When I was a little kid, I’d sit at the computer for hours scrolling through iTunes. The thirty second free previews were just enough to get a taste of a track without erasing the gambling-esque rush of buying one before you’d hear the whole thing. I’d spend literally all my allowance on songs. I associated them so closely with money that I viewed the prices of other items not in terms of dollars, but in terms of the iTunes I could buy instead.
Now, I’m not sure I would call that addiction – I didn’t have other costs to cover with my allowance, and honestly, I’m not sure I could have bought other things that would have brought me more happiness. But when addiction did come for me for real – with playing the multiplayer online game League of Legends in undergrad – that pattern of using all available resources on a single pursuit carried over. First, all money was for iTunes; then, all time was for League. Deep in my League addiction, it didn’t matter that I wanted to play less, or that I wanted to allocate my time to other specific things. My brain funneled it all single-mindedly toward gaming at every available moment.
A Relatively Quiet Dialogue
In 2015, YouTuber Bottom Note made one of the first videos on fragrance addiction. While the video is a bit scattered, he hit on quite a few ways that fragrance addiction can sneak into someone’s life. First of all, fragcomm (the online fragrance community) is full of people giving each other recommendations for new fragrances. Then, there’s the classic shopping addiction aspects, such as sales events that seem like you’re losing money just by missing them. And finally – specific to fragrance – there’s the matter of speed of use. A single 100mL bottle contains around a thousand sprays, which most casual wearers will only get through over the course of a year or so, assuming they’re wearing fragrance every day.
To someone outside of the fragcomm bubble, these pointers might seem obvious: limit your exposure to recommendations / advertising, don’t buy something just because it’s on sale, and buy only as much fragrance as you’ll actually use. But the reality is that fragcomm is saturated with content that celebrates and normalizes consumption on a massive scale, and there aren’t that many voices critical of that phenomenon. Scroll Instagram and you’ll find pictures of huge personal collections with adoring comments. The average successful YouTube reviewer obtains and reviews several new full-sized bottles per week, and they shoot their videos against a backdrop of hundreds of barely-used bottles. Even though my forty-some bottle collection is nowhere near as large as others I’ve seen, most of my bottles are at least ninety percent full, and I just bought another one less than a month ago.
A Quick Qualification
It’s not necessarily unhealthy to buy more perfume than you use. I’ve ended up giving away several lesser-used perfumes to friends, and abundance in my collection makes it carefree to let others test drive the absolute best perfumes in my collection. I have purposes for the majority of perfumes that I have, and I love wearing even lesser-used perfumes on the occasions I pull them out from the back of my collection. To date, the only perfume that has spoiled before I finished it was the first perfume I bought because at that point, I didn’t know how to store it correctly. But my confidence in my own spending habits around perfume varies wildly, and there have absolutely been times where I fell into addictive buying patterns. All spare money went to perfumes; social opportunities and future planning fell completely by the wayside. I have no doubt that I own more fragrances than I should as a result of such phases. When it comes down to it, perfume is dangerous for people with addictive personalities due to both the culture around perfume and the nature of the artform itself.
Why is perfume, specifically, addictive?
As an art form, perfume bears a lot of similarities to other mediums. There are large databases online where the pieces are actively catalogued, rated and discussed. New artists and works go through cycles of hype and backlash. Reviewers – myself included – are constantly aiming to link readers to works we love, and there’s a virtually endless pool of both perfumes and opinions on perfumes to dive into.
However, there’s one major reason perfume can become such a dangerous passion: you can only experience it physically/in-person, and that deeply ties exploring perfume to spending money. Even if you take the free route walk into a store with the intention of simply sampling the merchandise, you’re more than likely to go anosmic before you’ve smelled a dozen fragrances. There’s a hard limit on just how much you can actually smell in a store, no matter their inventory. You’re also extremely likely to feel pressure to purchase from store associates.
On the other hand, buying samples online can also be a hassle. Single-milliliter vials can be a pain to open and apply, while larger sprays (two to three milliliters) can run anywhere from the five dollar mark all the way up to the fifty dollar mark. The cost and inconvenience of sampling leads a lot of perfume enthusiasts to just buying a bottle without smelling it first, a practice so common that you’ll find it referred to dozens of times on most popular perfumes’ Fragrantica pages.
But the normalization of reckless purchasing is only the tip of the iceberg. There are all sorts of aspects around perfume marketing and discussion that make the feeling of buying perfume especially addictive. First of all, perfume is one of the cheapest items you can buy from a high-end designer, so many perfume bottles carry a prestige that some consumers will only be able to get through that specific channel. Then, there’s the extremely common format of fragrance influencers posting top ten lists for specific occasions. If you subscribe to a popular channel, chances are you’ll constantly be hearing that you could be wearing something better than you are for a specific season, date, or audience.
Finally, there’s the constant release of new perfumes, and even the constant announcement of new perfume houses. Of course, there’s a lot of good coverage and discussion out there on most major releases. However, the way perfume has been talked about is often more akin to technology releases than other art pieces. You’re very likely to hear a new perfume discussed in terms of whether it’s a better version of another release, or even – to return to the previous point – the new best perfume for a specific occasion. The feeling one often gets when watching fragcomm YouTube is being constantly told you’re using an outdated version of a product that you now need to upgrade.
Where That Leaves Us
The end result is the bizarre norm of perfume collecting: owning more than you need, most of it unused or redundant, and several unspoken questions on collector’s tongues: Is this bad for me? Am I an addict? What, ultimately, am I trying to do when I buy another perfume when I already have so much?
Part of the perfume journey is finding that balance. Hell, I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t gotten it all together and that there are people with collections much larger than mine who also have healthier collecting habits than I do. But one thing is certain: we need to start having more conversations about our consumption and whether we have control over it. The only thing we know about unchecked addictions is that they almost always get worse.
Check in next week for our follow up article on signs you might have a fragrance addiction, and what do to once you’ve answered the question.
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