clear glass perfume bottle with white background

Do Minimalists Do Smells?

Do you take a minimalist approach to smells?

Those of us who carefully examine how we interact with society might do well to consider whether unlearning some conditioned responses to smells would make our lives truer and better.

I don’t visit with many minimalists in person, so I don’t know the answer to this question: Do minimalists usually extend their minimalism to smells?

Lots of people so thoroughly pollute their bodies and their homes with odors that they can’t smell the flowers and freshly-baking bread that life offers us. Do you do that?

Whether floating in a cloud of smoke, doused in a bucket of supposedly sweet scent or surrounded by a home full of fake pine and synthetic citrus, some people are never far from a nose-clogging odor.

How do you react to smells?

Here are a few comments about life’s unnecessary smells:

Cigarette smoke is the worst because it’s lethal. You can argue whether pine cleaner clogs your nose or your new boyfriend’s cologne makes your head hurt, but here’s something certain: The worst smell in most people’s daily life is cigarette smoke. It’s a proven killer. Worse yet, it’s legal in many places and still perfectly acceptable to many people.

Cleaning products and perfumes are the most common foul smells. Pavlovian conditioning makes some of us believe that the smell of citrus or pine equals clean, but that’s a modern and easily unlearned association. We also sometimes think that women should smell of flowers while men should smell of spices, but that’s only a product of our training too.

Unscented doesn’t smell bad. Laundry that comes from the dryer smelling of nothing at all is still clean, and homes that hit those who enter with an unscented elegance aren’t less inviting than those that smell of cloves and honeysuckle.

A little smell is sometimes nice. A few mild and carefully chosen scents used only occasionally can enhance romance, produce a feeling of well-being and make life generally better. And all smells from the cooking of real foods are exempt from discussion here, don’t you think?

There’s nothing to be afraid of. We’re all good people. We don’t need to be afraid to let our guests smell what we and our homes smell like when they’re properly cleaned. And that leads perfectly into a final point…

We know when you’re covering up. Air fresheners make dirty homes smell clean, but they still look dirty, so very few people are fooled. And the first thought that crosses my mind when I pass someone who smells of perfume is not “How pretty!” but “Why didn’t you just shower instead?”

I know I’m more sensitive to smells than most people, and I know smell training varies widely by culture, so my thoughts don’t translate well for some of you. Maybe, however, we can all be more truly free of society’s stifling restrictions when we unlearn certain conditioned responses to society’s stifling array of smells.


  1. I’m a minimalist when it comes to smells. Use unscented everything when I have the choice. An open container of baking soda (or, I recently learned, a bowl of used coffee grounds) will absorb most stray odors (and I live with a catbox, so I know) Most perfume nauseates me. Good smells: fresh flowers and greenery esp. my mint and rosemary plants, fresh coffee or tea, fresh beer, real oranges and lemons, good bourbon (though not scotch, a little idiosyncrasy), as you say any real food cooking (onions and organ meats excluded, another idiosyncrasy) … fresh and real seem to be the keywords here. Oh, and eucalyptus essential oil. Okay, enough.

    1. Jes, I’m glad you’re a smell minimalist, too. I don’t always use unscented products, but I choose carefully what I use. Citrus, mint and similar things are my preference, too. I actually use mint scented body wash from Whole Foods (store brand so it’s cheap) most of the time.

      I’ve never liked perfumes, although there are one or two I’ve noticed on people that do find sexy, but I don’t know what they are and the people aren’t mine to ask, so I’ll put that aside.

      I don’t mind onions, and I like the smell of coffee although I would never drink it. I’m a tea person.

      Thanks for being the first commenter on this morning’s post!

  2. Yep, I’m not a minimalist (yet), but I do choose unscented whenever possible. My son and I are having fall allergies now, so eliminating any possible triggers is key.

  3. Hi Gip,
    This title made me smile!!
    I’m not really a very good minimilist but I detest any synthetic smells. Airfreshners in particular – air is fresh, open a window!
    I do love the smell of fresh flowers though or some pure essential aromatherapy oils, or fresh cut grass wafting through the open window…….basically the natural things.

  4. Great topic! I’ve always been the one in the open air park sniffing … “Who’s smoking?” as a waft travels from 50 m away 🙂 And walking through clouds of perfume is almost as bad.

    I’m sure I got this from my parents – one day I thought I saw their car parked on the road, but when I got closer I saw the air freshener hanging from the mirror and I knew I was mistaken. My parents would N*E*V*E*R have an air freshener!

    One great thing about cleaning our own house is that I can choose the cleaning solutions I prefer. I have a large jug of eco-friendly cleaning concentrate, and when that’s gone, I expect I’m going to see how far baking soda and vinegar, plus ammonia based glass cleaner, will take me.

  5. Definitely a minimalist when it comes to smells! I have an excellent sense of smell and love to thoroughly appreciate the natural individual aromas of fresh flowers, fine food and so forth, not obscured by harsh chemical vapour trails of perfume/cosmetics or air fresheners (now there is an oxymoron if ever I saw one!) Fresh = clean and aired. If your home is clean and aired it will never smell bad. Unfragranced cleaners are nicer in my opinion, with baking soda being king 😉

  6. Cynthia, Kate, Jess and Grace —

    Sorry I got a but behind on responding. I’m glad to see so much agreement. Fresh and natural is best, I think.

    My mother has a strong aversion to all smells except vanilla, for some reason. Ironically, I don’t like vanilla smells at all.

    Keep commenting! I appreciate having you all here.

  7. Gip, I’m in an interesting position to weigh in on this as my wife and I make scented soy-wax candles. 🙂

    I can tell you that the process of making the candles makes our place smell like whatever scent we just produced – sometimes for a day or so at a time. I can tell you that sometimes (particularly in the fall) we have so many fragrances going at once that our sense of smell just gets overloaded.

    Aside from that, I’m personally somewhat of a scent minimalist (I know, odd given the above). I have certain smells that I really like, but most of them aren’t the sort of thing I want to have around all day.

    With regard to people who are sensitive to scents, the interesting thing that my wife and I have discovered is that a lot of people who say that they have a “scent allergy” don’t have allergic reactions to our candles.

    A lot of times the reaction that gets called a “scent allergy” seems to really be an allergy to the garbage that they put in cheap candles, laundry soap, etc. It all comes back to knowing what’s in the stuff you’re exposing yourself to.

    As for food scents, agreed – they’re exempt from any minimalism considerations. I’ve never known anybody to chew out Grandma for baking them an apple pie. 😀

    1. Very interesting, Robert. A lot of people seem to like soy candles. I don’t like the idea of open flames in the house, so I’ve always been weird about candles.

      I think a lot of people who say they are allergic to scents simply mean they really don’t like them. Of course, after an evening on a restaurant patio, I sometimes have a different opinion.


  8. I know what you mean – I don’t like the people that smell like they’ve taken a bath in perfume. My dad is actually the polar opposite. He doesn’t use cologne. He doesn’t even use deodorant – he hates the stuff. If he thinks he smells bad, he goes and takes a shower. Sometimes this means a few showers in a day, but it’s how he deals with it. I’ve always wondered if that’s just an artifact from another time (he’s around 60 years old), or if he’s just different. Knowing my dad, it could be either. 🙂

  9. Great post & comments here …..

    I am with many of you here & don’t like synthetic smells/cleaners in homes, prefer the natural smells of the home cooking, herbs. plants, etc

    being a big public transport user, my kind of hell are the men/women who are drenched in perfume so much so its makes me gag ….

    its all about balance & simplicity – scent is sometimes a good thing, but these can often be found in the rhythm of daily life

    1. Alex, I think balance is always key. So many lives are so out of balance you wonder how they get through life.

      Thanks for commenting, as always.

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