It has occurred to me that the fact that I’m blogging about my house sitting life could make my current, regularly repeating, and potential house sitting clients very nervous. A thoughtless blogger could set a home up for disaster: What if I told all of cyberspace that you’re out of town, what your address is, that you have a huge-screen plasma TV, and that the front left living room window screen pops out easily? Even if I didn’t set out a welcome mat for burglars, it could be pretty creepy to find that the whole world can now know everything that’s in your medicine cabinet, what your cat, Fluffy, threw up last night, and what kind of sheets are on your bed.
I want to assure everyone that I’ve thought of that. I have always been awed and honored by the degree of trust people place in me, letting me stay in their homes, and usually with those beloved, living family members that they call “pets.” I always work to live up to that trust, and I will continue to do so within this blog. It might make my clients feel better (and be interesting to other folks, especially any who might be considering doing some sitting, themselves) to see the major rules I live by as a house sitter, online and in real life. Here’s what I’ve come up with in my three years of sitting:
Your privacy and this blog: Isn’t the cat in this picture cute? Unfortunately, I’ve never met him. I’ve just learned how to find free stock photos online, and this is one of them. I plan to use a photo for nearly every post in this blog, but all will be either stock photos or photos I’ve taken of myself, my own stuff, or public places. I will not use photos of your cat or your home, unless you ask me to. If you want everyone in cyberspace to be able to see how adorable your cat is, just let me know, and I’ll happily put him or her on my blog. Otherwise, I’ll assume you and your cat would like some privacy. I also won’t use your pet’s name in my blog. I may use your cat’s description to tell a story (for example, “the wild and crazy half-Bengal kitty” or “the diabetic cat who needs injections twice a day, and is always begging for food”), since every cat has a unique personality, and getting to know them is one of the highlights of my odd lifestyle. If you’d rather I not even do that, please tell me, and I’ll stop mentioning your pet at all.
I also won’t use any identifying information about you, your home, or its contents. I will usually say what city I’m in, and post a photo of the landscape in the general area (like the Longmont, Colorado photo that is my header photo as of this posting), but I won’t get any more specific than that. You won’t have to worry about me telling the world that you’re out of town, where you live, or what’s in your living room. My job is to keep your home safe until you get back, and I take my job very seriously, even when I’m blogging.
Visitors: However long I’m staying, I know full well that it’s your home, not mine. I don’t think I have the right to invite people into a space that I’m a guest in, myself. A few previous clients have specifically told me that I could have one or two people over if I liked, and one even made a point of saying that dinner parties were okay, even encouraged. (She was very proud of her kitchen and dining room, with good reason, and was sad to think that they’d be unused while she was away.) When I’ve had explicit permission, I have sometimes had one person at a time come by to cook dinner with me, watch cable TV, or similar. Even that doesn’t happen often, though. I’m quite an introvert, actually. I’ve never thrown a party of more than four people even when I had my own home. I certainly won’t throw parties in yours. I won’t let anyone else into your home unless you’ve been informed and have told me you’re okay with it.
Food: I carry a box of my own staples—canned soup, flour, tea, and so on—and buy groceries if I’ll be in one place long enough to use them up. Of your food, I’ll eat only a) basic things that most folks don’t use all of before they go stale or sour, like spices, salad dressing, and condiments (and I won’t use the last of anything), b) what will certainly spoil before you return (plus I’ll clean out your fridge if things spoil before I eat them), or c) what you’ve invited me to eat. I always happily follow directions my clients give, whether “Please don’t touch that sauce,” or “My garden grows better if you harvest the tomatoes and squash. Please eat them!” or “Feel free to eat anything!”
Musical instruments: I have my own very basic acoustic guitar, which I love and will bring with me on every sit, and unless you asked me not to, (Nobody ever has, so far.) I will be playing it at your house. I can also play flute and piano—I dearly miss the piano, as it’s not really something I can carry around with me in my car—and I like to dabble with new instruments. So, if you have musical instruments in your home, I will be tempted to play them. However, I once broke a client’s guitar string, and although I apologized and offered to buy him a new one, and I felt awful about it. There’s something sacred about one’s instrument. I felt like I’d invaded and desecrated a shrine. From then on, I’ve vowed never to play someone else’s instrument unless I’ve been specifically invited to play it. And I won’t … but if you have a piano, an electric guitar, a drum set, or something else really cool, I may very well beg you for an invitation, and if I get one, I’ll be one very happy house sitter. If you won’t give me one, I promise I will only admire your instrument from afar.
No dogs: This is an odd rule for a pet sitter, I know, and I realize that it eliminates a lot of opportunities for me. I’ve tried dog sitting, and the dogs survived—most were pretty happy, actually, as dogs are usually happy-go-lucky kinds of guys—but I don’t think I ever did them justice. I’m just not a dog person. I became a pet sitter because I grew up with no pets at all, (My brother was allergic.) so I always longed to play with everyone else’s, but the problem was that, having no pet experience, I was incredibly nervous around animals. Over the course of my adult life, I’ve build quite a rapport with cats. I also love rats, (No kidding! There’s a story about that. I hope to tell it on this blog in a later post.) do fine with fish, and am fairly confident with most small animals, but dogs … Dogs are so energetic, so in-your-face social (so opposite my introverted personality), so loud if they’re small, and if they’re big, so genuinely capable of killing me if things go wrong, (I know you’re sure your dog is too sweet to ever do that, but imagine if a complete bumbling idiot of a stranger came into your house and scared him with her fumblings.) that even a pooch who is obviously one of the most loving creatures on this planet will completely freak me out. It’s not that I don’t like dogs. It’s just that, while I’m noticing how cute and smart and amazing they are, I’m also so nervous that I make the dogs nervous, and I’m no good for the kind of playtime any dog needs and deserves. In the few dog sits I’ve tried, I’ve been incredibly stressed out, and the dogs were worried about me and didn’t get to have much fun. So, after a few tries, I’ve decided that I should never sit with dogs. It’s not your dog; it’s me. It really is.
Turning down sits: If a house sitting is my way to keep a roof over my head, I’d never turn down a sit, would I? Well, actually I would, and I do, more often as I gain more experience. With the money I save on rent, I always have enough savings to rent a motel room in a pinch, so I do have the power to walk away from a deal. As I’ve just said, I won’t sit with dogs, no matter how wonderful the dog is. Of course, I’ll also turn down sits if I’m already booked for that time period—though I hate to let a client down, especially someone I’ve sat for before, (I have several great repeat customers in Colorado, each of whom calls me a few times every year.) so I may tell a caller that I already have a place to spend those nights, but I’d be happy to come over once or twice a day (for a small fee) to check on their home and play with and care for their pets. I try to offer other options, rather than let a proven great client down flat.
On the other hand, there are sits I turn down, more and more often lately, because my intuition tells me to. I’ve had a few bad experiences—the folks who called me on their way out of town to say that they’d decided it was too much trouble to fix the gas leak in the furnace before they left, so I should just open a window until they got back; the folks who told me the day before they left that they’d decided not to pay me the amount we’d agreed on, or at all, and when I took the sit anyway, called often to demand that I do secretarial work for them, then complained on their return that I’d left their windows open. (It was a high-summer Colorado heat wave, they had an indoor cat, and their house’s only cooling system was a swamp cooler.) While homeowners have to put a phenomenal degree of trust in me, I also have to be able to trust them to make the setup work and be sure everyone has warm feelings at the end. If I don’t trust the homeowner, I won’t sit for them.
However, most home and pet owners I’ve met so far have been amazingly kind, trusting, and trustworthy. I am constantly amazed that my house-sitting-as-housing plan works, and I am always grateful for the trust and the comfort I get out of it. I try my best to make sure I’m giving plenty of value to the homeowners in return. My goal is to live in safe, comfortable places, while ensuring that the homeowners can enjoy their trips without worrying about a thing back home, and return to healthy, happy pets and warm, inviting homes ready for them to settle back into.