There are still patches of snow in the yard, but I'm ignoring them because the sun is out, I can hear birds and I've cracked the windows to let in that first bit of spring air! I was joking with a friend on Sunday that a day just like today in August would have us all grabbing sweaters and whining about the cold, but in February this day warrants bare feet and t-shirts. Context is everything, no?
Speaking of context, when I opened the window and felt the clean air rush past my face I realized with disappointment that it smelled so much nicer outside than in my house. Noseblindness is real, my friends. Sometimes when I arrive home after being gone all day I notice how my house smells, and while it's usually ok, I'm fairly certain that having two toddlers as housemates has lowered both my smell expectations and overall sensation. There is also a half-intentional smell agnosticism between my husband and I as we wait for the other to acknowledge a poopy diaper first (which automatically assigns the changing duty.)
Smell agnosticism may be a survival mechanism for days when laundry or cleaning just don't get done, but I do become extremely conscious of how my house smells when someone else steps through my door. I try not to be overly obsessive about having my home perfect for guests because I think most people are understanding of a little clutter, but smells are different. Smells are less logical and more primal: the olfactory sensors in your nose trigger the parts of your brain that are associated with emotion and memory, which is why smelling warm bread makes me think of my mother's kitchen, and the fumes of a sun-warmed trash can bring back images from my childhood wanderings in the streets of Tirana, Albania.
The brain's processing of smell shows us that the scents around our house can go a long way towards how someone feels in our home. People are often happy to ignore a bit of mess in our houses but they literally can't help themselves from absorbing the odors. Or as science historian Diane Ackerman puts it, "Cover your eyes and you will stop seeing, cover your ears and you will stop hearing, but if you cover your nose and stop smelling, you will die.”
For those of us who have a bit of funk to tame in the service of invoking good feelings and comfort for all who enter our home, here are some tips for good smells all around:
Deep clean all the areas of your space that tend to trap stink, such as the back of the trash can/compost bin, under the microwave, in the cushions of the couch, around and under toilets, anywhere you store food, garbage, or compost. I'm into using natural cleaners like this or this, but plain old vinegar works great and can be mixed with lemon for a brighter smell.
Place textiles on a tarp outside in the sun for an hour, so that your rugs, cushions, blankets and pillows can disinfect in the sun's UV rays and freshen up in the clean air. Be aware that the sun can sometimes bleach out colors that are not very lightfast (like naturally dyed items.)
Burn incense or sage, which has been traditionally thought as both spiritually and physically cleansing. These incense sticks from Juniper Ridge converted me; I am not a fan of straight-up patchouli but these ones are made from foraged plant matter and sap, emitting a beautiful, spicy campfire smell.
Diffuse essential oils throughout the house with therapeutic-grade blends you can get from a friend. Essential oils are powerful mood boosters and they've been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, pain and a range of other conditions. My friend, Char, brought this diffuser to a baby shower and it was almost like the grapefruit, floral smell matched the colorful decorations! I love the look of this pretty humidifier, but I could also go for a reed diffuser, in which case I'd choose this smokey scent.
Cook or bake something before guests arrive and let those good smells permeate your whole house. My grandmother would throw butter and garlic on in the frying pan when she saw my grandpa pulling up from work, just so that it would smell like she'd been busily preparing dinner all along! (Good one, Oma!)