How House Sitting Taught Me to Respect My Own Space

Last summer, after a friend broke up with his girlfriend and immediately started trying to cozy up to me in public without any expression of enthusiasm from my end, I had a moment of clarity about personal space: The longer I’ve spent traveling and taking care of other people’s homes, the more cognitive dissonance I have when the wrong dude puts his arm around me. Although romantic entitlement is hardly a fiesta, it wasn’t the attempted hand-holding and kissing that bothered me so much as the arm— a gesture which symbolizes protection and ownership over another. The reaction I felt was, “No no no… you have no idea who I am.”

Most of us understand how traveling solo makes a person more independent, so I don’t feel the need to go into detail here about that. Less obvious is the fact that building a freelance career, which gives you great freedom in life, will also teach you to respect your own personal space. No, I don’t want your arm around me: what are you going to provide for me that I can’t provide for myself? And maybe even less obvious is that taking care of other people’s homes and pets also teaches you to take care of yourself. When you put love into something that’s not yours, especially without getting paid for it, you practice loving without expecting anything back. Which can be hugely beneficial if you’re the type of person who only loves yourself under certain conditions—only if you reach your goal, only if you impress the person, only if you’re having a good hair day. So you’re going to buy flowers for the living room table and make sure the dog is exercised and happy every day but you’re not going to follow your heart and live according to how you feel? You’re going to lock up the house every night and cast open the windows during the day but you’re not going to set boundaries for who can and can’t enter your personal space? By taking care of what isn’t yours, you come to value what is—which is yourself, the only constant, the only home that doesn’t change.

It’s also a beautiful way of learning to love and let go. I have put so much care into so many homes and pets I’ll never see again. Since moving to Berlin I’ve met so many wonderful people who have just been passing through, people I wish would stay longer, but I’m at peace with putting love out there and letting it go. It’s a good practice in non-attachment. And that’s not to say I don’t need close, lasting relationships—quite the opposite. It just means I’m more at peace if it doesn’t turn into that.

Just as valuable is knowing the difference between something you should accept and something you don’t have to. If you wouldn’t let an unwelcome guest enter the home you are protecting, why would you let someone slide a little closer and try to take over the job that only you can do best?

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