Smell. The forgotten sense for capturing and remembering moments and experiences
Updated: Apr 23
We all love to take pictures, it is of course the easiest way to capture a moment these days. We rely on sight a lot to trigger memories, we need to see something again to remember how it was.
Most of us also use sound to remember experiences and times in our lives. We have songs that trigger the thought of a time, place or person. A lot of the time we don't plan to use sound but it naturally happens from songs that are popular a point of time become associated with things that were happening in your life at that time. The large travel tour groups often intentionally play a select couple of songs throughout your trip in order to make you remember that holiday each time those songs are played.
So what the third sense, smell? Smell is often forgotten about or dismissed as an active method of retrieving memories. You may be thinking that using smell is a bit ridiculous, but it's just as practical as sight or sound. My very first holiday without my family was to Thailand and I bought a small bottle of body wash that was travel size to take with me. As we were swimming each day I ended up showering twice a day most days and ended up using the whole bottle by the time I left. So I didn't use this body wash again and didn't really think twice about it. Months later I ended up having a shower at someone else's house where I used the same body wash as I did for my trip to Thailand. Once I smelt it my mind was instantly flooded with memories that were incredibly vivid as though I was transported back to that trip.
I had never experienced such a powerful retrieval of moments in my life before. Unlike looking at a picture where you are relying so much on what you see and just thinking of that moment as a vision, the memory I got from smell was much more of a feeling like you are back in that place and remember small details that you otherwise would have thought that you had forgotten.
After realising the memory through smell was so powerful I was intrigued to try this out again the next time I travelled to see if the connection from that trip would be as strong as it was in Thailand. I picked a new scent for my next trip and used it each day. The memories were just as strong.
My trip to Thailand was over 8 years ago and it still brings back amazing moments and visions of that trip. I have since purposely used a different fragrance of body wash, perfume or deodorant for each trip as a way to capture feelings and memories that sight and sound can not.
I guess it is a bit of a quirk that I have developed into my travel routine but I think it's very little effort to remember great memories in a different day. We often use smell without realising.
We all know that smell of our mums washing or the smell of your ex partner! Smells remind us of time in our lives such as that perfume you used to use when you went out dancing when you were 18, that hand cream you used everyday on the bus at your first job. So I think it's time to purposely use it for capturing good memories like we do with sight and sound.