Our next guest on 8 House Sitting Questions might just have more experience than all our last participants put together! This month we’re featuring well-seasoned house sitter, Martin Gray, who is also the creator of these clever (and topic appropriate) t-shirts.
Name: Martin Gray
Question #1. How/When did you become a house sitter?
June 2007 in NZ. I’d been renting a cute cottage in a remote coast area (yet still close to Auckland) for 5 years, where I’d been struggling to build a modest massage/detox therapy practice, and network marketing income. I always helped connect a lot of people, one of whom asked me to put the word out for a Sitter for 3 months. We never found anyone, but I knew I needed to change my own circumstances, and had nothing new to go to yet. My friend said “maybe the ‘sit’ is for you then”. And so I jumped-in, thus beginning an ongoing lifestyle that (after 5 years in NZ) now sees me almost 4 years without break ‘sitting’ in Central America/Mexico.
Question #2. What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you while house sitting?
Well, hahaha… I only ‘travel’ these days to get to my next house sit 🙂 So that narrows it down a bit. Funny? More like Ironic. I think having a returning owner hail me as some kind of guru-dog-whisperer, after I simply laid down the law to her over-dominant Schnauzer: After too many days of him constantly barking and not accepting me in the house, I put him on his back and held him down one time, standing over him until he stopped growling and snarling. For the rest of the sit he never gave me anything but compliance. The owner thought I was the best thing since sliced bread. I’d simply reacted to a pushy dog, and came out of it lucky to not have been severely bitten!
Question #3. What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you while house sitting?
Hard lesson learned: first time sitting in Latin America (Panama). I was told the daily groundsman was paid to work from 8 till 3pm everyday. He’d been in the owner’s employ a long time. But I didn’t ‘confirm’ the level of overseeing I was supposed to give (or not). In reality, he was very inconsistent in his attendance and after a honeymoon period he became very resistant to my holding him accountable, even aggressive and totally non-co-operative later on. All attempts to find out what I’d been doing wrong, how to pacify or rectify the situation with the owner by email found him go more and more AWOL on me and instead ask neighbours to intervene, report etc. He ceased having any direct contact with me and in the end I had to ask the worker to stop coming till the owner returned. It’s true there were some problems in the whole way the owner bailed out on helping me (the sitter) manage his property. But the lesson I learned from this and have taken forward into every subsequent Latin America house sit is to
- Get clear on the way and accountability and how to treat workers here and
- Establish clear contact systems with absent owners so that I am always acting on their updated advice and instructions, not left to ‘make the best’ of a bad job.
I’d totally approached things in the wrong way and had to eat some humble-pie!
Question #4. What is the single most important item (aside from laptop/phone/electronics) that you take with you to every house sit?
I have lived out of a small 8kg hold-all for the best part of the last 4 years, with a small daypack containing my laptop and a few personal documents etc. I can honestly I carry no other important item beyond technology, and have learned to live a very, very simplified/minimalist lifestyle! When I had access to specific mail-order nutrition products, I’d carry those with me, but even that possibility has gone. I guess if you pressed me on it, I’d say my quality hiking boots, which I bought 16 years ago and still carry for those occasional times I need enclosed footwear. Imagine that: 16 years and they’re still in great condition!
Question #5. How long do you plan on house sitting?
Well, I’ve been a full-time sitter for 9 years: I own no property, furniture nor car, and just a few possessions still in store with a friend in NZ. As I have not yet fully mastered the ‘location-independent income’ I am presently unable to buy a return ticket to NZ and even if I did, cannot imagine how I would fit back into a ‘system’ I no longer take part in, just to be able to pay an astronomical rent. So it’s an interesting one, as being over here (Central America) keeps me in contact with my Colombian girlfriend (in Colombia) and close to the community of Guatemala indigenous people who are probably my closest and valued group of friends at this time of my life. Added that I see big world economic/political changes coming fast, I don’t have a ‘plan’ or time-frame to end my house-sitting lifestyle, as long as it serves my bigger goals, serves the home owners who engage me and keeps me away from being sucked into any ensuing chaos and hardship.
Question #6. What’s been your favorite house sit so far, and why? (location, awesome pets)
I’ve had the fortune to do 3 repeat sits on a 28-acre semi-jungle property near Belmopan, Belize. Great dogs, stunning retreat-like location by a river with toucans, howler monkeys, and all manner of other native wildlife as daily visitors. Free eggs everyday and at certain times of year, more pitaya (dragon fruit) than I can possibly handle. The owners are simply super, generous people and I hope to continue being offered repeat sits there in the coming year or two.
Question #7. If you could improve one thing about house sitting in general, what would it be?
It’s a maverick lifestyle choice for sure, so one has to be relatively self-directed, confident and in service, yet able to see opportunities and solutions that don’t always fit into other travel/vocation scenarios. As such, I don’t believe in depending solely on House Sit Matching websites, and see many of them charging both owner and sitter, whilst the sitter-role is generally accepted as not being one to receive ‘pay’ for the real service being provided. Also on those sites and generally, because we are a ‘service’ there can exist a ‘client/employee’ dynamic where the owner (client) has more ‘rights’ than say the more transient sitter (employee). Especially when it comes to ability to publish feedback on those public sites, where it’s accepted the owner can give the sitter references, but few times we see an equal facility where sitters can give owners a reference, for similar reasons: (to appreciate and endorse good experiences and to highlight the occasional homes and owners what may not be able to offer desirable standards for sitters’ assignments).
Question #8. If you could offer one piece of advice to would-be house sitters, what would that be?
Oh, wow… that’s always such a personal thing, for we’re all walking our various paths and house sitting for so many different reasons: how would I know my advice would be appropriate for another person? 🙂
What I will say though is this: for myself, 9 years’ full-time, I could not live, see and experience all that I have without being flexible, humble and in service of the homes, pets and wishes of the home owners. I don’t need much in life, so I try to look more about contribution, either in the home or especially in the Latino countries I choose to concentrate on, the cultural contribution. And in saying that, once you always have a roof and food then what does house sitting allow you to do? Try to see the ‘vehicle’ that it is, to discover and serve a bigger path in life, whether in language or understanding cultural differences, and by stepping outside the box a bit more, making new connections with people in walks of life you may never otherwise have had the opportunity to meet.
Bonus question: What’s your favorite movie?
Ali starring Will Smith
I remember watching the documentary When We Were Kings and finally realized why Ali was considered to be so great. Not only was he a great boxer, but was great with words, and was a great human, too.
We can SOOO relate to the dog that needs to be “put in it’s place”. Pack mentality folks. Dogs understand and need hierarchy, and you (and your partner) are at the top of that hierarchy.
You can check out more on Martin below:
House sitting website: www.martinhousesitter.weebly.com
Online House sitter Tees: www.sunfrog.com/Nomadtees/housesitters
Personal Life Vision: http://favourforyou.weebly.com/
If you would like to share your awesome (or not so awesome) stories and take part in our 8 House Sitting Questions, please visit our contact page to reach us.
Now go sell all your stuff and house sit!