Back in 2016 I was half owner (family member owned the other half) of a nice three bedroom brick house at Strathpine. My pride and joy was the extensive fruit and veg gardens and honey and sting less native bee hives.
Upon the death of my last dog the arrangement was to sell the house. A buyer was found in five days and thirty days later I was to move out.
With my house sold I looked at various options for living arrangements, like using the bit of money I received from the sale to buy a campervan or mobile home. Research showed these to be expensive and would have taken all my capital and left nothing in the bank. The same with buying a unit, which would have tied me down to one area and another mortgage (considering I actually could get a loan at the age of 61), or I could rent some little unit when I was used to a yard to myself.
I had found myself in the position of a owning a unique freedom. My kids had grown, left home and rarely needed me in their lives, pets all sadly deceased, no mortgage. It took a bit to get my head around this freedom and embrace it.
I am essentially a cautious person but also a bit of a risk taker based on careful planning. So I became a House Sitter. And this is what happened.
I can't remember where I first heard about the concept of house sitting. Perhaps through my brother who has done a bit here and there over the years. I was still working FT at this point and it seemed a good way to live rent free while saving the money I had been paying on the mortgage.
In order to house sit FT I would have to be able to travel light, so I sold or gave away my furniture (second hand furniture, no matter how much you love it, has little value on the market). There is a family out west somewhere who lost their house in a fire using my bedroom suite and a few other things I threw in. My washing machine ended up on the footpath as a "give away" when the person who said they wanted it just didn't show up. The upright freezer was gifted to my young neighbours. Some good friends and family turned up to help with packing, for which I will always be grateful. Thank you again.
I sold my bees - the native hives both went to a friend for a good price with the hope that I can get their genetic line back again one day. Sold, on the very last day before handover, my Top Bar European honey bee hive at a discount price to a nice man who came with his son and a van and took them away... somehow. Not easy to transport a hive of bees when they have multiple ways of getting out of a Top Bar hive, but they did it. Bravo them!
I'd had my last dog cremated. I just couldn't bring myself to bury his beloved little body somewhere in the garden I was leaving, possibly to be accidentally dug up. He went into storage with a few things I couldn't bring myself to part with like family photos and a garden bench seat. He will be buried one day in a new garden.
I had to winkle a house full of belongings down to a reasonable amount that I could transport from sit to sit. When I moved out my helpers and I delivered 8 car loads of belongings to the first house sit. Good grief. So much "stuff" we collect in our lives. Luckily I was there for three months and could spend some time grieving my losses and then being ruthless with culling my belongings.
My car was obviously too small! I sold it and bought a big one where everything folded down in the back to create space for belongings. I called this car "Home".
I registered with four house sitting websites.
Registering involves paying a yearly fee for the House Sitter (HS) but is free for the Home Owners (HO). Fair enough. One of the sites proved useless but the other three produced daily batches of emails giving details of new sits in the areas I had nominated - Mind a Home, Aussie House Sitters and Happy House Sitters. All good professional sites.
I also placed ads on FB community pages where it's free to advertise. I obtained some good sits from these and also some strange responses - one from a man wanting me to find him a home (he was genuine, poor man was homeless), one from a woman wanting to give me her husband.
Question: What makes a house sitter a "professional" ?
I've seen ads asking that only "professional" House Sitters should apply. Is that a sitter who charges a fee perhaps? Or one with lots of experience? I'm tempted to say to these Home Owners that I will happily charge them a fee per week if that's what makes me "professional" in their eyes.
A Police Check and written Reviews/References from successful sits, or character references if no experience, are a must have for a prospective HS. Home owners expect contact details on these Reviews so they can check up the source.
Advertised sits can vary in length from one day to one year or even longer. My minimum sit length in the beginning was generally a month though that changed when I gave up FT work and had more flexibility.
I read as many of the ads as possible to see what Home Owners are looking for in a sitter.
Most HO are polite and realise that there are fewer sitters than sits, so they try to make their sit sound enticing. After all, the alternative is to pay to move their pet into a pet accommodation situation or hire a "Pet Sitter" to pop in once a day and have their home sitting empty and welcoming to burglars and plants unwatered. Most sitters don't charge a fee though a friend of mine does charge $100 per week around her affluent suburb. As far as I can see this lady doesn't provide any more services than I do for free, but she is in good demand. I also struck a guy who advertised on his local FB page who charged $20 a day and asked for food to be provided was well - not sure if he got any work out of that ad.
In comparison I was a bargain!
Ads, as I said, are generally polite and enticing...but some aren't and I wonder at their attitude and whether anyone ever responds to those ads.
One HO typed in capitals (the written equivalent of shouting) that visitors or relatives were NOT welcome while the sitter was there (cripes! sitters have a life too you know!!). Another that the grass will need mowing even though they are only gone for 6 days (they want a free lawn mowing service). Others that they expect the sitter to pay for utilities while there (you're getting your pets and house looked after for FREE for heaven's sake! if you're going to charge then so will I). And yet another expected a Bond paid up front by the Sitter (it's not a rental situation! they must have expected destruction on a grand scale). One asked for a Blue Card, which is for working with children and not relevant with fur-babies.
Some HO will list all the "Duties" they expect the HS to perform, but do not state any of the things that might make the sit enjoyable like a good view, a beach nearby, well behaved pets and good paths to walk them on, WiFi, shops nearby.
My role, as I see it, is to feed, exercise and love the pets and take them to the vet if necessary, keep the pot plants/garden watered, bring in the mail, take out the bins, deter the burglars by being there and keep the house tidy. Other HS are prepared to do other duties, it's just a matter of finding the right match. Some HS come in pairs, some are singles like me. Middle aged single ladies like myself are quite in demand and often requested in the ads. Perhaps they think we won't have wild parties and will naturally be gentle and kind.
I don't mind a bit of a garden to look after but dislike mowing. In my opinion that's a job for professionals who don't mind sweating it out in the heat. Likewise, I will scoop leaves from a pool but expect the actual maintenance to be done by a professional.
I'm not a lawn mowing service nor a pool service, nor a window cleaning service. I will keep the house neat and tidy and probably leave it looking better than when I arrived, but I am not there to clean up the owners mess, which I have done and received no thanks for.
One interesting thing I noticed about pets - the smaller the house the more pets people often have. Folk on acreage generally have one dog. People in suburban homes will have two dogs and two cats and a tank of fish or ratties. And a lot of cats just aren't allowed out of the house these days. Council regulations apparently. The lucky ones have cat runs.
There are positive and negative points to each sit. It's not all a bowl of roses for the HS by any means as I have seen it portrayed in some media releases, usually with a smiling attractive young person extolling the virtues of sitting and how much they just lurve it! Also, I have heard horror stories from HO about sitters not upholding their end of the bargain ie not looking after the pets properly and not leaving a tidy house. On the whole people who use HS regularly seem happy with the service they receive.
The trickiest part for the HS is figuring out the HO expectations, so that when they come home and look around it's all as they would personally want it to look, complete with contented animals that haven't been over or under fed.
Everyone thinks the way they run their own home is naturally the way everyone runs their home. Nuh, taint the case. You'd be surprised (maybe you wouldn't!) at how many people don't cook. Stove tops are covered in stuff (containers, paperwork) and HO's don't use the oven. A few HO's didn't want me using the oven at all - reasons given: "It has just been professionally cleaned and new seals put on." "I don't want it getting dirty." I had to scrub the racks for one even though I always used oven bags at this house. The HO came home and rudely scrubbed them again, while I was still there, even though they were sparkling clean.
Some HO's don't have decent saucepans, sharp knives, spatulas, tongs, scissors, cutting boards, mugs (found the mugs on the top shelf of the pantry the day before I left), tidy liners, TV controls (do they hide these before they go??) or enough animal food to last the period they are away.
I would have one or two pre-visits with the HO before they leave to try to sort some of these issues out, but something nearly always crops up.
I chose to carry certain personal belongings like my own basic saucepans and other useful items. Everything has come in useful though it was a bit of a job to find good storage containers to carry things in that would travel well. Those big striped soft bags proved the best way to separate and carry clothing - summer from winter, tops from bottoms. I tried some bamboo version from China first, very cheap on eBay, but they tore easily. Ikea, Target and some cheap shops provided some plastic and woven storage containers. I like things in different colours or labelled well so I can tell where the heck things are when I need them quickly.
For each sit I ask for a list of emergency contacts. Sometimes I had to write these lists myself, sometimes the owners had it all ready.
Getting your mail delivered can be a problem as you are rarely anywhere long enough to use the HO address. While I was working FT in one location I used a post box and some deliveries had to be made to work. I don't know how the real travelling HS (Grey Nomads) take care of this. I would be curious to know.
Drivers licences, Medicare cards and other ID also require a set address. The Dept of Transport do not like you to be of "no fixed abode". They expected I would give them advance notice of every move so they could send out new address stickers. I would have moved on again by the time they arrived. I opted to use my daughters address.
Up until the 9th sit I was working FT and had to find sits that were within a one hour drive range of work. I would check the digest emails every day looking for dates and locations that would fit in with my other bookings, contact the HO and see if they liked the look of me then set up a meet. Acquaintances from a couple of my gardening clubs would also book me. Friends of friends would contact me. Rarely a week went by without receiving texts or emails asking if I was available to help.
Many HO leave booking a HS to the last moment. Not a good idea especially for periods like Easter and Christmas. My advice to HO is to get in early for these times and secure someone.
All up 15 sits and moves within a two year period. At the end of two years I was more than ready to put down permanent roots again.
Many of my sits went without a hitch. Some were just downright unpleasant.
The first sit was in a beautiful home on acreage. The downside was the owners Mother would call by every single day and fiddle in the garden picking up sticks and such. Occasionally coming to the window to peer in. At one point she sternly accused me of lurky dealings or at least neglect with one of the chooks that had disappeared. Turns out a snake got it. To give her credit, she turned over things in the big chook run until she found that snake slowly digesting the poor hen.
The second sit was for a friend in a country town. I used this sit for my annual leave for two weeks. Great veggie garden, chickens and lovely area to explore. The dog and I fell in love and would go to the park each day to throw and catch things together. Lovely time.
I was still carrying too many belongings and made a point of divesting myself of things as I went, including cases of wine. Silly me lol. I like clothes and am always buying new things. Therefore I have to make sure that things I don't wear are gotten rid of or my car gets dangerously close to refusing to carry all my belongings.
The third sit was in the same general country area. An hours drive to and from work each week day. A big house on acreage with just farm animals and no pets and a view to die for. I find I need pets during a sit to make it homey.
The house was generally clean but the kitchen was a state - greasy benches and dirty cupboard doors so I spent the first day cleaning. It was also storm period so the power and WiFi would go out regularly. I visited the camping shop and bought a rechargeable lamp after stumbling around looking for candles, matches or just a torch in the dark the first time it happened.
The house was also riddled with German Cockroaches. When I turned the lights on in the morning I would run around stomping and spraying for a few minutes. These little pests moved into my packing containers and came with me to the next house before I could eradicate them.
Three people were on the emergency contact list - one turned out to be away on hols himself, another neighbour had a family emergency and wasn't available and the HS son was busy with his own life. Make sure your contact list contains people who know they are on it and will actually be a help if needed.
The fourth sit was in a suburb on the south side of Brisbane. Absolutely no garden so nothing to water, trim or weed. Traffic on the highway getting to work could be horrendous if I didn't leave really early.
Lovely green area with lots of walking tracks for the dear wee dog and me, but a high crime rate area. The house was always locked up like Fort Knox and a security system had to be set each time I left the house. All the blinds were closed leaving the interior so dark lights had to be turned on during the day. The owners didn't cook. I'm still not sure what they lived on.
The kitchen was tiny and all bench tops were covered in "stuff". I learned to cook more one-pot meals here due to limited space and the risk of starting a fire. The HO also didn't drink tea or coffee and I only found their mugs on the day before I left, right up on the top shelf of the pantry. I bought my own mug to carry with me after that.
They had the most wonderful LG TV which was easy and efficient to operate. I bought one for myself once I settled down.
This was a very multicultural area and when I went into the local shopping centre I was in the racial minority. A novelty for a white Australian and an experience that probably did me good. I had one bad experience with an eastern lady in the grocery store who took umbrage at my loading groceries on the far end of the long checkout counter before she herself had completely finished loading at the top end. Very strange experience involving her yelling abuse at me. Her husband just put his head down and avoided eye contact. I suspect it was her weekly entertainment to do this to someone new.
The fifth sit was a beautiful home on acreage within 15mins drive of work, with a delicious German Shepherd to look after. This gorgeous beastie and I would go out into the back paddock twice a day and I would throw his frisbee until he got tired of it, then we would just walk or sit together until by mutual agreement we went back inside the house where said beastie would collapse until next time. He had a sense of humour that dog and would look at me with his intelligent big brown eyes and laugh. I have never owned a big dog myself but found myself wanting one of these intelligent beasts for myself one day. Easy house to keep clean and a pleasure to stay at.
The only downside, if you could call it that, was that the owner didn't want me moving in until an hour or so before they left and to be gone by the time they came back at 8am in the morning. Both do-able. They also said "thank you" on returning and complimented me on the neatness of the house. Bit of a novelty as a some of the HO don't say thank you. Just silence.
The sixth sit was also very pleasant if completely different to previous ones. A house in the suburbs with two huge Ridgebacks (the HO organised professional walkers for the dogs - the two of them too much for me to handle alone) and two weird little pussies who all loved each other, plus two ratties in a large cage that needed regular hosing out. Rats wee a lot. Often on their food. But they are sweet gentle little things. The Childrens Python had escaped shortly before I moved but I would have been happy to look after it too.
The owner was happy for me to move in a couple of days before she left (it does help with getting to know the routine of the animals) and staying a day after she got back, to fit in with my other sits. We got along well and would sit on the lounge with the pet ratties sipping wine and discussing our life experiences. This lady had been through the mill with health and life issues but was positive and keen for exciting new opportunities. I liked her very much and wish her all the best for a happy future.
The seventh sit was for a fella I knew vaguely and his wife whom I hadn't met before. They had a very isolated large acreage property in the bush, an hours drive from work, right on top of a hill with tremendous views, but which would be hit full force by the storms coming through. Power outages were common. When the power went out the toilets wouldn't flush and the electric goat fence would go down. I was very concerned that the goats would find their way into the off-limits parts of the garden when this happened and I would have to somehow encourage their scruffy butts out.
One hyperactive dog, some goats and a big shed full of truly free ranging chickens. Those chickens had the life! Food laid on in the form of pellets and out into various paddocks with their roosters during the day. Lots of eggs laid but! they weren't for my consumption. The owners ate what they wanted and the rest were sold to a neighbour. None were offered to me. I asked for one to cook with dinner one night and I was reluctantly offered a pooey shelled one sitting to one side. Perhaps they wanted me to offer payment for the good ones?
The lady was fixated on cleaning (her favourite hobby she told me). Music was always blaring, obliterating the sounds of nature around us. I was given long, written instructions about how to keep her house clean while they were gone. This despite the fact I was staying in my own self contained area and only using the kitchen in the main house. She hinted that she would like all the windows cleaned while she was away. I suggested they would still be there on her return when she would have the pleasure of cleaning them herself and she eventually gave up hinting.
I was at this house all up for four months, having arrived well before their departure at the husbands invitation. I'm still not sure why he wanted me there so early. Perhaps he thought I would work like the Wwoofers they had stay but I made it clear that wasn't my role. A demanding FT job with eleven hour days including travel left me ready for some relaxation at the weekend, not cleaning up his rocky hilly garden.
After the husband hinted about the cost of their power bills with me there, I felt obliged to offer a small amount of board each week up to the date we had set for their departure. Annoying, as I could have booked myself a sit and paid no rent if I had known this was going to be the arrangement.
This lady was truly compulsive about cleaning. I turned around one night to find her down on her knees scrubbing the floor where I had been standing cooking a moment before. Another time I dropped a bit of mushroom skin and she had raced around the counter and picked it up before I could even move. This lady didn't cook often, the husband did the cooking and she cleaned...everything....constantly. She covered things in cupboards with paper before she left. Partly to keep it clean, partly to stop me using her things. She made a point of telling me this.
Before they headed out the first time (yes, they kept coming home for various reasons) the husband made a point of telling me that if the dog was damaged (car, snake) while they were gone I should have him put down as they were poor old pensioners and couldn't afford the vet bill. Cripes. I had the chance to mention this to the wife before they left and she said she would refund me if the dog got sick and needed vet attention. The dog did need veterinary attention for a relatively minor problem which caused him quite a bit of pain. I couldn't reach the HO to get the ok to take him to the vet so just took him in the end - I wasn't going to watch a dog suffer. This resulted in a $200 bill, which I thought was reasonable for the consultations and operation the vet performed under anesthetic. I was refunded.
This couple also had some intense marital problems which they would both tell me about privately. Enough. Glad to leave.
The eighth sit was in an outer city suburb in a small rental but it was a delightful change from the previous taxing sit. Two beautiful affectionate little Italian Greyhounds and two crazy indoor puddies. Ten minutes drive to work. The young HO left me a box of chocolates and invited me to "use her condiments". So sweet.
Some pot plants to water and the dogs to exercise around the yard and with a walk at weekends. They would sleep with me at night, their hot little bodies getting closer and closer until I was almost out of the bed myself, but I loved being there with them. Downside: had to keep the windows closed so the cats couldn't get out and one standard fan to keep the place cool. Glad I wasn't still there when summer really hit.
It's a full year on from my first sit and now on the ninth sit in a lovely home in the western suburbs with one puddy cat to care for. The HO put up Christmas lights and a tree for me and left a present under the tree. Such genuinely nice people. They invited me to help myself to whatever is in their fridge or pantry which was thoughtful and generous and left me a chilled bottle of bubbly in the fridge.
Lovely smaller pool which I scooped out twice a day and the pool man took care of the rest with a weekly visit. I actually used the pool which is unusual for me but it was very tempting after a hot morning walk up and down the local hills. I was there until a week into the New Year which was great. The neighbour came over and mowed the small front yard and another friend of the family rocked up one day to do the same. What a great neighbourhood. Just about perfect. They also didn't mind me having visitors so my grandson and son came to stay for a few days.
During this sit I gave up FT work after saving as much as possible all year with no mortgage or utilities to pay for. I planned on having at least three months or more off before hunting for work but this has stretched into a year plus at this point. I'm heading back to where I grew up with the intention of making myself useful to my elderly parents.
I still keep in contact with these very kind and thoughtful people.
The tenth sit turned out to be a real test of patience. The house was pretty filthy - so do I clean it or live with it? I cleaned some of it - like the kitchen cupboard doors and kitchen walls and all the tiled floors. The area near the bin was a challenge.
The air con broke the day before I moved in at the height of Brisbane summer heat so I ended up hanging out in a bedroom with a pedestal fan, bathed in sweat. The HO left me a note on the kitchen bench on the day they left and I moved in to advise me of the air con issue - I expect they thought if they told me sooner I might bail.
Screens were broken which meant the hordes of flies could come in and join me. Flies equal maggots. Including in the microwave where I found a container of maggoty scraps about a week after the owners left, which explained the mystery smell.
Two big dogs were locked up in a pen while the 13 chooks and one turkey, all named, had the run of the yard during the day then it was reversed.
One of the chooks was evasive about going in to the chook run with the others until I twigged where her hiding spot was in the garden. Difficult to count 13 moving chickens! One of the dogs would find her and all hell would break loose.
The dog could have killed the chook with one bite but it only seemed to want to play, which was lucky for the chook. But the front yard was covered in chook feathers. The chook escaped through the fence (not easy with a dog hanging on to your tail feathers) and was missing for a day or so - a neighbour found her, clipped her wings, and threw her back in with the dogs! (he said he called out to me but I didn't hear - probably because I was hiding from the heat in the back room with the industrial fan blasting away). The chook hid in a heavy patch of ferns but the dog found her, I heard the commotion and came and saved her.
My horror is losing a pet. Not only did I not lose this chook but found another extra chook in an old run in the yard. The owner was thrilled to have a 14th chook and she was welcomed despite her scatty appearance. Chooks can be nasty to new comers though and it took a couple of days of subjugation and chook rape by the rooster before she was accepted. She seemed happy.
The dogs took a liking to one of my clothing bags stored in the carport and I came out one morning to find undies and clothes strewn all over the front lawn in their efforts to get at a (washed) ham bag that was in there.
The power went out one afternoon and I faced the prospect of no stove and no fan. The lights worked. Eventually, thanks to one of the neighbours who came over after dark, we found out it was the grey water pump malfunctioning. The owners agreed to have it serviced (important to maintain contact with your HO). A kids tennis ball had found it's way into the tank and blocked the outlet.
The sweet little house-only cat refused to use her litter box. She would poop on the floor beside the box but peed in some mystery place. Turned out to be mostly the front door mat which I had took outside and rinsed often. The owner noticed the smell on her return.
Two TV's but no controls for the one that was usable ie not linked to the kids electronics. Just as well I don't watch much TV.
I accidentally overfed the very lean dogs at this house, but they ate it all. Their biscuits were kept in a hot tin shed out in the full heat of the summer sun. I can't imagine the biscuits were very nutritious after that and mentioned it to the home owners. I also gave extra food to the poor scrawny chooks who started laying well soon after.
This sit was followed by a short holiday with a friend, to use up the week cancelled by the young Mum HO when she got her school dates mixed up. I met a really nice Air B&B owner through this booking and ended up using her services again.
The eleventh sit was in suburbia. One of those green but cramped estates with lots of amenities nearby if you could find them in the rabbit warren streets and a giant shopping centre where you had to pay for parking.
Two sweet but rather aloof pussy's, much loved by their owners, with special diets and ear creams to be applied nightly...if you can pin the puddies down.
Using the oven was discouraged by look and tone of voice ("just cleaned, new seals") but the HO did leave the instruction book, so I guess I could use it at my own peril. I chose not to. Not after the previous experience with the cleaning obsessed owner.
Comfortable room and bed with air con that works! hallelujah! TV controls actually there...well, for one of the TV's anyway. No sign of the controls for the one in the dining room. Eat dinner fast and get back into the lounge room!
Cash left for emergencies. Not needed but appreciated.
Strange rituals with the bins where the rubbish is left outside at night supposedly to deter pests but I found it just attracted them to that spot.
A washing machine that is filled by a hose attached to the town water tap, at low pressure and therefore slow as a wet wig. The machine was plumbed into the rain water tank by council edict. What a waste of good rain water, council.
A nice veggie garden and oodles of tiny to largish pot plants that the owner wants shallow watered twice a day.
This was followed by a short stint in an Air BnB in another nearby high density suburb. Enough to put me off ever living in an area like that myself. Crushes the soul.
Twelfth sit. Back to the country town to sit for the HO while they take a couple of trips. Being in the country with wide streets and an actual view of greenery out of the front door was bliss. Lovely dog, four delightful funny pussy cats and some pretty, well fed chickens (who's eggs I was allowed to eat!). Lovely neighbours.
Once again though this HO underestimates pet food needs and I buy the extra needed. Not done intentionally and I mentioned it before they left the second time. I came home with more pet food to find they had bought more before they left.
There are four days before the next sit starts so I have booked the Air BnB unit at the beach again. Planned on sorting out my belongings but it poured rain the whole time I was there so I walked when it wasn't raining and lay around reading when it was. My old workmates are quite envious but it does get a bit boring on occasion. I need to put down roots and develop a sense of community again. I need activities that give me a sense of purpose.
I have definitely had enough of house sitting at this point, essentially living as an add-on to other peoples lives. I look forward to having my own place again.
It has been good for me putting this distance between my own home and where I will eventually end up. I hated the idea of a unit at first but now it holds appeal. I have been keeping an eye on the rental situation and created an online shopping list for furniture at IKEA (I ended up buying quality second-hand). That was a bit of fun. I have bought a few inexpensive but beautiful original artworks as focal points for my future abode. People keep contacting me asking if I can help out with their sit. It's nice to be wanted but I can't help so I direct them to the websites.
I have started doing some volunteer work one day a week at a central spot I can get to from any of my sits. I miss work...but not enough to want to go back. I enjoy the freedom to do as I please with my days. I have to keep telling myself it is alright to relax after years of deadlines and long exhausting work days. I read a lot, go to art shows and the cinema, lunch with friends. Not bad really.
Thirteenth sit. Nice. Not fancy, just a comfy home. No flies! Sea breezes. Low set, so it's easy to get my belongings into and out of. A great big covered patio where I was finally able to offload everything from my car and re-sort/re-bag it. Two, easy to care for, cats. TV control - check! A comfy bedroom with cupboard space and a bed with an actual comfy mattress - latex topped I think.
Shops just up the road, library a tad further, lovely walks by the sea within minutes. No strange rules about the oven. Emergency money left. What more could a HS want! I was very content here. The only downside (go on, there has to be one) is that the house is near the Police Station and Fire Station and there are sirens on an off during the day and night. I swear the local coppers are just looking for an excuse to put those sirens on nice and loud. There can't be that many emergencies in a little place like this, surely.
The fourteenth sit was in a lovely mostly peaceful semi rural location with lots of wildlife and two sweet dogs - a needy Lab and a small affectionate bitsa plus a couple of chooks. Mosquitoes abounded but weren't a huge problem. I spent the night with the HO before they left. Lovely well traveled people with plenty of good stories.
Walking the dogs proved challenging as the Lab pulled hard when she smelled something intriguing and the little one would walk under my feet at the same time - I came close to face planting on the bitumen a couple of times. I suspect their Mum and Dad must walk one dog each when they go out. I could do a lot more cardio with them with the throw toy in the back yard and was complimented on the dogs fitness on the HO return.
We were joined part way through the sit by another old Lab X belonging to the HO son. Another lovely animal but not so well trained and he thought he was Alpha Male around the two females. He wanted the throw toy all to himself. The female Lab and I became adept with hand signals at avoiding him during game time and he tired quickly anyway. Smart dogs Labs but goofy as all get out. My forearm ended up a mess of bandaids and healing scabs from the sharp claws and teeth coming into well-meaning contact with my aging skin.
Country towns nearby to explore and a good shopping centre 10 minutes up the road. The bed was thankfully comfy and I didn't need to put on my Mattress Topper. Emergency money left to buy the dogs chicken wings. All good.
White tiles throughout the house and on the back patio. I'll have to spend some time cleaning them spotless before I go. Another b. Dyson vac. Don't buy a Dyson, just saying.
The fifteenth sit. Save the best for last. Nine months looking after a comfortable, easy to clean home on the canal with one beautiful well behaved and loving moggie to look after.
Lovely couple....polite and easy going. We got along well I think. I may not have had quite the same high standard of house keeping as the lady of the house but she accepted me for what I could do (one 63 yr old can't do quite as good a job as two 53 yr olds after all when it comes to looking after a garden, big house, pool and cat).
We still keep in contact and I do weekend sits for these lovely people.
I now have my own place. I have pulled my remaining belongings out of storage and unpacked them. Bliss. It's a rental so I am yet to find my "forever" home but that will come. I am enjoying each day as it comes and helping out my parents as needed.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS FOR THE SITTER
I have found there are just some things that are necessary to carry around with me (not including the obvious like clothing and toiletries):
- Police Check and written character references or Reviews of your sits (electronic is fine)
- computer - I have a laptop, with Netflix or similar on it (check your HO's have WiFi for your use)
- tidy liners
- a mug and teabags
- favourite sauces and seasonings
- a pantry with my favourite grocery items
- basic kitchen tools (spatula, wooden spoon, tongs)
- oven mitts
- towels - bathroom, kitchen
- clothing drying rack
- loo rolls
- a Coleman for moving frozen and refrigerated foods
Remember, when moving day comes around you just have to pack up and go...no matter what the weather! Some HO want the house back, nice and clean, at 8am in the morning.
I have virtually been camping out in their homes while they were gone and there needs to be no sign of that on their return. My aim is to have it look like I was never there with everything back in it's place. I suggest you tidy up any messes as you go and then give the floors, bathroom and kitchen a good wipe over just before leaving.
When you own your own home your belongings are put away neatly in the cupboards. When you house sit your belongings sit around in containers. The worst sits are when the owners come back during your sit and see you camping out in their home (no matter how neatly done). It's a shock to them.
Everyone thinks the way they live is the way everyone lives. More or less it is, but there are lots of variations - cleanliness around the house is a big one. I have lived in houses where the owners are truly and utterly OCD about cleaning and others where the filth was thick on the floors and surfaces, and both lots of HO thought their way was completely normal, which it is to them. At least with the dirty houses you can leave it looking better than when you moved in....the OCD owners are never, ever, ever satisfied. Ever. Avoid these types unless you have the same personality trait.
Pets may not be trained. Dogs can misbehave and not understand basic commands (I turned down a sit in a fancy house in a fancy suburb as they allowed their small dogs to jump all over my legs). Cats can poop where they're not supposed to, or vomit. Dog poo has to be picked up in small yards. Cat litter needs attention.
My worst fear is a pet getting lost or hurt. Most owners are happy for you to take an injured animal to the vet (not chickens though, sadly). Providing care and love for the animals is my main priority. They miss their owners and I try to calm, engage and love them while the owners are away. I am sometimes good naturedly accused of spoiling the animals but better that than they feel unloved.
Animal food - owners ideas of what is suitable tucker for their animal/s varies a lot. A large dog wasn't allowed any chicken wings or necks - common tucker for most dogs big and small to keep their teeth clean and as a meaty treat - as the owner was convinced that all chicken bones were potential choke hazards. Another dog was allowed to have any scraps whatsoever. Literally anything. Chickens are sometimes underfed and scrawny - with large flocks allowed to "free range" in yards with mown grass and very few edible insects. Some puddies have delicate tummies and need special diets, or medication.
I like wine with my dinner. I consider it civilised and a nod to my French ancestry (stretching it?) and it's my only luxury. I am also a bargain hunter so buy good wine on special by the case...much cheaper and less time consuming than buying a bottle here and there for full price. Some home owners don't drink and don't approve of others drinking. One of the nicest couples I sat for also enjoyed their wine and I was pleased to see plenty of empty bottles in their recycling bin when I arrived.
HINTS FOR THE HOME OWNER:
- CHOOSING THE SITTER - Personal reference is great otherwise don't hesitate to use the professional house sitting sites (mentioned earlier) for a good response. It's free for the HO. Advertise earlier rather than later, especially for peak holiday periods like Easter and Christmas.
- MEET UP WITH THE SITTER BEFORE THE SIT IF POSSIBLE - So you can discuss all of the following and decide if you are each a fit for the sit. Skype if you can't meet in person. Say "no thanks" if it doesn't feel right.
- POLICE CHECK - Ask for one.
- REVIEWS/REFERENCES - Ask for these or at least a Character Reference from an employer or someone with good standing.
- CONTRACT - Some of the sitter sites provide a simple contract to be signed by both parties. I have never had the need to use one.
- CONTACT LIST - Provide a list of friends/family/neighbours/tradies - reliable ones who will actually be there to help when needed!! not be away on holidays themselves while the sitter is there or unaware that they are on the list.
- KEYS - provide all necessary house keys and make sure they/locks work. Show the HS where the spare keys are hidden in case they get locked out.
- CAR REGO, DESCRIPTION AND ITINERARY - If you are driving give full details to your HS just in case of emergency.
- VET - Contact info, address and payment options.
- EXPECTATIONS - Be clear what your expectations are. Is the cat/dog highest on your priority list or a clean house. Are the animals allowed in the house or on the furniture. Daily or bi-daily walks acceptable. What is the procedure if an animal needs medical attention. What treats are the animals allowed. What you expect with cleaning and yard, pool maintenance.
- THE YARD - Do you want any gardening/watering, mowing done. I don't personally mow but many sitters are prepared to do it including using ride ons, just not my thing.
- POOL - Do you want the leaves scooped. Is there a professional pool person who comes to do the chemical treatment.
- MAIL - Is there a letterbox key and where do they want the mail left - one man didn't want the pile visible from the front door.
- BINS - Which day do they go out.
- OFF LIMIT AREAS - Any areas of the house which must not be gone into. Some HO lock doors. I tend to shut doors to all rooms I won't personally be using. This saves on messing them up and needing to clean them.
- BREAKABLES/VALUABLES - I suggest you put them away before you go!
- VISITORS - Some owners feel very strongly about no extra visitors. Others invite me to have friends and family over and use the BBQ and pool. Set your ground rules.
- COMMUNICATION - Very important while you are away. How do you want communication to happen - mobile, texting, Email, FB Messenger, Skype. Do you want photos of your pet while you are away. Most people appreciate it.
- PET FOOD - First and foremost MAKE SURE THERE IS ENOUGH FOOD FOR THE TIME YOU ARE AWAY (or leave some cash to buy more). Is the food stored in a cool place correctly - don't leave the dog biscuits in a hot shed where they will go rancid. Show the HS where the food is kept, how much and when, what treats are allowed. Refund the sitter for any out of pocket expenses.
- INSIDE OR OUTSIDE ANIMALS - Are the pets allowed inside, outside, on the beds/furniture.
- HUMAN FOOD - Some people are only too willing to offer what is in their fridge or pantry. Some don't. I bring my own food but it is a nice friendly thing to have it offered. One lovely couple left a bottle of chilled bubbly in the fridge during summer and offered whatever they had in the pantry and fridge. I don't abuse these offers but that kind of thoughtfulness goes a long way to deciding if you will come back and help them out again or not.
- EMERGENCY MONEY It's a good idea to leave $50 or so with the sitter, just in case. Expect receipts for purchases.
- FRIDGE/FREEZER SPACE - The sitter will need room for their food.
- CLOSET SPACE - The sitter will need room to store their clothing
- LIVE IN THE HOUSE/LIVE IN THE CAMPER VAN - Are you happy for the sitter/s to live in your home or will you provide them with power, a loo and washing facilities and space for the camper. Usually done on remote properties.
- RETURN DATES & TIMES - If these change let the HS know asap. It can make a big difference with clean up and leaving.
I mentioned early in the piece that we all think the way we do things in our homes and garden is naturally the "right" way and the way most people would do things. In essence that is true but in reality there are major differences.
Floors seem to feature highly - I've lived in houses where the floors had to be vac'd and mopped almost daily but eyes were not lifted to see the spider webs on the ceilings and walls and hand towels were beyond dirty. Houses where floors didn't get cleaned at all until I came along! Houses where great expanses of tiles were clean but the kitchen was filthy and the house riddled with cockroaches.
I don't like being in the house when the HO are there. For a few reasons. Apart from the single lady that I would sit with and have a civilised wine in the evening while we played with her pet ratties while we chatted, it was always uncomfortable when the HO came home mid sit.
They would see me "camping out" in their home with my gear (neatly) stacked and it was obviously not the picture of their home that they had in their head. Acceptance often depended on whether the HO was used to having house guests or not.
If the owner came home I would step back and let them take the lead with pet care as I always did said pet care a little differently from how they might do it themselves - I might put a bowl in not quite the right spot, gave the pet too little/too much of something, allowed the pet to curl up inside the house for too long. If I could move out during the time they were home or find activities away from the house I would let them have the house and pets back to themselves.
Married couples are especially tricky to co-habit with. They often have a public and a private persona. The private persona often involves a bit of bickering, bossing, manipulation by one or both partners. It made me pleased all over again to be single and independent.
Now I've wondered in each house if there is the possibility of Nanny Cams in this era of electronic gadgetry.
I looked up on the net "how to find hidden surveillance" or some such but it involved walking around in the dark shining a torch at the walls looking for little lights reflecting back at me. Not exactly discreet if those same cameras were watching me. I gave up worrying about it early on. After all, apart from putting my feet up on the couch, I wasn't doing anything worth getting in a knot about. I do walk around the house in my birthday suit quite a bit when I live on my own. That will be their punishment if they had Nanny Cams! My middle aged nudity forever seered into their brains. Let's hope I don't turn up on You Tube!
Once I seriously looked into getting my own motion sensor camera when I suspected that the HO (the OCD cleaning one who kept returning) was sneaking into my room when I wasn't there. This woman had a real problem with the concept of privacy. But they were too expensive and had to be linked to my non existent Smart Phone. So like James Bond, I would check the room for indications of tampering when I came home. I felt like an idiot but that was the vibe of that household. Did I mention earlier that I was glad to leave there?
A few of the HO asked me if I would drive them to the airport. Apart from being a little surprised at the request, I would have helped out if I could if the trip was during the day, but I don't like driving at night especially on unfamiliar roads, so it never happened and my refusal was taken in good grace. People organised their own transport with a friend or taxi.
Insurance was always on the back of my mind but I never did broach the subject. I just trusted to luck which may not have been a good thing. It would be good to know the HO was covered for any accidents that may have happened.
Breakages. I only ever broke one cheap wine glass and a rather pretty sandwich plate. I tried very hard to replace the plate but couldn't find the exact one. I have a rule to always fess up and replace or pay for the item. The owner of the pretty plate was very nice about it and told me she planned to replace that dinner set anyway (there were a lot of other plates missing from the set as it was prone to breakages).
I could easily have traveled a lot lighter. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I keep acquiring things and people keep giving me things. One day it won't all fit. I have to be a bit ruthless and get rid of stuff regularly. I have a storage locker where I can take things that I don't need to cart around. Due to the cost per month for rent the belongings in it have now become quite valuable. Try to find somewhere free to store your unused belongings.
I find it easier to keep the houses tidy as I go along. Wiping over stove tops daily, cleaning up any spills immediately, wiping over sinks daily, giving tiles and mirrors the once over to remove any spatter, do a little dusting etc. Doesn't take long. When you are coming to the end of your visit at the house you must do a final clean up. On the morning I am leaving I throw the sheets and any towels into the wash and try to get them hung before I leave. Leave the bedroom looking nice with the covers smooth and make sure everything is back where it was when you moved in.
Floors and bathrooms are important to have clean. Which brings me to vacuum cleaners. Why in heavens name do people like Dysons so much? Can anyone explain that one to me. Is it the advertising or merchandising that convinces people that it is the "go to" for vacuum cleaners....like Hoovers used to be.
When I ask where the vac is kept the response is often a proud smile and a point to the cupboard with a, "We have a Dyson!". Nasty, heavy, clumsy non-ergonomic designs with bright purple plastic bits on them perhaps to impress the impressionable. The uprights are the worst. Any upright vac should be avoided for their sheer clumsiness and poor ability to get into tight places or under furniture without bringing out all the extra add on bits. Nurses love them! Go to K Mart or Target, or Godfreys, and buy yourself a nice normal vacuum cleaner that does the job and doesn't need a body builder to lug it around. Miele is hard to beat and don't cost the earth.
Security in houses can vary a lot. Some have alarm systems, some have open back doors that don't get locked. Many people these days have CrimSafe screens but a woman I worked with had hers broken into so not too sure how good these actually are. She said it was CrimSafe. Maybe it was a cheaper knock off for all I know. Some have the old triple-lock screen doors with plastic key guard that even I could pull apart. But, I never felt at risk. I tried to sleep with a dog in the room when possible.
I've often wondered what would happen if I got sick or had an accident, say a broken leg. Knock on wood that hasn't happened. Having a "go to" relative or friend would be a good idea.
Emergency stopovers for a night or three are a good thing to have up your sleeve. I thank my sister for putting me up for a night here and there. Air BnB can be cheap per night (as low as $30) if you are prepared to hunt down suitable offers. You normally have to share the house with the owner though unless you pay a bit more for something private which I have done.
House sitting isn't for everyone but does have it's appeal. No rent or amenity costs, you get to meet new people and explore new areas. And you can do it overseas as well, though how it goes looking after someones dog and chickens in France and travelling to explore fits in I don't know.
On the down side you have to move often, don't become part of the community you are living in, difficult to work unless your work is portable. It has suited me to do it for these two years and I'm glad I did.
I will be just as glad to settle somewhere permanently again and finally hang the art that I have been buying.
And yes, I have done that.