Category Archives: house sitting

Van Living Offline: If It’s Not On Instagram, Did It Really Happen? 

IMG_3808Usually I’m the odd hippy in the corporate world, working as a university lecturer on Skype, living in a van/house-sitting. Now that summers on, I enter into being the odd Digital Nomad in the world of offline-van-dwellers and travellers. Alternative lifestyle blogs are unusual because people are usually either doing it, or writing about it, not both. As I know from my yurt days, it’s hard to get online when you’re off-grid.

A quick visit to any festival van field shows me a different world. Whilst my colleagues are often shocked to discover that my Vansion neither has a water tap nor fridge, rock-n-roll bed, nor toilet, this setup comes as standard for van-dwellers who self-build. Why would you want to replicate a house in a van? Fridges need power. Water tanks are a hassle compared to bottles. Fold out beds are for holiday makers, and lastly, when you live a in 65sqft box don’t poo in it!

What’s inspiring to me about chatting to the folks who live almost totally offline, is learning about the wide range of lifestyles available. It’s so easy to think that you need to be online to make a living. What’s rule one of starting your own business? Answer: get it on social media of course! That’s what we’re used to thinking anyway. Even during my £0 Challenge of 2014, I survived largely by making sure I stayed online. Yet there are alternatives.

As musicians go, they all outstrip me; of course they do. Full time buskers are hot as hell on their instruments because they play for hours per day. They don’t have space in their packs/vans for tons of sheet music, but they don’t need it because they are constantly learning new tunes from each other. I only have to sit with a van-dwelling busker for 5mins and they’ll teach me a song so we can play together. With that and seasonal work, they get by more than fine.

As travellers go, I met some super-tramps who can sleep anywhere without a tent, hitch-hike anywhere and get there before you, build their own benders at the drop of a willow, and skip-dive like their in Mission Impossible. I thought I was experiencing a collision of worlds when I realised how much more extreme that collision must sometimes be for offline hitch-hikers:

Me: Thanks for the great meal Jake. Lovely to have loads of veg after a few days travel where it’s hard to get it.

Jane: Yeah me too.

Me: You too? I thought you just travelled from organic farming community to organic farming community.

Jane: Well, yes but… via service stations.

This reminds me of the folk I met who were hitch-hiking and ended up stranded at a motorway service station for so long they set up camp in the woodland just off the carpark.

 

Jane, incidentally, who can survive in the wilderness for months on end using only stone age tools she has made herself, is soon to be flown to Germany to “perform stone age living” at an immersion project, in the strangest mix of modern and ancient worlds I have ever heard of. She also told me a secret: “I’ve got a smartphone now.”

There is a myth that the offline world doesn’t really exist. If you can’t google it, or there isn’t a photo on Facebook to prove it, did it really happen? 

My income is online; I straddle two quite disparate worlds… and I like that (“I love my hybrid nature – no binary can contain me!” – Meredith Tea ). But it’s refreshing to see people making their way in the world through offline networks, or at least a real mix between the two. The online world isn’t as dominant and powerful as all that: whole worlds still function under its radar.
Over the past few years, I’ve given up so many things I thought I needed, and have felt freer each time. Being immersed in the offline world, even for a short time, inspires me to ask “What more I could free myself from?”… I’ll let you know when I have the answer.

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Filed under alternative lifestyle, house sitting, minimalism, musicians, self employed, travel

What I’ve Learned From a Year of House-Sitting: A Practical Guide

I’ve house-sat here and there since 2012, but 2016 is my first year of pretty much full-time house-sitting. The longest stint in a property has been 4 months and the shortest 2 weeks. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Note: This is a post about the practicals involved in living in someone’s home whilst they’re away, how to take care of a house and logistically deal with frequent moving. It doesn’t cover the host-sitter relationship or how to find a house-sit.

BTW – I’m travelling HEAVY for a house-sitter, since I have a van, but many of these tips will apply to one-bag travellers too. It also might help university goers, since what I’m doing also resembles the frequent house-moves students must undergo. Travelling heavy is a no brainer if you have a vehicle as you can move with your consumables instead of throwing out and re-buying them every time.

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My personal stuff, minus bike and bike kit, which is usually stays in the van as “breakdown cover”

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My music stuff (shed-loads I know, but with a van, I can)

Moving Tips: The Load-In

After months of moving from property to property and unpacking at each place, I finally realised it was much simpler never to unpack. Instead, I organise my stuff in bags in such a way that everything inside each bag is accessible. I don’t hang my clothes in a wardrobe but keep them in packing cubes. I even keep my cupboard-food in crates so when it comes to moving out I can just grab the crate as it is.

Not unpacking has several advantages:

  • Whatever house I’m in, I always know where everything I own IS, because it’s in the same bag as always, not in an alien drawer.
  • Hosts live in their houses, so they may not have empty cupboards for your things too (exception pictured below).
  • It makes the load-in and load-out incredibly easy.
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Everything stays in bags

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Portable food cupboard

House care: What Not To Touch!

The trickiness of what to touch and what not to touch has always foxed me when it comes to house-sitting. In a longer house-sit, it’s practical to move a few things, or easy to wash up dishes and put them back on the wrong shelves by mistake. In theory this is ok, and most hosts will be fine with you moving anything you like “as long as you put it back”. The problem is, 3 weeks / months later it’s quite hard to remember what you’ve moved and where it came from. Getting it wrong could irritate your host for weeks to come, not because they mind the relocation of objects on principle, but because they can’t find their cheese grater / dish cloths / particular book.

I’ve tried several strategies to combat this problem. I used to take over 50 photos of a property before load-in, but both the photographing and the “returning to factory settings” at the end of the house-sit just proved too time consuming; turned out I’d moved so many objects without knowing it.

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Tip: If a host says “read any books”, always half pull out the book below/left of the one you’ve taken so you can see at a glance where it came from.

I called a friend who’s house-sat for years and asked him how he dealt with this conundrum. Giving equal weight to each word he said slowly “I NEVER TOUCH ANYTHING!” The oracle had spoken. This became my next strategy. However this felt too restrictive. For example, in one cold house I wanted hot tea in bed before rising in the mornings, so a friend suggested moving the kettle into the bedroom. My immediate reaction was: “out of the question!” since “I never touch anything”, but reason persuaded me that the middle path was to give in. After all, I was unlikely to forget that the kettle came from the kitchen. Now I move a few things if needed, but write it down; you think you’ll remember, but you won’t!

Other tips on this matter:

If a host says “don’t use this”, seriously don’t. Integrity aside, it’s not as simple as “they’ll never know”; sod law dictates that if you do use it, it will break and then you’ll have to explain yourself. It could ruin your house-sitter-rep, which, as we all know, is worth more than gold.

On the subject of breakages, own up to every single one for the same reason. You can plan not to break anything, since you’re a careful person, but it’s not that simple. For example, in one house, two glasses were smashed by the chimney-sweep who, rotating his 10ft flue-brush into position, knocked them off the dish dryer! I’d never have seen that one coming. However, good precautions include avoiding the use of unique or hand-made crockery, and glass lamps. I also practice using fewer things within a house (e.g. one mug, one towel), since that’s fewer things to clean and remember where to put back. Having a van, I can also bring some kitchen stuff, and bedding. This really takes the stress out of it for me.

Keep all your stuff in one place/room. Don’t be tempted to hang your coat on the coat rack, or put your keys on the shelf by the door. It may seem ludicrous, but trust me, it’s better in the long run. Dotting your stuff around the house is the quickest way to get it mixed up with your host’s stuff and risk forgetting it on load-out. It also ruins your travel habits.  If you really need a dumping ground, pick a totally clear surface and use that.

House Care: How To Clean Up

Cleaning is one of the hardest things for me. I both dislike it, and have no natural aptitude for it. In fact, I rejoiced at the idea of Digital Nomad-ing as I expected that travelling would result in having to do less cleaning. How wrong I was; the properties I take care of are much larger than anywhere I’ve ever rented, and it’s necessary to keep them much cleaner. I spend a lot of time on cleanmyspace.com and boy has Melissa saved me time over all!

Here are a few things I’ve learned the hard way:

Keep it clean. At first I’d imagined I’d clear up all in one go at the end of the house-sit, and do as little as possible during.

This doesn’t work.

Although less overall time is spent cleaning, it’s hard to predict how long that final clean-up will take, causing stress or rushing. Also, what happens if a neighbour pops in the day before you move out of a 2 week house-sit, and sees 2 weeks’ washing-up piled high? Well, they are likely to tell your host that on their return.

Contrary to my instincts, it’s actually better to keep the place looking as much like a show home as possible (which means daily attention) throughout the house-sit. This results in immunity to “drop-in’s”, or host’s early return. It also shortens the final clean-up; at my last 2-weeker it took under an hour.

Finally, try and leave the place cleaner than you found it, by choosing something extra to attend to… in some cases this is impossible. In most cases I find I can at least tidy kitchen cupboards, and sort through the fridge. By the way, with careful planning and strategic eating it is possible to eat down the contents of the fridge and cupboards and move with almost no food. Do this if you can; it’s much easier.

Moving Tips: The Pack-Down and Load Out:

If you’re me there’s hardly any pack-down, since everything’s already packed. If you’re a one-bag traveller, even less. But what about the things you’re using right up until you leave? Do you pack then clean, or the other way around?

One idea, which works in a safe area, is to pack an overnight bag, and load-out everything else to the vehicle a day in advance.

However, I find that the minimum disruption is to clean the room nearest the front door first, move my bags to that room, then keep cleaning (as pictured at the top of this post – my move-out-formation of luggage). That means everything is accessible right-up until the clean-up is finished, but isn’t in the way. Need a snack? Finish early and fancy playing guitar? All is possible with this method. Finally, before the 10min load out, I like to prepare the van’s front seat with accessible snacks and a thermos of tea.

One of my favourite tricks, since I bring my own bedding, is to transplant the whole thing like this.

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Hope this unapolagetically long post has helped you in your house-sitting/travelling/nomadic lifestyle. Do please send me more tips, especially any on housework!

-Kimwei

Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

facebook.com/kimweidotcom

Music @:

kimwei.com

youtube.com/kimweidotcom

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Filed under alternative lifestyle, Digital Nomad, house sitting, lifestyle, self employed, Uncategorized