For nearly six years, Laura Giddey has been a permanent house sitter in Auckland. Here, she explains why she does it and how it’s changed her life for the better.
It all began in December 2013. I had a friend whose husband was in the navy and was going away for months on a boat. She asked me if I would be interested in moving in with her to keep her company – she didn’t need me to pay rent and we would just split expenses. It was an absolute privilege and, as you might expect, a really great time. When it was all coming to an end, I couldn’t face the idea of heading back out there and having to pay Auckland rent again.
It wasn’t just that I didn’t want to pay rent again – it was also that the rest of my life was changing in a big way. I was leaving my full-time job after three years, my job that I had studied five years for. I was reassessing what I wanted my life to be about. I knew that I was going to need to make my money last – not an easy task in Auckland.
Luckily, some friends of mine around that time asked if I would be able to look after their dog Bonnie when they went overseas for a month over Christmas and New Years. I jumped at the chance but had all my stuff with me, so I essentially moved in. I even brought two bookshelves with me. I realised pretty quickly that I was going to need to downsize my belongings if house-sitting was going to be a long-term thing.
So I culled. Everything. I’m lucky enough to have parents that live in Auckland, so I left my bookshelves with them and gave away most of my stuff from flatting days to my friends. I’ve never been particularly sentimental about my possessions – everything took up space in my car, everything had to come with me. Every time I go back to parents now I realise how much of my stuff I don’t even think about at all, and I end up culling more. Now I can’t imagine what it would be like to own more things.
Having stopped working full-time, I decided I wanted to focus on my career as a celebrant. Wedding season gets full-on around summer, and I knew I just couldn’t work that around a full-time job. I needed a flexible living situation, so I became a permanent housesitter. It began with just friends, and friends of friends, but then when I began to mention it at weddings I ended up housesitting during a lot of honeymoons. It’s a double service that I provide.
Since then I have also signed up to kiwihousesitters.co.nz, where I pay $60 a year in “rent”. It has opened me up to a huge range of people and has meant that I have taken care of some pretty amazing houses and even better animals. I’ve looked after a miniature pony and two kunekune pigs on a farm in Kaipara. I’ve cared for a house full of monarch butterflies. I’ve housesat a chihuahua in a rest home – I’m the only person under 70 at the $3 happy hour on a Friday.
My average stay in a house is between two and three weeks. A lot of people get stressed when I tell them that I housesit and move so often. They don’t like all the uncertainty of it. But you just have to be organised – right now I’m booked right up until January, and then I’ve got a couple of stints locked in throughout 2020. If anything falls through I have very generous friends that let me stay at theirs, and now I can also take advantage of staying at my partner’s place. I’m lucky that I don’t get stressed about it.
Of course, there have been a few dramas. One time I locked myself out on my first night in a brand new place – the door shut and locked behind me at 11 o’clock at night when I was unloading the car. The owners were literally on the plane so I couldn’t contact them. I called a locksmith who was very trusting of me, given that I just told them I lived in the house and they believed me. Now I am always careful to put the house key onto my car key straight away.
I’m also aware that I’m lucky to be in this position. I don’t have to be in the same place every day for work, and I have a place to go if my bookings fall through. I’m lucky that I have a car to move my belongings easily from place to place, and I’m privileged as a young white woman with no dependents. I’m very careful not to describe myself as homeless because that situation is not something that happens by choice, whereas I have chosen to live this way. So now I just say I’m a permanent house sitter.
When people find out that I don’t really live anywhere and that I don’t have a full-time job, they usually look puzzled. Then they looked stressed. Then they have a lot of questions. I have been a full-time house sitter in Auckland for nearly six years now. It gives me the flexible life that I want and means that I don’t have to commit to a stressful full-time job to pay Auckland rent. There’s also a huge novelty in being somewhere new – every month a different suburb and a new dog.
We have these ideas about how to live – you have to go to uni after school to get a good job to be able to buy your first home. There are all these predetermined stages of adulthood, and if you don’t do those things, people don’t really know what to do with you. People always say “are you doing this to save to buy a house?” I’m not. I’m saving money because of how I live, but it’s not a nest egg to buy a house. It’s a nest egg to do what I want to do now.
Of course, the house sitter lifestyle isn’t for everyone. I’m the only person I know who does it full-time. For many people, circumstances make it impossible, and I’m lucky to be in the position I am. Most people love the security of their own home, their own pillow, all their things and their routines and that’s cool. But for me, it’s changed my life. I finish my job, wherever that is that day, and arrive home to a happy dog and feel like I’m home, wherever that is. As long as there’s a comfortable bed and wifi, I’m sorted.
As told to Alex Casey
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.