The last couple of days I’ve been preoccupied with smells. Not just any smells, but memory smells. This obsession was triggered when I opened the plastic bin where I now store my office supplies since we downsized.

When I pulled off the lid a familiar smell emanated from the container. It was the same smell I discovered in the closet of our new apartment once we’d filled it with our clothing.

At first I thought it was the closet that smelled funny. It was a dusty odor reminding me of closed up rooms and long kept secrets.

Before we moved into our new apartment it had been vacant nearly four years due to litigation after the tenant mysteriously disappeared. My imagination went a little wild wondering if something happened in the bedroom that caused the tenant to vanish. Did this incident leave an odor lingering in the bedroom closet?

But then on closer inspection I realized that it wasn’t the closet that smelled but our clothing. Even my husband’s shirts that we’d dry-cleaned just prior to our move had this dusty odor. That was when I realized we had brought the smell with us.

I had not noticed this odor in our old place. But each time I unpacked a box, this smell was there, even in the cartons that contained our pots and pan, dishes and silverware.

For days after everything had been unpacked I kept the closet doors, the pantry and kitchen cabinets open, trying to rid us of this odor. After a week or two everything had been aired out and I no longer sniffed even the slightest scent of that dusty odor.

But then the other day I encountered this smell again when I opened the plastic bin of office supplies searching for scotch tape. That’s when I realized how over the years our old apartment and all of our possessions had stored smells.

Cooking smells, even the delicate smell of salty tears from our children’s crying when they fell and hurt themselves, the odor of the pets that came and went, the dust from the shoes of angry teens tromping off to sulk in their rooms, all these odors had fused together, now representing our past, a potpourri of the emotions and happenings of our lives.

And even though the laundry was done regularly, the floors frequently swept and mopped, the walls painted every couple of years, still the layering of smells from the daily living gathered in the crevices, in the small cracks along the floorboard. Smells clung to the plastered walls and though the paint covered the odor, after more than 30 years of living in the same place our mark was made. Everything that we owned became saturated with the smell of our family life

So, when we moved to this new place, of course, the odor of our life in that old apartment came along with us. But our lives have changed. Our children, grown to adulthood have lives independent from us. And though we sold or gave away hundreds of personal and household items, books and pieces of comfortable furniture, the smell of our past still clung to what we brought with us.

The term ‘fresh start’ comes to mind now when I think about all that we’ve done to make this transition to our smaller home. And what interests me these days is how we will gather and store our experiences in this new place. Undoubtedly the smells will begin to accumulate again, but if we are lucky enough to live another thirty years I wonder how different the odor in this little place will be from the ones we had gathered in our old apartment.


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