On my daughter’s first visit home after she had been to college for a semester, she commented upon entering our home “Ahhhh it smells just like home.” She then asked “Did you know that every home has a smell Mom?’’ Nobody had ever mentioned how our house smelled, so I had to ask the question, "What does our home smell like? Her reply of course was ”I don’t know, it just smells like home.
As I thought about it, I had never paid much attention to the smell of other's homes and would only comment if they smelled like a food I loved. Just recently, I was in my maternal grandparent's home and I suddenly remembered the scents of my childhood memories. I could even imagine my Grandma, "Mom Elsie" standing in the kitchen cooking something on the stove. It seemed like she always wore an apron, meaning she spent a lot of time cooking. I remember her being in the kitchen most of the day, only taking a break to watch "The Young and the Restless". Even though my grandparents passed on and have not lived in the house for the last 24 years, it still smells like Grandma's house. What does it smell like? I can only tell you "it smells like home."
According to an article entitled "How Smell Works" by Sarah Dowdy , data shows that a smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence people's moods and even affect their work performance. "Because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain's limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it's sometimes called the "emotional brain." Smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously. Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren't for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory -- associating the smell of chlorine with summers at the pool or lilies with a funeral. When you encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or a mood. Chlorine might call up a specific pool-related memory or simply make you feel content. Lilies might agitate you without your knowing why. This is part of the reason why not everyone likes the same smells."
Because we make most of our olfactory memories as children, what does this mean for stepfamilies? Is the smell of the custodial home associated with happiness, whereas the smell of the noncustodial home associated with bad memories? To test my theory, I asked my daughter what her biological Dad's house smelled like. She said "clean". Not sure what she meant by that, so before I decided to go on a cleaning frenzy, I left it alone. After all she did say "Ahhhh it smells like home" when she came to our house.
Looking back, perhaps the olfactory system may have been responsible for the moods of my children and stepchildren as they travelled from house to house on weekends. It may be worth it to find out what smells are associated with good memories. After all, real estate agents have commented that homes that smell like fresh baked chocolate chip cookies are more attractive and appealing. It gives you something to think about. Try your own experiment and see if it affects the mood in your home. Hey, it's worth a try.
Janice R Love, Author
First Lady, Mom, Stepmom and Divorce Ministry Coach