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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel Mellor

Talking About the "House" in House Sitting

Updated: May 10, 2023

You got the house sit, now how do you treat the house?


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The most important part of the house sit, beside the pets, is the house. No-brainer, I know. However, since it’s an important and central topic, I might as well write about it.

A row of houses in Venice with a gondola in front.
Old houses tend to fall apart more, but the owners are more understanding.

But first—

Someone asked me why I write about house sitting. “All you’ll do is tell more people how to house sit. Don't you lose out on possible jobs yourself.”

Well, yes. That’s definitely true.

But house sitting is a great experience, and everyone should have the chance, just once, to live in and experience a foreign country. Specifically, experience it as a local would.

These articles also have the benefit of giving the reader experience. I want both sides, homeowner and house sitter, to enjoy their time. Otherwise, house sitting can so easily turn into the Craigslist “Oh, don’t trust those people” activity. I want to do my part and make sure it doesn’t.

Plus, the more people who know about house sitting, the more people who will [ideally] offer up their house for sitting opportunities.

The "house" in "house sitting"

You’ll often hear, “Treat the house as if it’s your own.”

Don’t do that.

That is a trap. Treat the house like it’s your most treasured possession. But don’t feel like you need to go crazy repainting the hallway or anything.

Cleaning when the house sit is over

When Darcy and I house sit, we spend the last few days doing a deep clean.

We make a list of every room, every chore to do in the room, and we knock it out over the course of a few days. If we can, we try not to use the room once we’ve cleaned it. This works with extra bathrooms or, rarely, kitchens. But a deep clean is enough.

How deep?

You know how when we get home from a vacation, a trip, or just a really long day out of the house and as soon as you step into your house, you smell your "house smell?" Which is just a mixture of recently cooked food, laundry detergent, a litter box, shoes near the front door, and anything else that seems to ad up?

Oftentimes, this isn't necessarily a bad smell, it's just specific. It smells different inside a house than outside. Where we live when we're in the States, in Savannah, so many people never open their windows because it's either winter, or there are swarms of mosquitos, gnats, and other flying, biting insects mixing with waves of pine pollen. And so, many people don't ever open their windows, instead using A/C or heat, which can make their air seem generally stagnant.

Since Darcy and I started house sitting, and we're the ones staying at someone's house, we assume the home owner has forgotten how their house smells and instead choose to think it's us who left laundry in the washer, or didn't meticulously clean the litter box. Of course, we did. It's one of the many things we do because people can easily forget things like the state they left their house in.

This also goes for small, even minute, details. Smudges on windows, nicks in the paint (in super obvious places), floors dirty from shoes being walked across it, anything in this vein.

So Darcy and I try and go above and beyond, that way the home owners will know we left the house better than we found it. It can seem extreme, and it always feels that way to us, but we've had at least one house sit in which the owner thought we had nicked the wall, and that we had scraped the floor. (Luckily, because we also use AirBnB often, we were already in the habit of photographing any damage to the apartment in case something like that happened. It saved us with AirBnB and it saved us with house sitting.)

A man mopping a hallway.
Pictured: You, finishing a house sit,

I know you already know how to clean, so I’ll give you a list of what we do to help you compare.

  • Sweeping. It’s an obvious one, but a biggie. Sweep before you leave.

  • Mopping. Preferably after sweeping. I recommend mopping in every room, but bathroom and kitchen is minimum.

  • Dishes. They’re your dishes, it’s best to not leave them for the home owner.

  • Cleaning windows. Inside and out, if you can. It’s such a small detail, but if the homeowner comes comes and they find smudges or grit, they might think it’s from the house sitter. We often do this simply becasue we like open windows, and sometimes we have something on our hand when we open the window (like linseed oil from painting) and it gets on the glass.

  • Yard work. Only if you were asked to do it. Otherwise, don't bother. It's not worth it trying to figure out how to use someone else's lawnmower or weed-whacker, risking damaging you or the tool.

  • Wiping surfaces free of dust and animal hair. Again, classic, but important to show the home owners that you were keeping things clean.

  • Wiping door handles. As with the windows, have you ever walked from one room to the other while cooking? Especially with oil or food on your hands? I can’t tell you how many food/oil-inhabited doorknobs we’ve seen in both AirBnBs and house sits.

  • Dead-heading plants. This one just helps the plants look more alive. Leaves will naturally wither away, even if they’re healthy, so dead-heading them will keep them looking happy, and you looking like you watered them. You did water them, right?

It feels amazing to come home from a vacation to see your house immaculate and the pets happy, so that’s what we try to do for the homeowners. Stressful? Absolutely! But worth it. We’re invited back for the next time they need a house sit, and it’s a great way to make friends with the homeowner.

Tip: We find this to be especially important if you're young. It sounds silly, but when we started out at 21-22, people had a lot harder time trusting us. When they found their house in immaculate order, they were impressed and immediately trusted us for the future. Now that we're older (28), we find that people treat us more "seriously" and think, "Oh, you didn't have to do that, I know you must have had so much to do to get ready for your flight."

What if something breaks?

Keeping the house clean isn’t your only chore. It’s also your job to make sure that nothing breaks while you’re there. And I’ll tell you now, just to help your stress levels, something will break.

Let me repeat that.


I know I just said make sure nothing breaks, and that I followed it up with something will break, but that’s the deal. Try your hardest to treat everything carefully. Don’t twist things that are meant to be pulled and vice-versa. Don’t use steel utensils on their non-stick pan. Don’t put your feet up on any non-washable white furniture. If you do break something, don’t panic! It’ll be okay! Every homeowner we’ve met says, “Just let me know if you break anything, and don’t worry about it. We would have also broken it eventually.”

During one of our first house sits, I opened the fridge door to get into the freezer, which is in the fridge. But the doors opened opposite ways. The fridge door opened on the right, and the freezer on the left, so the fridge door needed to be fully open before the freezer could be opened. When I opened the fridge door, I heard a loud snap, and the thin piece of metal that was the spring broke in two.

Everything ended up okay. I told the homeowners what happened, and told them I could fix it. I ordered a spare part, took apart their counters (since it was an integrated fridge) and replaced the broken part with the new one. In the end, it was the most £40-ish pint of ice cream I’ve ever bought. They did pay me back, and thanked me profusely for fixing their fridge that they otherwise would have had to pay someone to do.

Fixing up the house

Tip: If you have any handyperson skills, bring them! If not, YouTube is your friend. While on a house sit, small things might stop functioning properly: a door knob might get stuck, a sink might stop draining well or the shower drain might back up, and a fridge door can break. If you know how to fix it, it will make your life (and the life of the home owner) a lot easier.

Let me put you in the mind of a home owner (if you aren’t one who does house sitting.)

You leave for a few weeks, someone is staying at the house. You got a killer tan, saw a great sidewalk performer, and now you’re headed home after one last cuba libre on the beach.

You’re home and you see a build-up of soap scum in the shower. That’s fine, that’s what happens when people shower. And, oof, a ding on the wall. They must have moved the chairs around. No worries, easily solvable with a coat of paint. A broken plate? No worries, it’s just IKEA. I just wish they told me.

And that’s what we try to do. We try to clean the soap scum, paint over the ding, and if we break anything, tell them. We always let them know I’d be happy to replace it, or send them money for it. To date, no one has taken us up on the offer, but I want home owners to know it’s there.

I know a few people (not house sitters, but AirBnB stay-ers) who don’t tell the home owners when something breaks, instead choosing to just fixing it themselves. They rationalize it as, “If it breaks again, they’ll blame me for not fixing it right the first time.” I feel like that’s a very iffy rationalization, and it’s better to upfront and honest, because that’s who I’d want staying at my [nonexistent] house.

Be careful when house sitting, and everything will be okay!


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