In our modern world full of technology, sometimes little things of the past get lost and forgotten about as new products take over the market to replace older ways of doing things. Sometimes, the new ways of doing things aren't always better in the long run. How and why we scent our homes is one of those things that's changed and sadly, not for the better.

Nowadays we have air freshener sprays, oil burners, scented candles, incense, and scent diffusers of more types than you can poke a stick at, and they all do the same thing - add a scent to our home that, hopefully, we find pleasant. And this can be a good thing for us, at least psychologically. Now a lot of people make claims about the health benefits of essential oils and scented pretty much everything, and there is a lot of pseudoscience about the topic and it can be hard to decipher fact from propaganda fiction, but one thing is true and real - our brains can and do react to smell much more strongly than most of us are aware of. Smells hit the subconscious mind like a freight train, for better or worse, and massively affects our emotional state. A single smell can make us relaxed or tense, happy or sad, or even frightened, and most times we won't even realise what is going on, we may at best become aware that for some unknown reason, our mood has changed. Which smells affect us in which ways is highly personal, and it has a lot to do with our personal history. The reason for this is because it's all about triggering our emotions with our subconscious mind through our memories.

As an example, without going into terrible details, when I was a child a terrible thing happened at my home on an evening after my mother had spent all day stewing hundreds of apricots from the trees in that grew in the back yard. Ever since, the smell of stewed apricots makes me anxious. For decades I had no idea why I'd suddenly start feeling anxious whenever I passed a bakery selling apricot pies or strudels, and it wasn't until I learned about smells triggering memories that I realised what was happening to me. That stewed apricot smell wasn't bringing back the memory itself per se, but it was triggering the memory just enough to bring back the emotions that I felt at the time the memory was recorded in my brain. This is a simple biological self-preservation instinct. Our subconscious brain is telling us that the smell is a warning sign of some impending doom and to watch out, because that's what happened to us in the past. Now that I know what it is, I can ignore it, knowing that nothing bad is going to happen and it's just a harmless apricot strudel.

On the flip side, it can also work in reverse, and this is the side of all this smell stuff that we want to be embracing. I loved spending time at my grandmother's house as a child, and her house always smelled of dusty lavender. What do I mean by dusty lavender? Well, Grandma used to love the smell of lavender, she grew it in her yard, and would keep lavender potpourri and scented lavender satchels all through the house. When they started losing their scent, she'd add a few drops of lavender oil to them. She didn't change the potpourri as often as she should have, so many of them ended up smelling just as much of dust as they did lavender. So now, whenever I smell dried lavender, especially dusty dried lavender, I feel safe, relaxed, comfortable, happy, and "at home".

This sort of thing applies to everyone. If you had a great time at Christmas one year as a kid and at the time the air was filled with the scent of pine, and that smell has never been spoiled for you by anything negative happening at other times when you could smell pine, the smell of pine is going to make you feel good. Anything that makes us feel positive emotions is a good thing. So as you can see, scent can play an extremely important role in helping us stay psychologically and mentally healthy. Avoid the bad smells, embrace the good ones, and by controlling what we can smell in our home, we can better control how we feel. And how we feel can have a large impact upon our physical health. When we're stressed, we're more prone to illness, bad sleep patterns, and poor health in general. When we can relax and feel happy, our physical health improves. So, no, that essential oil won't make your cold better because there's nothing we can smell that will kill a virus, but it may make you feel better mentally, which will stop you drowning yourself in negative things that will make that cold seem so much worse than it actually is, and therefore it will seem to make the cold better. So in a sense it is helping to fix you, just not in the way some of the people that sell these things will try to claim.

Be aware of others in your family and friends circle with this as well as yourself. A smell that you find charming, someone else might find to be extremely negative. Try and find smells that appeal to everyone that lives in and regularly visits your home.

With all these new ways we have available with which to scent our home, and my explanation as to why scenting our home can be such a good thing to do, why did I say in the first paragraph that it isn't necessarily a good thing in the long run? It's not scenting our home that's the problem, it's the ways in which we go about it that can be potentially troublesome.

First of all, some of these new ways of scenting our homes may not be as good for us as they seem to be. Burning incense creates a scented smoke, and although I completely respect that many religions and cultural customs rely heavily on incense as part of their beliefs and rituals, and I support continuing such practises as it can be very important for such things to relevant peoples, burning large amounts of incense in our homes is really just filling our homes with smoke. A small amount is fine, but if burning incense in your home is setting off your smoke alarm, you may want to cut back a bit, because breathing in smoke particles concentrated enough to trigger a smoke alarm is going to eventually do some damage to your lungs. Burning essential oils also creates both heat and heated fumes, and there's no information on the package that tells us exactly what chemicals we're releasing into the air in the room by doing that. Some have been known to cause serious harm to pets when burned or heated inside the house, but I don't know which ones are responsible for that. Also with using anything, be aware of propaganda: Natural doesn't automatically equal good and healthy, after all, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, and ricin are all natural and organic, they all come from plants, and they're all extremely deadly. Air freshener sprays, same thing, exactly what chemicals are we spraying into our homes here? And of course candles run a genuine fire risk if we're not careful where we put them, especially if we fall asleep or forget about them!

Then of course is the larger picture of the production of these scent items. Many of these products use plastic, if not in their construction, their packaging. The factories that make them create waste that we don't see, and of course once the item is spent, it becomes land fill.

Now there's no need to go throwing all those products in the bin if you have them, everything has it's place in the world, and if you like using these things, by all means, do so. Just be aware that nothing comes without costs and risks, so just be aware of the costs and risks, and be moderate and sensible about their use.

There is an old fashioned other way to scent our homes, and unlike all these modern products, it costs next to nothing if we can grow it in our own yards, on our balconies, or even indoors under the right conditions. The only waste it creates can be put straight back into our garden or pot plants. It creates no fumes, no fire risks, and no industrial waste or pollution in it's making. We can make potpourri.


Potpourri is simply dried plant matter designed to scent our homes, and/or our clothing. It can be made from any plant parts that have a pleasant for us strong smell. Herbs such as lemon balm, mint, rosemary, thyme, and sweet marjoram are common favourites, but any herb or combination of herbs - or even spices - that you like the smell of will work. Flowers and leaves are the most common things to use in potpourri, such as lavender, roses, honeysuckle flowers; and pine, or eucalypt leaves. You can also use fruit, or the skins or rind of fruits, such as lemons or oranges, or even berries if that's what you like. The key is drying the plant matter so it holds it's scent and doesn't go mouldy.

Choose what scents you like and have growing, or can grow, fresh around you, and then bring those scents inside by picking the fruit, flowers, leaves, and/or herbs. Some flowers. leaves and herbs can be dried by simply hanging them upside down in a warm dry well ventilated room, hallway, shed or veranda; otherwise, spread them on a tray in a very low oven or pop them in a food dehydrator, or you can dry them outside in an old fashioned mesh cage with drying racks inside it hung in the sun in a dry place. Whatever method you use, get them dry enough so they won't go mouldy, but not so dead dry as to no longer smell fantastic. If you want to, you can set the fresh flowers, leaves, herbs or fruits up in a vase or bowl fresh so they create a lovely fresh scent in the house for a couple of days, and then as they start to wilt and you'd normally considering throwing them out, don't. Dry them instead.

Once you have them dried out, put them in a bowl and crush them up a little bit to release their scent (not too much, you want large pieces not powder!). It's really that simple.

There's different ways you can use potpourri to get the scent through your house. The simplest of which is leave it in an open bowl, cup, or jar and set it on a table or shelf.

If you want little pouches to hang around the house, you can get little square pieces of thin cloth - an old style dainty ladies handkerchief used to be commonly used, but nowadays they're hard to come by, so something like a small square of muslin or cheesecloth, or just very thin cotton works just as well. Natural fibres are best because they allow better air flow and absorb the scents better. if you're going to use synthetic material, go for a fine mesh such as tulle. Put a little bunch of your dried plant matter into the middle of the square of fabric, then gather the ends together and tie it like a little Santa sack with a piece of string or small ribbon. Give the ribbon or string a little extra length and you can use to hang your scented in the room, or in your wardrobe if you want your nice scent to get into your clothing. If your little sacks are going to be placed somewhere visible, you may want to decorate them by gently using a very small amount of unscented glue to stick some extra large potpourri pieces to the outside of it, or decorate it with little ribbons, flowers, bells, beads, or whatever suits your fancy, and use whatever colour fabric suits your needs.

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If you're into sewing, or arts and crafts, you can make all sorts of little things to hold potpourri with. I've made fabric tissue box covers and toilet roll holders with potpourri pouches as a feature. Small wooden carved boxes with little locks and ornate holes works much like a bowl that the potpourri is less likely to spill out of if the cat knocks it off the shelf. The limit is your own imagination and crafting skill.

Now, back to dusty lavender, potpourri won't last long on it's own. Depending on what you used to make it, it will last well for a few days to a few weeks running on it's own scent. Eventually all that lovely scent will fade away and you'll be left with a pile of dry plant matter that may still look pretty, but it's no longer functional. The first thing to do when it reaches this point is to crush it up a little bit more. That will usually release a bit more scent and keep it going for a little bit longer. Once that is no longer working, there's still things you can do. One thing you can do if you have some, is to put a few drops of an essential oil that you like onto the leaves or petals. You're not heating the oil here, it's just the room temperature smell of the oil that you want, so check out how it smells without being heated first to see if you like it. The dried plant matter is going to absorb the oil and hold that scent quite well. Just don't do this for too long or you'll be entering the realm of dusty lavender, which isn't quite as nice as the smell without the dust. I personally don't use this method because I can't really see the point in buying oils when I'd rather save my money and just skip straight to the next step. The last thing to do, and the thing to do if you don't want to use scented oils, is just put your old potpourri into the compost pile, and collect some plant pieces from the garden and make a new batch.

An important thing to note here on the topic of smells, especially as this is about creating good ones inside our home, is that no matter how strong a good scent you can get through your house, you'll only be masking any bad smells that exist. Those bad smells will still be there, haunting your subconscious underneath all the good smells you try to create. Getting rid of bad smells isn't something potpourri or any other scented thing is going to help you with. Eliminating bad smells will mean that your good smells won't need to be as strong to be noticed. If you have a bad smell in the house that you want to eliminate, here's a few tips for doing that...

Remove whatever is causing the bad smell if possible, or if the smell is caused by something like beloved kitty missing the litter box, clean clean clean! Once the offending thing has been removed, then air the room out fully. Open the window and door, turn on a fan, and get fresh air flowing through that room for as many hours as you can. Sometimes we can't just clean or remove the bad smelling thing well enough to completely get rid of the bad smell, especially if the smell has managed to seep into your lounge or carpet, but don't dismay, bicarbonate of soda will come to your rescue. Found in any baking isle of a supermarket, bicarbonate of soda absorbs and traps smells, good and bad. Sprinkle it dry onto wherever the offending smell is, leave it for a day, then vacuum it up. If it's a really strong smell, you might need to repeat the process a few times; and on something like a lounge where kitty leaked, you'll need to get the lounge dry and then rub the bicarb soda in to get into the deeper smell stained areas of the fabric and underlying foam or whatever it's made from.

Setting our minds at ease by surrounding ourselves with positive emotion triggering scents will make us feel better, which will give us more energy to spend on doing things we love, so keep calm, smell well, and "get into it".