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Decorating: use your nose

One of my childhood friend’s homes really stands out in my memory – it always smelled wonderfully. I loved walking through their door and discovering what aroma I’d be treated to. That delicious bread-and-cookie smell stands out the strongest (being a kid, after all), but I also remember the sweet smell of flowers, fruit, and pine year-round.

Photo by Nick Wheeler

Turns out her mom always had candles burning. When I discovered that as an adult, I’ve made a point to have lit aromatic candles at home whenever I can.

There’s something welcoming, relaxiing, and stress-relieving to have a delicious smell wafting through your home. It feels cleaner, it draws guests through the front door with a sense of belonging, and in general, it says “this is a home, and not just a house.”

Some thoughts on effective smelly tools:

Don’t waste your money on candles that smell only a little bit. To me, their scent is weak and waxy, and it dissipates after a few minutes anyway. Since I advocate simplicity and minimalism, having weak candles just clutters up your living and visual space, in my opinion. They’re not useful.

essentialoil.jpg• If you can’t afford stronger-smelling candles, just go with unscented. Then buy some essential oil and sprinkle a few drops on the top of the candle. An essential oil‘s scent is much stronger, and its aroma is more realistic because, well, essential oils are made of natural ingredients.

But if you can, go for a few strong-smelling candles that have a long burn life. I adore Tyler candles – some of their scents I like right now are Paris, Indulge, Kaffe, and Snickerdoodle. There are also a lot of Etsy shops that sell homemade candles, and since I have a soft spot for both mom-owned businesses and fellow Etsy store owners, I wanted to mention a few.  Check out etsy shops here, here, and here.

Melted scented wax is wonderful. Use a tart warmer that uses a simple tealight, or go for an electric version. I think this one is sweet.

I’m a big fan of incense, and I currently use it all the time, since effectively-scented candles are extremely hard to find where I live. Use a simple incense holder, or you can easily make your own. Etsy has some great stuff for sale like this chocolate orange stuff (one of my favorite scents).

I’ve never had much luck with potpourri, but I know some people love having it around. Like with candles, I wouldn’t bother with the barely-smelling stuff. I’d spend a little bit more on stuff that really works. You can also use dried lavender to really pack some aromatic punch.

Don’t forget how wonderful food baking in the oven smells! Bread, cookies, muffins – they’re all winners. Even savory cooking with spices like fresh basil easily waft through the house and smell wonderful.

• I haven’t tried this, but I’ve read that having a pot of apple juice with sliced oranges, cinnamon sticks, and cloves boiling on the stove provides instant aromatherapy.

• I drink coffee like it’s going out of style, so it’s brewing every morning. It’s one of my favorite morning smells.

A few of my guidelines for scenting my home:

Don’t conflict aromas. You cancel out a candle’s effectiveness when you have lavender, chocolate, and cider-smelling candles burning at once.

Photo by Othon Leon

• That said, be bold and mix scents that possibly make sense. I think orange goes with almost everything, like cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, and even pine.

Go with the seasons. Citrus and flowery scents make sense in the spring and summer, and earthy, spicy, and warmer scents are great in the fall and winter. I adore holiday scents, so I try to go big here.

Go unscented during dinnertime. If you have candles lit at your dinner table, make sure they’re unscented. You want the meal to be the showcase, and chicken curry just doesn’t work well with a gardenia-scented candle.

Have smells going all the time! Don’t wait just for guests to arrive. Enjoy beautiful scents even when it’s just you and the kids. It’s relaxing and enjoyable for you, and you’ll appreciate being home more.

And unbeknownst to them, your kids might have fond memories of a warmly-scented home during their childhood. I’d love to be known as having a home that always smelled great.

What about you? Do you like scented candles? What are your favorites? Do you use anything else to create aromas in your home?
Essential oil photo by mollycakes

Check out the other articles about Decorating With the 5 Senses:

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  1. Laura

    I’ve sliced apples into a pot of water with cinnamon sticks and let that simmer through the day – very nice! I’ll have to try the orange slices version! I’ve also started using the oil and incense sticks (you don’t light them though – you just put them in the oil). The expensive ones last a few weeks.

  2. Leslie

    Simmering apples and/or oranges are one of my favorite aromas! In a pinch, ground cinnamon can substitute for sticks.

    One thing that I haven’t figured out how to capture for more that a few minutes is that “toddler-fresh-out-of-the-bath” smell. How do you bottle that? 🙂

    I’ve just recently discovered your blog–it’s become one of my favorites!

    Leslies last blog post..Easier to breathe today

  3. Emily

    I love cooking my crockpot because it makes my house smell good all day long.

    I also love the smell of my clean babies.

    And there’s nothing like the smell of freshly brewed coffee!

    I don’t use candles with two small kids around but I really would like to add some of your ideas to my home.

    Emilys last blog post..How Green Are You?

  4. simplemom

    @Laura – A friend of mine has those sticks you put in oil, and she swears by them. I’ll have to try them out sometime!

    @Leslie – I know what you mean; I take a deep whiff of my 5-month-old’s head every time he gets out of the bath. That’s the best smell ever! 🙂 And thanks for your kind words.

  5. Briana

    I have a friend who is known for her good smelling home. Some of her suggestions were: regular cleaning, empty the trash daily, clean out your sink and garbage disposal daily..trying throwing lemons or any kind of citrus down the disposal, (my favorite and most widely used) fresh air, fresh flowers and another “off the beaten path” way of having a nice smelling home is to use dryer sheets: in dresser drawers, trash cans, under funiture cushions, inside pillowcases, and even in their vents and furnace filters!

    Brianas last blog post..Our Florida Vacation, April 2008

  6. simplemom

    @Briana – Brilliant ideas, all! Thanks so much for sharing them. I guess I had forgotten the most obvious of them all – fresh air. 🙂

  7. Ali

    Thanks for the tip on the Tyler candles. I’ve added a few to my wish list and I think I’ll buy one for myself for my birthday this summer. 🙂

  8. Org Junkie

    I use Body Shop Satsuma Oil in my house, I love it so much and it has become my house scent that everyone recognizes. So great!

    Org Junkies last blog post..The Basket Carnival is here!!

  9. Katie

    This is a tricky thing for me – heavy smells really bother me, especially things like cinnamon and many kinds of incense and “air fresheners”. I’ve even had to switch small group Bible studies because someone was using them so heavily in their home, and ask co-workers to stop using them at their desks. Also, thinking about it in terms of “being green,” regular candles burn toxins into the air. We switched to soy candles, which are clean-burning, and we only use very very mild scents, or no scent at all. People don’t always realize that this can be problematic for others!

    Katies last blog post..summer is officially here

  10. simplemom

    @Katie – I’ve honestly never thought about that before. I’m sorry if I’ve ever stunk you out of our home before! 🙂 Seriously, though, thanks for contributing that thought, because it never crossed my mind that someone would be sensitive to that, even with “natural” smells, like with essential oils. And thanks for the reminder about soy candles – I meant to say something about that, but since you’ve mentioned it here in the comments, I’ll just let your comment stand as the reminder.

  11. Katie

    🙂 heehee – no, no worries! i don’t remember ever having any scent issues at your house!

    Katies last blog post..summer is officially here

  12. Amy

    I love the smell of the windows being open, the sheets that are brought in from the line, the smell of freshly baked bread or the smell of spaghetti sauce on the stove.

    I also love to throw apples in a saucepan and fill the pan with water and a dash of whatever is in the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg,allspice) and let that simmer away on the stove while I clean.

    I am a big scent person, but my husband has absolutely no sense of smell so all of these efforts are wasted on him 🙂

    Amys last blog post..Adventures in Breadmaking: Fiddlin’ With Temperatures

  13. Jackie

    Now this sort of nose bling is something I can handle !

    Jackies last blog post..Blooms to green …

  14. sevenjobs

    We open the window as often as possible in winter and now in spring it is wonderful: all the smell from the flowers, the roses, the rain on the warm street, all this is like a sound for our nose. We have to train our smelling possibilities: our children take different spices and herbes in order to train their noses. So I prefer the natural scent instead of candles and oils. But nice candles and great oil bottles will be as pretty for decoration as for smelling 🙂

    sevenjobss last blog post..Wie bekämpfe ich meine Angst vor Spinnen? How to deal with my arachnophobia?

  15. simplemom

    @Jackie – Nose bling. That’s new for me! 🙂

    @sevenjobs – Sounds like you do a fantastic job being proactive with this kind of stuff with your kids. Oh, and sometime I’d like to hear what your blog is about. I don’t know a lick of German, but the tiny bit that’s in English has gotten me intrigued.

  16. Marie

    I love a yummy smelling home as much as the next person….but one word of caution. Some people can be very sensitive to certain smells (lavendar, many of the Glade plug-in scents, heavily scented laundry products & many candles will trigger a nightmare of a headache for me with even a short exposure). I can usually tolerate a scent, as long as it isn’t too strong – i.e. plug-ins or candles in every room are too much for me to handle – but a candle or two are usually OK. I have been in homes, however, that were so strongly scented with various things that I can’t imagine how anyone could stand it, much less a sensitive person.

    Just be aware & sensitive to any friends/family that may have problems with strong scents. Also – be careful with children around. I’ve had this problem my whole life, but when I was young, I didn’t make the connection / couldn’t explain why certain places (or people/perfume) would set off a sore throat & headache for me.


  17. Rachel@SmallNotebook

    I’ve been forgetting to use my scented candles. I’m going to go get my favorite one out of the cabinet right now.

    Rachel@SmallNotebooks last blog post..Two

  18. thursday

    I just found some yummy cinnamon candles in a box yesterday. We haven’t had too many candles going since we’ve had cats, though – can be dangerous! Incense I tend to be careful with – some of that stuff is POTENT and perfumy. I much prefer scents that seem more natural and woody.

    And I also like to grind up lemon and orange peels in the garbage disposal – but I don’t have one!

  19. simplemom

    @Marie – Yes, along with Katie, thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    I forgot about putting lemon rinds in the garbage disposal, but I used to do that, too, when I had one! Great suggestion, all.

  20. Nikki

    I use incense (lovely smell and doesn’t cost the earth!), an oil burner with essential oils (we also use eucalyptus or aniseed if someone is getting a cold), and for lounges, beanbags, mattresses, curtains or anything else that can absorb musty or dirty smells, I have a spray bottle with essential oil mixed in water. Works well for me!

  21. ecb

    The simmer-thing-in-pots works wonders, true, but it feels like another pot to clean-up! When I’m in a rush, I just lay a few cinnamon sticks on the rack in the oven and turn it on the lowest setting for an hour or so. (Look in Indian or Middle Eastern grocery stores for cheap spices in bulk.)

    ecbs last blog post..the aquarium of the pacific

  22. The Downtown Boutique

    I just Stumbled Upon your blog, and I like it! This post made me get up and light a couple of candles. We get most of our candles at Whole Foods. We get one that is called something like “Mexican Hot Chocolate”, I think, and it has a hint of chocolate, but smells a little more like Dr. Pepper to me.

    I like the citrusy or food scents the best. The other scents usually make me sick…literally…dizziness, headaches, and nausea.

    I have one old cooking pot that I like to keep, just for “scenting”. I like to put water, and then use a little orange or tangerine essential oil.


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