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Last Word: She comes with baggage

Last Word: She comes with baggage

Housesitting is usually a fun escape. But as one veteran discovers, it’s the tiny, but crucial, details that get you.
By Angela Gzowski
Jul 01
From the July/August 2014 Issue

My friend’s coworker needed a housesitter for a week last spring, and I volunteered. I’ve been housesitting in Yellowknife on and off for years, and when you live with your parents, it’s a welcome break. 

I met up with the family. Some people just ask you to housesit, leave you a list, and take off. Others—like this family—are meticulous. They’ll give you specific instructions: “Don’t put this pan in the dishwasher. Don’t put that dish in the oven. Actually, don’t even clean the oven—we’ll do it ourselves.” They had a rabbit, which I’d take out of its cage every once in a while so it could run through a tube for exercise. And they had a nice kitchen. 

After I moved out and the family got back, they called to say they had something for me, and that I should stop by to pick it up. When people go abroad, they’ll often bring me back a gift, and usually it’s wine. If someone goes to Mexico, I get tequila. Once I got a Hawaiian toe ring. 

This time, it turned out they were going to offer me some money. The lady wasn’t home, but her husband was, and he gave me an envelope. But there was something else, a pink plastic bag. I opened it right there, and it was full of my Victoria’s Secret thongs. Four of them. Not even regular underwear, but the fancy, lacy, frilly stuff. 

I could feel my face getting red. I said, “Well this is embarrassing.” I then remembered that I’d washed my clothes and laid the panties on top to dry. They must’ve fallen behind the washer. The family had discovered them when the washer broke, and they’d called someone over to fix it—so now I don’t even know how many people saw those panties.

I got over it eventually. I had to; I’d booked my entire summer with housesitting gigs. For residents of Yellowknife, where water pipes can be finicky, housesitters are a cheap way of making sure your water’s still running when you get back. And for me, since I’m years away from owning a place, it’s like living out a fantasy. 

If a house has a giant deck or a dock and there’s a lake nearby, I’m all for it. I like it when there’s a barbecue I can use, and one place even had an indoor grill. I also like seeing different people’s homes, how their personalities are reflected. There’s what I call “the doll house,” where the owner’s bedroom walls were lined with shelves, floor to ceiling, fully stocked with Barbie dolls. It was sort of terrifying waking up to them. 

Housesitting can get stressful. I won’t housesit in a place with too many dogs, but I love cats: they’re easy and they cuddle with you—although sometimes they pee on your clothes. If their owners expect me to microwave the cat food, that’s a little extreme. 

And I will never housesit when there’s a Great Dane. Not after one of them ate my Michael Kors shoes. When I tried to walk it around the block—I’m pretty small—it tore off after another dog and bit it. The force of its pull left my hand all bloody, too. 

Still, for the most part, housesitting in the summer is a breeze. One time, while housesitting for a friend during the winter, I thought the kitchen sink had gotten clogged. I spent four hours trying to plunge it, and the water wouldn’t drain. I had a pile of dishes to do, so I ended up washing them in the bathtub, and the water still wouldn’t drain. After a while I realized, it’s -30C out; the pipes must’ve frozen. It turns out the owner hadn’t plugged in her heating tape before she went on vacation, so it wasn’t exactly my fault. 

When I get my own place one day and get a housesitter, I’m going to leave them a list. I’ll know that living in my place is as much a burden to the housesitter as it is a favour. 

And I will never complain about a past housesitter to a new housesitter. That’s a no-no. Even if that past housesitter forgot her panties behind the washer.