One of the bigger issues around not owning your own place – or owning your own, very small place – is the difficulty of making it into a real home, getaway and refuge. One of the most alienating features of many cheaper living spaces is the smell: old carpet, stale air, other people’s cigarettes from five years ago, cheap furniture.
Much of the time, financial or legal constraints (clauses in your lease) prevent you from clearing out or replacing the worst offenders. But there are things you can do, nevertheless, to turn things around and begin to feel at home in the room or the flat or the house. And some of these involve scent, smell, perfume – whatever phrase you choose to employ.
Elsewhere on the Laughing Garreteer, we mention, repeatedly, that baking your own bread, if you can, is one of the best ways to improve your morale and your diet, to say nothing of your culinary knowledge and skills. Tediously and famously, house sellers are recommended to bake bread in the kitchen on the morning of a viewing, but the reason behind that, so mercenary in the estate agent’s trade, becomes something warmer and life-affirming in a small flat or bedsit. The fresh-baked aroma, instead of impressing the cash-rich in a time of recession, instead becomes the marvellous smell of home, the means by which you take a strange place and by the application of some straightforward culinary craft, make it your own.
If there’s any unpainted wood in your living area, it’s well worth investing in a jar of traditional beeswax polish. Beeswax polish – and the more expensive beeswax candles – give off an irresistable and traditional scent, one with bottomless class, tradition and sophistication.
Do you paint in oils? If not, have you considered trying? Because the combined scents of turpentine and linseed oil is one you quickly come to love. It’s pleasant, lingering, and gently overpowers other flavours on the air. It says “art” to your visitors. And it’s the ancient smell of studios belonging to Hogarth, Reyolds, Turner, Frith and Francis Bacon: now it belongs to yours, too.
In winter, mull cider or cheap wine on the stove-top. Or try Swedish mulled wine, known as Glögg. In the spring and summer, buy some lavender or some aromatic blooms cheaply from a flower stall.
As autumn comes back round, stew cheap cuts of beef, chopped, with vegetables and a bottle of dark beer for three hours in the oven. Stew keeps for days if you have a fridge, but even if you don’t, the perfume from the stew will warm and liven the air you live in.
With all of these ideas, and others like them, one thing is vitally necessary: air your space as often as you can. It’s easy to become accustomed to stale air when it’s your stale air: it isn’t so for visitors. In winter, half an hour or forty minutes of free-flowing air from open windows usually does the trick without plunging you into sub-arctic cold, and it will make all the difference. If it really is cold, have something ready to throw in the oven as soon as you close the windows again: the heat from the cooking will help whatever heating you have rebuild the warmth for the room.