends if she’ll pick up my mail should I decide to take a trip lasting more than a month.
She’s happy because in the past she’s paid me to watch Kitty. Now I’m willing to do it for free and she may never have to reciprocate. Or she may move by the time I take another four-weeks-plus journey.
I’m willing to take that chance. No more house-sitters for me. My place is a mess, but it’s my mess. I don’t want people to mess with my mess. (And for extra credit: Hey, you kids, get off my lawn!)
Do I sound impossibly cranky? (I mean it, you kids – stop cutting across my yard!) That’s because I am, sort of. But you will benefit from my persnicketiness, because it has resulted in my creating the True And Simple Rules For House-Sitting. If you decide to market yourself as a caretaker, follow these few rules and you’ll have all the business you want:
- If you move it, put it back.
- If you make a mess, clean it up.
- If you bring a tree – and why would you? – take it with you when you leave.
- If there’s no compelling reason to touch someone else’s belongings, don’t.
Make yourself comfortable, but not at the expense of the homeowner. Leave your OCD tendencies back at your own place. Bring quarters for the laundry. And for heaven’s sake, leave the nightlights alone.