23 Ways to Bring More Scent into Your Life

If you’re looking for a way to engage your sense of smell — and you should — here are 23 fun ways you can bring more scent into your life.


1. Use a candle to set the mood

Brooklyn Candle Co.

Brooklyn Candle Studio

Is lighting a candle a part of your life? It should be! Candle light is romantic, yes, and it certainly creates an atmosphere in the home. But the scent it releases in your space can help make your house feel like a place of respite and safety. How do you find the right one for you? If you know which essential oils you prefer, you should be able to choose a candle without smelling it, assuming that the candle maker uses quality oils. Otherwise, go shopping! If you’d like to meet some contemporary candle makers who are using natural scents in their tapers, vessels and votives, please read my blog post on the subject, 8 New Candle Makers Using Natural Scents. I’m particularly fond of Archipelago’s Driftwood, a combination of Water Hyacinth, Driftwood and Tonka Bean that burns a long 90 hours.

2. Buy an aromatherapy diffuser


If you have a stash of essential oils you adore, you can send them into the atmosphere with ease by using an aromatherapy diffuser. I am particularly partial to the Essential Oil Aromatherapy Diffuser by InstaNatural. Try altering your mood by your needs by choosing an essential oil known to enliven, relax or soothe, like Peppermint or Bergamot (uplifting), or lavender (relaxing). Most aromatherapy diffusers, fed with 4-5 drops of oil, will work for about five hours.

3. Wear a natural perfume

Caption Blankenship is one of my favorites.

Caption Blankenship is one of my favorites.

Wearing a perfume made by an artisan can bring happiness while making you smell like nothing else on earth. Natural perfumes, made using only natural ingredients such as essential oils, alcohol or base oils, harness the power of natural ingredients and are a luxury experience like none other. Don’t know which one to try? My favorite indie perfumers of late working with natural ingredients are Jessica Hannah, Mandy Aftel and Jana Blankenship.

4. Travel by nose

The Young Lycidas is the most fragrant rose at the Portland International Rose Test Gardens.

The Young Lycidas is the most fragrant rose at the Portland International Rose Test Gardens.

Have you ever noticed how you respond to a place based on its scent? How a spice market feels so different to you not just for what you’re seeing, but what you’re smelling? That a city has a smellscape all of its own, how a trip to the woods can restore you with every breath? Paying attention to what you are smelling is what I call traveling by nose. It simply requires you to be present and notice the differences between places based on what your olfaction is telling you. What are my favorite smelly places? Well, the Pacific Northwest, of course, home to lavender, ponderosa pine, hops, mint and many other aromatic plants. But every geography has its intrinsic scents. A walk around the neighborhood will reveal its own smellscapes.

5. Go “Forest Bathing”

Truffle hunting is a great way to travel by nose.

Truffle hunting is a great way to travel by nose.

The Japanese call working through the forest atmosphere Shinrin-yoku, which means “forest bathing, or taking in the whole environment of the forest. The next time you walk into the woods, pay attention to the scents coming off the coniferous and broad-leafed trees. Look for the smell of geosmin, which is the damp earth smell, peaty and decaying. Experience how the water makes your nose smell more powerfully after a light rain. Forest bathing reduces stress, blood glucose levels and can ease depression. Can’t make it to the forest? Well, drizzling some Oregon Truffle Oil on some pasta is a fine replacement.

  1. Create scented bath salt


Baths solve everything. Really. So next time, use a scented bath salt using your favorite essential oils. I mix a combination of 2 C. Epson salts with 2 teaspoons Jojoba oil, 5-10 drops of my favorite essential oils (I like lavender, cedar wood and clary sage for baths). Shake it up in a container of your choosing, a Ball Jar is fine.

7. Make a scent spray

I use Monster-Away Spray to help my toddler assuage his fear of monsters.

I use Monster-Away Spray to help my toddler assuage his fear of monsters.

If you need a mid-day pick-me up or are just in a foul mood, a scented spray can do wonders. Recipes abound on the web, but for a simple sleep spray, I like to use a spray bottle with about 2 C. of water. I like my spray heavier on the lavender side, so I do a mix of 8 drops lavender to 4 drops Roman chamomile for each cup of water. So if your spray bottle holds two C. distilled water like mine, use eight drops Roman chamomile oil and 16 drops lavender oil. Shake well before each use.

8. Get Cinematic


Olibere is a perfume company that creates short films to go along with its perfumes. Neat idea! But there are also full-length movies that harness the power of scent. How about Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, after the novel by Patrick Süskind? Now Smell This, one of my favorite scent blogs, has a wonderful post about perfume usage in the movies.

  1. Make a DIY seasonal potpourri

FactoryDirectCraft.com is a good source for potpourri if you don't have access to your own materials.

Each season demands its own scents, and fall (happening as I write this), has some of the best (decorative gourd season, anyone?). Take some whole cinnamon sticks, slightly crushed, use a teaspoon of vanilla essential oil or extract, a handful of anise seeds, a dash or two of allspice, a ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, and ground or whole cloves (based on how much you like gloves). Set to simmer on your stovetop in some water et voilá! It’s autumn in your house.

10. Meditate with scent

Lavender is an excellent oil to use for meditation, as is sandalwood.

Lavender is an excellent oil to use for meditation, as is sandalwood.

Medtation has proven benefits for well-being. But did you know that focusing on the body’s breath can be made even more enjoyable and meaningful by adding scent? Millennia of prayer with incense cannot be wrong. You can even add scent to your yoga practice. Scent is rarely the focus of such activities; it is simply a way to enter the practice. Adding scent to your meditative practice can be as simple as burning a scented candle or scented incense or dabbing a few essential oils on your temples.

11. Pick some flowers

When possible, enlist help!

When possible, enlist help!

Bringing fresh flowers is said to energize the home (or office, or garden, whatever) with great energy. Scented flowers work even better since they infuse spaces with the aromas of the natural world. Want the smelliest flowers? You’ll do better to choose flowers that are local to your area, which aren’t bred to travel long distances. Don’t go too stinky, though. The smelliest flower in the world, the corpse flower, smells like rotting meat. Instead go for roses, lilies, peonies, cherry blossoms, daphne, hyacinth, honeysuckle or whatever is growing seasonally in your region.

12. Clean with essential oils

If you don't want to make your own, Meyer's Mrs. Clean Day is a good producer of scented cleaning materials.

If you don’t want to make your own, Meyer’s Mrs. Clean Day is a good producer of scented cleaning materials.

Don’t want to clean? Me, either. Unless I get to use a homemade cleaning product made with hand-picked essential oils. Williams-Sonoma, Aura Cacia, and a host of other companies are now making green cleaning products with essential oil bases if you don’t want to invest in your own oils. Some great oils you can add to water for simple dusting include peppermint, bergamot, eucalyptus, cedarwood, grapefruit, lavender, pine and geranium.

13. Make your own body oil/ Do Self-massage


Self-massage might be your answer to a good night’s sleep. It’s as simple as buying some carrier oil such as jojoba and adding essential oils in a combination that provides an uplifting or relaxing scent experience. One of my favorite oil blends is featured on my post 7 Benefits of Daily Self-Massage (and essential oil blend to do it). I also really like the Vata oil and other Ayurvedic products from Banyan Botanicals.

  1. Read some smelly literature


I can’t get enough scent cues in literature. If you pay attention to them, you’ll notice they reveal much about characters’ psychology. If you don’t, they just add to the story. I’ve been compiling my favorite scent writing in a project called “The Scent in Literature Project.” I’ve been adding new entries for about a year now, and the scope just gets richer. If you’re looking for books specifically about scent, Base Notes as a great conversation going about the subject.

15. Drink your flowers

The Meadow in N. Portland is one of my favorite places for exploring flower syrups.

The Meadow in N. Portland is one of my favorite places for exploring flower syrups.

One of my favorite kitchen items is our Sodastream, which allows us to make our own sodas. It’s an easy way to make a flavored fizzy drink without worry about all the additives and extra sugar that ends up in commercial sodas. You can drink your scents this way. My household loves Elderflower, Rose, Lavender and Violet! One of my favorite places to explore bitters and flowers you can drink is The Meadow in Portland.

16. Cook with essential oils

Aftelier makes an excellent line of essential oil sprays for cooking.

Aftelier makes an excellent line of essential oil sprays for cooking.

There was a time when many ketchup recipes used essential oils instead of the aromatic plants themselves. That time has come again! Using essential oils in recipes is often favored over using the plant matter since the oils harness the finest qualities of the herbs and spices without some of the drawbacks. Think: pepper oil instead of pepper (you lose the heat and retain the aroma/flavor). You can use any of the oils on the USDA Generally Regarded as Safe list. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of sourcing your own oils, you can try one of the great cooking sprays by Mandy Aftel of Aftelier.

  1. Journal while smelling something from your past


Scent is deeply connected to memory. So the next time you decide to do some journaling, get something smell-laden from your past. Breathe it in deeply, and write for 20 minutes on whatever comes to mind. Who knows, you might just have a text worthy of the Olfactory Memoir Project!

18. Explore the nearest scent shop

Credit: Josh Partee

Credit: Josh Partee

Do you have a perfume shop in your city? Do you have any boutiques that carry indie perfumers? Is the closest place to find perfume a department stores? Take it slow. If you’re new to perfume trying three perfumes in one day might be enough. As you start to understand how perfumes are composed, using top, middle and base notes, you will become more interested in types of perfumes, like Oriental, Fougere, Floral and Herbal. You’ll start being able to identify them, even seek them out. My new favorite place to explore scent is at Spruce Apothecary in Portland, which carries several lines of European fragrances not often found in the United States.

19. Feng shui an important room in your house

Some rooms need more than an essential oil spray :)

Some rooms need more than an essential oil spray 🙂

Okay, so feng shui isn’t actually a verb. But you could space-clear a room according to the principles of feng shui and then bring energy into it using an aromatherapy spray. I like this post on how to space clear using sage, but more often, I simply clear a room of clutter, wipe down the surfacing using one of my aromatherapy sprays. It freshens up the space in a way you can feel down to your bones.

20. Drink pinot noir

For great wine, a great vessel.

For great wine, a great vessel.

Do you love wine. Well, then I’ve got a wine varietal for you. Pinot noir is said to be the most fragrant of varietals. In Oregon, where I live, we even put our pinot in a glass that could ACTUALLY HOLD AN ENTIRE BOTTLE OF WINE. Don’t believe me? Try drinking pinot in an Oregon pinot noir glass. The glass maximizes the surface area of wine touching the air and funnels the aromas in a way that captures the scent of the varietal. I won’t drink pinot in anything else.

  1. Add essential oils to your tea


Ah, the tea habit. So civilized. But even if you just have some loose green tea leaves, you can make it more interesting by spraying some essential oils in there. Maybe some bergamot, or rose, or lavender. Florals are great here, as are citrus. If you want to make your own essential oil food and drink spray. You can mix a Cup of vodka with 4-5 drops of essential oil. Be careful, a spray or two is enough.

22. Find your signature scent

If you can't find your signature scent, make your own!

If you can’t find your signature scent, make your own!

Your signature scent will likely change over your lifetime as you age and your olfaction changes. That’s to be expected. What you love at 20 is not what you love at 80. So consider your journey towards finding your signature scent a lifetime one. Remember: Scent is a deeply personal experience. You don’t have to like what other people like. Some people change their signature scent seasonally. Others change it day by day! If you’re ready to begin that particular journey, I recommend this story by New York Magazine.

23. Replace all of your spices

If your cinnamon has been grandfathered into your cabinet, if your cloves smell kind of off, if even your basil smells stinky, you really need to just do a full sweep and gets some new spices. Your spice collection is not intended to last forever. They are organic products with real shelf lives. Indeed, investing in better spices will please your nose and palate and make cooking more fun. My favorite new spice company is the Curio Spice Co., launching this autumn by my friend Claire. In addition to having my favorite logo of all time (a bear! Supersniffer!), Claire blogs about spices (and why sourcing them matters) at her Aromatum blog.

What’s your favorite way to bring more scent into your life? Please share with me in the comments section. I read every one!


Atlas Hugged: How to Stop Collecting Globes, or Anything Else

My favorite globe, gifted to me from a fourth grade teacher in Portland.

My favorite globe, gifted to me from a fourth grade teacher in Portland.

HouseI didn’t do it consciously. It wasn’t like I woke up one day and decided I was going to start collecting Cold War-era globes. Seriously, who does that? But within a year, I had four. And I started realizing that globes were sneaking up on me in other areas of my life.

Like any good self-examiner, I started wondering what was going on.

I had started decorating with globes.

The nymph sculpture is my husband's work, carved from a root.

The nymph sculpture is my husband’s work, carved from a root. I picked up the painting at a vintage shop in Aurora, Ore. It’s a watercolor of Grosvenor Square in London, from 1922.

The globes had started congregating in my office.

My husband found most of these at Goodwill.

My husband found most of these at Goodwill.

One day, my friend gave me this gorgeous globe necklace.

You can take it with you and, of course, it falls at your heart.

You can take it with you and, of course, it falls at your heart.

Two years after the fact, I realized that I had even made my son into a globe, for our local UFO parade.

My kids are my whole world.

My kids are my whole world.

Why We Collect

Psychologists estimate that about a third of people collect, and the reasons vary immensely. You might not be surprised to read that people who study collecting always point to the psychological underpinnings of the behavior. It has everything to do with the high-game stakes of life and death and our shoddy attempts at cheating the inevitable.

In other words, you’re older than you’ve ever been and now you’re even older!

Are we trying to fill a void in our lives that was never filled? Motivated by the existential urge to make our ephemeral existences more permanent? Connecting ourselves to an object in an attempt to hang our identity hats on something in the physical realm? Simply misplacing an age-old survival tactic?

The desire to control even a small part of the chaos of the universe is great — even greater so for me since I became a mother and became the ruler of the universe.

“The objects and their organization bind us to something larger than ourselves, and as religion was born out of a fear of death and the wish of eternal life, collecting expresses the same fundamental urges.” – Philipp Blom, NYTimes.com

I like that idea. It feels so definitive, and yet, I don’t think it says enough. It certainly doesn’t explain my globe collecting to myself. After all, every collection is an attempt at personal storytelling, with the beginning (the idea) and the end (your death) being just the bookends.

Golden Globes

I can tell you the exact moment I fell in love with  maps. As a child, I had attended one of those no-walls elementary schools developed in the 1970s. Between my fourth-grade classroom and the bathroom was a storage space where our teachers had placed several giant maps of the world on movable rolling barriers.

The relief map of Europe was my favorite. During bathroom breaks I often stopped there and ran my fingers along the word Czechoslovakia. Ever since, nothing makes me tingle more than a map. It’s the travel writer in me – the person who sees a place name and imagines being there. Just what would happen to me in the place between here and there?

But globes? As physical objects they are so much more compelling than a map.The earth trembles under your hands.  They harness space and time in a way that accentuates our place in the universe. So tiny, but with such a great and expanding view.

You can certainly hug a globe.

So there it is – a childhood back story, a life calling to become a travel writer. Self-identification as a worldly person. A global symbology upon which I could hang a collection.

In my life, the globes came forth.

Enough is Enough

You can see the possible end to this story. Emily decides she’s into globes and then acquires globes for the rest of her life until her house is like a mini universe of rotating Earths. Each holiday, her friends and family find new and inspired ways to bring the globe back into her life, to appease this unending global hunger.

That’s not the way it’s working out, thank God. For me, the balance has come from two areas 1.) Identifying what the collection means and 2.) Becoming something of a feng shui nut. These two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I have found a way to both be thrilled with my collection and not let it take control of my space.

Collecting and feng shui

In her wonderful book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, Karen Kingston writes about how collections happen. When you collect, you choose object based on their metaphorical meaning. After all, I’m not collecting vintage medical tools or Pez dispensers. These are globes.

Kingston says that when the collector has moved through the stage where she draws metaphorical meaning from the object, she can stop collecting.

You mean you don’t have to collect something for the rest of your life?!

Yes. You can stop now.


And I did. I stopped. Because here’s the real reason I was collecting globes.

Since having children and becoming a mostly stay-at-home mom, my world has gotten smaller, sometimes suffocatingly so. International travel is pretty much off my radar. Since my entire world exists in about 2,000 ft.2, and I work from home, I have sometimes felt like a John Denver song unable to reach its chorus. And while I do get out a lot more than other moms since I do a fair amount of travel writing professionally, the distance between the center of my circle and its periphery is very small.

But the world is out there! It’s waiting for me, for another time. I am small and the world is big. And every day I have reminders of that. Sure, they may be reminders with political boundaries from my childhood, but there is some comfort in that, too. These globes are reminders that the borders are always shifting, that attempts at control break down over time. Rivers change paths. Mountains crumble, a planet swiftly tilting and all.

Once I realized this, I didn’t really need any more globes. I love them, I’m keeping them all (for now), but let’s not get carried away here. Now, I have something different. I have am left to enjoy the process of having an acquisitive eye, which means when I see globes out there looking awesome (as so many of them do), I can merely snap a pic for Instagram or add it to my ever-growing collection on Pinterest of globes.

The Internet saves the world again.


Making a collection work for you

Feng shui guru Kathryn Weber has a really great breakdown about how to assess if your collection is working for you. It’s got some truly stellar questions you can ask yourself about your collection and your collecting habit that will help you see your collection as the story that it is in your life.

In the end, you can’t control other people, but you can control yourself. I know someone who liked penguins as a child and was still getting penguins a decade after she was over it. My German host father has an overflowing owl cabinet, for example, though he really seems into it. My husband has too many collections to recollect: bonsai, flutes, wheel-thrown pottery. He’s unstoppable.

But you have to be really vocal about just what your relationship is to these objects. If you find yourself getting gifted a lot for your collection, don’t forget:

You’re the curator, here.

Do you have a collection? Do you know why you are collecting?