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The Benefits of Maintenance

For relationships, material supports, or well-being to endure, update them.

Key points

  • From our bodies to our relationships, nearly everything in our lives requires maintenance to survive without inevitable breakdown.
  • Maintenance is almost always less expensive in time, money, and energy than the repairs necessary when breakdowns occur.
  • Identifying sources of your resistance to maintenance can help you make conscious choices when prioritizing.
  • If maintenance is no longer feasible: Are you ready to radically revise the need, replace the solution, or upgrade the current one.
Source: Pixelpower-01/Pixabay

Do you cringe when the weather or the calendar reminds you that it’s time to service your car? Schedule teeth cleanings? Contact a friend or relative? Clean your home? Organize your wardrobe for a new season? Tend to your finances? Regular maintenance is necessary for just about anything that you want to last. Without it, nearly everything, material things or relationships (excepting, of course, some long-lasting plastics) deteriorates and the damage is almost always more expensive to repair in time, money, and energy than would have been a routine or timely intervention.

Source: Simon/Pixabay

We all recognize the importance of updates, whether of computer programs or home care or personal grooming. During the first year of the pandemic, avoiding what I feared could be a Petrie dish of Covid-19 virus at my hair salon, I let my hair grow. It began falling out and, post-vaccination, took six months of regular haircuts to reverse damage done from allowing split ends to multiply and any reliable line to disappear. Maintenance then was important, but not essential.

In contrast, we risked exposure to contagious aerosols when the heating contractor came to service the system, in the dentist’s office for routine cleanings, when my car was picked up and later returned for regular service. I began calling my grown children each weekend when ignoring our bodies, clothing, cars, homes, passions, and most of all our relationships threatened to create havoc. Relationships, so susceptible to misunderstandings, are the worst; I wrote about this in the “52 Ways to Show I Love you” series.

When you feel the nagging tug to tend to laundry, call that relative, schedule a mammogram or colonoscopy, clean the refrigerator, or update your insurance coverage, ask yourself five questions.

1. How much is enough? At what point is the discomfort of avoiding (fill in the blank — perhaps monitoring your diet, changing your sheets, throwing out the garbage, washing the car, revising your budget, checking in with someone you care about) greater than the demands of tending to the task? What deterioration are you risking? Will repair be possible? If so, what will be involved? Do you expect to have more time, money, or energy in the future? Are you prepared to let the current solution go completely and find a replacement at some point? Or can you let it go entirely, perhaps by trading a car for a bike or a best friend for an internet buddy you have never met in person? Would those solutions even work? If the alternative is unacceptable, what is holding you back?

2. When does maintenance become wasteful? At what point are you denying a need to move on? Perhaps the issue is clutter: When are you better off donating the books you will never read again rather than dusting them? Throwing away dated condiments in the cupboard, then waiting to replace them until new ones are needed? Ending the demands of your physical therapy routine and investing in the knee replacement you’ve been considering for a long time? Finding a new solution for storing your documents instead of trying to retrieve those you want from the old system you set up? Are you clinging to what you have to avoid mastering a new system, solution, temporary absence of the attention-absorbing solution currently in place? When is it time to give up and let go rather than to persevere or allow the guilt that arises from avoiding maintenance to rob you of channel space needed for other activities or psychic investment?

Source: stevepb/Pixabay

3. Are you factoring in your needs for pleasure, attention to current events, rewards that help keep us going? Perhaps the beauty of a perfectly set table does bring smiles to your face that infuse your day with gratitude, joy, or pride. But perhaps a less demanding effort could bring equal rewards? What about the ski gear you have not used in 20 years or perhaps tax or medical records that are well beyond their historical or legal value? Can you come up with an algorithm for making decisions? What would you be giving up? Is it replaceable? At what cost in time, money, effort? or history, shared meanings, understanding, and appreciation that come with experience and exposure? Can you find a better solution for storing off-season boots, scarves, gloves or bathing suits, sun hats, sandals? What about luggage and travel gear that you rarely need? Holiday decorations or baking supplies? At what point do you discard? What about a book you have abandoned?

4. Examine your resistance. Are you conflicted because the activity that needs maintenance brings you survival? Support? Inspiration? Comfort? Resources that provide nourishment, rest, recovery, sharing, storage, materials useful for essential activities? What do you need your life to bring you? Learning? Respite? Recovery? Mastery? Love? Revisit Rokeach's scale of personal values, confronting your true priorities. (See reference below.)

Source: geralt/Pixabay

5. And what might improve your maintenance? A plan? Self-discipline to carry out the plan? Time or money? Can you borrow from another activity? Enlist a helper? Can you use empty cartons instead of expensive organizer products? A single shelf instead of an entire bookcase? A pair of boots with excellent tread rather than a selection of fashion footwear? A daily skin-care habit rather than episodic facials and massages? Is it a matter of self-discipline? Carrying through to do what does not bring you pleasure but which gets the job done? Go back to how much is enough — and the question of balance in your priorities.

And remember that your own well-being rests on your ability to recognize and address your needs, and the reality that they inevitably change over time.

Copyright 2021 Roni Beth Tower


Rokeach, M. (1973). The Nature of Human Values. Free Press.