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.

Nose

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

Instanatural

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

Tub

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

PerfumeStory

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

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

PaulaHawkinsSlider-1024x716

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

Kit

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

SmithTea

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

Curio
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!

 

Artist Brian Goeltzenleuchter wants you to mine your childhood for scent

Brian

PerfumeThis week I submitted one very smelly piece of writing to Olfactory Memoirs, a participatory art project by San Diego-based post media artist Brian Goeltzenleuchter.

How does it work? Well, you pick a scent from your childhood and then you write a scent memory piece it in whatever form you choose. Memoir here is loose — you don’t have to adhere to any conventions of the genre. Some of the entries in the existing archive read like stream-of-consciousness (appropriate for scent, no?), some are in poem form, some haiku, others, like mine, feel like essay.

If you want to try your own and are having trouble getting started, Brian and his collaborators have put together this handy list of writing prompts.

I thought it might be fun to talk to Brian about why he’s doing this. Why get strangers mining their past for scent stories?

Brace yourself.

This is one very thoughtful super-sniffer.

In other words, if you share a scent-related memoir with one person this year, let it be him!

Q & A with artist Brian Goeltzenleuchter about the Olfactory Memoir project

Emily: Can you tell the story about how the Olfactory Memoir project come about?

Brian: One of my preoccupations as an artist relates to me finding great interest in other people’s passions. The stories they tell and consume, the objects they collect, the way they build worlds in which they can lose themselves. Basically, these are all examples of meaning-making engineered by people who make no claim to be “artists.” Call it an ethnographic dimension in my work. At first blush, it might appear to be an artistic liability or shortcoming – not desiring to develop an artistic voice of my own. But I love to hear other people tell stories. And I am good at collecting and representing multiple narratives to find connective tissue, discursive meaning, and radical juxtapositions. Olfactory Memoirs came out of this context. The project asks, What’s your earliest scent memory? It’s such an innocuous question. It doesn’t have an agenda other than to produce stories. And it has been my experience that stories beget stories. Producing and consuming stories is such a pleasurable way to learn about one another.

So I thought it would be interesting to tie this into my research in olfactory art and transmedia storytelling. Olfactorymemoirs.com was launched as a way to collect and archive scent memories of childhood. Down the road I will begin curating readings from the archive that will be performed in a transmedia environment which overlays conventional storytelling with scent compositions designed to unfold in temporal relation to spoken-word narratives.

Emily: Why is scent important for your collaborative art projects?

Brian: Scent is important insofar as it is a grossly underestimated sense; so many of our cultural biases are made painfully apparent through the various ways we have tried to keep the sense of smell at the bottom of a hierarchy of senses that has shaped the way we relate to the sensorium since the Enlightenment.

And yet, I’ve found that people are more than curious about the sense of smell. It feels like a zeitgeist moment in which we’ve come to realize that the visual can only tell us so much. Scent is wondrous. It represents, but not in the way an image or a sound represents. The volatile molecules of an odor change over time, which give it a temporal dimension. And, of course, the fact that it is the only sense that directly interfaces with our central system means that it’s the only sense in which emotion precedes cognition. For me it has all the elements for an engaging art experience.

Emily: Why does the project focus on scent and childhood in particular?

Brian: This project was sponsored by a Creative Catalyst grant for socially engaged artworks. “Social engagement” is a term that makes me bristle a little because it sounds like a euphemism for something more dubious. That, and the fact that it is often used naively by people who have not yet learned that there is no free lunch. With this project, I didn’t want to be didactic, nor did I want to preach to the converted. By focusing on childhood, a theme that I earlier referred to as innocuous, I felt it limited the risk of polarizing my audience, while simultaneously increasing the potential for meaningful reflection on diversity. Everyone has been a kid. And most people have memories of childhood that inform the stories they tell. By beginning with the all-inclusive theme of “childhood” I present readers with a range of childhood scenarios designed to resonate in collective memory and expand the complexity and diversity of what it means to “grow up.”

Why scent? Because it destabilizes our storytelling routines. You can infer a lot about a person’s identity from the way they mine their personal histories for narratives.

It’s not uncommon for people to possess and draw from a collection of narratives that in some way attempts to explain who they are as individuals. Most of us have told these kinds of stories so often that they become a little too slick. By asking someone to begin with a scent memory I prevent them from deploying story for tactical purposes. Instead, there is something akin to innocence or an unconscious working-out of things when someone begins with scent.

What made me remember that? And where did those details come from? I haven’t thought of that in years. I host writing workshops led by Judy Reeves, who for decades has been a writing provocateur in the San Diego area. She has so many good prompts that lead writers to arrive at scent memories that reveal a raw portrait of the writer as a child.

Emily: What have you learned about humans’ relationship to scent and childhood from your ongoing project?

Brian: If I were to rephrase your question to read, “What have you learned about humans’ relationship to scent and memory,” I would say that scent memories are packed with details. Usually, surprisingly vivid details, such as the pattern of a dress your friend wore thirty years ago, or a dialog you suddenly remember verbatim, or the ambient sounds that occurred simultaneously with the smell.

This is not terribly linear in the way that written narratives often unfold in a sequential order. Rather, it comes as a collage of sensory details that not only adds a certain authenticity to the narrative, but in the right hands, can allow the author’s voice (at that time in childhood) to speak. That is a specifically moving part of reading scent memories of childhood; the author can assume the voice of herself as a child.

But to your question about scent and childhood, I’ve learned that our attachment to odors are incredibly subjective. I knew that there are cultural biases in smell, but collecting scent memories has taught me that individual bonds or aversions to smells are formed early, and often in unusual ways. One example is an olfactory memoir that was recently submitted to the website about the smell of pickled pig’s feet. The feet, which the author claimed smelled like silicone caulking, were an early memory of what he referred to as “the smell of truce” that would occur between he and his abusive father. Hearing his father pop the lid and smell the sour vinegar from the jar told him he could join his dad around the table for a rare bonding moment. Even 40 years after these moments, and although he has never popped a jar of pickled pig’s feet as an adult, he still salivates whenever he smells silicone caulking! Apparently the response is automatic.

Emily: I’m writing a book-length olfactory memoir myself right now and I’m finding that scent is a subject that you have to make sneak up in the writing to be effective. Do you have any thoughts on what writers need to do to use scent effectively in writing or storytelling?

Brian: I like the phrase “sneaking up.” In daily perception smell also sneaks up on us. We see a clean kitchen but smell the burnt toast. We can choose not to look at something but unless we hold our breath we are constantly confronted our olfactory environment. Why should it be any different in the way a reader experiences it on the page? Beyond that, I imagine there are additional challenges, since descriptions are often limited to what something smells like or how a smell makes you feel.

I have this ongoing conversation with a polymath of sorts named Richard Gleaves. Richard has a plan to counter the Anglo-American smell aversion that has limited the way in which we verbally describe smell and the perception of smell. His project would involve perceptual scientists and professional writers. The scientists would delineate the various phenomena and principles of olfaction that people are capable of receiving (as measured by scientific tests), but not necessarily consciously aware of, due to the existing gaps in their language and culture. Once this inventory of perceivable olfactory phenomena is established, the writers would be commissioned to collectively coin new language which artfully defines the perceptual inventory, with the goal of introducing the coined language into common usage. Such coinages would include (but not be limited to) new words, semantic extensions of existing words, and new metaphors. Maybe you two should collaborate!

Emily: What will happen to all of these olfactory memoirs you are gathering?

Brian: In addition to the website functioning as a participatory archive, which invites readers to become writers, there is a performance element that is in the works. The performance takes a hybrid form: A literary reading of olfactory memoirs that is choreographed to coincide with an orchestrated delivery of fragrances that I design. Throughout the performance these fragrances play the role of olfactory landscapes (“scent-scapes”) intended to add a sensory dimension to the performance by connecting audiences more deeply to the narrative texts read on stage.

Presently I am working with Dave Ghilarducci, a very talented artist with a deep engineering background. We are designing scent distribution devices that will release trace amounts of fragrance into the audience and then filter them out just as quickly. Dave is working on a keyboard that will essentially allow me to DJ the scents from a computer and disperse them simultaneously to a seated audience. We will do some preliminary test events in a couple of months with major performances expected in 2017.

Emily: Thanks so much, Brian!

If you’d like to contribute an Olfactory Memoir to the project I’d say retrieve those memories and tackle those scents to paper! If you decide to do it, I’d love it if you’d link to yours in the comments.