“Our catsitter ransacked our house while we were away”

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Dear Richard,

We have just been in Devon for a week and it was almost extremely exciting to be away. However, we’re not crazy about the state our house was in when we got home – there were unwashed dishes, a few breakages, and even a mystery stain or two.

Our niece had stayed there, feeding the cats and keeping an eye on the place. She’s done it twice already and it went off without a hitch. This time she clearly had people, which is good, but she clearly couldn’t get rid of herself.

We have more UK vacations scheduled for August, wild gadabouts that we are. Should we talk to him, find someone else, or let him go and hope for better things? We pay it (admittedly below the market rate).

– Simon & Susan, London N16

Dear Simon & Suzanne,

A-ha! I was there, I did that! Embarrassing, isn’t it? You’re thankful they’ve kept a watchful eye on the place (and in your case, the cats), but it’s maddening to come home in someone else’s mess. Not the way to end a vacation.

My advice, based on my personal experience, is to grab the nettle and have the conversation because if you don’t (assuming you want your niece to stay with you on your next visit) it will happen again. almost certainly. She must have realized, as she locked up and left, that there were dirty dishes in the sink and a mess in the living room. If you don’t comment, she will make the practical assumption that you agree. It isn’t – and it shouldn’t be either.

Often on these pages, I advise a written approach to sensitive issues – a letter, a card, an email – that allows you to choose your words carefully. Here I think it might backfire on you. Regardless of how you phrase things that you might find passive-aggressive, she’ll linger on it and reread what you’ve written. Things could go wrong.

No, it will have to be a phone call or a face-to-face meeting. Be optimistic, happy, and brief.

Thank her for her help while you are away, but make it clear that you wish you hadn’t spent the first few hours cleaning up when you got back. I would give her some leeway by saying that maybe there was some confusion: you probably should have added an extra payment for cleaning to her paycheck, and you would be happy to do that next time.

The “confusion” line is a face-saving way for her and at the same time should ensure that this sort of thing does not happen again.

Or you can just use a cattery. In any case, have a good trip!

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