A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to sit in her house and watch her dog for a few days while she went away. In most cases, this would sound like a pain in the butt, but this was a request from a close friend — plus, her bathroom is like the personal care aisle at a drugstore. We’re talking three different types of bamboo-infused shampoo, six different types of keratin conditioners, every type of nourishing body scrub you can imagine and myriad other hair and body nectars.
In fact, it’s enough fancy gunk to make me feel like the princess my mother always wanted.
After taking her up on her offer, I now smell better than I ever have before, but one thing is still troubling me: Although she’s never mentioned anything, I’m sure she’s noticed that half her bottles are emptier than when she left.
So does this make me a bad house-sitter?
Am I not supposed to take advantage of the amenities — or at least as many of them as I want (which in my case, was all of them) — when I house-sit?
To find out, I spoke to Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. Here’s what she had to say on the matter, room by room.
“When you’re house-sitting for someone, whether it be a friend or a stranger, you’re going to use their accommodations — sheets, pillow cases, blankets and towels,” says Gottsman. “Just be sure to wash everything you use and leave things better than you found it. Make your bed, pick up the towels off the floor and treat it as if anyone could walk in at any time.”
But this is, y’know… the bedroom. Am I free to treat it as my own, or should I observe the same monastic lifestyle I would if I was staying at my grandmother’s house? “Regarding sex, you should ask yourself, would this person care if you brought someone in their home?” says Gottsman.
“Basically, they already have to know that you’re going to have someone stay with you. Having said that, they’re not going to dictate what you do, but you should be respectful and keep their property in the same pristine condition. They’re not going to ask you, did you have sex in my bed? But that’s because they shouldn’t be able to tell that you did if you’ve left things better than the way you found them.”
“When you’re doing someone a favor by house-sitting for them, you can enjoy some of their products, as long as they say to help yourself,” says Gottsman. “You can even say, ‘I love all of your products,’ and chances are they’ll suggest that you help yourself.”
Well, that’s a relief. But are there things I shouldn’t use? Basically, should I not root through their medicine cabinet? “The person who is lending you their home should be responsible for putting things away that he or she doesn’t want you to use,” Gottsman explains. “As their friend, you already know your boundaries. You’re saving your friend money by house-sitting for them, and so you can use their products. But if it’s a stranger you’re house sitting for, be respectful and transparent.”
The Living Room
“Most important thing is to clean up before you leave — vacuum the carpet, plump the pillows,” says Gottsman. “Don’t use their pay-per-view if it’s going to cost them money. You can, however, ask for the wifi password.”
Can I, though, take some sweet, Instagram-friendly snaps of myself lounging on their fancy couch like a 17th-century French aristocrat? “Don’t post pictures of their home on social media,” says Gottsman. “In the event of a burglary, you don’t want to be responsible for showcasing their valuable items.”
“You don’t want to clean them out, but if they left a casserole for you, help yourself,” says Gottsman. “You just want to be respectful, especially if they’re paying you. If they’re not, you should feel more comfortable to live in their home as they live, mainly because you’re probably doing a favor for a friend.”
And the booze cabinet? “If they tell you to help yourself, be moderate,” Gottsman advises. “You can have a bottle of wine, but don’t pick an expensive one. And make sure you replace that bottle of wine with the same bottle. It has to be exact, especially if it’s more expensive. Things like chips and other snacks are a different story — help yourself within reason.”
All of which tells me that I’ve been a pretty bad house-sitter all along.
Sorry, Liz. I promise I won’t use up all of your nectars next time.