To Give or Not to Give (Away) – by Samantha

The first time I was the lucky recipient of a wonderful-smelling something, I was about 7 years old. I had a friend from Japan whose school bag was filled with really cool stuff I’d never seen before. Like erasers that smelled of sweet hay and almonds. And lemony Chapstick (which, after the first grim attempt to smear it on my mouth, I learned was solid perfume). I couldn’t believe ordinary objects could smell that good. I WANTED THEM—and I guess I didn’t hide it well, because one day she handed me my very own (slightly used) Luctor et Emergo-ish scented eraser and Fresh Sugar-ish scented perfume stick.

Is there anything better than being given a fragrance?

So a perfume addict was born, and along the way my perfume collection grew. (And grew—you know the drill.) Although I loved many of the scents I owned, occasionally I’d realize I made a mistake (CK One, bought unsniffed in mid-air from the duty-free catalogue on a long, boring flight) or that a perfume I only liked mildly (Jo Malone French Lime Blossom) was beloved by someone else. In those instances, I gave the bottles away. Over time, I bought, and I gave, and I was given, and I bought.

Then, almost a decade ago, I moved abroad for a while. I got it into my head to give away almost everything I owned before leaving. Start fresh. Downsize. Dive headlong into a new life. So, along with books and clothes and more shoes than I’m comfortable admitting, I gave away my perfumes. Not all of them—I carefully wrapped 8 or 9 scents* in bubble wrap and jammed them into a Tupperware container, which I then shoved into the bottom of my suitcase. The rest, my vast hoard of lovelies, were given away. I started by inviting over my best friend; she selected about 10 scents, mostly Goutals and L’Artisans. Next, I brought a box of perfumes into the office. People were free to sniff and snatch what they liked (though no one sitting near me thanked me for the fug that lingered in the air for days). Eventually, just a day or so before leaving the country, I met an old friend for dinner and handed her two enormous shopping bags crammed full of fragrances. She was bewildered but willing; I was excited about my new carefully edited existence.

Except—of course, after a while, I started buying perfumes again. And you know what? I bought decants and bottles of a lot of the ones I’d owned before but had given away.

With time, I began giving away perfumes again. Bottles bought (unsuccessfully) unsniffed, or things I was indifferent to (like Narciso Essence, which did little for me but acted like a drug on a friend of mine, who kept “just dropping by to say Hi” while, coincidentally, drenching herself in the stuff). I loved the idea of giving someone a perfume they wanted, especially on an ordinary Tuesday (as opposed to a birthday), especially when I had it on hand and didn’t much want it anyway.

Except—yes, now I want some of them back. What smelled dull to me three years ago intrigues me now, lent mystery by my shoddy memory, or made newly desirable by someone’s blog post. So tell me: is it wise for a perfumista to give away samples, decants, bottles we think we don’t like? Or should we keep in mind that someday we might want to go back for another snort of that Chanel Beige we’d tired of?

What do you do? Give? Hoard? Embrace the perfume future—or look back on a scented past?

*I don’t remember perfectly, but I think the bottles that made it over the Atlantic with me were L’Artisan’s Tea for Two, AG Eau de Camille, Caleche (extrait), Cristalle (EDT), Creed’s Royal Water, JM Black Vetyver Café, a tiny bottle of Diorissimo parfum, and Bvlgari’s Omnia. Most are long gone, though the Tea for Two, Eau de Camille, and Cristalle sit on my dresser still. The only one I regret letting go of? That lovely mid-90s Diorissimo extrait.

  • Lyla Burns says:

    Wow I bet the people with that perfume is really loving it, if it isn’t already gone! I wonder if you could find any of those at a discount fragrances online store. I would check and maybe you can find the Diorissimo extrait.

  • Patty says:

    I loved this article. I do what Alyssa does – I’ll give away parts of my bottles, but I know my own mercurial nature when it comes to perfume, and inevitabley the things I thought I wouldn’t wear I start craving, and I just need a little hit of it around to remind me why i don’t wear it in between forgettings! 🙂

    • Sam says:

      “Between forgettings”: that’s it exactly!

      I’m going to have to get smart enough to do as you and others have said: decant a little before sending bottles to their new homes. That way, my memory can be as bad as it wants, but at least I won’t have to keep re-buying the same perfumes I didn’t like in the first place. 😉

  • Elisa says:

    I have swapped more bottles than I have given away, but I have gifted lots of samples and decants. I did give away freely a handful of bottles that I purchased in my pre-perfumista days or early on before I caught on to buying decants before full bottles. For example — a (male) friend of mine loved the smell of Kenzo Parfum d’Ete, one of the first FB’s I bought. I hardly ever wore it so I gave him the bottle before I moved from MA to CO — one less bottle to pack!

    • Sam says:

      It’s interesting how traveling can inspire us to give away bottles! I suppose it has a practical aspect, as you pointed out, but it’s also liberating to give away something that doesn’t quite work for oneself–to someone else who’ll love it. 🙂

  • rosarita says:

    Hi, Samantha! Very interesting article and comments. I’ve always been a perfumista on a shoestring so my collection has in large part been acquired by lots & lots of swapping on MUA. With swaps, often one receives *extras* – samples, decants, sometimes another bottle. I save lots of samples for reference purposes, wear others, include many as extras, and give lots to my mom. She had always worn and enjoyed perfume until her 70s, when she just kind of stopped, so I pass along things I think she will like. At 85, she looks everything up on her IPad and has learned much about notes. As for regret, I admit I’ve swapped away things that I wish I had not and have also swapped FOR things that didn’t suit, but then I can swap them again. I gave up swapping about a year ago as it quit being fun and felt more like a chore, and have been enjoying my collection ever since. Every now and then something comes along like spur of the moment sample swapping, or a blog draw, or Swapmania, or just the kindness of strangers. I’m so glad to be part of the online perfume community; it’s enhanced my life no end (group hug )

    • Sam says:

      I’m inspired by how swapping has worked for you. I haven’t done much of it via the online perfume community–just laziness, really. I’m impressed that you’ve built a perfume collection through lots of swapping. And what a lucky mom you have, to be regularly gifted with perfume from you!

  • I give away a lot of perfume. It’s fun, and it seems only right considering how generous people have been with me. But–this is the crazy perfumista part–I very rarely give away whole bottles of anything. Instead I make sure I have enough on hand that I can feel comfortable splitting off at least a few ml. This means there are some perfumes I end up buying more of just so I can give them away. In fact, a few of them I’ve given far more away than I’ve worn–I seem to want everyone in my world to have some Sycomore even though I rarely wear it myself!

    • Sam says:

      You are so smart to decant parts of bottles. I wish I were more organized in that way.

      That’s so funny that there are some bottles you’ve given away more of than worn. The people around you must smell very, very good! I understand about Sycamore–I do that a bit with Chene (particularly on men). I don’t decant, but I spritz them liberally when I can!

  • Kay says:

    Hi, great article. I’ve done that myself over the years, and have lived to regret it!

    • Sam says:

      Oh, the regret is tough, isn’t it? There are a few things I’d really like to have again…sigh…

  • Ann says:

    Hi. Sam! This is a great post. I don’t own much in the way of full bottles (except for my classic Cartiers, etc., that I bought a while back), and have mostly samples. I do love sharing, and if something I have is not getting used, it’s important to me that it goes to a more loving and appreciative home. And then very generous ‘fume friends send me stuff to love, so it’s kind of a wonderful Jacob’s ladder effect. You share what you have and someone else in turn shares with you.

    • Sam says:

      You’ve described my idea of Perfume Paradise, Ann–a place where you get to share and try new things all the time. Wonderful!

  • Sam says:

    How interesting that you’ve moved abroad a few times–and divested yourself of perfume when you did, too. I wonder why that strikes some of us as a good idea? 😉 Sounds like we learned the same lessons about reformulations and discontinuations (I never would have let go of the Diorissimo, had I known). Sigh.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about swaps. I really wanted to participate in this spring’s swapmania–I even checked out what people wanted/had, and decided who to send what!–but it came at a particularly challenging time, and…I didn’t. Hopefully I will get a chance to in the future; I love the sharing of perfumes. And hopefully you will, too, when work and exercise allow!

  • nozknoz says:

    Thanks for this post, Samantha, I can really identify with moving abroad, which I’ve done several times. I gave away most of my perfume to colleagues or friends each time I moved – that was before I learned on perfume blogs that perfume does NOT go bad after two or three years, and that they either get discontinued or reformulated beyond recognition, sometimes very soon. I’m still traumatized by discovering that 1999 J’Adore and my first Tabac Blond are no more, so I tend to hold rather tightly now.

    Nonetheless, I did participate in the first Swapmania and enjoyed trading scents that didn’t work on me for new ones. Even more fun was the interchange with other delightful perfumistas and the surprise of the samples these generous souls added to the packages, as well as sharing samples of my favs with them. So I would definitely swap and send random gifts of samples and decants if work and exercise didn’t eat up all my time. Someday!

    • Sam says:

      Sorry–I tried to reply to you, but accidentally, somehow, mysteriously, my reply ended up below yours (instead of in direct reply). I’m sure it couldn’t be due to my own technological ineptitude. 😉 Please see below! 🙂

  • DinaC says:

    I’m one of those thrifty people who think long and hard before they buy anything, especially a luxury item like scent. So, once it has been purchased, I’m never letting it go. Ever. If I bought it, that means I love it. And I’ve read and heard enough cautionary tales about how perfumistas’ taste in scents can change dramatically over the years, and then they regret things they’ve given away. The only perfume things I’ve ever given away were some little samples that I didn’t want that I gave to my DD. So, come swap time, I’m no fun. 🙂

    • Sam says:

      You’re so smart. I’m really impressed that a) you only buy bottles you really want, and b) you know yourself well enough to know what you really like! Not only can I buy bottles impulsively (with mixed results), occasionally I buy a bottle of “aspirational fragrance”: something I like the idea of more than the reality (in other words, it just doesn’t suit me). I usually hang onto those bottles for a looooong time before admitting they just ain’t me.

    • Dionne says:

      DinaC, I’ll just ditto your comment. I don’t own a lot of full bottles (although that’s comparatively speaking, of course, my non-perfumista friends would goggle at my 15 bottles) and I luuuurve all of them.

      There are a few things that I’ve won, though, that I’ve passed on to my evil-scent twin because they just smelled so very bad on me. And of course, divine on her.

      I’m just acquiring some decanting supplies now – it’s taken two years to get to this point, I’m like a perfumista in slow motion – and I’m already having oodles of fun passing on samples to friends.

  • ggperfume says:

    “Lent mystery by my shoddy memory”. . . oh, that is the perfect phrase. How true it is!

    Don’t second-guess yourself on the things you gave away (say I, who am always second-guessing myself on every subject). Your generosity has made many people happy and set a good example to boot.

    • Sam says:

      You’re so kind! Yeah, I’m a very accomplished second guesser, but try to keep it to a minimum where perfume is concerned. It’s so wonderful, it doesn’t deserve to be tainted by regret. Usually I manage to keep the positive attitude…

  • A very Happy Mother’s Day to all my Posse friends!

    • Sam says:

      And to you! The lilies of the valley in my garden are perfuming this Mother’s Day beautifully–I hope your day is wonderfully fragrant as well!

  • loverdoll78264 says:

    I do occasionally give away perfumes too. Usually they are not right for me,but smell lovely on someone else. No regrets. Often give them yo friends who cannt afford the luxury.

    • Sam says:

      Giving perfumes to others who can’t afford them–that really makes me happy, and I’m touched to hear that you do it, too (a few others have mentioned it as well). As someone who’s been broke at times and been given perfumes, and who’s also made decent money at times and given perfumes away, I know how incredible it feels to be given a perfume you love–but that you couldn’t buy for yourself. What lucky friends you have!

  • reglisse says:

    I do give away bottles and samples, usually to people who are just getting into perfume. I want everyone to smell good and enjoy the pleasures of scent. If someone gets excited about what I’m wearing and wants to try it, I consider it a good opportunity to encourage their interest.

    And I try not to regret giving stuff away. That’s a bad road to go down.

    • Sam says:

      I love that you give away scents to introduce people to the incredible world of perfumes. What a gift you give them–both literally and figuratively! (And a gift to the rest of us as well, because you make more of the world smell good. Thank you!)

  • Well, hello, Samantha! How wonderful to have a Sunday post!

    I’m trying to behave, but I do make a lot of fragrance “mistakes”, buying things I like but don’t love. I’m a sucker for GWP’s and have my favorite SA’s and somehow manage to get a lot of things that are nice but not me or just “meh”. Also, I’ve become so spoiled even most L’Artisans and Diptyques, which I used to think were exquisite, are now just “okay”.

    Some of these fragrances I give to my teenagers. Some I’ve swapped or sold on ebay. I can’t say I have any regrets, except one Guerlain and that’s not because I even liked the fragrance, but simply because it was a Guerlain.

    Great article! Hope to hear more from you, Samantha! Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!!

    • Sam says:

      Do you say that–or did I? I’m so similar: a sucker for a GWP, a pushover with the right SA, and just an “enthusiastic” perfume purchaser in general (that’s the kind way of putting it). And I’m with you on the L’Artisans and a few other semi-niche brands–once like treasured children, now they’re verging on noisy neighbor kids. Don’t really need ’em around. (Not all of them, however; many I still adore…)

      • ggperfume says:

        If she didn’t say it, I did – I love to reward a good SA by buying something. At least I don’t jump at the sight of a GWP offer nowaday; instead I decide whether it’s something I would use or give to a friend.

  • March says:

    Such a lovely post — I would have loved to have been your friend on one of those random Tuesdays. I admire your willingness to let all that stuff go, and then go back at some point and decide, well…. without much regret, as far as I can see. I sold off the vast majority of my collection last fall/winter (still leaving me with plenty of bottles) and it was mostly liberating. I did agree to sell two bottles to perfumista friends which I then reneged on in a panic, and they were both incredibly gracious about it.

    • Musette says:

      That’s because they probably know, all too well, what that ‘panic’ feels like!

      xo :Devil:

    • Sam says:

      You know, I have to admit that my “willingness to let all that stuff go” is more spontaneous (much more!) than generously thought out. I check in with how I feel about something, see how someone else feels about it, and let it go–if it’s not something I love/want anymore. There’s definitely room for regret, tho happily it doesn’t usually pop up till much later. (In other words, I don’t do this as graciously as it might appear in the post :).) As for selling off bottles, I’ve had that in the back of my mind for a long time, too, but am so disorganized it hasn’t happened. (And meant to get very involved in swapmania–but didn’t.) Maybe because of the panic you mentioned. For instance, I have a little bottle of Bois des Iles extrait that I like but don’t love. I know someone else would give it a more loving home. I know I should sell it. But that panic keeps holding me back–I’m sure the second I let it go I’ll want it back!!

  • Poodle says:

    Like Lucas I don’t think my collection is that big, although hubby thinks it is. I am getting more samples to get a feel for the different fragrance houses and notes I haven’t tried yet. There a few of those that I’d pass on to a new home. I have a few bottles of things I am bored with now too. I liked them but then found something that I like more. I don’t really have any perfumista friends to give them away to. Sometimes I will pass a bottle on to my niece but there are certain scents I know she won’t appreciate and would just throw out and even if I don’t like the scent anymore i can’t bear the thought of them ending up in the trash.

    • Sam says:

      I really empathize with what you said about eventually becoming bored with perfumes you once liked. Totally! Many of the bottles I give away are in that category–especially when I meet someone who loves a perfume that now makes me snooze. But yes–we don’t want any of our bottles, even the dullards 😉 ending up in the trash!

  • Lucasai says:

    I’ve never experienced the situation of giving someone my unloved scent or getting something from someone, in exchange or not. But now that my collection is still small as I keep buying only those perfume im 100% satisfied with but my samples collection is growing bigger and bigger I think that maybe soon will be the time to give some away or make an exchange. So next time swapmania will be on, I’ll be definitely onboard that time

    • Sam says:

      I’m so impressed that you only buy bottles of perfume you love 100%! I can easily get swept up in the excitement of buying a new perfume–so I end up purchasing something on the spot that I don’t adore later. Plus, I live in the middle of nowhere, and often (way too often) end up ordering unsniffed decants or, occasionally, bottles of perfume based on positive reviews/blog posts. It so rarely works out, yet I keep doing it… 😉

  • I’m so glad to read that I’m not alone. thank you. This felt like I could have written it.
    Portia xx

    • Sam says:

      So it’s not just me! Maybe we’re all (subconsciously, at least on my part) doing what Joanna R said above: giving away perfumes to make way for more. It can get expensive(!)…but it’s wonderful, too, isn’t it?

  • killerrabbit says:

    I recently gave away a bottle of Chanel No. 5 EDT which I hated, to a friend who isn’t wealthy and loves No. 5 and had run out. It was going to be a long long time before she could afford a bottle so I thought it was going to a better home. It did cause me much heart searching though because what if I liked it in future? What if the early 2000 version I have becomes a classic? I have since acquired a fantastic vintage No. 5 perfume which I actually like – I can now see what the fuss is about – so it was really a fantastic thing as it made me actually like No. 5. Your down sizing was hopefully the same.

    • Sam says:

      I love that–you gave away the Chanel No. 5 EDT to a more loving home, despite misgivings, and then you discovered a version you love more! It’s so interesting when that happens–give away what you don’t adore, end up with something you do. Perfume magic…

  • As perfume adds some glamour to the women personality they are also trying to take the best one.

  • Joanna Ravlin says:

    Oh hey, logged in with facebook for a change…
    You gave away Diorissimo extrait? I’m pretty sure there’s a rung in hell especially for Dior abusers. I’ll pray for you.
    I give perfume away too. And if I’m being honest not so much because I’m altruistic but because then I don’t feel like a hoarder and I fool myself into believing I don’t really have that much perfume and it’s okay to buy more. Umm…I’d chew off my own arm before I gave away my Diorissimo though. It’s not even extrait, it’s just vintage EDT.
    I tend to give all my perfume to the same people. The not so great, low brow bottles that get gifted to me over time by people who know I like perfume but who don’t have very good taste…those I usually give to my nieces if they’re age appropriate scents. The better stuff that just doesn’t work for me I send to my college roommate who is also a perfumista and an amazing makeup artist in Minneapolis. We send boxes back and forth all year long of perfume and beauty products. I guess maybe that isn’t giving away actually since I get things in return but the first time I mailed a box to her I didn’t expect anything back and I still don’t…but I love the goods she sends.

    • Joanna Ravlin says:

      Wow really wishing I hadn’t signed in with facebook, or rather that I had a better fb pic. Sheesh, I know I’m pale but I look like an egg wearing glasses in the little picture that pops up by my posts! Fear not the rouge pale folk!

      • Musette says:

        You look adorable!

        I give stuff away all the time for the same reasons you do – but I also give away because I GET so much stuff – so it just feels right to share the love. Alas, most of my friends are either perfumistas with the same stuff I have (or more – for example, can you imagine gifting PATTY? :Worry: or else they’re like my BFF who likes 2 or 3 perfumes,thinks I’m insane and would beat me senseless if I tried to share another scent with her!

        xo :Devil:

    • Sam says:

      I know–the Diorissimo extrait was a mistake. A big one. In my defense, for decades Saks sold these tiny (.25 ounce) bottles of the extrait, which weren’t expense, and I just assumed they’d always be available. So giving away the bottle seemed like a wonderful thing to do–till I realized I couldn’t get another!

      I loved what you said about giving away scents, and then deciding you don’t have many, so you can buy more without feeling like a hoarder. Hilarious! I think I’ve been doing the same for decades without realizing it! And I love that you and your college roommate have an ongoing share/trade happening. I do that with a few great friends–it’s the best.