It’s been over six months since we had our first housesit, one of the short résumé builders that we secured in Manhattan to prepare to launch ourselves overseas. We’ve been abroad for nearly two months now, and in that time we’ve added sits in Lyon, France, and the southern English seaside town of Bournemouth. Here, in no particular order, are five things we’ve learned that we wanted to share with any potential sitters out there.
- COFFEE IS A WILD CARD
We both like our coffee strong and frequent. Writing books and teaching high-energy youngsters online takes the kind of fortification that only a ready supply of java can provide. At home, we typically made our joe the popular American way—in a drip machine—but these are much less common abroad. Now, every time we go to a new housesit, we have to adjust to a new caffeine-generating apparatus. No two have been alike! We’ve accustomed ourselves to weak brews from K-cup machines. We’ve had to read instructions online for a handful of different single-serve espresso makers. We’ve dealt with French presses (known in these parts as cafetières) of all shapes and sizes, struggling to get the ratios of coffee-to-water-to-time just right. In one apartment, we even learned the ropes of a microwave-sized grinding/brewing/steaming device that retails for nearly $1000! Look: when it’s first thing in the morning, (almost) no coffee is bad coffee, but when you’re housesitting, be aware that your morning brew is probably not going to be what you’re used to. Then again, if you wanted what you were used to, you could have stayed home…
- USING OTHER PEOPLE’S THINGS CAN BE STRESSFUL
Neither of us were prepared for what it was going to mean to be using other people’s things for extended periods of time, and the weird stress that that entails. Because we want to be good guests (and not get hammered in reviews on housesitting sites!) we find ourselves worrying about things that we normally wouldn’t bat an eye about, treating every object as though it were made of glass (especially the stuff that’s actually made of glass). Sometimes we notice things and grow alarmed: Was that stain already on the rug when we got here? Was there a little tear in that blanket? Was the faucet doing that? Was there a scratch on that pot? And even if it was already there, will the homeowner remember, or will they blame us? It’s enough to make you paranoid! Then there’s the matter of electricity and heating cost. We’re digital nomads who are basically home all day, but most of our homeowners work traditional jobs. Will they be upset when they see their bills inevitably rise? Now, as the weather is getting colder, we’re doing our best to put on that extra sweater and extra pair of socks instead of inching the thermostat ever higher. The stress and responsibility of being caretakers of other people’s things is real.
- PRIVACY NOT GUARANTEED?
Even though we have a disclaimer in our housesitting agreement about the importance of privacy, and an explicitly stated “no nanny cam” policy, one of our very first housesits had a camera in an upper corner of the dining room that we didn’t see until we had “moved in.” The camera was angled to primarily cover the front door and, presumably, to keep track of the entrances and exits of guests, but it also half-pointed into the main sitting area of the apartment. The fact was, it creeped us the hell out. We weren’t plotting some crime, just living our normal lives—but we don’t like an audience, and the camera’s eye was a presence. After a day or two of speaking in hushed voices and side-eying the lens, Zach unplugged it. We felt better, but it still made us leery about the rest of the sit. Did a visible camera suggest that there were hidden cameras elsewhere? We did a little search and turned up nothing, but the incident just hit home the fact that when you’re in another person’s house, you never really know if Big Brother is watching you. I mean, you’re probably not being recorded (most people do not live in swank apartments in Midtown Manhattan filled with valuable goods, as was the case with this place), but you could be.
- CATS ARE NOT DOGS
I know: sounds obvious, right? But before we began housesitting, our experience of pet ownership was pretty much limited to species of the canine persuasion. Yet, on our very first housesit, we found ourselves in the care of a skin-and-bones feline. Within a few minutes of making his acquaintance, both of us had been hissed at and bit on the finger. Apparently, we’d been petting him wrong? Most of our sits thus far have involved cats, and while there are some wonderful things about them—namely, they demand very little time and attention, and don’t need to be walked—there are also things that take some getting used to. Cleaning a littler box, and continuously sweeping up all the little granules that make it onto the ground around it, can be dusty, stinky, unpleasant chores. It’s also an adjustment learning about the mercurial natures of the animals themselves: they like you, then they’re afraid of you; they come up to you meowing desperately, then run away when you try to pet them; you catch them out of the corner of your eye darting to and fro in silent ninja-mode, and then they vanish so utterly you wonder if you’re seeing things. So basically, one of our biggest lessons has simply been learning what the deal is with these odd little beasts.
- WONDERFUL SURPRISES AWAIT
One of the joys of housesitting is the little side perks that you could never have really anticipated or expected. Each of our sits has included a little something that was not listed in the ad and was not communicated by the homeowner, but nonetheless was a serendipitous surprise that added something special to the sit, and by extension, to our lives. On an early New York City sit, it turned out that the homeowner worked for a company that distributed scotch, and she had plenty of top shelf stuff lying around that she said we could help ourselves to. Bonus! On another sit, we discovered that we’d be sleeping in a gigantic bed that was so comfortable it was like the angels had knit it out of clouds. Bonus! We arrived at our apartment in Lyon only to find that it was located in a neighborhood perched atop a large hill, with breathtaking views for many miles in all directions – and the homeowner possessed a terrific CD collection of French music with a great sound system. Double bonus! And it was only after a few weeks in our current place in the UK that we discovered the large nature reserve that sits less than ten minutes’ walk away, an area of beautiful trees, heather, and various scrubby bushes and wildflowers that makes for a great afternoon stroll. We had no idea any of these things would be around, but like travel itself, housesitting provides plenty of opportunities for surprise and delight.
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