Mollie Hawkins
Updated Jan 29, 2015 @ 8:46 pm

I live my life in a succession of school breaks. Since I work in a small, K-12 private school in Northern California, I am jobless (see also: broke) during Christmas breaks, Spring breaks, and Summer breaks. My contracts and paychecks are doled out in 10 month spurts. And because I like to do things like buy coffee and pay rent, this can cause problems.

So last year when I heard that a few people around campus made extra money housesitting/petsitting, I threw my name out there—I enjoy other people’s houses and also sitting. I can also use a can opener and scoop out a litter box like a champion. I had nothing to lose!

I was not, however, prepared for the snowball effect that occurred as a result of saying “sure, I can watch your dog and your Netflix.” It turns out: once you successfully “watch” a house or a pet for one person and nothing dies or burns down, everyone wants you to watch their stuff, too. And people tend to go out of town a lot. Which is awesome—I made enough money last summer to drink my weight in coffee. But I also discovered over time that things can get weird and if you’re thinking of becoming a fellow Professional Watcher of Other People’s Things, I have a few pointers for you—I learned these things the hard way so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

Eat the food and mess up the Netflix queue.

At first I felt really weird when people told me to help myself “to any food in the fridge,” and I wouldn’t do it. I felt like it was some kind of Pavlovian experiment and someone was going to label me a fiend for attacking the snacks. But then I realized that all that food, especially the delicious produce (shoutout to all that California citrus!), was just going to spoil and have to be thrown away. You guys, there is nothing worse than having to throw away food. Especially if it’s cake.

And I have to take a minute to apologize to everyone whose Netflix “recommendation” queue I have royally screwed up with all of my Twin Peaks marathons. I can’t help it.

Always ask if the dog likes to eat household objects.

One of my favorite dogs I watch is a hundred-pound fur-ball of love—a black lab named Cherry. Cherry loves cuddling on the couch, swimming in the pool, and eating razor-blades.

Let me explain. Cherry got upset when I went to work. Cherry decided that the solution was to dig through the cabinets and eat my brand new Venus razor-blade (don’t worry—she only ate the plastic bits—she is alive and well, and I had to buy an expensive new razor). After speaking with her owner, I was relieved(!?) to find that it was normal for her to retaliate by eating household products, such as razor handles, soap, and various plastic items.

So always assume, dear reader, that if a dog/cat can reach something it shouldn’t, maybe you should hide it.

And also assume there’s a nanny cam.

Hopefully, they’ll be honest with you about this one. One of my regular “clients” has a webcam that they use to monitor whether or not two of three cats is eating regularly. While this is a really good idea for high-maintenance cats, it makes me nervous every time I walk by it, because I tend to talk/sing to myself. So take a cue from me: keep the F-bombs and silly dances to yourself, because you might be on candid

I’m going to kill your plants, and I am so sorry.

One of my worst moments in housesitting history involves a month-long stint watching a house while the owners hiked around New Zealand. The house was great, I accomplished so many crafts in the wonderful sewing room, but there was just one thing: a few days before the owners were supposed to come home, I realized I’d been forgetting to water about half the plants in their house. There they were drooping in the foyer, crispy and brown and forgotten. The owners never said anything, but those plants still haunt me.

If you’re going to be watching someone’s stuff, please for the love of god don’t forget the plants. I can’t seem to ever win the plant game, and no one should allow me to buy them for myself, ever.

Don’t accidentally jail the cats.

This sounds simple, right? One thing I’ve learned lately is that cats, they love to hide and generally be places you’d rather them not. A few months ago I was carefully reading instructions (and I’ve been left tomes, you guys, for real—down to cat cuddling instructions) and this particular page talked about feeding three cats. Wait, three cats? I’d only seen two and it had been three days! Fortunately, the cat was fine; she was just stuck in a bedroom for a couple of days and we became fast friends afterwards (I think. She might be plotting my demise as I type this).

Check those bedroom doors, people!

A clean house is a happy house.

One thing I always do at the end of my housesitting, after I’ve eaten all the oranges and watched as many late-night HBO specials as possible, is clean up after myself. This one is pretty easy—isn’t coming home to a clean house better than coming home to one where the person you paid to watch your stuff left their garbage everywhere? I live in perpetual fear of leaving dirty underwear on a floor.

Bonus for doing laundry! While you’re washing all the towels you dirtied (btw, if I’ve housesat for you and you own fancy soaps/shampoos, I used those too. Sorry. L’Occitane is my weakness), you can do your own laundry as well. Think of all the quarters you’ll save!

So yes, I’ve learned a few things about housesitting, and I hope my misadventures have helped you in your quest to pursue this is a serious career. But now I’m wondering if all this, in fact, indicates that I am a terrible house/pet sitter. So many plant massacres and near-disasters under my belt. Perhaps it’s time to retire.

[Images via Shutterstock.]