Self-Care or Maintenance?

Ahhh, yes, sign me up for this nonsense.

Hello, friends. Today’s post is about the concept of “maintenance” vs. “self-care,” a topic I was thinking about recently.

Obviously, all sorts of things can qualify as self-care – for me, cooking, baking and daily walks are self-care. Reading and listening to the radio is self-care. But I’m interested in the broad category of beauty/wellness services we buy/do for ourselves, and how our individual views shape whether we think of them as tasks to be dealt with vs. activities we look forward to and enjoy.

I treated myself to a spa facial last week, the first since I moved here. The weather’s been terrible and on a whim I called a place down the street the day after an icy snow, betting they might have some cancellations. They did, and off I went, desperate for a bit of soothing self-care in the hands of a lovely, knowledgeable facialist who did not disappoint. I used to get regular facials in D.C., at a spa that worked sort of like a gym membership, you paid a monthly fee. Other than a several-month break during COVID I went regularly for whatever their flavor-of-the-month treatment was. I loved it – clean, spare, some New Age music playing quietly while she blooped, say, hibiscus foam on my face, neck and décolletage with a fan brush, and I dozed under warm blankets. Absolute bliss.

I’d hate to have to choose, but I’ll go out on a limb and say I enjoy getting a facial maybe even more than a massage. Massage is … trickier. I love a massage but don’t have them often, and they can be disappointing in various odd ways. I’ve never walked out of a spa after a facial thinking damn, that was a waste of time and money.

I was having this conversation recently with a couple of friends though, and it interested me how different our ideas can be about what’s a self-care “treat” you enjoy, vs. stuff that feels like “maintenance.”  One of these friends gets regular facials because she likes the results, but she does not enjoy them at all – she just wants to be finished and leave, to her it’s maintenance, like getting a bikini wax. But she loves going to her salon for haircuts, they make her feel pampered and refreshed. Refreshed!?! I never loved getting my hair cut and colored, even in the nicest places with the cucumber water and Vogue; all I wanted was to be done and gone. To me, my fancy cut-and-color was maintenance, not self-care.

 Mani-pedis I’ve had done and view as maintenance – I like the end result, don’t particularly enjoy the process, but I know for a lot of people they’re a treat. Haircuts: I’d just as soon go to the dentist. On the other hand, my several months of appointments last year with the acupuncturist were medical treatments, my insurance paid for them; but to me they were the best kind of self-care. I felt seen and fussed over and tended to for each 45-minute appointment. I loved the serene space I was in, the smell of burning moxa Cinnamon mentioned in her post yesterday, the gentle touch, the quiet calm I felt afterwards.

I’m assuming people who get their brows plucked or their nether bits waxed view that as strictly maintenance, but I’ve never done either (I’m laughably hairless.) There are probably people out there who love their wax sessions. I mean, I took nothing but pleasure in a facial that included some long-overdue extractions, so who am I to judge?

I do my own facials weekly, but I don’t really … look forward to them? They’re maintenance, like flossing my teeth. I 100% know though that some of you really lean into those moments as a treat – a face-mask, some music, your favorite bathrobe etc. And I used to feel that way about painting my nails, but somehow I lost interest in the pandemic and it never returned.

Okay, your turn! What treatments do you buy (or do yourself) that are self-care you look forward to? And which are things you do, possibly grudgingly, as maintenance?

  • Eldarwen22 says:

    Used to do the whole fake nails thing years ago. I loved it but it got to be too expensive. I would love to try a massage and saving up some money for one. I would like to try out a Chinese ear cleaning.

    • March says:

      Hahahahaha I would TOTALLY do one of those ear-cleanings if they seemed legit! I bet it feels amazing! My daughter does those … gel (?) nails and they look fantastic and last forever.

      • Musette says:

        I live in gel nails. Short, because So Hard on My Hands. But they definitely beat the peeling and breaking I had, pre-gel.


  • Dina C. says:

    Good topic, March! I like the idea of massages but hate the reality. They’re always so painful. Facials are much nicer. I like pedicures, too, but my mom loathes them. They’re exquisitely painful to her. (Arthritis, I think) Anything that I pay someone else to do that I could do, like paint my nails, feels like a treat. Getting my hair cut feels like maintenance, but nice maintenance.

    • March says:

      That’s funny about the massages — I’m not getting “sports” massages and/but my frequent complaint is they handle me like I’m made of spun glass. Light stroking, no pressure — c’mon man, get in there! I can see how arthritis would make a lot of things miserable.

  • Musette says:

    Great post! Giving this some thought – I look at maintenance as a ‘treat’, if that makes sense? I’m about as artificial as they come, so I spent a lot of time in salons and spas, back in the day. Moving here meant a diminution of a lot of treatments but I simply moved a lot of them indoors, the exception being waxing because I am not about to tear up my ladybits.
    The one thing I refuse to do in a salon is nails and that’s because I am hard on my hands, so anything done is over in a nanosecond. Luckily Lady R taught me the basics of gel manicures so I do those here on the regular. Pedicures…eh. I do foot care 2-3x week so… eh. Mostly it’s one of those ‘why am I sitting here for 2 hrs (when I know it won’t last on me) things with the nails.
    Everything else I love – ALL OF IT! Because it is a luxury.


  • alityke says:

    Having retired early I now have to watch the pennies. I had hoped to have time to travel cheaply but to travel. The decline in our parent’s health, losing them DH’s parents, the pandemic & now DH’s health, travel as self care is off the menu.
    On the “beauty & wellness” front all but my fragrance addiction has gone. I have gone from a daily make up wearer to having applied some semblance of make up just twice in 6 years.
    Sports massage & acupuncture from my physio has gone, too costly & the clinic closed during the pandemic. The physio led Pilates classes went with the clinic.
    They were all treats, necessary but definitely treats.
    I found my hairdresser of dreams when I retired. I’ve stayed with her through her two pregnancies, her changes of salons & her move to mobile hairdressing. So my visits to the salon have gone & a hairdo is now maintenance. To the point where she takes her baby to her appointments to enable her to keep breastfeeding. Going to be interesting on Saturday, when I’m having an overhaul

    • March says:

      Oh, see, I would LOVE the hairdresser of my dreams! I need a new … something. Cut, routine, something. But I haven’t found the right person. I would totally do a home cut. Makeup: here my “work” makeup is pretty much sunscreen, blush and drawing in my eyebrows to give my face more color and definition, and that it it.

  • Kathleen says:

    I’m like you, haircuts and highlights are maintenance. I get so impatient sitting in the chair as it takes too long. I really dislike going. Facials and massage I love and are a treat usually for birthday; however, I don’t go often due to expense. I have a fairly simple home skincare routine that I consider both maintenance and self-care. I walk daily with my dog which is my favorite self-care.

    • March says:

      Walking the dog — a delight. Although sometimes it feels like maintenance, especially in bad weather! And walks with her, stopping every 5 feet, are different than solo walks. I try to be mindful and lean into her pace, just enjoy the moment, looking around wherever we’ve stopped. I have done both fussy and simple skincare. Back to a simple routine right now.

  • cinnamon says:

    maintenance … haircuts at this point because I just don’t enjoy being indoors and because of short hair I do them so often. osteopathy because while it can be pleasant (especially when he does acupuncture as well) it only really happens when back twinges. cooking to a large extent.

    self care … the special hot chocolate after every haircut. acupuncture of course. would do reflexology as well if I had the dosh. and do both on a regular basis, like a couple of times a month. fancy skincare at home. yoga, books, music, walking, walking with the dog, baking (as opposed to cooking). dreaming about travel and doing it — no matter how short a journey (ie, visit to next village considered travel when one works from home).

  • Tom says:

    Like Tara I don’t like to be touched by strangers (or for that matter by friends- just not my thing) so I’m not big on massages. I cut my own nails- they grow too fast to pay to do it and my fingernails look good enough without extra care so.. Haircuts are okay but I wish they were faster and I have to tell stylists (nicely) that I don’t want my hair sprayed and tortured and styled- at home I put some shea butter goop in there and leave, although it’s gotten long enough that I do need to blow dry somewhat or I’d be a drowned rat for an hour or more. I’d like to do facials but can’t afford them so I content myself with my old Erno routine with forays into some Korean skin care. But even then it’s pretty much apply and go. I think I’d be happy if they could just wheel me through on a conveyor like a car wash starting with a salt spray body was and ending with a crème de La mer spray like the final wax. Wipe me dry with a chamois and send me to get dressed.

    • March says:

      LOL! I have similar issues with my hair — they always want to blow-dry it and apply goo and I leave with helmet-hair despite explaining I don’t even own a blow dryer and never style it. I bet if someone came up with a conveyor belt like that, it’d get a lot of takers! I’d like one for my full-body moisturizing which is a whole thing here since the air and my skin are so dry.

    • rosarita says:

      I have had the same thoughts about the car wash approach, sign me up. To me, grooming is time consuming and sometimes I resent the time it takes.

  • Maggiecat says:

    Because of my back surgeries and fusions, I can’t bend well (or at all, really). Therefore, pedicures are both maintenance and self care. I enjoy the massage part, and the pretty toes outcome, but I dislike sitting in the chair and taking an hour out if my day and shuffling around in flip flops.
    I haven’t had a professional facial for a while but I enjoyed them. They were a luxury in a teacher’s salary. Massages help my back pain, so they’re more functional than self care, unfortunately.

    • March says:

      For the mani-pedis yeah, I know part of my issue is I always had them at those very busy Korean/Vietnamese places that are efficient but loud and not exactly spa-like. I really want a massage, but the last couple of places I tried (they’re a major splurge for me) were disappointing.

  • Tara C says:

    I always felt weird because my friends all rave about haircuts, facials, massages, etc. and I dislike all of them because I don’t like being touched by strangers. I tense up instead of relaxing. As a result, everything I do is maintenance and I do it myself. I guess I would say I enjoy a nice soak in the tub.

    • March says:

      Hey, not liking being touched would take the thrill out of most of these things! One of my kids is like that and offers of a facial etc. do not sound like a good time to her. A nice soak in the tub is TOTAL self-care. I know there are no-baths people and I … disagree.

  • MMKinPA says:

    We have a trigger point therapist that I love when I can get an appt. All those little niggling pains get worked out. Haven’t had a facial in ages but now I’m inspired – my son’s ex-girlfriend’s mom has a skin spa and I have been meaning to book something (we all get along nicely still despite the breakup). I agree – hair is maintenance. I don’t dislike it but it’s not relaxing at all for me. These days, sleeping in super late can feel like self-care as I don’t sleep all that well anymore!

    • March says:

      Ahhh, sleeping in! I don’t sleep that well either. I used to look at my teenagers sleeping until noon or 2pm with envy, they were totally unconscious. Trigger point therapy I’d probably love!

      • Dina C. says:

        Back in the early 80s my mom and aunt were really into myotherapy based on this book called Pain Erasure by Bonnie Prudden. It teaches all about trigger points and how to release them. I checked on Amazon, and it is still sold.