These People Would Hate Me Online, But They Let Me Stay in Their Homes
Here’s what happens when we put down our phones and start knocking on doors
There is a strange intimacy to the overnight stay in someone else’s home. In the hours that elapse between dinner and breakfast, you get a peek into your hosts’ rhythms, routines, bathroom products. Do they wash dishes after dinner or leave them in the sink? Do they drink tap water or filtered water? Is there a bar of soap in the shower or a container of body wash — scented or unscented? They, in turn, get glimpses of your habits, your products, the refuse you leave in the waste basket. Whether or not you wash out the water glass or leave it by the sink, make the bed or strip the sheets.
For years, my partner and I welcomed strangers into our 650-square-foot condo in Washington, D.C. They stayed in a room that our real estate agent couldn’t legally call a “bedroom” because it had no window. These were the early days of Airbnb, when most listings were for spare rooms with air mattresses and futons. There were no cleaning fees, no lockbox codes, no professional property managers.
Our guests often hung out with us in our living room. One was consulting with the White House on how to end homelessness; we later saw him interviewed on The Daily Show. Another was an international peace activist who created the World Passport. Yet another was a fervent proponent of the universal language Esperanto, and another, a devoted Burning Man groupie.
Some guests were tiresome — college professors, we found, particularly loved to spend evenings lecturing to us — and others kept to themselves. One Swede strode boldly through our living room and out onto our street-facing balcony in nothing but his red briefs. All told, I met more interesting people from more walks of life in my own living room than I met anywhere else in the self-focused, career-driven bustle of D.C.
It’s been over a decade since we stopped hosting on Airbnb, and a lot has happened in the intervening years. We had two children, moved across the country. We made some new friends, but with the constant demands of work and parenting, we’ve rarely had time to meaningfully engage with other adults. Most of our social interactions have…