Perfume Samples : Where to Get and How to Store

Perfume samples are essential for the pursuit of your fragrance hobby, and Elisa tells you everything you wanted to know about these all important tiny vials: where to find them, how to store them and when to use them. This article is part of our Perfume Storage series.

One of my favorite perfume smells is not a single perfume, but the ur-perfume that rises up when I open this box of samples and minis I keep in my closet. It reminds me of the sound of an orchestra tuning up – there is no plan or pattern, just noise and chaos, and yet it sounds like music to me, a beautiful mess heightened by anticipation of what’s to come. Likewise, no matter what samples go into or come out of the box, the composite perfume always smells delicious – like fuchsia-colored roses and hazy amber, with aldehydes casting their candlelight glow over it all.

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Once you fall down the rabbit hole, perfume samples start to accrue and multiply; it’s just part of the culture. In this post I’ll share my own sample habits, and I’d love to hear about yours.

Where I Get Samples

When I first got seriously interested in perfume, I would frequently order samples from places like Luckyscent. But I quickly saw the shortcomings of this method – the costs add up fast, and the samples (1 ml vials with no atomizer) were too small to get a true sense of the fragrance.

When I do order samples – if there’s something I’m dying to try and I can’t find it in a local store – I usually order large (at least 2 ml) spray samples from surrendertochance.com. This gives me enough juice for multiple wears, and they have a huge selection, cheap shipping, and great service.

Samples can be found at stores like Nordstrom and Sephora; the staff will often volunteer to make small (1ml) decants. However, my favorite way to acquire samples is through the perfume community – perfume lovers are some of the most generous people in the world and have created a sharing economy that reminds me of my other favorite people, poets, who are always trading books and chapbooks. If you find someone who loves what you love, you want them to experience what you experience!

How I Store and Organize Samples

Where do I store them? Everywhere! The aforementioned box used to be my only storage space, but after a year or so of serious perfume collecting, the box was full. I now use it mostly for “archived” samples – samples that are off-season, that I want to keep for reference, or that I plan to eventually pass on. The organization is scanty, but not nonexistent – I group most of the loose samples into bags by type (such as vintage, fruity/citrus, and white florals), and carded samples get filed in smaller boxes, separated by mainstream brands and niche.

perfume-samples-2_1

“Active” samples and decants, usually stuff that I’ve recently received and feel like wearing, or samples that I want to write about, are scattered all over my desk and on top of my dresser in various small receptacles – repurposed sake cups and shot glasses, used votive candles, empty jewelry boxes and the like. I try to group large decants together by type – one container for roses, one for spring and summer florals, and one for orientals – but with small samples I’m afraid there’s more madness than method.

How and When I Wear Samples

Since I moved to Colorado four years ago, I work full-time from home. One of my perfume resolutions last year was to finish more samples, and part of the way I’ve been accomplishing that is by wearing samples in the morning on workdays. Later in the day, once it’s worn off or after I’ve exercised and showered, I can feel free to wear favorites from my full bottle collection.

Inspired by Victoria’s post on different ways to wear scents, I’ve gone through a number of my 1 ml sample vials by dumping them into my hand along with a blob of unscented lotion (Vanicream works well) and spreading the mixture all over my arms. This is a great way to more sillage and presence out of a non-spray sample.

I also travel quite a bit, and I like to bring samples with me when I travel – but only samples that I’ve already tried and know I love. Men’s scents that I like, but that don’t feel like me, get passed on to my husband for his travel bag.

How Long I Keep Samples

I have a tendency to hoard samples, since you never know when you might want to return to something. Tastes change, and I like having a “library” of reference scents for comparison purposes in reviewing. But sample collections can rapidly get out of hand! Too, spray samples are vulnerable to evaporating or turning if you store them too long. (Victoria’s note: If your sample vials are made of plastic, don’t store them for more than 6 months. Same goes for the glass atomizer samples that don’t have a cap. Regular stoppered glass vials can be stored in a dark, cool place for 2-3 years before changes in the scent become pronounced.)

I try to counter sample proliferation by passing on at least two or three samples whenever I do a swap, as extras. Another good tactic: If there’s a perfume I appreciate but don’t particularly like on my skin, I’ll use it as a room spray in the bathroom. The last two to three sprays in a sample, sprayed into the shower, will usually scent the whole room nicely for up to 12 hours.

How do you organize and use your perfume samples? Please do share your favorite sample tips.

Photography by Elisa

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124 Comments

  • Cricket: Elisa, I just love your description of the opening of the box – an orchestra tuning up chaos and noise! What wonderful memories that evokes. Thank you for that and for your advice. Just love this blog! I swear it causes me to smell fragrances that aren’t even in the room with me. November 16, 2015 at 9:17am Reply

    • Elisa: Thank you Cricket! November 16, 2015 at 9:31am Reply

  • Susan McCallister: Thanks for these ideas! I am beginning my exploration of perfumes (this website is a huge help!), and I will learn from you and use/store my samples for maximum use. I love surrendertochance.com too! November 16, 2015 at 9:49am Reply

    • Elisa: The good thing about samples, unlike bottles, is that you can accrue quite a few before they take over your entire house! And they’re easy to pass on or heck, just throw out when you decide you don’t want them. So there’s no real downside to getting samples of anything you can! November 16, 2015 at 9:52am Reply

  • Welshie: Do you have any recommendations for similar sites to luckyscent and surrender to chance based in the UK or Europe? November 16, 2015 at 10:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Since I’m based in Belgium, I can give one recommendation–www.ausliebezumduft.de. It has an excellent selection of perfumes and many samples available. But I order often from luckyscent and surrender to chance, since their shipping on samples is reasonable. November 16, 2015 at 10:15am Reply

      • Elisa: Thanks, I was hoping you’d weigh in! November 16, 2015 at 10:16am Reply

      • Bela: What about Senteurs d’Ailleurs? Are they still there in Brussels? I used to know the owner. November 16, 2015 at 6:10pm Reply

        • Victoria: They are and they are terrific. I’m not sure, though, if they have a samples program. November 17, 2015 at 4:14am Reply

          • Bela: Ah, maybe not. Glad they’re still thriving, though. November 18, 2015 at 5:20pm Reply

            • Victoria: They’re doing very well and added a beauty store. But their perfume selection continues to be well-edited and interesting and the staff is very helpful. November 19, 2015 at 2:24pm Reply

    • Austenfan: I can only second the recommendation of Ausliebezumduft. I don’t know in which part of Europe you are living but Skins.nl offers a good sample service as well, and their shipping costs to most of the EU are very reasonable.Their selection is not as big as ALzD but it offers a nice range of niche. November 16, 2015 at 11:05am Reply

      • kayliz: Another good site for samples is parfumaria.com — you have to order in multiples of 5 but they’re very reasonable. November 16, 2015 at 5:17pm Reply

        • Austenfan: Parfumaria is indeed very good, but I don’t think that they ship abroad. November 17, 2015 at 4:54am Reply

    • crikey: In the UK, Bloom Perfumery and Les Senteurs will sell samples of almost everything they stock, and both have a wide range of interesting fragrances. (Bloom certainly sends out across the EU.) Quite a few makers also have excellent sample services–4160 Tuesdays and Oriza L. Legrand spring to mind as being particularly good (and reasonably priced). November 17, 2015 at 5:19am Reply

  • Trudy: Loved the reference to the orchestra tuning up! I love that sound and the anticipation of what comes next! I too love samples and get them from luckyscent, perfumed court, etc. I don’t really know anyone nearby who collects samples or perfumes the way I do so I’m kind of on my own. However, I live near the BeautyHabit warehouse and I love going there. They are very good about making up samples. The local Nordstrom, too, is very generous with giving samples and while I don’t like to take advantage, I do ask for a sample when it is something I really like and want to give a trial run before buying. Love the idea of mixing with lotion. Thanks for a great post. November 16, 2015 at 10:09am Reply

    • Elisa: Thanks Trudy! How lucky that you live near BeautyHabit! I like so many of the lines they carry. I also find Nordstrom to be generous with samples, and Sephora will happily make you samples of anything in store. I spend enough money there that I do not feel bad about taking them up on it 🙂 November 16, 2015 at 10:13am Reply

  • Lizbee: Wonderful post! I love to read about specific fragrances, but I also really love to read about “perfume life” and how other people are living it – logistically. I, too, have begun to amass a great deal of samples, and love the idea of having a reference library available to friends looking for new loves as well as an active selection of the ones I’m currently wearing regularly. It’s so much fun to see the images of your storage, too. I’m stealing the shot glass idea! Thanks for this fun post! November 16, 2015 at 10:11am Reply

    • Elisa: Me too! I love seeing people’s storage strategies in particular, but anything about the rituals and habits of a perfume lover (how they decide what to wear, etc.) is interesting to me. November 16, 2015 at 10:15am Reply

      • Lizbee: Me, too. I’m driving the non-perfume lovers in my life crazy because I want to talk about all of it all the time. I’m brand new and so fascinated (obsessed) I met a woman shopping at the Jo Malone counter the other day, and when she mentioned Fracas, I wanted to flash the secret sign and ask, “are you one of us?” But then her phone rang and she had to leave. I wanted to run after her! 🙂 November 16, 2015 at 10:23am Reply

        • Elisa: It’s always such a nice surprise when you hear someone mention a more out-of-the-way perfume! They used to carry Fracas at Sephora but I haven’t seen in there in a long time. November 16, 2015 at 10:29am Reply

          • limegreen: They have Fracas at Nordstrom. November 16, 2015 at 2:36pm Reply

            • Elisa: Yes, but I think young’uns would be more likely to find it and try it at Sephora. November 16, 2015 at 2:37pm Reply

              • limegreen: Ooph, makes me feel old! 🙂 November 16, 2015 at 6:19pm Reply

  • limegreen: I wish I could organize the samples into boxes as you have, Elisa! But as I mentioned in one of the giveaway comments, Elves sneak into the middle of the night and multiply those samples, so there’s no point in trying to keep them in boxes. And these Elves insist on putting these samples all over the place, in the living room, on my work desk, even in my work bag! 🙂
    I have a two-tiered jewelry box where I keep deluxe samples (hello, Malle!) and purse sprays and small decants, but otherwise, those pesky 1 ml samples I keep in various makeup bags that always come free with purchase during various dept store events. I can’t be bothered to organize by note! They’re organized by “time in my perfume life” such as “recent leather kick” (loved your leather perfume article the other week!) and “Rome trip” so it’s logical to only me. The “leather kick” bag has other samples that has nothing to do with leather but were accrued during the same testing period. 🙂
    I agree with you wholeheartedly — the perfume community exchanges are the best. When one loves something, one want to share it! 🙂 November 16, 2015 at 10:22am Reply

    • Elisa: Some of my “organization” definitely falls under the “logical only to me” category! But that’s better than nothing, right? I’m intrigued by your jewelry box solution. November 16, 2015 at 10:31am Reply

      • limegreen: Jewelry boxes protect from the light and they open up to “display” the decants/samples really easily. The divided slots are nice, too. I found mine at a Marshalls — I was looking for something else and spotted it and thought it was ideal for perfume storage. November 16, 2015 at 2:42pm Reply

    • Michaela: Elves are notorious for multipling and shuffling perfume samples! As long as they don’t steel them, I suppose they’re welcome.
      Very nice comment! November 16, 2015 at 10:58am Reply

      • limegreen: I think the ones that steal are not Elves but gremlins or something. 🙂 November 16, 2015 at 2:39pm Reply

        • Michaela: steal. sorry.
          Elves are lovely. 🙂 At least, those playing around your samples. November 17, 2015 at 6:17am Reply

  • greenjean: i don’t like the odor that greats me when i open a box where i store decants. i think it stinks. and,

    it reminds me that the scents are evaporating when i want them to stay right there in the vials until i get back to them again.

    i don’t feel the need to stray from my favorite spring and summer scents (diorissimo and un jardin sur le nil) so when i opened my sample box in early fall, i was dismayed to see that some of the fragrances were GONE from their vials. so, i have changed my storage method.

    now i store all my samples vertically. i put similar notes or categories together in 4 oz (118 ml) rubbermaid plastic boxes and label the container and the lid. if i don’t have enough vials in one container to be sure they will stay upright, i put a ring of toilet paper tubing in the space. the ring pushes against the vials and keeps them standing. it adjusts when i remove or add some.
    then i put these rubbermaid containers in cardboard photo storage boxes that i buy at craft stores. since the boxes are opaque, no light gets to my precious treasures. because the lids are labeled, it is easy to pick the container i want.

    of course, this means that it is hard to be spontaneous. so, close where i dress, i have another plastic container with my favorites and another of what i want to explore at the moment.

    as i wrote about my precious treasures, i thought of gollum of “lord of the rings” when he spoke of his obsession as “my precious.” November 16, 2015 at 10:42am Reply

    • Elisa: Good ideas. I store samples vertically as well. November 16, 2015 at 10:45am Reply

    • Joy: Too funny! I immediately thought of Gollum whilst reading your e-mail before you got to the end. I immediately pictured this woman looking over her box, rubbing her hands together as she surveyed “her precious”! November 16, 2015 at 6:00pm Reply

  • Michaela: Excellent post, a pleasure to read! Thank you for sharing and for the good advice.
    I have just a few samples comparing to yours but I still feel overwhelmed. I decided to use them all, one by one, before buying others. I gave away a lot of them, which I liked, but didn’t feel right on me. November 16, 2015 at 10:55am Reply

    • Elisa: Thank you! I think just applying some organization can help you to feel less overwhelmed.

      I know Robin (of NST) has a “purgatory” basket for samples that she’s not sure if she likes or not and intends to try again. November 16, 2015 at 11:21am Reply

      • Michaela: Not a bad idea at all. Thank you! November 17, 2015 at 6:18am Reply

  • JanLast: Wonderful post! I’m another Coloradan, and we are lucky to have the dry air, our basements are cool and we can keep samples in the chilly dark if we choose. That being said, I keep my larger samples in an old Chinese silverware chest, which is spilling over at the moment. Next came an old sewing stool. The lid lifts up and all the Posset sized samples go in there. Now, what to do with the grocery bag full of samples waiting to be tried? November 16, 2015 at 11:14am Reply

    • Elisa: Yes, we are lucky not to have to deal with humidity! Regardless of storage methods I find samples can evaporate quickly so I really try to use the ones I love rather than letting them die/disappear. November 16, 2015 at 11:23am Reply

  • Lisa B: I discovered via another blog post somewhere (I’ve forgotten where) that ammunition boxes are a fantastic way to store samples. They come in different sizes to accommodate various bullet sizes, which means you can store different sample sizes in them as well.. I get mine from Amazon. I’ve found that a Shot Shell Box, 3.5″ 12 gauge, is good for 3 and 5 ml atomizers, a 38/357 Calibre box is great for the <1 to 1 ml vials I get from LuckyScent and a 22-25/308 W/243 box is great for the 1 to 2 ml vials and Sephora samples. I could post links to the specific sizes on Amazon here but I'm not sure if links are allowed in the comments.

    And I adore the odor that comes from each box when I open it! November 16, 2015 at 11:28am Reply

    • Elisa: Oh, beautiful! I googled and those look perfect for decants! My dad shoots skeet, I will have to raid the garage for empty ammo boxes next time I’m home! November 16, 2015 at 11:36am Reply

  • jackie: Great post, Elisa! I love your description of the ur-perfume scent that wafts up out of your sample container. I love that moment too!

    A few months back, I posted my suggestion for storing samples: acrylic lipstick stands. The tiered ones are particularly good, making it easy for you to see what’s what at a glance. Normally, four little vials will stand upright in each section — a great way to sort by notes, etc. Like the one here (I hope you don’t mind me posting a link to the picture again, Victoria.)

    https://goo.gl/photos/uXDLqjSdcA7JCA7dA November 16, 2015 at 12:22pm Reply

    • Elisa: Yes, that looks great. I should make a run to the Container Store and step up my organization game. November 16, 2015 at 12:24pm Reply

      • jackie: LOL, Elisa! You’re lucky to have a Container Store nearby. I don’t think my pic shows a tiered one, but they’re definitely better. The littler cubbies tend to vary in size and shape, so maybe take some samples with you to measure and compare. 🙂 November 16, 2015 at 12:30pm Reply

    • jackie: PS, though, I admit, my organization in those lipstick stands isn’t so much by notes, but rather by limegreen’s “logical only to me” system! 🙂

      That would make an interesting discussion blog: what personal logic governs your perfume organization? November 16, 2015 at 12:28pm Reply

      • Elisa: Definitely! November 16, 2015 at 1:20pm Reply

      • limegreen: It would be a great discussion thread! Of course, there’s no “logic” in any of this perfume obsession. My little 1 ml vials fall out of my bag often, and I scoop them off the floor before anyone can see, as if it were something illicit! November 16, 2015 at 2:46pm Reply

        • Karen (A): Great image – furtively putting errant perfume samples back in purse. November 16, 2015 at 3:23pm Reply

          • limegreen: 🙂 November 16, 2015 at 7:28pm Reply

  • Patricia: Love your symphony analogy, Elisa! I stored some samples in open boxes on the bottom shelf of my nightstand and found that the “symphony” tuning up kept me from falling asleep at night. A big box with a top solved the problem. 🙂 November 16, 2015 at 1:13pm Reply

    • Elisa: Ha! There have been times when I have woken my husband from a nap just by spraying perfume. November 16, 2015 at 1:21pm Reply

    • limegreen: How funny! I have been collecting an array of perfumes on my nightstand (the ones that do get much daywear because I don’t want to respray — lots of neroli ones) and I spray at bedtime or when I first get up. Or, if I get up during the night and want a soothing spritz. I have to be careful because I’m feeling for these in the dark sometimes, and the chink of the bottles hitting one another can wake my husband up! November 16, 2015 at 2:50pm Reply

      • limegreen: the ones that DON’T get much daywear, I mean. November 16, 2015 at 2:52pm Reply

      • Elisa: My husband is hard of hearing so I don’t think bottles clinking would wake him up, but I have actually wondered if an alarm clock for the deaf that emits scent instead of sound would make sense. November 16, 2015 at 2:58pm Reply

        • Karen (A): Wow! What an incredible idea – a puff of lemon or neroli or rose to wake you up. November 16, 2015 at 3:25pm Reply

        • limegreen: My husband’s hard of smelling, so I can spritz away and not worry about waking him! November 16, 2015 at 7:29pm Reply

        • Jackie: I think you’re really on to something there, Elisa! November 17, 2015 at 1:05am Reply

      • Jackie: This image cracked me up, limegreen: groping blindly for your bottles in the middle of the night trying not to wake husband up! Only other perfume addicts would understand. November 17, 2015 at 1:03am Reply

        • limegreen: Only with the perfume community would I share such eccentric behavior!
          I don’t think people outside of this community would understand why we’re even talking about lipstick stands or ammunition boxes! 🙂
          (Is your “system” by likes/dislikes?) November 17, 2015 at 7:44am Reply

          • Jackie: Hi Limegreen, now you’re making me actually think about this! When I first fell down the hole, I had only one lipstick stand, and organized the samples mostly by note (for me that was, and more or less remains, irises, incenses, leathers, woods) everything else fell under what I’m only now calling “other,”” except for a special little section for Chanel exclusives. Now I have 3 lipstick stands, one on my dresser top, which holds favourites and currents, and two in my closet, which basically hold overflow or things I’m not sure about, at this point not really organized, except I know where everything is!

            What about you? November 18, 2015 at 12:27pm Reply

            • Jackie: I mean Chanel *Exclusifs. 🙂 November 18, 2015 at 12:37pm Reply

      • Jackie: This picture just slays me!

        Like you, I’m an addict who sprays first thing in the morning, throughout the day, and at bedtime, and I’ve tried spraying during my nightly 3 a.m. wake up, but I’ve found I’m completely anosmic in the night — must have something to do with the nose still being asleep.

        Anyone else experience this? November 18, 2015 at 12:47pm Reply

        • Jackie: Oops, that comment landed in the wrong place. I meant the picture of limegreen scrabbling for her bedside perfumes in the middle of the night! November 18, 2015 at 12:49pm Reply

        • Elisa: Yes, I also find that my sense of smell is less sharp during the night and immediately after I wake up. I wonder what the science behind that is! November 18, 2015 at 12:58pm Reply

          • Jackie: Since I’m home sick, lying on the couch, I googled the question. Haven’t found anything scientific yet, but this “20 fascinating facts about smell” mentions it in point number 14.

            http://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/health/20-fascinating-facts-sense-smell-1977351

            A bit concerning when you think about not being able to smell smoke in the night. November 18, 2015 at 3:28pm Reply

            • Elisa: So interesting! I’ve also noticed that I can’t really smell or taste in my dreams. November 18, 2015 at 3:34pm Reply

  • Liisa: I’m a bit ambivalent about sampling. There’s a fine line between curiosity and the delight of new discoveries and hoarding.

    There is simply too much perfume. I’m afraid the hobby will morph into forever looking for the next greatest thing/s ever instead of taking the time to appreciate and grow into what I have acquired so far (full bottles and samples alike).

    Ordering samples is very easy to overindulge and overspend on, which is why I will only make use of samples if I can get them for free as GWF or make my own at perfumeries. For the rest is sniffing whatever/whenever I can. It restricts the range obviously but what I think I’m ‘missing’ is entirely in my head :D.

    I’ve about ten full bottles of perfume – all different type scents. Each time I buy more it is less of a pleasure because I’ve enough fantastic stuff to last a few years already. So why keep looking? More isn’t better. It’s just speeding past the roses.

    Sorry if it comes across as Debbie Downer. The ‘choice’ available often just makes me feel overwhelmed. November 16, 2015 at 1:35pm Reply

    • Elisa: If too much choice makes you feel overwhelmed, restricting how many samples you bring into your house, and how many full bottles you purchase, is absolutely a good idea. You never want to get to the point where it feels like work. I’ve long gotten past the need to sniff every new perfume that is released — there are waaaay too many new releases and after a while they mostly smell the same anyway.

      For me, though, perfume isn’t purely about function (having something to wear and smell good). I know that I have more perfume than I could ever use, but I like having a “library” of reference scents, and having enough to be generous and give a lot of it away. We also have an enormous book collection, and we’ll never read most of the books front to back again, but we love having them available to flip back through, lend out, etc. It just makes our lives richer, and we’re not the minimalist type! (Doesn’t make moving easy, I’ll admit….) November 16, 2015 at 1:42pm Reply

    • Marilyn Stanonis: Liisa, I couldn’t agree more! I am too easily overwhelmed to collect all those samples. I have my few bottles that I love; I love to try the samples if they come my way, but I don’t keep them. Can you hear the collective “gasp — WHAT?? She doesn’t keep her samples??”
      Instead, I learn from all of you and from this marvelous site! November 16, 2015 at 7:24pm Reply

      • Elisa: Have you read Alyssa Harad’s memoir? She talks about how she read perfume blogs for months before she ever ordered a sample. It was enough for her to just read the descriptions and she didn’t feel like she needed to physically smell them, which I found so interesting. November 16, 2015 at 7:31pm Reply

        • Liisa: When I got into perfume again after a long hiatus I came across the term ‘rabbit hole’, and, well, that’s what it can be if you’re not careful.

          I decided I’d invest in a limited number of samples to learn about different types of scent and based on reviews. It was good to broaden the vocabulary as in ‘oh so this smells like THIS’ and help recognise general like and dislike. For the rest it’s just sniffing – repeatedly in some cases – whenever I pass a frag.

          Of course I get the occasional lemming from reviews but generally they dissipate in a few days 🙂

          I’m not concerned about the expense that comes with buying samples that much. It’s just the idea of more more more in search of ‘happiness’ that makes me feel uneasy. November 16, 2015 at 11:05pm Reply

          • Princess Tonk: The thing is, Liisa, what keeps me trying and buying (and it appears most others) is not insatiable desires that we will never quell. It is the fact that I AM being satisfied, over and over again in many different ways by each and every new thing. And my taste for it is changed by mood, by weather, level of stress, which version of myself I am playing that day…The search for happiness is a good thing unless you believe that it doesn’t exist. And clearly that isn’t how you feel. Besides – it is a search for MORE happiness, not just some happiness! November 17, 2015 at 1:48am Reply

            • Victoria: I agree. The reason I like getting new samples to try or books to read is not a search for happiness per se, but the pleasure that new experiences bring me. A few drops of a rose perfume may remind me of a place I visited or may make me fantasize about something else. Or just take me out of my routine for a moment. It’s a small thing but it makes a big difference. I don’t see such pleasures as indulgences. They’re a necessary part of life for me. November 17, 2015 at 4:25am Reply

            • Elisa: Exactly! As V said, I keep trying new perfumes for the same reason I listen to new music, read new books, go to new museums — for more of the experiences I have enjoyed in the past. And to learn new things! November 17, 2015 at 9:51am Reply

              • Victoria: Yes! I have a large collection of classical music, and I can’t imagine narrowing down to just 3-4 “best of” CDs.
                But then again, different people approach the perfume hobby differently, and the beauty of this pursuit is that it can accommodate all approaches–academic, geeky, hedonistic, or purely functional.

                And of course, if one can’t control their own spending, it’s a problem. But I personally have never found my fragrance interest to be financially draining, even when I was a student. It was mostly thanks to samples. November 17, 2015 at 11:11am Reply

                • Elisa: I haven’t found it to be a financial drain either. I’m pretty thrifty with perfume; I almost never spend more than $100 on a bottle. November 17, 2015 at 11:13am Reply

        • Liisa: Sampling perfumes without even smelling them can be an interesting concept from a literary point of view. Although it reminds me of being a shopaholic a bit.

          I used to read Vogue to determine which items of clothing I was going to get, go out shopping and spend and spend and then come home with bags full of clothes I’d never wear. I actually thought about curating by wardrobe at one point – with photographs, dates of acquisition and so on. The more I bought the more discontented I became, apart from the short-lived thrill of purchase.

          Plenty parallels with perfume sampling then for me. Not that it need be so. Only if one is trying to fulfil an unmet need. November 16, 2015 at 11:25pm Reply

          • Elisa: I really don’t see the parallel between being a shopaholic and having a collection of perfume samples. I’ve probably spent less than $150 on perfume samples in my life, and I do use them and get joy from them. A very small amount of perfume can become a component of many different experiences on many different days, and over all those days, the cost per experience is fractional. It’s more like music, which you can listen to many times, than, say, a meal or a bottle of wine which you enjoy once and is then gone.

            My point is, I don’t think they need to be looked at as an inherently bad habit or unnecessary indulgence. November 16, 2015 at 11:40pm Reply

            • Liisa: Oh I didn’t say sampling is a bad habit or something unnecessary 🙂

              My point was more that given many of us own enough lovely scents to wear for at least a few years each . . . why do we keep looking instead of enjoying what we have? What’s ‘wrong’ with it?

              Possession truly means the end of desire.

              Which is what modern consumerism is built on of course. The more choice there is, the less content people feel about their ‘choices’. It’s not about the product; it’s about *why* people feel they need it.

              The above all reads rather negative which isn’t the intention at all. It’s not about perfume per say either. It’s about any product you can go out and buy to feel better for a while . . . until something itches again and needs mending. November 18, 2015 at 3:39pm Reply

              • Elisa: Yeah, I’m pretty Marxist. Obviously capitalism thrives on people thinking they constantly need new things. But I just don’t feel that I try new (or new to me) perfumes to fix something that’s missing in my life. I just want to experience as much different art as I can. I ignore new launches that seem like empty corporate grabs for money. I try new stuff when there seems to a perfumer presenting an interesting new view. And it’s not hard for me to get samples for free. Cue music “That’s what friends are for….” November 18, 2015 at 4:06pm Reply

          • Princess Tonk: The question I have is WHY DIDN’T YOU WEAR WHAT YOU BOUGHT? I understand that cataloging is a side mania of collecting, and a nice one if you enjoy it, but clothing that sounds beautiful in bags, that you would NEVER wear is more like punishment. Aside from all that, perfume is so much less expensive than buying women’s clothing. I can make 4 purchases of beautiful bottles of perfume that cost less than a dress. Hey – I’m SAVING money! November 17, 2015 at 1:55am Reply

            • Elisa: A bottle of perfume can also last a lifetime. Even clothes that I love, I get sick of, or they fall apart. November 17, 2015 at 9:53am Reply

              • limegreen: Can’t share a sleeve from a piece of clothing with someone either! A bottle or even a decant/sample can be parceled out to be shared. November 17, 2015 at 10:13am Reply

                • Liisa: You can always lend clothes to friends and give them away or donate them to charity for others to enjoy. November 18, 2015 at 3:57pm Reply

    • spe: Great comments, Liisa. I am also easily overwhelmed by choices. Photos of collections and samples make me uneasy. I have a tiny shopping bag of samples in my storage unit that I’m ready to toss. I have a small cardboard box that contains jasmine samples – maybe about 7 or 8 small vials.

      Like the poster below, I throw samples away. Only once have I gone through a sample and wanted another sample of the same fragrance because I was undecided:Amouage lyric man.

      The “rabbit hole” is not a comfortable situation for many of us. I’ve owned hundreds of perfumes. Of those, only a handful or two delighted me. With the help of my family (my siblings have excellent taste and know me well), I narrowed down and let go of those that don’t suit me.

      You are right to be careful with your resources (time, money, and space) around this interest and to gauge the level of stress and happiness it brings to you.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. November 17, 2015 at 8:54am Reply

  • Karen (A): Fun article Elisa! Wish I had some clever, well organized method of storing my ever-expanding samples but alas, they are stored in a manner best described as bedlam and chaos! But sort of (at least at times) grouped together by the only-logical-to-me method…. The only good thing is that I do go through them fairly frequently and enjoy smelling the variety that I’ve amassed. Helps to figure out what I like, what notes don’t appeal etc. or more realistically what notes I can’t detect!

    A resolution to do better, get them all upright and continue using them up. My latest method is just pouring whatever is left in to a bath – so far it’s been a good way to empty some out.

    But the beautiful FM and Guerlain samples are perfect for travel – so well packaged, funny isn’t it how small things like that make me happy. November 16, 2015 at 1:38pm Reply

    • Elisa: I never take baths or I would definitely use the bath option! I’ve also heard that you can use perfume in the wash to scent your sheets, but haven’t tried it myself. November 16, 2015 at 1:45pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: Yes. I love the scent of my perfume sample stash box! It is a small wooden jewellery box. Each time I open it, I think this is the perfect scent. All of it. Granted there was a little spillage of No 1 Intense, Parfum de Nicolai, in the spring, but I think there is much more going on at night in that perfume box, when I close the lid. I have a self-imposed rule regarding samples – I use most of them up before I collect anymore of them. I have always binned the ones that I find unbearable. Never occurred to me that someone else might want to try them as they are usually so small. Maybe I need to rethink that. November 16, 2015 at 2:59pm Reply

    • Elisa: I’m glad to find others who like that mixed every-perfume smell!

      I used to trash samples I didn’t like, but now I only do that if I think they’ve actually turned. Now I try to pass them on or find some other way to use them. My standards for room spray are lower than for the perfume I wear. 🙂 November 16, 2015 at 3:46pm Reply

  • rickyrebarco: My samples are currently in a bit of a mess. When I get some as freebies when I buy a bottle from a niche perfumer store, sometimes I end up not liking them. These I sell on Ebay. If you’ve only tried a little bit or nothing at all from a batch of samples you can sell them. The ones I like I take out and wear them. If I really love the scent I buy a bottle. November 16, 2015 at 4:32pm Reply

    • Elisa: I’m not up to the effort of selling samples, but I have certainly bought them before, so it makes sense! November 16, 2015 at 5:47pm Reply

  • Genevieve Leger Fawcett: This is a bit off topic, but here goes…I am in Canada, and arranging a swap with another perfume lover in the States. Some samples and a full bottle of perfume. The Post Office told me today that they can’t ship fragrances… wondering if anyone out there has any experience with shipping across the border? November 16, 2015 at 4:50pm Reply

    • Elisa: I must admit I don’t know all the restrictions. There must be some way to do it since perfume companies can ship fragrance across borders, but I don’t know how you accomplish it as a regular person. November 16, 2015 at 6:15pm Reply

    • jjlook: Most of us declare something true but without the word “perfume” on customs forms. For example, I have sent out a lot of “used cosmetic and fragrance samples” lately. November 16, 2015 at 7:40pm Reply

    • Jackie: Hello Genevieve, fellow Canadian. My understanding was that you have to send by ground, not air. (?) The other day I ordered perfume from Sephora and there was a note saying shipping would take a bit longer because it would have to come by ground. November 17, 2015 at 1:15am Reply

    • Karen (A): Hi Genevieve – will second the suggestion of saying you are mailing cosmetics. November 17, 2015 at 5:46am Reply

    • Genevieve Leger Fawcett: Thanks for the suggestions everyone! November 17, 2015 at 11:40am Reply

    • Elizabeth: I would be interested to hear how the mailing issue goes. I am also in Canada so up to now, have never attempted to send or order samples to or from the States. So many scents I would like to try but potential border issues have always stopped me. November 17, 2015 at 12:00pm Reply

  • girasole: It’s so funny, just before reading this post, I’d opened up my sample box to check on something, so I could still hear the strains of my ‘orchestra’ as I began to read! What a fitting analogy 🙂

    I keep my samples in a fishing tackle box (a new one, of course!). It makes it easy to organize and also to keep the vials standing upright. I’ve arranged perfumes in the sections according to house (for ones with multiple samples) or note, but I also have some in little bags that I’m intending either to pass on or to give a bit more attention to. I also tend to bring a lot of samples when I travel – it encourages me to use them up and sometimes results in a fun discovery or at least some good, new scent memories!

    I never throw any out – I pass them on to other perfume lovers or put them in a pile to be given to my sisters when we get together. As for guarding against evaporation, I use plumbers tape to wrap most of my spray samples and some of the stoppered ones that don’t get used often. I’m not sure if it really helps, but it makes me feel better!

    When I’ve emptied one I really like, I put the empty vial, stopper removed, in a dresser drawer or on the corner of a bookshelf where it can gently perfume its surroundings until the last notes fade away… November 16, 2015 at 6:04pm Reply

    • Elisa: Good tip on using the empty vials to scent drawers! Ditto the tackle box 🙂 November 16, 2015 at 6:16pm Reply

  • Joy: I loved this article today, Elisa. I keep most of my samples in a drawer. I love to open that drawer. I think of it as a cacophony of fragrance. I also order from Surrender to Chance. They ship the samples in such nifty little boxes. Opening these boxes has the same affect. It is a sort of incense reminding me of the Japanese jewelry boxes that my uncle would bring home for my sister and me when he was in the Navy.
    I actually keep each order in its box, so that it my organization, “my Chanel no. 22 is in the mauve box with the purple glass bead. I do get some samples from Nordstrom and Sephora. Those I store in the colorful gauze bags that I receive from S to Chance.
    I am a bit of a hoarder and must train myself to give away more. I worry that I will give something away, then read about it and want to try it again, but am trying to use up my older samples. It is such a crazy obsession. November 16, 2015 at 6:17pm Reply

    • Elisa: I know what you mean — I am the same way about thinking I will want to try something again, so I usually keep something until I’m pretty sure I can live without it. In any case, I’ve often found that after I passed something on, more of it came back to me! That makes it easier to let go, knowing you can (almost) always get more! November 16, 2015 at 6:26pm Reply

  • Andy: I am a chronic sample hoarder, mostly because I just assume I’m going to one day have one of those moments where I really want or “need” to reference a perfume, and find that I no longer have the desired sample. I’ve almost never had this happen to me, so I think my strategy is working? It’s hard to say. However, I think I’m just going to stick to my hoarding–maybe I’ll grow from the opportunity, devising sophisticated organizational strategies in the process, as my sample collection grows larger and larger and larger. 😉 November 16, 2015 at 8:29pm Reply

    • Elisa: It *is* nice to be able to just reach into your closet when you want to sniff something! Would love to hear how you do organize them, even if it’s chaotic! November 16, 2015 at 8:50pm Reply

      • Aurora: I loved your post, Elisa, sample storing is a great topic. In my case, 50 at any one time is the rule I stick to. More I give away or use up, I have a cardboard box with a lid and I always wrap them up in tissue paper so no wonderful greets me when I open it but it’s safer that way. I must confess for a proliferation of minis though, I swear I don’t know how that happens, probably I never let pass a good bargain on minis on line as it is less of a commitment than full bottles, and minis always smell wonderful, they seem to keep their content fresh. Do you have many minis too, Elisa? November 17, 2015 at 5:52am Reply

        • Aurora: No wonderful smell greets me November 17, 2015 at 5:52am Reply

        • Elisa: I only have a few minis. Since I prefer to spray, and most minis don’t have atomizers, it forces me to go to the extra trouble of decanting the juice into a small decant. But they very cute, and it’s nice as a “deluxe sample” when you don’t have another way to get one. November 17, 2015 at 9:54am Reply

      • Andy: Decants go either in a tray in my desk drawer or in a lidded box on my desk, and samples I store between a few places. The majority go in a plastic shoebox that fits in a dresser drawer, though there’s no organization as of right now (it’s an afternoon project I’m saving for after Christmas). Any “active” samples that I’m in the process of trying go in wide mouthed candle holder. Every month, season, or whenever the desire hits, I rotate old samples from the shoebox to join the new ones in the glass receptacle, based on whatever I’ve been craving. This fall, for example, I’ve been revisiting lots of leathers and dark, spicy roses. November 17, 2015 at 7:18am Reply

        • Elisa: Candle holders are perfect perfume receptacles. November 17, 2015 at 9:55am Reply

  • Katy: I keep samples I am most interested in at hand in a little soap stone box on my dresser. There is usually Olympic Orchids samples and one or two mainstream offerings that usually come from my fellow perfumistas. My full bottle Autumn rotation is there as well and that would be Papillon Anubis, Dev #1, Woodcut, YSL Cinema, Il Bacio and Quorum. Wonderful writing, Elisa! November 17, 2015 at 6:51am Reply

    • Elisa: Thank you Katy! You’ve reminded me that I still really want to try the Papillon collection. November 17, 2015 at 9:56am Reply

  • Anka: Great article, thank you, Elisa! I had to laugh about the sound of an orchestra analogy, that’ s how some perfumeries smell to me…
    I have a question: Why should plastic sample vials not be kept longer than 6 months? Some of my samples are older than three years and haven’t turned, but is it unhealthy to use them? November 17, 2015 at 9:49am Reply

    • Elisa: I have not heard that they shouldn’t be kept longer than six months. I’m sure it’s not a health issue in any case — when a perfume turns it doesn’t become dangerous, it just smells off. The only real “danger” is that the perfume might evaporate before you get a chance to wear it. That’s happened to me with samples that I’ve had for as little as a year and a half. Probably a weak seal. November 17, 2015 at 9:58am Reply

  • Lady Dedlock: It is certainly a “rabbit hole”. I began with two, telling myself, “just this once.” I have ended up with nearly a hundred. When I am bored I play with them like I did with Barbie as a little girl. I rank them from best, good to mediocre. It’s my dirty little secret no one knows except this blog. November 17, 2015 at 10:21am Reply

    • Elisa: LOL November 17, 2015 at 10:23am Reply

    • Karen (A): This is perfect! I think the “playing” part is a huge source of enjoyment for me, too. You’ve hit the right feeling, as organizing samples is like looking through my Barbie, Midge, and Skipper clothes when (years and years ago!!) I was a child.

      Going through samples is a great way to relax and just experience fragrance. m November 18, 2015 at 6:43am Reply

      • Elisa: I recently reorganized all my makeup and it was enjoyable and calming as well. November 18, 2015 at 9:54am Reply

  • Ariadne: I love the idea of putting the less favored samples to use in the powder room!
    If it weren’t for samples I would not be able to “study” perfume. I read about perfumes from everyone’s posts here….order 5 or 6 samples and then go back and read again while sniffing. I try to connect what I am smelling to the posts and descriptions to be more informed. I do not keep my samples open to the light or heat & humidity.
    When I travel I pack a random handful of samples. Makes for a fun surprise when I arrive and unpack. November 17, 2015 at 7:44pm Reply

    • Elisa: Samples are perfect for travel and having a selection of perfume makes me feel more at home/me 🙂 November 18, 2015 at 9:53am Reply

  • SilverMoon: Thank you for a lovely post, Elisa. I find it fascinating to read about perfume collecting and other aspects related to our interest/hobby. One also gets some great ideas from all the others who read and contribute here.

    In terms of samples, I normally do not set out to get them and have only purchased a few recently from luckyscent. I took advantage of a trip to the US to buy some samples that are hard/impossible to find in the UK (e.g. Perfumes DelRae). All the same, I seem to have amassed a good number of samples, because you are usually given a few everytime you buy a full bottle. My favourite samples are the FM ones, since they are very conveniently packed for travel. I should add that I prefer it when perfume specialist shops ask what samples one would like rather than handing over something one has no interest in.

    Finally, I have no system for storing samples. Maybe this would be a nice relaxing project to do on the cold wet evenings over the Christmas break. I can see the appeal of “playing” with my perfume collection and samples. November 21, 2015 at 3:28am Reply

    • Elisa: Thank you! I do have fun sometimes reorganizing my perfumes — it kind of reminds you of things you haven’t worn in a while just when you move them around. I also occasionally like to spray everything on blotters and find new potential layering combinations. November 21, 2015 at 3:49pm Reply

  • Rachel: Elisa; I, too, *love* the smell of my sample/decant boxes. In fact I’ve been wanting to post–maybe on the Recommend Me a Perfume day asking what everyone thought would happen if I mixed them all together. So, I ask this now–what do you think? Thank you. November 25, 2015 at 1:54am Reply

    • Elisa: I just read recently that Beautiful was created by mixing together five different mods and then asking Sophia Grojsman to clean it up! So maybe not *all* of them, but a few? I usually find when I try on several different perfumes (while testing in stores) that one or two end up dominating; it’s hard to smell all of the different notes at once. November 25, 2015 at 12:03pm Reply

      • Rachel: Probably a good idea 🙂 Thanks! November 30, 2015 at 12:05am Reply

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