Rescued from the fire…

I had a particularly vivid dream last night that my house was on fire.  I dreamed that the smoke detector went off just after we went to bed, and we were able to get all the kids and pets out immediately, but the house burned down because the fire department’s pumper truck could not negotiate our narrow, twisty gravel drive.  So we had to stand out in the field and watch our house burn, and a more horrible feeling I can’t imagine (unless it’s to stand by and watch your child die, which would be far worse).  I heard the little ting-pop-roars as each perfume bottle caught fire and the glass broke, adding alcohol to the fuel mix and accelerating the fire.  It was dreadful.

Our smoke alarm actually did go off one Sunday morning in early summer a few years ago, right after I’d gotten out of the shower and dressed.  I went into the kitchen and put on my apron – and there it went, and if I had ever worried about whether the alarm would be loud enough to wake everyone up I worried no longer.  It was loud.  It was loud enough to bring all three kids down the stairs within thirty seconds and loud enough to hurt the dog’s ears.  We called the fire department from our neighbor’s house, and the trucks arrived (sans pumper truck, which truly could not negotiate our narrow, twisty gravel drive) within eight minutes.  The firemen – most of whom we knew, this is a small town – went all over the house and found no fire, just a little dust in the smoke detector.   The whole episode was both frightening and reassuring: the smoke alarm works, the fire department’s response is fast, but if there were ever a fire in our house or the farm shop next door, there likely would not be enough water available to put it out.

I tend to have vivid dreams anyway, and if I happen to mention them to The CEO, he likes to analyze them for me.  This one, he says, means that I’m anxious about basic safety and that I feel guilty about having too much stuff. 

Well, yes.  May 4 would have been my grandmother’s 96th birthday, if she were still with us.  This was the grandmother who lived with my parents my whole life, the one with bipolar disorder, the one with major packrat tendencies probably engendered by an extremely penurious childhood… the one that stored a 40-gallon crock of homemade soap in her kitchen closet for, no kidding, nearly fifty years.  She died four years ago, and my mother is still cleaning out her stuff.  This grandmother was the one that saved every greeting card she was ever given, old letters, photos, knick-knacks, things she “might use someday”.  She collected bird figurines, Harlequin romance novels, interesting bottles, rocks, shells, “Ideals” magazines, and anything with owls on it: lamps, salt and pepper shakers, trivets, you name it.  Every inch of wall space in her basement apartment was taken up with furniture. 

A lot of her stuff has come to me: the pink Depression glass dishes, her yarn collection, her miniature-pitcher collection, some of the china she painted.  And I have my own load of stuff too: paperback novels, DVDs, clothes I don’t wear, the cross-stitch supplies that I may never use now that the craft hurts my hands, not to mention my perfume collection. 

It’s time for a little closet-and-attic purging.  It may have to wait until after baseball season, but that’s my plan for the summer.  If I don’t use it or love it or need it, if it’s not a truly cherished piece of family history, out it goes

All this turmoil got me to thinking, if there really were a fire in my house and I could rescue only one bottle of perfume, which one would it be?  One of my very favorites:  Le Temps d’une Fete, Parfum Sacre’, Tabac Aurea, vintage Emeraude, the decant of Amouage Lyric Woman, the decants of Apres l’Ondee and Carnal Flower?   One of those Discontinued Saints, the gone forever or hard to find: Crown Bouquet, Mariella Burani, L’Arte di Gucci, vintage Magie Noire?    But most of those could be replaced.  I think I might choose to save the Stunning Vintage Bottle of Chanel No. 5.  There’s nothing else like it, it’s irreplaceable. 

What would you save in that situation?  (Fine, I know it’s an artificial construct, but I’m okay with that concept in the pursuit of proper prioritizing.)

Here are some resources if you’re thinking of decluttering your own living space: ,  And our dear Chicken Freak has a whole blog devoted to the topic, as well – I haven’t been checking out Declutter of the Day, but I think I will be doing that regularly.  I’ve actually been a member at Flylady for several years now, but I admit that the relentless “love yourself,” mushy-gushy vibe there really just gets on my nerves from time to time.   Nevertheless, I need to do this.  I’ll probably sleep better.

Image is Perfume fire on a bathroom floor, from bethyreese at


24 thoughts on “Rescued from the fire…”

  1. Help with de-cluttering? I could use some, but I will definitely write a lot of it down in Croatian to give to my mother. 🙂 She seriously needs it.
    Can I cheat on you what would you take if there was a fire? Because I have a box in which I store some of the gems I have and you know, I wouldn’t have time to take something out of it but take the whole box (vintage Vent Vert and Madame Rochas, Feminite du Bois pre-reformulation, and the rest is not important because it’s available).

  2. Ok. So I understand that I’m coming at the intent of your posting sideways, but I’d have to say that I wouldn’t save any, and here’s why (not even getting into the whole there’s-a-lot-of-other-things-I’d-save-in-a-fire-before-the-perfume thing): Smells that are important to me– that I dearly love, I can conjure without the thing itself in front of me. And as much as I *love* having the individual scents to splash on whenever I want to be reminded, I carry the memory of scents in my mind far more powerfully than faces or voices.

    And not to tread to far into The CEO’s territory, fire in dreams often is a symbol of transformation– not destruction.

    1. How interesting, R – I myself cannot conjure smells in my head. I am frequently *reminded* of smells when I am sniffing something else, a la “That makes me think of doughnuts!” but I seem to need real, not virtual, manipulation of my olfactory receptors to be able to do that.

      And I did go look up dream symbolism and you’re right – one’s own house being on fire seems to indicate need of personal transformation. Which might be explained by my frustration with/guilt over All My Stuff. Or my frustration with being stuck in Redneckville, as in “if the house burned down, would we get to move somewhere else?”.

      (I often think that The CEO is full of it, and occasionally I bother to tell him so. It’s good for his ego to be wrong once in a while.)

  3. I don’t collect rare vintage scents so I don’t have to worry about saving or losing any bottles in case of disaster; I’m pretty sure everything I own could be replaced though it might cost more the second time around.

    However, along the lines of your exercise, I often wonder which scent of mine I would choose if I were forced by some hypothetical evil power to choose and wear only one. Limited to what I currently own (there are many scents I love but haven’t bought due to expense), I think I would choose Donna Karan Gold.

    1. This stupid vintage collection might be turning out to be more trouble than it’s worth, Elisa. Replacement’s easy when what you own is still available, which is why I had no compunctions about abandoning Le Temps d’une Fete to the imaginary fire, but the vintage Parfum Sacre extrait was pleading with me to save it.

      Gold is really beautiful.

  4. What a nightmare!

    I don’t know what scent I would save from my (rather small) collection…

    But I know for sure what I would save from yours: all your Emeraudes!!
    Vintage Emeraude is so wonderful , I think I will start a quest for this baby on ebay!

    I am not a practised ebayer, and am a bit scared, but I was really stunned when I got the opportunity to smell a vintage Emeraude extrait (though admittedly I wasn’t allowed to test it on skin)… so I think I will have to put aside my doubts and start bidding!

    1. Emeraude! The vintage stuff is gorgeous. So plushy and soft. Luckily, it was cheap when it was new, and that means there’s still loads of it available on ebay for very reasonable prices. I have bought some that wasn’t in good shape, but most of it was just fine. Orientals seem to survive aging fairly well, even if the top notes go off just a bit.

      Which is why, I suppose, I wouldn’t bother saving it – it’s still easily found on ebay and therefore replaceable.

      So you “discovered” Shalimar recently? I don’t think Emeraude and Shalimar smell alike, but I do see a resemblance. They’re both orientals with citrusy tops. Arguably Shalimar is more complex – but I just don’t love it all that much. Whereas Emeraude made me swoon the first time I smelled it as a high school kid, and still makes me happy.

      1. You know what prompted me to give a fair skin test to Shalimar? Emeraude!! 🙂
        Having read how one was linked to the other…
        Emeraude looked pretty much like a rare case of love at first sniff. Shalimar wasn’t and I still haven’t tested that much yet- but the heart and dry down on my skin were really otherwordly, much more beautiful than my paper strip induced me to think!

        From my brief acquaintance with both I’d say that they are similar in their citrus top over a sweet oriental backbone, but they have a very different and distinct personality!

        Further investigations are required! And maybe tracking down some S eau legere, while I am at it! 😉

  5. Oh Mals, sounds like we have both had some vivid dreams lately!

    Loved the description of your grandmother’s hoarding tendencies – my late father (b.1914) was the same, and lived in his small flat entombed by books stacked three deep on floor to ceiling shelves, also in the bathroom and corridors. Piles of catalogues, brochures and junk mail occupied every inch of floor space, but he used to resist any de-cluttering, saying these things were his “friends”…

    Like you, I feel a bit haunted by my own clutter, and only today Mr B was threatening to accidentally break my many items of non-matching tableware.

    Regarding a “fire rescue” scent, it would have to be my autographed bottle of Amaranthine, and as that is quite compact, I might grab my decant of Guerlan Plus Que Jamais along with it…

    1. Ah, vivid dreams. Yours was… you were required to make a funeral flower display in the shape of a rainhat, was it? Out of daffodils.

      Sometimes I wake up from a bizarre dream and think, “Now where in the world did my sleeping brain come up with THAT?”

      Of course you would rescue your autographed Amaranthine! I wore that yesterday in the heat, wondering if I’d get some of the naughtiness everyone is always talking about. Nope. It’s still beautiful and warm and creamy and floral and interesting. No sweat or cumin or skank or anything even borderline weird… I will definitely be wearing it more often.

    2. My grandmother was born the same year as your father. I think living one’s formative years with never having enough really does create that “I might need it” mindset.

      At the same time, she didn’t hold on to *everything* – no empty toilet paper tubes or old envelopes, but things she liked. She loved to spend time with her collections, was proud of them, showed them off. She was the kind of person who could remember exactly who gave her each bird figurine, and for what occasion; even simple gifts seemed to mean more to her than they do to most people. “Come see what [her friend] Willie Maude gave me for Christmas!” she’d say to me. “And Cousin Maurice sent me the most darling little stuffed bear!”

      It still doesn’t explain the 40 gallons of soap, except that her own mother had made it shortly before she died in 1960.

  6. Oh my, I agree with Zazie … what a nightmare, but that photo is eerily beautiful!

    I’ve been guilty of keeping things longer than I should. However, a couple of years ago I had to give away, throw out, etc., a ton of things as I had to move from a 3300 SQ FT house and 2 car (read storage) garage to move into a condo less than half the size … in 13 days, no less. It was a blessing in that I didn’t have the luxury of time to rationalize what I should keep, etc. … and it was a curse for the very same reason. In hindsight, I got rid of some things I could have kept but the panic of not meeting the deadline won out. But overall it was quite liberating.

    And my son is a major pack rat, oh boy. I keep telling him that he will eventually get rid of things he currently “cannot live without” but also know that he will come to that realization himself in the years ahead (I was guilty of doing the same thing).

    I’m with all of you regarding the vintage Emeraude. It really is beautiful and reminds me of a dear cousin who died very young (41). She wore it in the late 60’s when she was a teenager and I was a little punk in awe of how cool she was in every way. Smelling it makes me think of her immediately … and with warm thoughts and smiles. Thankfully, it is easy to find. I was even lucky enough to come upon an 8″ Imperial Decanter of Emeraude PDT a few months ago.

    I’m in the same predicament as you are, Mals, with the whole vintage thing. I guess I would take my Arpege Boule Noire not because it is my favorite fragrance, though this one smells divine, but because it is a beautiful bottle and they are increasingly hard to come by. There’s a great story to go along with this find but I’ll spare the commenters on here (and you, of course) the details as I’m taking up too much time and space here already. Sorry!

    1. Hi, Connie! The photo is amazing, isn’t it?

      Oh, you have one of those lovely black Arpege bottles? They are just stunning in photos (I’ve never seen one in person) – and the old formula for Arpege is so rich. Would love to hear the story behind it, time and space be darned!

      How lovely to hear of your associations between your cousin and Emeraude – I think it’s a beautiful scent, and now you can wear it and think of her.

  7. Wow – I don’t know what fragrance I’d grab. Maybe my box of decants? Only because I’m not sure how the insurance would work on replacing that stuff and some of it is vintage and harder to replace. I suppose that’s cheating – but the rest of it is easily replaceable.

    If I could only grab one thing, period – I’d grab my box of letters and old cards that are mostly from my grandma.

    1. C, I don’t think of it as cheating. I think my philosophy is that if it can be replaced, I’ll leave it behind.

      Letters from your grandma are irreplaceable.

  8. Oh, that’s a very interesting dream. (And by the way, your pointing me to my blog, which I’ve sadly neglected, is inspiring me to go, y’know, post something, which is a good kick to get me back in my own decluttering track. Thank you.)

    My first interpretation was that you feel that clutter is endangering your life – not just your house, but your whole way of life. And that you see the perfume as a major contributer, since it’s the part that’s specifically called out in the destruction.

    But it’s interesting that the really important things – the people and pets – survived. They were _warned_, by the smoke alarm, and they got out. So that leads me to lean toward the transformative idea suggested.

    And if the fire is about transformation, it’s interesting that the perfume is _fueling_ the transformation. Is it fueling it because the perfume is a focus when you question your clutter, so it’s fueling decluttering? Or something altogether different, that got linked to your ongoing concern about clutter to communicate itself?

    And the fact that everyone watched the fire – rather than, say, learning that it happened, or frantically going back into danger – seems as if it should have some meaning.

    The fire truck being unable to save the house… a general perception of isolation, isolation that’s blocking you from access to things that you badly need?

    I babble.

    As for what I’d save… what perfume, or what thing? For what thing, I think I’d save my early-childhood security stuffed animal. If it were perfume, it would be the Chanel No. 19 that Himself and a good friend coordinated to bring from France.

    1. CF – it’s a good friend who asks the tough questions. Much food for thought here, but I will say that you may be on the right track.

      Somewhere I have a… oh, yes, it’s in the bedside cabinet… book on reaching happiness and emotional satisfaction and ideal body weight through decluttering one’s house. I started reading it a couple of years ago and got depressed, so I put it away. Maybe it’s time.

  9. Hi Mals,

    I’m a sometime-poster over on the Perfume Posse and when I found out about your site, I hastened over to take a peek. Some very good stuff you’ve got here, but this post especially hit home, as I’ve been watching that show “Hoarders,” and think I may have tendencies in that direction, especially concerning perfumes and makeup. I’m trying to gather the strength (and tough decision-making required) to sort through the stuff and get rid of some of it. But as to your original question about saving items from a fire: Think I’d grab my vintage Cartiers (getting harder to find and expensive on eBay), my bag of favorite decants, and my favorite jewelry, after the son and hubby, of course. BTW, saw that you mentioned you were in SW Virginia. I have family in the Roanoke/Lynchburg vicinity and will be going up there for a bridal shower in July. Lovely area! Anyway, thanks for a great, thought-provoking topic …

    1. Hi, Ann! Lessee, you are the person who loved the old Must and have several variations of it? (Of course, must save family first… goes without saying.)

      Yep, I’m in SW Va. Grew up in the Roanoke area, and I think it’s beautiful here too. In fact, I’d move back to Roanoke in a heartbeat – but a) you can’t move a farm and b) The CEO has lived most of his life in the country, and hates the idea of living in – horrors! a NEIGHBORHOOD.

      1. Hi Mals,

        Yep that’s me, one of the few Must de Cartier fangirls out there. I have, however, recently fallen hard for PdN’s Odalisque and Sacrebleu. Man, do I really need to stay away from the decant sites! Temptation, thy name is perfume!
        Loved your remark about (shudder) a neighborhood … Especially when you have those lovely rolling hills and the Blue Ridge for a backdrop.
        BTW, any good spots for fragrance up that way that I can explore this summer?
        Have a great week!

      2. Ann, I’m sorry to say that there really is no good place for sniffies in the area. There are department stores like Macy’s and Belk’s, but they won’t be selling anything you can’t get (cheaper) somewhere else. No standalone stores.

        Did a little research and found “Perfume Mall of Va, Inc.” on Candlers Mtn. Rd. in Lynchburg, phone # (434) 239-3002, but don’t know anything about it. I think it’s near Lynchburg’s big mall – Candlers Mountain is the retail strip.

        And Odalisque is really nice. I was surprised to find that Sacrebleu did not do anything for me, though.

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