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Thoughts For Thursday – How Smells Can Revive Old Memories For Me

August 12, 2010 · 70 comments

in Thoughts For Thursday

When reading a post at ‘Budgeting in the  Fun Stuff’ about nostalgic foods, it made me think about how smells make me nostalgic.  So I thought I would share how certain smells take me to an entirely different time and place.

  1. An elementary school.  It seems like all elementary schools smell the same, and I just love that smell.  For some reason, I feel a little sad when I walk into an elementary school.  Probably because being a little kid is such a great time in life.  Not much responsibility, and a whole lot of fun.  On a completely different note, have you ever walked into the gym from your elementary school as an adult?  I know that as a kid, the gym seemed HUGE.  When I went back to my old elementary school shortly before it was demolished, I was shocked at how small the gym really was.
  2. Roast beef.  Whenever I smell roast beef, it makes me think of Sundays in the winter when I was growing up.  I have so many memories of coming home from sledding or skating and walking into to a house that smelled of roast beef and vegetables.  A wonderful memory.
  3. Burning Leaves.  I love the fall, and I love the smell of burning leaves.  It reminds me of being up north as a kid and we had a yard absolutely covered in leaves.  We would burn them in a giant metal barrel and I really enjoyed the raking and burning.  I know it isn’t environmentally friendly, but I enjoy the smell anyway.
  4. Hospital.  Once in a while, I will get a random smell that reminds me of a hospital.  Normally you would think that would be an awful thought.  However, it takes me back to when I had my kids, and I instantly imagine a newborn in a little cap.  So cute…
  5. Skunk.  OK, I know this an odd smell to enjoy, but again, it makes me think of up north as a kid.  I don’t want to smell an overly pungent skunk, just from a distance.
  6. My grandma’s house.  I can’t describe this smell, and it comes across me at the weirdest times.  But sometimes, I will be somewhere and it smells exactly like my grandma’s house did.  It brings back memories of hide-and-seek in the basement and eating ice cream!
  7. Lilacs.  Whenever I smell I lilac, I remember walking home from elementary school in the spring.  There were a couple lilac bushes I would smell on the way home, and it invoked a feeling of excitement that spring was finally here..
  8. Rain.  I love rain and storms.  The smell of a storm reminds me of sitting on our enclosed front porch as a kid and watching the wind and the lightning.
  9. Bike tires.  The other day I was riding my bike, and the smell of the tire totally took me back to when I got my first 2 wheeler when I was 6 year old.

It’s funny how when I look at this list, most of my memories are from childhood.  Turns out that is very common because we encounter most new smells when we are young.

Do certain smells remind you of a certain place or event?  Feel free to leave a comment, I would love to hear about it.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Squirrelers August 12, 2010 at 9:31 am

Interesting topic. For me, the one that jumps out at me is the smell of my parents’ house. Even though Im almost 40, I still like that familiar, pleasant scent of my childhood home.

With respect to your comment on elementary school gyms, I rediscovered this with my daughter over the last few years. I went to a 1st grade class ‘musical’, which was held in the gym, and was struck by how small the gym was.


Kris August 12, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Squirreler – I bet childhood home is a common smell-memory for many!


Budgeting in the Fun Stuff August 12, 2010 at 11:04 am

– Cinnamon reminds me of my mom since she’d boil cinnamon sticks to “flavor” the house.
– Standing water – the slight algae smell – makes me think of my grandparents’ ponds.
– Baked goods throw me all over the place – mom, grandma, step-dad, etc…anybody who I ever cooked that specific baked good with…
– The eggy smells remind me of my younger sister’s popovers.
– A few colognes remind me of Mr. BFS (especially Stetson) and Aramis reminds me of my step-dad.
– That tangy Grapefruit smell reminded me of my grandpa.

I totally agree that elementary schools all seem to smell almost the same…it makes me a little sad too – like the death of an era or something…


Kris August 12, 2010 at 8:42 pm

BFS – I have often thought of burning up some of those cinnamon sticks, but I have never done it. Your egg comment brought back the smell from a friend of mine’s house (breakfast after sleepovers). There is a cologne that will remind me of my husband, but I don’t remember the name. (I am allergic to almost all scents, so he never wore it very long.)


Little House August 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I love this list! A few years ago, I started teaching in an elementary school in my old neighborhood. The cafeteria smell definitely brought back memories. However, now that I’ve been there a few years, it’s kind of gross! (the food really is sub-par.)


Kris August 12, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Little House – I completely forgot to mention the cafeteria smell. I sometimes flash back to that salisbury steak smell, which I despised.

I bet it is wonderful to teach in school around where you grew up. You have come full circle!


Dianna August 12, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I had another one happen today – went to the middle school band room to pick up Jordan’s instrument. It had a distinct, familiar smell and brought back load of good memories from my days as a ‘band geek’. It was all I could do not to pick up an instrument and blow in it! 🙂


Kris August 12, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Dianna – You are not a band geek, but a fine musician! You should pick up that instrument again, I bet you would love it.


Sandy L August 12, 2010 at 2:12 pm

The smell of a wood burning stove makes me think of the holidays at my uncle’s house.

The smell of salt mist roses mixed with the ocean breeze makes me think of summer beach trips in New England.

Moth balls remind me of a whole variety of old people.

Musty books remind me of church…as does incense.


Kris August 12, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Sandy – Ooh, wood burning stove! We used to have one when I was growing up, and I loved that smell.

A beach in New England, I would love to bottle that smell.


Lola August 12, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Great post – it’s fun to read the different responses. Grade school buildings, baking, rain, moth balls, incense – those all trigger lots of memories for me too.

I’ll just add these:

-I remember the smell of the books in the children’s room at my hometown library, which was in an old converted 2 story house; I LOVED that place. I don’t get that same scent in my local library branch, but there’s a used bookstore I go to a few times a month that has about that same approximate smell of old hardback books. I still get that thrill of anticipation about what great book is just waiting there for me.

-cedar and/or woodsmoke scent reminds me of going to Girl Scout camp, both as a a kid and as a leader – lots of happy memories there.

– the distinctive smell along a particular stretch of interstate I used to drive to work (and that’s still there). First I went past a distillery, then a flavor-making company – it was pretty organic-chem-lab type of combination I’m up that way every so often and it still reminds me of how much I did not like that job.

– the chlorine-y smell that stayed on my skin as a kid after swimming. I hardly ever go swimming anymore, but when I do, that scent reminds me of lots of fun summers going to the pool with my friends or taking my own kids to the pool.

I read an article in Psychology Today a couple years ago that explored the notion that pheromones really do affect humans’ choice of mates (more so than, say, a sense of humor – ha ha!). I’ve always liked the way my DH smells, so maybe there’s something to that.


Kris August 12, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Lola, the smell of books is a wonderful thing. I love the library smell too. I like the pool smell too. Sometimes that chloriney smells hits me when there is not a pool in sight, it is so funny.

It is a good thing you like how your husband smells, or I bet you would have a different husband now!


The Wealth Artisan August 12, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Hi Kris!

This happens to me every time my wife wears a specific perfume. When she puts it on it brings me back to our honeymoon, I adore it!



Financial Samurai August 21, 2010 at 10:40 am

A very powerful sense, which for some reason moves women more than men. My lady can’t stop smelling me when she snuggles up next to me. It’s hilarious!


Kris August 21, 2010 at 10:53 am

Financial Samurai – I do think women have a stronger sense of smell than men. Mine went through the roof once I had my kids. I can smell better than a wolf these days.


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