Help me be a better, cheerier, house sitter.
January 7, 2019 11:19 AM   Subscribe

House sitting for the next few months but feeling so unsettled it's putting a cloud on the whole situation.

Myself, husband, and young baby (under 1), are currently house sitting for a friend of a family member until the end of May. This has a lot of upsides as we will be able to pay down some debt, make strides in our savings account, and get a better idea of where we want to settle down once this is over (recent big move prior to the start of this). Our stuff is in a storage unit and will stay there until this is over.

This is real spoiled-child type problem and I know that. But I'm just feeling really unsettled and border line depressed. I didn't realize just how much I needed to be around our stuff... I thought it was just stuff and we would be fine without it for awhile. It's just when I'm in the house, I never feel like I'm home. We have a young baby and I always imagined I'd be making a home at this time in my life but i'm so far from that. All my nesting urges are screaming out at me but there's nothing I can do. I've found that I'm making much more impulsive buys which I then feel bad about afterwards - nothing huge just lots of small unnecessary things adding up. The house itself is fully furnished in an older-person, dated, formal style and so I just feel so blah in there.

There is also some anxiety because this is another person's house and I want to make sure we are taking good care of it, but I'm not the best caretaker. I feel like there is more we should be doing.

I'm thinking that I need to just re-set my mind and my expectations about my life right now and try to tackle this house sitting gig a whole different way. Mefites, can you give me a wake up call that I am just being a spoiled brat and need to get over it.

Have you been a house sitter before, or had a house sitter before, and if so, what has happened to make it a really great experience for both parties?
posted by kmr to Home & Garden (17 answers total)
I’ve learned that I don’t really love being in someone else’s space for a long period of time so here are things that have helped me: 1. I’m getting paid (or saving money) 2. Take a picture of how their stuff looks so you can fix it at the end but also feel free to move things around/take down particularly hideous pictures 3. Find somewhere else that is “your space” like a library, favorite coffee shop etc. 4. Out your own sheets/bedding on. This always makes a world of difference to me.
posted by raccoon409 at 11:33 AM on January 7 [10 favorites]

I do think you could do with an attitude adjustment but more that you’re beating yourself up way too much and expecting way too much from yourself. First of all it’s just a house. It will survive. “House sitting” implies it’s something like babysitting or pet sitting in that you have to lavish this thing with love and attention but really? It’s just a convenient turn of phrase and you don’t have to do anything like that. You have my permission to ease WAY up on that. Secondly another way you can think of this is that you are doing a job. It’s NEVER required to feel great about doing a job. How you feel about stuff belongs to you. In some jobs you might be required to act happy which I think gets mixed up for feeling happy but they’re not the same thing. Thirdly it’s extremely understandable to want to be in your own space with your own things while your baby is still so small and new. Instincts are really strong, it’s just how we’re built. I think even if you find ways to make the space feel more comfortable you will stay unhappy until you stop beating yourself up about being unhappy.
posted by bleep at 11:37 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]

I just think that our culture puts way too much emphasis on everything NEEDING to be a GREAT experience when sometimes things are just bearable. It makes you unhappy trying to make everything perfect.
posted by bleep at 11:39 AM on January 7 [23 favorites]

You're not being a spoiled brat but you have a lot of emotional impulses which need to be met. This might sound strange, but I'd recommend setting up a budget (I recommend either You Need a Budget or EveryDollar) and each day logging in and tracking your progress. It's a kind of nesting where you're taking care of things for the future and the baby. Organizing your transactions into categories and seeing how much debt you're paying off is emotionally soothing in a similar way to buying duvets and knick knacks, but much better for your long term future.

In terms of house-sitting, I recommend taking photos so you can set the house back up the way it was originally and then moving stuff around to make it feel more like it belongs to you. Put up pictures of you and your family, have your own sheets/blankets, etc. Just make sure it's kept clean and taken care of I think you're doing your main house-sitting duties.
posted by valoius at 11:39 AM on January 7 [14 favorites]

If your stuff in storage is within reasonable distance, go get some things you miss / like and put them around the house. You could even put some of their stuff in storage instead (after taking pics like people have suggested). Make it feel more like yours.

Alternatively, role play in some over the top way and invent new characters that fit the house you live in.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 11:52 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]

I've had several house sitting gigs for shorter periods of time. You're right: it is difficult. Things that helped me: daily reminders that this is short term (a countdown calendar can be useful), embrace the fact that you have a huge opportunity to save money - a chance that may never happen again, use your own pillows/blankets. I also always tried to do something nice for the homeowner - a little surprise that made their return feel special.

Here's my most important one ... make a list of all of the things that are good about this time of your life. My husband and I decided to prolong our stay in an apartment in order to give us time to save for the house we really wanted.

Whenever I would hear my neighbor's heavy footsteps above us, the baby crying loudly across the hall at 11:30 p.m., or maintenance shut off the water for repairs again, spending a few minutes thinking about all of the good things was really centering. There's a beautiful tree outside our front window; having a small place means that instead of dispersing throughout the house, we all read together at night; we have access to a swimming pool, something we've loved. Just those little reminders were typically enough to get me back where I wanted to be. We recently bought a house and will be moving soon - last night as my husband and I were chatting about all of the upcoming changes, I found myself misty-eyed with nostalgia.

This time is short, remember that the obstacle is the path. Allow yourself to enjoy this experience ... it will be over before you know it.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 11:54 AM on January 7 [11 favorites]

You're there until May. That's five months. I would look at setting things up the way you want, and then just put everything back the way you found it before the homeowner returns. Obviously, you can't go around repainting and putting holes in walls, but I would make it feel like home while you're there. I've lived in places about that long because off short-term job situations and you can't live day-to-day for months - that simply doesn't work. Make it a home for the several months you're there.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:59 AM on January 7 [4 favorites]

Nthing having your own bedding.

Having my own bedding and towels and toiletries when I'm away from home for longer visits makes such a huge difference for me. During a month-long stay at an AirBNB, I put my own sheets and duvet on the bed and I slept so peacefully, mostly because I was no longer worried about messing up the host's stuff! I used my own shampoo, my own soap, my own towels. I draped one of my own blankets over the scratchy couch and it made it so cozy. The scents and familiarity of the items made it feel more like home. Even during shorter stays like weekends at my family's cabin, I bring my own pillows and blankets, my own fluffy bathrobe and slippers to shuffle around in.

A friend staying in corporate housing for five months even put some ugly artwork and curtains in the closet until he left! He was very careful to return everything to its place at the end.
posted by mochapickle at 12:18 PM on January 7 [5 favorites]

Yes, invest the time in making one room of the place all yours! Move out their furniture that you don't like, bring in stuff of yours that you're missing. If even the walls annoy you, hang up sheets or shower curtains in your preferred colors to cover them.

Once that's done, find other things that scratch the "nesting" itch. Planning how you want to set up your next home? Sewing things for it or the baby? Making a five-year financial plan? Meal planning? Creating artwork? Making valentines? Baking? Deep cleaning one of the rooms you feel less comfortable in?
posted by metasarah at 12:21 PM on January 7

Not only bedding but as many soft furnishings of your own as you can. Cover sofas in your favourite blankets and cushions (or buy some cheap fleece ones that are at least to your taste). Your rugs on the floor. Even if it clashes a bit, having your own stuff helps so much, especially if it’s comforting, cosy stuff. I moved repeatedly for a while and I always had a favourite sarong that I’d hang on the wall (took 4 pins, which was easily covered up again, and covered a whole wall) and a favourite blanket over the bed. Made a lot of difference.
posted by penguin pie at 12:35 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]

There is also some anxiety because this is another person's house and I want to make sure we are taking good care of it, but I'm not the best caretaker. I feel like there is more we should be doing.

Do you have a contract with the owner that spells out what you're responsible for? If it's not on that contract, you don't have to do it.

If you don't have a contract, then I would assume your responsibilities can boil down to:
* keep pets and plants alive
* maintain outdoor space in a reasonably presentable appearance
* not break anything that wouldn't be broken through reasonable use
*contact the owner if, say, the washing machine explodes

I'd follow some of the suggestions above to use your own goods if you feel that will make you more comfortable, but all the house owner really wants is to come back to a house that in approximately the same shape he/she left it. I think you may be able to relieve some of your anxiety on that front.
posted by Liesl at 12:38 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]

I don't think you're being spoiled! You are probably subconsciously feeling tense about messing up the house somehow and are mentally exhausted trying to keep everything pristine and in its place, which is stressful especially with a baby.

I would try to do some temporary and highly visible remodeling (but keep a list to track what you're doing and how to reverse it). Take down, turn around, or cover up any photos of the homeowners & their family, and put up photos of your own. Put your own magnets and pictures of the baby on the refrigerator. Hang up a 2019 wall calendar. Buy fresh flowers and bring in some potted plants that you can take with you to your next home. Use a colorful tablecloth to cover up the stodgy dining room table. Consider buying slipcovers for the furniture if you're walking around on eggshells trying not to stain anything. Get your own welcome mat for the front door. Buy some cheap votives and light candles (or get battery candles if concerned about fire). Buy hand soap in a scent you like. Put away any scented items the homeowners have, like candles or reed diffusers or potpourri or guest soaps in the bathroom. If you're using their detergent or cleaning products, consider buying your own, so the house smells more familiar. I think if you can make the house smell more like home, that could help trick your brain into feeling more comfortable.
posted by castlebravo at 12:42 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]

Nthing "take a bunch of pictures and then start moving stuff around." In a similar situation, I moved some furniture around, added throw blankets, and swapped out art (replacements were mostly magazine tear-outs, postcards and similar in Goodwill frames I spray-painted). Scented candles did help! So did using my own towels and sheets.

I also swapped some things IN, like rearranging a shelf to display a picture that belonged to the homeowners that had been hidden somewhere or using one of their novelty mugs as a pencil cup. It can be sort of fun to "shop" in someone else's house. Obviously use your good judgment about things that are likely to be family heirlooms or too expensive for you to replace if the baby knocks them over.

The "older-person, dated, formal style" at my place relied a lot on ruffly or frilly linens that weren't to my taste. Putting away some tablecloths and area rugs and swapping out the bedding went a LONG way. I also (carefully) put away a lot of little knick-knacks and such so that my eyes had somewhere to rest.

I made a daily and weekly chore chart for the housekeeping (which was of a greater volume and thoroughness than I would have done on my own). Very helpful for things like the watering schedule for temperamental plants and which week to put out the recycling. It also helps you to look back and be able to justify your living in the place for free, which can cause some anxiety.

The two things I wish I had done in a similar situation, be smarter than me:
1) Saved more money
2) Enjoyed the amenities I couldn't afford on my own (eg, swimming pool, furnished patio).
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:17 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]

Oooof! Don’t be hard on yourself! I lived in a temporary maisonette with a 4 month old and 16 month old and it made it super hard to be stressing about not being clean enough or damaging something. It gave me a lot of anxiety. But at least you’re not paying for that pleasure!

I think when you’ve not got your stuff and you have lots of stuff you’re doing (starting solids, changing diapers, awake at night) then it’s very typical to want to be in comfortable surroundings. But the sacrifice seems worth it!
posted by catspajammies at 2:06 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]

I was all set to get mad at you, but then you betrayed my trust and made me sympathetic and nearly weepy. Your feelings are absolutely understandable, especially given the new baby. Don't worry about the house: your job is to keep it from burning down. If you succeed in that, they should be grateful to you. I think actually you're going about this the right way with the small impulse purchases of the unnecessary things. If they're adding up, make them even more small. Maybe try garage sale shopping? You can buy a little small tiny bit of nonsense every weekend through May and put things everywhere. Keep a list of them so you don't leave any behind, and then when you get out of there and into your own space, make a big symbolic trip to Goodwill with all the ridiculous stuff you got to make the house yours for that time. Actually, maybe don't take them all to Goodwill. Maybe leave one or two of the more whimsical items behind in a secret spot to be found years later and pondered over by the homeowners. I once inherited a collection of elephant figurines of many types, mostly hideous. I got rid of them by giving them away to students, but there were still some left over after the semester, so I hid them in people's houses when I went to parties. Reverse burglary. May will be here so fast! And I bet you'll remember this weird interim time happily and tell your growing child about it.
posted by Don Pepino at 3:52 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]

I was in a short-term house-sitting situation recently and yeah, it was hard. And I wasn't even dealing with a new baby and nesting urges!

Personally I wouldn't want to change too much because the work of changing it back later would stress me, but I think you should pick one part of the house and go ahead and nest in it. Bring in what you need to make it feel good and homey - maybe the bedroom.

As far as impulse purchases - would it help to keep an Amazon wish list for the things you can buy for your home when the house-sitting gig is over?
posted by bunderful at 4:16 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]

I’ve done the longer-term housesitting thing. It was one of the few times I’ve actually felt homesick.

I’ll echo the suggestions to incorporate elements that are “yours,” especially things you can pack out easily. Get a cheap new throw blanket in a comforting texture/hue, or find some orphaned afghan at a thrift store and wash it in your usual detergent so it smells like it’s yours.

Smells are key in general, as others have mentioned. Have your usual soaps and shampoo and things, or test out something new if nostalgia will bum you out.

Another thing that helped me was comfort food, just a little beyond my usual allowances, and maybe (again) with twists to make the old favourites a little different.

Music is another thing you can calibrate to find that balance between wistfully-familiar and new-but-to-your-liking. Really, every facet of your environment will have some room to be calibrated that way. It won’t channel all of that nesting instinct, but it can provide for a little release valve.

Be gentle with yourself.
posted by armeowda at 9:15 PM on January 7

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