Greetings from Cambodia, where I’m currently house-sitting in a small village outside of Siem Reap. For the past ten months, my wife and I have been in various homes caring for various pets and plants and living free of rent and utility bills as full-time house sitters. I chose this nomadic lifestyle because I wanted to be able to spend more time writing, and less time making money to pay the aforementioned rent and utilities.
As you might guess, being able to devote a larger part of each day to writing has been extremely beneficial. But, equally important are the things I’ve learned about myself as a writer, things that help my workflow and increase my enjoyment of the craft, things I might not have found out if I hadn’t embarked on this journey. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned since my travels began.
I’m a morning person?
On our very first sit, I tended a flock of chickens. This meant that I would wake up each morning when (you guessed it) the rooster crowed. Normally, I’d be done with the poultry-related chores before the sun had fully risen. The sit after that took us overseas to a different time zone. Being forced into a morning routine and then having my sense of time scrambled somehow resulted in me not only being willing but wanting, to work during the early hours. Until this year, I’d been sleepwalking through life until eight at the earliest. But now, with the promise of having a nice chunk of writing or reading time before I have any other responsibilities, my body can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning and my brain can’t wait to start working with words. Everything’s calm. My mind is fresh. I can start things off by writing what I remember from my dreams. I feel like It’s like I’ve found a whole new plane of existence that is tailor-made for writing.
When caring for a small dog in England, I discovered that the hours between the morning feeding and the mid-day walk were a perfect chunk of time to write. Once the dog was full of food and settled on its favorite chair I’d get right to work, and start pounding out the pages. After a while, I found that the few minutes it took for the dog to devour its kibble was just enough time for me to load the French press and get the coffee going. Things snowballed from there, and soon I had a writing routine that was infused with little rituals such as simple stretches, breaks for dog time, and much more coffee. Adhering to this schedule helped me develop a rhythm that not only made me more productive, but also gave me a sense of what I can expect from an hour’s worth of writing, and provided boundaries in terms of how long I would spend on a project each day. Although I haven’t been able to duplicate this exact routine in every setting, the need for a routine has been established, and the expectations and boundaries I learned are always with me. I guess you could say that I learned a few tricks from that dog.
The importance of books
Books are inspiring, they remind me of why I want to be a writer, they give me a goal to aspire to, and they are a guaranteed way to jump-start my brain into writing mode. Although there are a plethora of things that make Southeast Asia an amazing place, books in English are slim pickings in this part of the world (although I daresay the selection is a lot better than what you’d find in Thai at your average Western bookstore). To confound things even more, Ebooks aren’t for me, and audiobooks—although very enjoyable—don’t scratch the same itch. I’m a paper-and-print kind of guy, and lacking access to a steady supply of good books has made me realize how important they are to my writing not to mention my mental health.
For two wonderful months, a big orange cat and I had an entire upstairs loft to ourselves. There was a desk with a rolling chair, a nice big clock on the wall, and plenty of natural light. When I moved on to the next job/home, I found myself competing with salt and pepper shakers for workspace on the kitchen table. At the leanest of times this year, I’ve had a wall to prop myself up against and a cushion to put my laptop on. I’ve also been in situations where the best workspace solution was a coffee shop or library. As much as I want to think of myself as an adaptable person, I really enjoyed having a steady home base. Working in different situations has brought to light that the little bits of time you spend reconnecting to the internet and looking for the nearest electrical outlet can add up. I’ve also learned that when my back is happy, my mind is happy, and that a suitable chair is the key to achieving this balance. Beyond that, experiencing the workspaces in other people’s homes has shown me the joys of creature comforts such as the white noise of a fan, the glow of a lava lamp, and nearly everything having to do with cats.
It didn’t dawn on me until I was deep into writing this article, that most of the things I’ve learned indicate that I need a set place to work, a solid routine, and access to things that aren’t available everywhere. This isn’t ideal for someone skipping from home to home every couple of months. But, the fact is, I wouldn’t have realized how important these things are to me if I hadn’t embarked on this house-sitting adventure. When I did have a consistent home base, I wasn’t implementing any of the things I’ve discussed here. I wrote on a catch-as-catch-can basis that didn’t include mornings, and most of my work was done in whatever chair was available. I’m not positive about what my future holds at the moment. But if it involves going back to my old home, I will know exactly what to do to optimize my writing time and create an enjoyable environment. If I end up doing more house-sitting, I will know what I need to look for in a house-sit to give me the best writing experience possible.
Are you interested?
In the past few years, house-sitting has become a popular way to have a low-cost vacation, which could easily be reconfigured into a writer’s retreat of sorts. If you are lucky enough to have the flexibility to do it full-time, it can offer an affordable lifestyle that gives one more control of their time. If it sounds like it might be a good fit for you, there are websites that match house sitters with homeowners. Duties pretty much always include taking care of pets and maintaining cleanliness. Tending to plants and other light maintenance might also be part of the bargain, but you’ll know ahead of time if that’s the case. Sits can last from a couple of days to several months. The going expectation is that the homeowner pays the utilities during your stay and also has reliable internet. Sometimes they even leave you food!
I’ve gotten a lot out of my time as a house sitter. If you’re looking to shake things up a bit in both your life and your writing, then I encourage you to look into it. Just remember, that obvious perks such as having more time to write, and inspiring travels to write about, are only the beginning. You might also learn a lot about yourself as a writer.