Tag Archives: housesitting

The Second Rule of Petsitting…

The pets are always hungry.

Why is this such a problem, I hear you asking. Well, let me put it to you this way:

Sometimes, when it’s very early in the morning, and I am, say, going to the bathroom, I can hear the cats circling outside the bathroom door, meowing piteously as if they haven’t eaten in days, pacing back and forth like very small, yet no less threatening jungle cats, and I think to myself, “If I were dead right now, you’d be eating my corpse, wouldn’t you?”

Yeah. They would be.

Petsitting isn’t all fun and games, dragging a feather around the house for a cat to bat or throwing a stick for a dog to fetch. It means putting an animal’s needs before your own, so that when you wake up in the morning, you drag your bleary-eyed self over to the various cans of cat food sitting on the kitchen counter and mix up a bowl of their diet-specific meal complete with medicine, or slip on farm boots to stomp out to the coop and scoop up some grain to throw in with a handful of chicken treats, all before you sit down to your own breakfast.

These animals are unable to get this food for themselves. They’re dependent upon you for their food and water. It’s really an awesome responsibility, as in the original meaning of the word, awe-inspiring, that you, a third party, has been trusted with the care of another animal which is primarily taken care of by the first party. The trust that person must have in you, and by extension, that animal!

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In addition to feeding them first, be aware that pets have their own feeding schedule. Some households are quite lax about this – “We feed them anytime after 7 p.m.” – but some households and animals, whether for medical or emotional reasons – have a strict routine that must be adhered to. No deciding to go out for a drink after work unless you first stop at home to take care of Rover and Daisy. No sleepovers at someone else’s house unless you’ve first checked it’s okay with the owners to either bring Fido along or leave pets at home alone, and don’t forget you need to either bring their things with you or be back at home early in the morning for feeding time.

If you’re not used to considering anyone else’s needs but your own, the time commitment around meals can be a real adjustment, so make sure you understand the owner’s requirements for their pet’s mealtimes before taking on a job that won’t work with your schedule.

The Second Rule of Housesitting…

The Second Rule of Housesitting

If the first rule of housesitting is that something always goes wrong, then the second rule of housesitting is that the homeowners always come home early.

It never fails – whether they’ve gotten the flight times wrong, decided to return a day early, or – horrors – you’ve gotten the day mixed up yourself, odds are, the homeowners will return not only when you least expect it, but most definitely when you’re least prepared for it.

Take, for instance, the time I was housesitting and had enjoyed a late night out. The animals were taken care of, the house was even clean, but as I got home after midnight, I kicked my heels off in the living room, slung my wrap over the back of a dining room chair, put my purse on the kitchen table, and left my dress on the bathroom floor after changing into pajamas. Normally, even in my own home I’m not this messy! But for some reason that night, I came home exhausted and didn’t take the time to be tidy. I was under the impression that the homeowners were coming back the next afternoon, so to my mind, I had the morning available to pick up after myself and throw the sheets in the wash. I had already cleaned the bathroom, the kitchen, and vacuumed the floors. But that was a little difficult to prove to the homeowners when they came home at some point during the wee hours of the morning! I woke up and nearly had a heart attack when I saw their luggage in the living room (next to my heels, of course). Luckily, that wasn’t the first time I housesat for this particular couple, so we had a chuckle about it later when they expressed their surprise at my uncharacteristic mess, and I vowed to never be so slovenly again.

This is how spotless I try to leave a room, after I've stayed there.

This is how spotless I try to leave a room, after I’ve stayed there.

Of course, sometimes even when you’re doing the right thing by cleaning the house, you can still get caught in the act. I was housesitting for a couple with a new baby, and decided to do a deep clean of their entire downstairs, especially the kitchen and bathroom, as a present for them before they got home. For those who don’t know, a deep clean is when you start from the top down, first cleaning top cupboard doors and handles, then removing everything from all countertops, wiping down the countertops AND washing the items that go back on them, then wiping bottom cupboard doors and knobs, then finally sweeping and mopping or vacuuming the floor. Take it from this former house cleaner – it takes a lot of work to deep clean a room. Once again, my intel had led me to believe that the family was due back mid-afternoon, so you can imagine my surprise when they walked in at 11:30 a.m.! As this occasion was pretty far into my housesitting career, I was as prepared for this situation as I could have been. I had actually just finished all of the cleaning, even the mopping, and had been in the process of taking out their garbage. I went ahead with that, then quickly shoved my remaining unpacked items into my bag and skeddadled so that they could settle back into home. But can you imagine the mess their house would have been in if I had been only halfway through that humongous project?!

The law of averages states that something will always go wrong with a housesit. If the only problem is that homeowners come back early, that’s easy enough to prepare for by making sure the house stays neat and tidy while you’re there, and that (whenever possible) you’ve finished almost all of your chores either the

night prior to or several hours before the family is due home. A little preparation can save you a heart attack, or at least a lot of embarrassment!

The First Rule of Petsitting…

The First Rule of Petsitting

Brace yourself. The first rule of petsitting is:

There will always be poop, urine, vomit, and other noxious animal expulsions to clean up.

While this may sound like a big, fat DUH to most of you, you’d be surprised how many times people think only of snuggling with cute puppies and fluffy kitties and maybe throwing a handful of food down now and again. In reality, while those are some of the best perks of the biz, there’s an awful lot of hairball mucus and loose stools to clean up.

Like the time one of these two adorable beasties decided to vomit all over the bench that the household shoes were stored under. But a bench, I hear you thinking. Didn’t that protect the shoes? Well, this particular bench had slats in it, and so the shoes had to be removed one-by-one, gently cleaned, and laid out to dry.

Or the time the owners promised me that their dog had a bladder of iron, only come to find out that while that held true for the daytime, the dog would quietly pee in a corner of their basement during the night. For several nights in a row. On the white carpet. Behind some furniture so that it wasn’t discovered for days on end.

Even when all the animals are doing all of the right BMs at the right time in the right places (preferably out of doors under a bush somewhere), cleaning up after them is still not a pleasant task.

One of the adorable lapdogs.

For instance, when I was taking care of two adorable lapdogs in a three-story house built on a hillside. With limited outdoor bathroom space around, the owners had solved this problem by putting artificial turf on the roof of the first story, which was accessible from the second story, sort of like a small deck. The door to that deck would remain open during the night, letting in a gentle breeze and the smell of urine and feces. Every morning, my job was to go outside, collect the solid pieces to throw away, and hose down the roof and turf to try to get rid of the acrid stench. Fun!

So, remember, the next time you offer to petsit for your friend/neighbor/stranger, there is more than cuddles/snuggles involved. I recommend bringing some disposable gloves, poop bags, and a bottle of organic, pet-friendly cleaner along, just in case.

The First Rule of Housesitting…

The First Rule of Housesitting

No, it’s not that we don’t talk about housesitting (will that Fight Club reference ever get old?).

The first rule of housesitting is that something always goes wrong.

For instance, there was the time I plugged in my laptop to the same socket that the air conditioner was using, and so the entire top floor lost power. All I had to do was go flip the switch in the fuse box, but due to some unfortunate labeling, I couldn’t figure out which one it was. Granted, it was also almost 1 a.m. at the time, and I might not have been thinking clearly. What I thought was this,

“Everyone in the neighborhood knows that I’m a single woman, staying in this house alone, and the power’s just gone out. Obviously this must be step one of someone’s nefarious plot to sneak into the house to rape and murder me. Quick! Run outside to the yurt and lock the yurt door! With only one way in-or-out, it’s a more defensible position!”

The infamous yurt. Scene of my own (imagined) slasher experience.

So that’s what I did. And then I called some friends the next morning who came right over, flipped the right switch, kindly only implied how idiotic I was instead of saying it out loud, and we all went on our merry ways.

What I learned from this (and the many other) housesitting adventures I’ve had over the years is that communication with the home owners is vital (and that you should just look for the flipped switch in the fuse box instead of trying to decipher the scrawled labels).

Case in point: when the clothes washer at a different home started leaking soapy water all over the floor, I was freaking out about how to handle it. If you’ve never had a tentacle of soapy water make its way across a hardwood floor to you in someone else’s home, you can’t imagine the instant panic that swept through me. OMG I’ve ruined their floor and their washer and I’ll have to replace it and it’ll bankrupt me and and and… was the initial thought in my head. Then I pulled myself together, called the home owner, and she said, “Oh yeah, that happens sometimes. Just put a towel down on the floor to sop it up.” If I had been too scared to tell the homeowner what happened, I would have been worried and upset for days, putting too much time into a problem that wasn’t really mine to solve.

Like when the refrigerator at another home died while I was housesitting. Apparently it was old (though it didn’t look like it), and the homeowners were thinking of replacing it anyway. They called someone who delivered a new fridge within 2 days and took the old one away. Things like that are the homeowner’s responsibility. Even so, it takes courage to speak up when you think you’ve done something to wreck someone’s home. In short, housesitting isn’t for the faint of heart!

WildlyLived Housesits (not as wild as you might think)

WildlyLived Housesits

Yurt Sitting. Reading a library book in a hammock. Life is hard.

Yurt Sitting. Reading a library book in a hammock. Life is hard.

Housesitting! It’s a thing I do professionally.

What IS a professional housesitter, exactly?

Well, it’s someone who does not own or rent a home of their own, but instead lives in the homes of other people, usually while they’re away from the home. I say usually because as a long-term professional housesitter, I’ve been in the situation of having my own quarters in someone else’s home. In that case, occasionally the homeowners will be around for stretches of time, but I still live there in my own separate (sometimes shared) space.

I’ve been housesitting for over 10 years, officially beginning in college in Western Massachusetts, where I stayed until 2010. My favorite story from that time is when a local college professor and her family were away for a week in the middle of winter, and I watched their house and two large labs (one yellow, one chocolate, both very sweet). During that week, their heat went out in the middle of a three-day snow storm (pilot light blew), I got a nasty cold, and my new doctor-prescribed allergy meds caused a very mild psychotic episode. All while working full-time and taking care of the two dogs. Clearly I survived to tell the tale, but it did teach me one valuable lesson – never be afraid to call the client and explain what went wrong. I waited for two days before calling them about the heat not working, and when I finally got ahold of them, it turned out all I had to do was run down to their ancient furnace in the basement with a lighter and light that sucker back up.

That’s the key to good housesitting: knowing that something is likely to go wrong so you prepare for that eventuality by getting all the information you can from the homeowners before they leave and then calling upon your resources to handle whatever it is that just went wrong when the time comes.

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The view from the back porch of my housesit in Sherwood Forest.

In Boston, Massachusetts, I was a long-term housesitter (and indentured servant, but that’s another story) living in an attic like Sara Crewe (see Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Princess for reference) for 15 months. In Oregon, I’ve been a long-term housesitter living in a near-mansion in Sherwood Forest for 2 years. In Portland, I was a yurt sitter, taking care of chickens, cats, and fish.  And in moving to New Zealand, I’m landing in a two-week apartment-sitting gig, a real dream come true.

If you’re going to be gone for a length of time and are looking for someone to take care of your home, your yard, your houseplants, your animals (no reptiles, please!), etc. drop me a line.

Oh, and despite the WildlyLived title of this site, please rest assured that I’m a very responsible, imminently experienced, highly qualified, NOT wild, housesitter.

If you’re interested in more information on my housesitting experiences, read my housesitting tips & tricks: