When my partner's mom asked me to water her plants when she went on vacation, the first thing I thought was, "Please God don't let me kill them and have her hate me for the rest of our relationship." Previous to this I spent a week walking and feeding her loveable, anxiety-filled dog – but I can honestly say I was more worried about her tomato plants than I had been about the dog. Not because I care more about gardening than animals, but because I've killed every plant I've ever owned. Still, I agreed to do it, just like everyone who wants their partner's mom to like them.
As I stood in her bright kitchen while looking at childhood photos on the fridge, I began to wonder what else I should be concerned about. The novelty of having the house to myself had begun to wear off, and suddenly it was replaced with the fear of burning the place down with the candle I brought over. After consulting some friends, I decided to make a mental guide of how to house sit like a non-asshole for anyone wondering how they could be invited back for free food and unlimited cable channels.
Don't snoop. Period.
While this didn't even occur to me, not snooping was the most frequently mentioned topic by my friends. Basically, nobody wants you to go through their shit – including their night stands, their underwear drawers or any other drawers for that matter.
It's completely understandable to admire a place because it's nicer than your own and it's a new environment. It's normal to be curious about what kinds of books or music they have in their collection and take a peek – but leave their personal journal or browser history untouched. Snooping is a vicious cycle that never ends well, and once they realize you've moved something of theirs, all trust will be lost.
Act at home – but not too at home.
While my partner's mom told me to eat whatever I wanted so the food didn't go bad (I happily obliged) I realized that she didn't mean clean her out of house and home. Home owners want to make you feel comfortable because you're taking care of their most prized possessions, but don't take advantage of their hospitality. Don't eat their chocolate from Valentines Day even though it's clearly been sitting there for months, don't sleep in their bed instead of the guest room because they have air conditioning, and don't use enough of their French beauty products for them to notice.
If you have people over, keep it to a minimum – like a friend coming to say hello, not a different Tinder date every day that week. Which reminds me of another tip from a friend: Don't try out the sex toys regardless of whether they're out in the open. And don't download any porn on their computer – use your goddamn phone.
Just get the job done.
While house-sitting can definitely feel like a staycation, remember it for what it is: A job. Whether the owners are financially reimbursing you for your time or paying you in food, make sure you do the job well. If they want you to water their tomato plants, look up how to do it properly and focus on keeping those tomato plants alive (THIS WAS NOT HELPFUL BY THE WAY). If they want you to take care of their dog, make sure you give that dog all of the attention it deserves. If they just want you to make sure the house doesn't burn down, do everything in your power to not.burn.the.house.down.
Like, don't even trust yourself to light a candle – you can burn down your own home on your own time.
Leave pranks for a later date.
Regardless of how well you know the person you're house sitting for, don't play jokes on them while you're watching their home. Even if you're good friends who have a history of this kind of thing, leave pranks for another time when their prized possessions aren't in your hands. Nobody wants to return home with their pictures changed, their furniture rearranged or their closet reorganized – unless you're one of those people who actually think their home will look better that way, in which case they deserve to know you're an asshole.
Fortunately I can confirm that I didn't kill those tomato plants. In fact, I feel like I gained some valuable work experience. Maybe I'll become a professional house sitter/dog sitter/plant sitter and use my partner's mom as a reference. In the meantime I'm happy to say that she now considers me trustworthy to watch her house in the distant future and that there will be more free food and unlimited cable channels to come.
So, if you have any other tips for how to not be an asshole while house sitting, I'd love to hear them.