House Rules: When a homeowner says 'help yourself' to their kitchen, what do they mean?

I’ve seen the full spectrum from HO’s. I had a HO that kindly insisted on stocking a separate fridge with food for my stay (it was a more rural sit) to a HO that explicitly stated not to touch anything food wise in the kitchen. The last few sits have kindly provided some basics and even some beers for me. I try to replace any tins etc I use.

Its always nice to be welcomed to some food, but not expected. A tip is appreciated.

Is it expected that an owner supply all the food during the sit? We recently came back home to find that obly after 3 weeks away our freezer was almost empty?? We did say to our house sitter that you are welcome to use food in the house. However to empty the freezer…how much were you eating? I have had other sitters and they may have had a coyple of things but this?? We are so shocked!


Hi @Mayday7 and welcome to the forum. What a shame it is because you were taken advantage of.
We would never use anything other than perishables and perhaps oil and spices. Sometimes the homeowner may leave us wine, biscuits, chocolates etc and say they are specifically for us.
If you advertise again I would make it clear in your Welcome Guide what can and cannot be used so there is no misunderstanding.


Welcome to the forum @Mayday7 and sorry that your first post had to be about a negative experience. As sitters we would only use what the homeowners had said we could, and we would never take advantage as your sitter seems to have done. We are very much like @Twitcher and what we would use would be limited to things like perishables and oils and spices with the owners permission. We once did a sit where the owners said we could help ourselves to meat from their freezer, but we only did this for a single meal. It didn’t seem fair or right to take very much, even with their permission.

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Hi mayday.
Sorry you experienced something like this. Most sitters are not looking to empty your freezer.
I was told to help myself to a load of sea food in the feeezer on my last sit. Like 7 bags of king prawns. I did try 1 bag but didn’t feel right using all the bags of prawns. I did use up the milk, eggs and cheese the HO left in the fridge for their month long holiday.
I think next time the best thing to do is maybe put any frozen items in a drawer or section of the freezer and explain to sitters they can use whats there.


Whenever I hear of these circumstances, it truly saddens me @Mayday7. It’s unfortunate that some sitters take advantage of the kindness and generosity of pet owners. I believe at the end of the day, some details about expectations must be very explicitly explained and even written out, so that there are no misunderstandings. Hope that your future experiences with THS, have much better outcome.


We have been given the same advice to “help yourselves”. What we do is use any perishables (but replace them for the HO’s return so they have fresh fruit, veg, cheese etc). Other things like condiments, sauces, spices etc we use but would either add a couple of items to their stock that complement what they already have and replace like-for-like any we used up. We most certainly wouldn’t use any frozen food or non-perishables and would definitely leave them with at least as much, if not more, than they left us with.


Hi @Mayday7 - I’m sorry that the sitter took more food than you were expecting but I do think that both you and the sitter were at fault here, and the common issue of bad communication is entirely to blame.

If a home host says " help yourself to food" it is difficult to then complain that the sitter helped themselves to food. You have to be more specific. The best idea I think is to tell the sitters what food you do NOT want them to use - “Help yourself to food but please don’t touch anything on the bottom two shelves” is very generous and appreciated by sitters whilst also being very clear in your expectations


@Mayday7 No, HOs do not have to feed sitters! Sitters are getting free lodging in exchange for watching the house and taking care of pets. We are sitters and HOs, so we do see both sides.


We absolutely take everything we need with us or buy it locally on the sit (so far we have only ever taken our own car to sits). We use something if we need it for a recipe but always replace it (pasta, tinned food etc.) We would never, ever use HOs wine etc unless specifically left for us a s a gift/treat or if we were sure of being able to replace it (not easy so we never have done that).
Fridge perishables? Use them but provide like-for-like for the HO upon return, who will hopefully be glad of their preferred fruit, cold meat, salad etc.
Salt, pepper etc. we travel with but I would use a spoon or two of herb or spice that I don’t want to buy a whole new jar of.
Thems is the rules!

Mayday7, that is just awful, it makes me so sad when I hear stories like that.

Yes I think you are overthinking it. We try to use up perishables before we leave but that isn’t always practical. So we always tell our sitters to finish them up. They rarely do.
Sitters have asked us if they can stock something before we return and we gratefully take them up on that.

Omg! I thought we were the only ones that this happened to. We were away for two months this past summer and when we got home and settled back in, we realized our upright freezer was practically empty, our pantry, cupboards with household items, and two refrigerators were depleted. Nothing was replaced. Hundreds of dollars were consumed. We’re still finding items that we thought we had but are gone. This couple do not have a home and just go from house sit to house sit. I hate to say it but to me it is theft. They never once asked if they could do that.

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There is a common sense issue here. As a HO, I can say “help yourself” but as a HS there is a “within reason” element that should come into play. For HS’s to eat you out of house and home it’s just NOT right. Who does that and doesn’t feel guilty or remorse? HS’s aren’t paying the rent or mortgage or taxes. HO’s are giving them a home to live in and it certainly should not include all the food too.
We unfortunately had this happen and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. We were taken advantage of.

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If a home host leaves a note or verbally says to the sitter " Help yourself to anything in the fridge" then they can not really complain if the sitter does exactly that. On the sit we are currently on we have a note left that says " Help yourself to anything in the fridge but please do not take anything from the freezer" It is quite clear on the boundaries. We appreciate that and having read the note will help ourselves to anything that we want from the fridge, without remorse or guilt nor with the feeling that we have to replace what we have used, and we will not touch the freezer - The home host can not be any clearer of what she is happy for us to have and we will happily stick to her wishes.

Why on earth should a sitter be expected to pay rent or your mortgage for you? - many of the home hosts we sit for probably don’t even pay any mortgage themselves. - It is essential that you understand the difference between house sitters and lodgers.

With respect, I most certainly do pay my taxes

This particular quote irks me the most - To be very clear, Home hosts are 100%, absolutely, most definitely not giving sitters (“them!”) a home to live in
1- We have to live in your home to do what you asked us to do.
2 - The vast majority of sitters have their own home to live in ( No one pays their rent/mortgage whilst they are giving up their time to look after yours)
3 - Sitters do not just pop in because they need somewhere to live ! Sitters come to your home , at the request and invitation of home hosts, we come because you have said that you need us to care for their pets and home in your absence. The home host invites the sitter to come. Sitters on THS are happy to do this and see it as a fair exchange as they are getting to see a new area and not having to pay for accommodation to do so.
4 - Home hosts are getting a very good deal. If sitters that sit in exchange for accommodation did not exist there is always an alternative for you to use. ‘So-called professional’ sitters ( or sitters that sit as their way to make an income) Of course, these will charge cash for this service. These sitters do not charge cash instead of living at your home, they charge cash aswell as living in your home - they don’t pay you rent - the only difference is that aswell as living at your home, you have to pay them quite a lot of money for the privilege - With this in mind, I can well understand why you choose to invite a sitter that charges you nothing for their very valuable time. I would do the same if I was a home host needing pet care.

Every home host is different, and that is perfectly fine - some offer their sitters nothing extra, some are over-the-top generous, and most are somewhere in the middle - All are fine. A sit can include all the food if the home host wants to offer that, it can include no food at all - It is entirely up to the individual home host but clarity is vital to avoid any confusion.

If you did not tell your sitter that they could eat your food, and they did, then I agree you were taken advantage of and I am sincerely sorry for that.


@Colin What a great response! As a fellow sitter I couldn’t have said it better and I agree with every point you commented on!
At the end of the day its all about clear communication and mutual respect.


@emmieo sadley i feel everyone is taken advantage of at times and yes i do feel as a sitter its not an example to set taking help yourself so literally. I would be annoyed too.

I feel though that the fault is with the person doing the taking advantage of & feel sad that they feel it benefits them. Maybe just a lesson learned for future. Sad though when trust is taken.

@Colin i feel that maybe you are being abit harsh on emmieo.

Its one thing to help yourself but i also dont see where see theres an issue regarding replacing what you use within reason.

We do short house sits but find its just a nice thing to do to leave some food in the fridge for HOs return. Its just plain consideration for another person.

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@Colin The HS’s we had do not pay any house-related expenses because they don’t have a house. I certainly did not say that HS’s should be expected to pay rent, etc. Not sure you understood my point.

And yes, we did give them our home to live in for two months. We trusted them to take care of it. Basically, leave it the way we left it for them. We most definitely did not get, in your words, “a very good deal.” Not only did they empty our kitchen fridge (which was expected) but our pantry and cupboards were also depleted. They went to the far reaches of our basement and depleted most items from an upright freezer and a second refrigerator. Hundreds of dollars of food and supplies. They did not seek clarification whether they could go beyond our kitchen to consume our winter store of preserves, frozen meat, vegetables, pre-packaged frozen foods, and 4 litres of our own homemade maple syrup.

Would you do this as a HS? Would you not wonder…should I be helping myself to these extra supplies? Would you not seek clarification?

Our so-called “good deal” goes beyond the food and supplies. We came home to a filthy house and damage, lots of damage. It took 4 attempts to get the hardwood floors clean and then we had to hire a professional cleaner. We had to get two tables professionally refinished at another $400+. Two exterior doors have dents in them. One interior door has deep scratches. There is a hole in our hardwood floor. The furniture and large screen TV were moved and not put back. The curtains in the dining room were pulled down. The kitchen stove and cabinets were covered in grease. Shall I go on? Spillage and stains on the carpet.

Would you like to hear about our gardens and lawn?

Everyone’s time is very valuable, not just HS’s as you point out.

Yes, we invited them after an interview and reading their 5-Star reviews and profile. I trusted what I heard and read. I sent them a Guide and also had a hard copy.
And, btw, there was no pet care.

All our previous HS’s were excellent.
I don’t ask for much…just leave my home the way I leave it for you.

Lesson learned…that’s for sure!


@Gina Thank you for your reply. I didn’t want to add all the details but without the full picture interpretation can be askew. There is more to our experience but definitely I have learned from the whole thing. I’ve already updated my Welcome Guide and will be more explicit during the entire process of selecting a HS.

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