Scent is a funny thing. When we’re immersed in something– all day, every day– we don’t sense it any more. One of my first jobs was at a sandwich restaurant chain. When I was at the restaurant, elbow deep in cold cuts, I never noticed the smell. I never smelled it until I was home. I was like PigPen from Peanuts, except for instead of a cloud of dust, it was a cloud of bread-smell and red onions.
I think the time when I realized that everyone’s house smells different was the time I started to grow up. So, walking into other people’s houses as a kid, I realized– oh, they think THIS smells like home. Potpourri or spaghetti sauce or lemon pledge or whatever it was that I noticed, it wasn’t what home smelled like to me. It wasn’t until I would sleep over at a friend’s house and then go home that I could really notice what my home smelled like.
My mother has always been really sensitive to scents. She doesn’t use perfume or anything with added fragrance. My mother was also allergic to dust, so our house didn’t exactly smell like that either. If I had to characterize the smell, it might be the smell of paper and ink and bodies– there were six of us at home, including two teenage boys. It was kind of like the smell of the far-back stacks of a library.
Growing up, I was always a little envious of homes that smelled like something bold. Cinnamon-scented candles and essential oils– they all seemed so magical. I asked for scented candles for Christmas one year, and lined them up in my room unlit. A little shrine to my hope for a home that smelled like somewhere else.
I’m an adult now and could design some sort of scent environment. I could curate a museum of smells, but I know I would come to ignore it. It would become to commonplace, even if it were a tour of all of the citrus plants I can imagine (orange in the kitchen, maybe; lemon in the bathroom; grapefruit chamomile in the bedroom). I wouldn’t notice it any more. Instead, I think my house now smells a lot like my house growing up– except more dusty. I’m terrible at dusting.
There’s joy in the simple smells that appear in my life– my toddler’s hair after a bath, the fresh bread cooling on the counter. There’s nothing fighting for attention from those bursts of joy.
What does home smell like to you?