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What does your memory smell like?


When I was a little girl and someplace special with my Dad, he would sometimes stop and tell me to "make a memory." I would pause, look around and try and take it all in so I could capture the moment. Maybe this is what began my obsession with memories. I am shamelessly sentimental, and the ability to recall past moments and to re-live them in my mind is something I cherish. 

Years ago I read somewhere that scent was the most effective sense in recalling memory. Come to find out, science says it's true, but we already knew that, right? If you really want to get to know someone, ask them what they think of when they smell rain. Newly sharpened pencils and play-doh and furniture polish. Scent doesn't help us recall something, it transports us better than a Delorean back in time. 

Green Palmolive dish soap is the time machine I use when I miss my grandparents and I want to be back in their kitchen in San Leandro with the Formica table in the corner, drinking cran-apple juice and eating sourdough toast with real butter. My Grandpa, with his huge, strong, hands is meticulously writing something with a heavy mechanical pencil he keeps in his shirt pocket next to his soft pack of cigarettes. He's been gone over 25 years but then again, he isn't gone at all. 

Now that I know the secret of scent, I catch myself in a moment and think, "I wonder what this will smell like to me in 20 years?" And more and more, I intentionally choose scents for special moments. 

I began making bath and body products when my son was born because I wanted to have his earliest moments connected with a scent I loved. He's 5 now, and he adores our after bath ritual slathering on the lavender body butter I used on him as an infant. Each time I smell it I get a magical moment back of my life as that new mom. 

A friend told me she keeps a travel bag with small toiletries she uses when she travels. Now whenever she smells the perfume she kept in there she unintentionally feels the thrill of a new adventure. How cool is that?! A simple smell can quicken her pulse and brighten her day as she anticipates where she'll go next!

The article linked above sums it up perfectly, "odors can be harnessed to induce emotional and physiological responses that can improve human health and well-being." How much time, energy and money are we spending to try and improve our health and well-being each day? Meanwhile scent is all around us, waiting to be harnessed to improve the quality of our life. 

I hate to ruin your day, but essential oils aren't going to cure cancer, replace your cholesterol medication or treat a disease. Sorry, but I can't get on that woo-woo bandwagon. But I know for a fact that beautiful scents can bring me joy, lighten my mood, help me relax and give me opportunities to relive moments I cherish. And so in their own weird way, they actually do something important! 

What scents take you back to a moment of experience you love? Any odd stories about scents unintentionally binding to a person or event? I'd love to hear about it. I'm a scent nerd, what can I say?


1 comment


  • Mija Ryer

    When I think about what smell reminds me of my childhood, I always go back to the smell of coins on my hands. More specifically, pennies. I have spent many many hours living in the mountains and looking for wheat pennies and hand-rolling them to pass the time for my frugal father.


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