A Girl Abroad: Housesitting in Italy

Published by The Style Line July 2016


I resent paying rent. We are the much-analysed generation of twenty-somethings who will never own a house because of the extortionate rent we pay in the cities we need to live in to irreverently hop from job to job every 18 months.

Jaded by career anxiety and not quite finding my jam in Liverpool, I decided to go travelling with my boyfriend. A quick check of funds and this seemed less likely for two people less than enthralled with the concept of backpacking. Then I remembered reading about house sitting.

House sitting has become more mainstream in the past couple of years. Make a profile, apply for assignments, live in someone else’s far-flung home, rent-free. Joy!

We both work online, so our freelance careers would continue uninterrupted wherever our new housesitting life would lead. We applied for tonnes and ended up in a beautiful detached farmhouse in the Italian region of Le Marche.

Being here has taught me so many things about myself, from my style to my diet and what I value. I have lived with one 15kg suitcase for 6 months now, and haven’t missed anything from my old wardrobe, tightly packed in storage boxes in my parents’ attic. Living with less is easier; deciding what to wear has become non-existent with one of just three or four of my favourite, most comfortable outfits to throw on each morning.

The limitations of rural life leave you nothing to dress up for, which is often boring but very refreshing. In the middle of nowhere, you are truly dressing for yourself. For your comfort and your self-confidence, unaffected by anyone else’s opinions. Thinking about this article and how to express what I want to express about self worth got me contemplating women’s fashion and why we dress like we do, carried away on a sort of feminist trajectory while deadheading the roses.

Is it a sweeping generalisation to say that shopping for comfort and quality is more of a male characteristic? Sexist, even? I hope not. It’s just it strikes me that many of our high street brands do not design clothes for women with comfort in mind. I can admit that this was rarely my own priority, yet I know from shopping trips with the men in my life that comfort is uncompromisable; usually the second and last consideration is purely functional.

As a woman, my personal presentation then comes into question. As a part of the twenty-something female demographic for trend-led, inexpensive items that fulfil neither the comfort nor functionality requirements of our male counterparts, why do we dress as we do? I know that a perfectly fitting A-Line dress that perfectly hugs my waist and scoops below my collar bones makes me feel fantastic. But if the waist was less cinched so I could sit down in that dress more comfortably, what difference would this make to my confidence? My mother is an advocate for practical clothing that is perfectly warm or perfectly cool, handy pockets and wide fitting shoes – practicality is the beginning and end of her sartorial advice, yet she is a very stylish woman.

From where I sit here in Marche, I can firmly say that I would not wear something that makes me look great but feel uncomfortable here. So we can deduce that, at home, I am not dressing for myself (as I would have liked to believe) but for the people around me. This has been a really important realisation; I have reconsidered my perceived sense of style, my self confidence and have revisited past anxieties. That’s not to say that there aren’t thousands of well dressed women that wear beautiful yet comfortable clothes and dress purely for their own satisfaction. There are, and I know lots of them. That’s also not to say that I neglect my style here – it is certainly more practical (mums are always right) – I just have a firmer sense of what I like. I get up every morning and have an espresso in the garden before showering and dressing for the day. As tempting as it is to work in my knickers from bed, it’s really important to maintain a routine when freelancing and even when no-one but my boyfriend will see me that day, the right appearance helps put me in the right frame of mind for a busy working day. When we feel great – whether the outfit’s en pointe or it’s a very good hair day – I think we produce better work. It’s all about self worth. A tip from my late grandmother from her years of working from home in the 70s: wearing shoes makes you more productive as it emulates the office vibe. It sounds daft but it really works!

N and I share a big farmhouse-style wardrobe with creaky doors, which is the perfect size for everything we own. There’s a place for everything, it all fits. My half: Canvas pumps (Nike) and leather shoes (& Other Stories) in the bottom. A tunic (COS), a pair of leggings (H&M), a pair trousers (COS), two dresses (Zara and Whistles) and two or three t-shirts (H&M, Zara), an oversized shirt dress thing (Zara) and a jacket I always steal from N (A.P.C.). Also – a black swimming costume and playsuit for the pool (both vintage), sunglasses (Zara) and a lilac leather bag (ASOS). A shirt for sleeping in (Gap) and a pair of black canvas ballet pumps I keep re-buying from e-bay as slippers. That’s it – the rest of my 15kg was reserved for paints and books.

Travelling has always been a factor in what I buy – from moving to Paris at 18 to Los Angeles at 21 before a few years in Brighton, then Liverpool and now here in Italy – the things I amass have to be worth transporting. Travel helps us to filter down our belongings to the essentials and things we really love. The books we’ll read more than once and the clothes that fit perfectly, are comfortable and make us feel great. Restricting colours to black, grey and navy has always helped me own less – items that are easy to mix up and wear in any combination are clear failsafes for the much-discussed capsule wardrobe.

I’d recommend housesitting to anyone. There are opportunities all over the world, from a weekend to a year. Of course, it comes with heavy responsibilities of looking after animals, unwieldily gardens (ours demands a couple of hours a day) and the burden of looking after someone else’s home – killing plants and smashing cups becomes an unprecedented source of stress. But house sitting offers the escapism and perspective-gaining experience of travelling coupled with the constance and routine required for working effectively remotely– by me, at least. Sign up for websites such as Trusted Housesitters (trustedhousesitters.com) and Mind My House (mindmyhouse.com) and make yourself a profile – apparently introductory videos help your chances.

We children of the internet, instagramming our latest purchases (only the ones that fit the aesthetic of our feed, obviously) and Googling ourselves, would do well to stop trying to impress other people to free up some time to learn more about ourselves. Why we buy what we buy. Why we wear what we wear. What matters to us. Find our dolce vita.