Pity the person entrusted with taking care of your home, pets or kids while you’re away on vacation, or rushing across country to a loved ones’ hospital bedside, and everything in your home is a total mystery. From how to run the coffee maker, to the various TV remotes or the sprinkler system. Let’s not forget the wifi password. The result can be frantic calls while you’re on an airplane en-route or relaxing poolside.
Everyone can find reasons why these things aren’t important. After all, you’re busy and everything is fine. Today. But a simple Continuity Binder is a cheap DIY insurance policy for when the unforeseen happens. More than that, it’s a backup plan for when you just forget how stuff is supposed to work. At your house, or mom’s house. Plus, it can relieve you of the frustration of trying to explain a home system over the phone.
Just the other day, my irrigation guy pointed out that I hadn’t shut down the system correctly last fall after he’d made several significant changes. Yikes! I’d gotten busy last fall and forgot to make my usual Cheat Sheet. That could’ve cost me money if we’d had a colder winter. So, I trotted out to the valve boxes with my phone camera. Snapped photos. Then, on my computer, made a couple of simple, step-by-step pages that will take me through the process next fall after I’ve totally forgotten (again, sigh) what I was supposed to do. A quick reminder in my calendar is part of the process. It only took about 30 minutes of my time.
The good news is that I have an existing system for this, and can plug-in ‘how-to’ pages quickly and easily. So can you.
The starting point is to identify what systems might have the biggest potential for confusion.
Here is a basic list:
TV and audio systems (rather than leaving them to figure out all nine remotes)
Electrical system and breaker panels
Fireplace/pellet stove use and restrictions
House main water shut-offs
House natural gas shut-off
Most of those might simply require something simple like the wifi password. Some might require listing where instruction manuals can be found. For more complex systems, such as an irrigation system (nobody wants to return home to a brown lawn or dead shrubs!) you might take photos and include them with step-by-step instructions in a MS Word (or similar) document. Print the pages out and put them in a binder or dedicated folder for the house/pet sitter.
How-to’s aren’t the only considerations that should be documented for house sitter. There are all manner of schedules such as those below:
When a person should expect the lawn/yard care crew, cleaning crew and such. Names and phone numbers for each.
School schedules plus where your kids catch the school bus
Pets - when they need to be fed, walked, medications administered etc.
When house plants need to be watered, and how much.
Garbage and recycling collection plus where to put the bins
Pets are often the reason we ask others to be in our homes while we’re away, and can require special instructions such as a signed veterinary release form in case your pet becomes injured or ill, what furniture are they forbidden to be on, favorite toys, allowed treats, play or walking instructions, and don’t forget to list anxieties a pet sitter should know about.
Must-include items should list important/essential contacts with phone numbers and email addresses, neighbors who have a key to your house, the trusted person(s) who know security codes, the people who mow the lawn, fix the sprinklers, plumb, do the electrical, and the Vet. If your kids are going to be cared for be sure to include school contacts, doctors, dentists and pediatricians. Don’t forget workplace contacts and supervisors, your building manager if you live in an apartment, and the homeowners association contact. You might also consider listing your preferred electrician, plumber or handy person.
Sometimes, Mommy and Daddy need a weekend away from the Sippy-cup routine and that means leaving your child caregiver a comprehensive list of information they might need.
A legal, notarized emergency form or letter (see below for what it needs to say).
A list of medicines, if your child requires any, and how to administer them.
Medical records or a medical care plan developed by the child’s primary care physician or a specialist, if your child has a chronic medical condition or other special needs.
Extra medicines or medical supplies, if your child requires any. This is especially important if they are unusual or difficult to find.
Phone number of your child’s primary care physician. (Send the physician an email notifying him of your trip, too.)
Contact information for teachers.
Play-date information, restrictions and contacts.
The details will change, depending on your travel plans and child's age, but an emergency letter might be worded like this:
I, NAME, am going on vacation (or travel for any reason) and will be out of town from DATE to DATE. I am leaving my son/daughter, NAME(S) and DATE OF BIRTH, with NAME and PHONE NUMBER. I can be reached at this phone number, NUMBER.
A notarized emergency consent form, with contact and medical information can expedite matters in the event of an emergency, but the emergency department of any hospital will render life-saving aid with or without such a letter. That said, why not avoid confusion and later potential legal ramifications with a proactive document.
If you have elderly parents or grandparents living with you and plan to travel, you should also consider having documents similar to those for children available for a stand-in caregiver. It's a matter of increased peace of mind for everyone concerned.
Every home has it’s unique quirks, and the house sitter should be informed about them.
These can include a door or window that sticks and may not close/lock reliably,
your pet’s personality or feeding quirks and where the cat hides, or the nosey or noisy neighbor that could pose a problem. What about the toilet that makes a funny sound when other water drains? Are there parking issues such as places that your house should absolutely not leave their car?
When you’re packing for a vacation or leaving for the airport, your Continuity Binder ensures that you don’t have to do much more than hand over the keys (or leash) and avoid panicked last-minute calls from the house/pet sitter.