Use it or lose it

Yesterday I experienced another funny instance of the idiom use it or lose it.

In the early evening, as I approached the restaurant we were to meet friends, one of my newest pair of shoes (bought 2019) completely fell apart. The bottom rubber sole broke in two, the upper straps ripped away from the sole, and the inner sole fell out. There was no wearing it.

My broken sandal (smudged over brand because I’m not dissing it.)

Some months earlier, I had worn another pair of my shoes to one of my hospital appointments. When I slid my feet out of them to get weighed, I was slightly embarrassed to find that the inside of the slip-on sandal strap (polyurethane material?) had disintegrated and got stuck on my bare feet. Oops!

Also in recent months, the rubber soles of my favorite walking shoes fell apart on one of our regular strolls.

That which is used develops. That which is not used wastes away.


All this I blame partly on the pandemic. From March 2020, I seldom left the safety and comfort of our home. Our shoes stayed neatly stored in our shoe cabinet by the front door.

My “educated” guess is that not wearing them and the lack of ventilation in the closed cabinet trapped the natural moistness in our hot tropical air. This moisture plus heat, I’ve just learned, can either start a process called hydrolysis (decomposition caused by water) or grow mold that eats away the glue and/or rubber, polyurethane material, and even leather.

I’m now resigned to go through our cabinet, check whether any wearable shoes remain, and avoid any further awkward shoe breakdowns.

Fortunately, yesterday my shoe crumbled while I was in a large mall and I could hobble with my one bare foot into a nearby department store to buy an inexpensive pair of slip-ons.

When I told my Manila friends about my shoe fiasco today, a couple reported that the non-leather handbags they’ve not used for a long time were also breaking down. I have a new job to do, not having looked at my box of bags for a very long time!

But the idiom use it or lose it applies to more than shoes not worn or bags not carried.

Have you ever noticed that an unoccupied house deteriorates much faster than one lived in? Community wisdom says an empty or abandoned house suffers more from harsher weather and temperature fluctuations than a lived-in home and thus speeds up cracking and mold spore growth. For example, in places with cold winters, pipes are destroyed as the water in them freezes. In the tropics, humidity promotes mold growth. Just by normal living in the structure, humans stabilize the temperature, ventilate inner spaces more, and clean off dust and molds.

Yet when I think more about losing what I don’t use, my thoughts go to my body and brain. Being in my mid-60s, I’m coming to an age when I ponder the inevitability of both physical and mental decline.

If you want to retire happy, great health is important. The foundation for all happiness lies in health. Physical, mental, or spiritual health – you must use it or lose it!

Ernie J Zelinski

Better to lose our shoes and bags than our corporal or cognitive health!

My entire life, I’ve been physically and mentally active.

I was always involved in one kind of sport/exercise activity or another. Occupied with swimming, skiing, and ice skating during my childhood. Gymnastics, volleyball, and basketball mostly engaged me in my teens. Aerobic classes, jazz dance, yoga, working out in exercise clubs, swimming in the sea, and a lot of tennis got my attention at various times throughout my adult years. All that on top of frequent walking, especially when traveling.

Then came the pandemic, and a year and a half later, the start of my anti-cancer program. That put an end to most of my physical activity.

The most debilitating for me was the chemotherapy, which decimated my appetite and energy to do anything physical. Despite a nightly 30-minute walk around our subdivision and attempts to exercise along with instructors on YouTube, I lost about eight kilos (~18 lbs) in body weight and a visible amount of muscle mass.

I must put more effort into regaining some of that muscle mass. I know it can be done. I want and am determined to be able to go back to traveling and walk and hike and climb small hills or a reasonable number of stairs. And I want to grow old physically strong and nimble.

The mind is like any other muscle in your body. Use it or lose it.

Robin S. Sharma

Then there’s the mind. It’s my (very!) good fortune that I have a learning mindset coupled with endless curiosity. Not a day goes by that I don’t learn something new, even on my worst chemo days. Today I learned about hydrolysis; who knew?

For my coaching/consulting work, I pay close attention to trends in business and am constantly taking courses to pick up new skills. That—using your brain to learn new and meaningful things—they say, is the best way to ward off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Yes, please.

At the end of my day (which is mostly in the wee hours way after midnight), I play two word games to tease my brain and prevent it from atrophying like my shoes. Wordle challenges you to guess a five-letter word in six tries (so far I’ve missed only twice to get to the right word out of 145 games, most on the fourth try). Quordle goes a step higher by having you guess four words within nine tries—not unhappy with my record there, either. Don’t think I’ll ever do better than this Quordle #70, though. LOL.

Another little mental exercise I do each evening occurs while my honey and I walk around our subdivision. There are only seven parallel streets, with a horizontal street at the two ends. My challenge is to mentally map out our walk in such a way that we walk a different route every night while covering every street and returning to our home from the opposite direction we left. That seems to affect positively both my memory (how did we walk yesterday?) and my cognitive skill (seeing the streets mapped out in my brain). Not much, you might think, but don’t judge till you try it. LOL.

Finally, writing this online journal (and my bi-weekly business newsletter) is for me yet one more way to stay mentally nimble. Writing, too, involves critical thinking and brings clarity. It won’t always be deep and thought-provoking, but, as still another new mantra goes, “better than nothing.

Flood your life with ideas from many sources. Creativity needs to be exercised like a muscle. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it!

Brian Tracy

What do you think you need to use more to avoid losing it?


  • Very wise words, Cisca. Thanks! (and I very much enjoyed your ‘hook’ story of your shoes. AND I am glad to hear you are back going to restaurants with friends!)

  • There are cycles and seasons of time, we never lose anything if viewed in a different way. Our bodies change but we have no death gene in us unlike most other species. I have read that as we age there is less on our minds so we have more clarity. I like to look at nature, seeds and flowers as guides to my rebirth

  • Hike. Which is becoming increasingly difficult due to restrictions of Covid.
    Intelligent and relaxed discussion/discourse. Also inhibited by Covid restrictions, but, it seems, also by those who shun/fear it.
    I looked up “intelligent discussion” and was horrified to find it labeled as “smart talk” in a pejorative sense.

  • Yes, we can try to delay the inevitable but in the end we are programmed to break down. This is our destiny.
    It is hard to tell what exactly is buying you some extra quality time.
    Is it food, exercise, brain exercises, etc ? Or is it just fate and your genes?
    We all know a smoking, drinking and careless guy who lives 100 years.

  • 100% the only thing is my body! I’d like to add the vacuum in my puppy-fur filled home, but that is just part of it and not “all me”: my physical form is what I am always aware is passing the days and not the same…no matter what. It’s up to me to keep it up =)

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