Instagram gets a lot of shit from its users. It has “optimized” the algorithm so they only see the same posts by awful, perfect people over and over again, and kneecaps people's self-esteem by showing them how happy everyone else is, even though they’re not. It's certainly not a perfect app. But its biggest flaw isn’t what it does, but what it doesn’t do. It lacks the same thing Emeril Lagasse presciently criticized television for in the heyday of Food Network personalities: smells.
A brilliant Instagram account is solving this issue, one post at a time. @Room_Smells shares hyper specific pictures of rooms, captioned with a vivid description of what they definitely, 100 percent smell like.
The person behind this account, who asked to be referred to simply as “Matthew,” has identified countless scents that instantly conjure an image of the exact person he imagines lives in each room. Everyone has encountered the type of guy who eats cheeseburger soup, guzzles nutrition powder, showers with Axe body wash, and lives in a house like the one above.
Various people who are Extremely Online have sung the account's praises, though it still has a low follower count. Like Toilets With Threatening Auras or Awards for Men Who Have Done the Absolute Minimum, Room Smells has a perfectly refined voice, one that is funny while documenting a trend. We reached out to Matthew and his nose to ask how the account came about.
VICE: Where did the idea for Room Smells come from?
Matthew: I posted a picture of an ugly room on my personal Instagram story and said it looks like it smells like a combination of random things. A few pals messaged me saying it was funny and I should start an account of them! So I started one, threw up a random list of interior design hashtags, and promoted it on my own feed a little. I haven’t done a gimmick account thing before. In a way, it’s a parody of other trash Instagram accounts that just repost each others' videos of kids fighting or car crashes.
Where do you find the photos of these rooms?
My wife and I are looking to buy our first house. Some of the listings have pictures of grim, beat-up rooms. Some of the images come from these listings. Others I simply Google search “ugly living room 1993” or whatever. I have yet to post any room I’ve personally been in. I try to speak to the universality of how the rooms smell. Like, you know exactly how this room smells but you haven’t thought about it before.
Do you have any deep experience with smell that explains your vocabulary for describing the perfect scent for each room?
I’ve always been weirdly sensitive to smells, noticing odors nobody else does. Sort of like how psychics can supposedly sense ghosts in the room, only my trait is much more boring. There’s a self help book called Highly Sensitive Person, positing that some people have really sensitive nervous systems. I don’t know if I buy into the whole theory but I have a lot of traits consistent with being a HSP.
What is the worst smell you have ever smelled?
I once accidentally wrapped put a half-eaten Boursin cheese in a picnic blanket and put it away for the winter, only to discover it six months later. We tried to air out the blanket at a picnic and a park ranger yelled at us. I grew up in NJ in the 1980s and 1990s. Some of those metal guys’ cars and denim jackets made me nauseous. Also the Graham Avenue L train entrance near the supermarket on a hot summer day, that’s some tough stuff right there.
I found your account when Darcie Wilder posted screenshots of your posts on her Instagram story. Do you know how she discovered you?
Yeah! Katie Notopoulos found it. Katie didn’t know the account was me. I used to be into “weird Twitter” many years ago but I deleted my account, because Twitter was making me mad and stupid. But when I was active there was a loose collection of weird Twitter people that would meet up and go to Applebee’s, which used to be a funny thing to do. I'm back on Twitter now but just to follow some journalists and funny people and pals. I don't post much on Twitter.
Do you consider what you're doing art?
No, this isn’t art. This is mostly throw away one-liners I’m just doing to entertain myself at idle moments. The Instagram thing is just for cheap ego boosts for myself. I think real art requires patience and skill and lots of editing. Me, i just read a ton of PG Wodehouse books and sometimes I wait for the bus and have a spare moment.
What's next for Room Smells and what's next for you?
I work full time in an office in midtown NYC and I’m going to night school to get my Masters degree in public administration. I have no plans for the account but I hope I’m smart enough to stop once it isn’t fun anymore. At that point I’ll probably switch it to just public health memes.
Follow Room Smells on Instagram here.
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