By: Revanche

Scent, memories, and avoiding the merchandising trap

April 27, 2015

Paypal's terrible ideas: Spend $150+ to get $15 back!

How about I just don’t spend $150+ and save $150+?

Walking to the counter, arms loaded down with pump bottles, I turned and stopped in front of PiC. “We’re buying nearly $80 worth of hand soap. HAND SOAP.”

It was 50-70% off, but still. Hand soap.

A Bath and Body Works holiday sale nearly sucker-punched our wallets. After 30 minutes of sniffing and picking bottles we were walking over to the counter when reality sunk in. The soap smelled great, of course, that’s how they got us in the first place but thankfully my brain turned on. I can pay $5 for a gallon of soap that smells just fine! It’s a testament to the pull of the new scents that I was actually sad putting the bottles back on the shelf.

I’m a sucker for products that smell good, and I’m not the only one. There’s a whole science behind manipulating your senses between scent and organization to get you to stay longer and spend more.

Some scents transport me to very specific moments in time:

Softsoap: high school, childhood best friends, horseback riding, the red-brown dirt of the riding stables where I learned to “be a rider, not a passenger”, hand scrubbing my one pair of riding pants and line drying them every week.

Garnier Fructis: high school and college, couponing, youth

Incense: temple, death, grieving, parent loss, tradition, childhood Lunar New Year celebrations, grouchy old grandma, ancestors I only know through faded black and whites and stories passed down from generation to generation

Bath and Body Works brown vanilla sugar: college best friend during college, picking apples at the grocery store, Southern California sun, driving my new car to work/school/work

BBW plumeria (long discontinued but there are a few scents reminiscent of this): junior high school phys.ed., black shorts and white tees, an old friend I haven’t seen since New York, braces, REALLY terrible looking long hair, weighing less than 70 lbs and being mocked about it.

Pears/apples (artificially): being carefree, young, and silly. Life before kid, jobs, degrees, or college majors.

Coffee: five years old, learning responsibility, trusting my parents implicitly and completely, discovery

Gingerbread and fresh baked cookies: Christmas, family, holidays

“New car” smell: Age 19, negotiating my first major purchase, driving a new car in torrential rain, paying off a loan early

Scents are such a powerful trigger for memory, no wonder it’s a tool to manipulate our emotions and buying habits! I’m safer shopping online from home.

What’s your shopping weakness?

18 Responses to “Scent, memories, and avoiding the merchandising trap”

  1. Luckily (?) for me I have really sensitive skin that breaks out if I use too much scented stuff. So I’ve never much been tempted by delicious smelling soaps, lotions, etc.

    My biggest shopping weakness is food. I can pretty much always justify the cost of a delicious meal.
    Taylor Lee @ Engineer Cents recently posted…I Made A Bad Financial Choice, But It Was Right For MeMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      Yay? That’s like how having metla allergies saved me from buying jewelry because I couldn’t afford anything that I wasn’t allergic to πŸ™‚

      Speaking of food, I was sorely tempted to book a seafood buffet and then saw it was $100/psn! (and yet, I still wanted it…)

  2. I’m a sucker for stuff with nice scents like candles and lotion. I think “oh it will help me destress” or something, but I’ve just been conned! I think those things are OK, or course, if it’s totally within your budget, but know it’s good advertising that got you there. I love Hawaiian-y scents!
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…Vegas & Utah on a BudgetMy Profile

  3. Karen says:

    Ha! I don’t like most scents and hate going into stores like B&BW.

    i’m like Taylor Lee above. Food/drink is more my weakness.

  4. Evil Bat Witch says:

    No one makes smells of my childhood into pretty things:
    sugar beet factory processing sugar. it is GAWD AWFUL unless your grandparents lived by a sugar factory, and that’s where you went for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
    Diesel exhaust: My mom took the bus to work. When the bus dropped her off at the corner, she was home.
    Weaknesses in actual stores: Craft stores, Home Depot, book stores.
    foods: a good steak or roast beef., pasta, breads, cheese (fortunately nothing expensive there, pretty vanilla things like sharp sharp cheddar, bleus, muenster, etc) and any combination of all of them!

  5. Tim’s asthma is irritated by heavy scents, so I’ve been fine just lapsing into softer smells or none at all. We buy Softsoap at Costco and just refill our bottles that way. It keeps me from wanting to get “nice” smelling stuff.

    At this point, I use so little scent that I get confused when I do have a scent. Like when I use a store’s restroom, and for a few hours my hands smell nice. It just confuses me. I keep catching whiffs and wondering where the fragrance is coming from. Then I realize oh yeah… that’s me.

    I do use light scents for my shower stuff. One of my faves is milk and honey. And my hair stuff smells, but I rarely fuss with my hair.

    Yardley lavender soap makes me tear up a bit every time. My grandmother always had it in her bathrooms every time we’d visit. At one point, I spent a couple of weeks with her by myself, so the connection really hit home. Ever since she died, I can’t smell it without getting sad.
    Abigail @ipickuppennies recently posted…Hiding awayMy Profile

    • Abigail’s grandmother is my mother — and for me, the scent of (sad) choice is Jergen’s lotion, the original fragrance. I think they now call it “almond and cherry.”
      The memory it produces: My baby brother is napping while my mom and I are making a marble cake. Mom lets me cut the chocolate part into the vanilla part. She washes the dishes (I’m not quite old enough to help, but I hover nearby) and uses Jergen’s lotion on her hands. Then the two of us sit side-by-side on the couch and watch “The Loretta Young Show.”
      This show went off the air in 1961 so I would have been no more than four years old. The reason that memory matters is that my mother was always very, very busy: keeping the house super-clean, doing loads of laundry and hanging them outdoors, ironing, cooking, babysitting other people’s children and probably by that point beginning to work part-time at the glass factory. She took a full-time job there when I was partway through kindergarten.
      But that one hour is just the two of us — no siblings clamoring for her attention, no tasks taking her away. We had a project to do together and then a short, precious while longer to be together and to be still — the television playing softly, the rare chance to lean against her and to be hugged, and the smell of Jergen’s lotion sealing the memory forever.
      And yes: When I’m in the lotion aisle I surreptitiously unscrew the lid of a Jergen’s bottle to relive that moment again.
      Donna Freedman recently posted…Writing: Cheaper than therapy.My Profile

    • Revanche says:

      @Abby: Is it primarily artificial scents or any strong smells that bother Tim’s asthma? (just wondering about things like cooking smells)

      I’ve done the same when I’ve tried a store’s soap πŸ™‚

      There’s a small part of me that’s glad I don’t have a strong scent-memory of family I’ve lost. I don’t think I could deal.

  6. Zenmoo says:

    The smell of humidity and car exhaust at night reminds me of getting off the plane in Malaysia as a kid & feeling ‘home’

    I’m a sucker for Aesop Resurrection hand wash. It’s really expensive but smells beautiful and is so gentle on skin. I buy a big bottle for all new mothers of my acquaintance- dealing with endless baby poop deserves some luxe hand wash.

    • Revanche says:

      Oohh I forgot about the smell of a certain type of wood burning, it also evokes that “home” feeling.

      That’s a lovely gift, they must appreciate it. Especially if their babies like to chew on them like mine does!

  7. Jordann says:

    I love Bath and Body Works soaps too, but I’m far too frugal to spend that much on something that is supposed to be utilitarian, so I just oo and ahh loudly whenever my mother gives me some as a gift. Their candles are the bomb too. πŸ™‚
    Jordann recently posted…3 Ways Paying Off My Debt Taught Me to Win at LifeMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      I love it when a friend likes something they feel is extravagant and I would balk at buying for myself but isn’t incredibly over the top pricey, it makes a nice gift!

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