Pomander balls made from oranges and spices displayed on a yellow backdrop.

The Path of Personalization and Praise for the Pomander

Children are inherently imaginative, and taking their lead often results in more creative living. One way that children exhibit creativity is in their boundless capacity for personalization.

Children inherently personalize their play and possessions. If a child likes superheroes, ballet, and the Wild West, there is a good chance that they will choose to wear a Spider-Man shirt, a tutu, and cowboy boots all at the same time. This outfit reflects the things the child loves, and they probably don’t care if adults say that these elements don’t go together.

As adolescents, we begin to care more about what our peers expect and what current custom dictates. By the time we are adults, some of us scarcely remember our true preferences. We simply accept what is traditional, what is fashionable, or what is readily available as opposed to what we really love.

Personalization as an Adult

Personalization for adults is a process of discernment that leads to action. It requires reflection about who we are (and who we want to be), as well the elements and experiences we authentically love. Once we know this, we can shape aspects of our lives (our meals, clothes, homes, and habits) to better reflect our authentic selves.

This is not a “one-and-done” event, but rather an ongoing process. Sometimes it manifests in remembering something that brought us joy in childhood, and sometimes it is about discovering something completely new. It is important, however, to go beyond discernment and actually incorporate these “personalized” discoveries into our lives.

Begin with the Senses

One place to start this process is through the physical senses. Choose one of the following: touch, smell, taste, hearing, or sight. Then think about the aspects of that sense that bring you the most joy, especially if at some point you were taught to work against a particular preference. Sometimes starting with the opposite can be helpful: determining what you don’t like can often put you on the path of finding what you love.

An infographic of the five senses. Icons for each surround a stylized image of a brain.

I did this a few years ago with fragrance. Many people love flowery scents. It turns out that I do not: I don’t like the smell of lavender or rose or gardenia. I was surprised by how many products scented like flowers (soaps, candles, haircare products, etc.) had made it into my home. Once I had determined that I didn’t like flowery smells, I could concentrate on replacing them with scents that I really did enjoy. The process brought me to the discovery that citrus and spice are at the top of my fragrance preferences.

A New Joy

Once I had determined that citrus and spice were scents that I love, I started looking for ways of getting more of them into my life. It was this search that brought a new element into my life that provides me so much happiness: the pomander ball.

A picture of Matt Desing holding up a home-made pomander ball.

For those unfamiliar, pomander balls in modern times are primarily considered a holiday craft that look festive and smell sweet. They consist of a piece of fruit, usually an orange, which is permeated with spices, primarily cloves. Once assembled, they are decorated with ribbons and then hung up in the home. The idea is that, as the days go by, the juices of the fruit slowly moisten the spices, and in turn release the scents of both into the air. These fragrant decorations have a long and interesting history, are fun and easy to make, and are an opportunity to engage in creativity.

Discovering pomander balls offered me more opportunities to further explore the things I love.

Personal Connections

Apart from their scent, what was it about pomander balls that resonated with me so strongly? I began to examine my personal connections to the components of this craft as a way of discovering more elements I might want to incorporate into my life.

Through this process, I realized that I have always loved citrus. I love the aromas and the flavors, as well as the bright yellows and oranges associated with these fruits. This love of citrus eventually made its way into my website mattdesingcreative.com, which prominently features oranges in its logo and design. I have also adopted citrus as my personal symbol for abundance, and I now brighten my home with decorative bowls of these fruits. Beyond the citrus element, what more could I find about my preferences through my love of the pomander?

A spread of whole and sliced Cara Cara oranges.

It turns out that I associate “sweet winter spices” with home. My parents are fabulous home bakers, and the smell and taste of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and cardamom make me think of my family and especially our winter holiday traditions.

But there is another reason for the pomander ball being a perfect personalized addition to my home: its medieval origins. When I am not writing about creativity, I am a professor of medieval literature. Pomander balls date back to at least the thirteenth century and had a variety of uses in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period. They were implemented as adornments, but also as talismans against evil and disease. Those early versions of pomander balls were often smaller than their modern counterparts and were frequently worn around the neck. I love the Middle Ages, and pomander balls provide me another way of getting a little more “medieval” into my life.

Your Path to Personalization

It turns out that citrus, spices, and medieval history make pomander balls the perfect personalized craft for bringing more creativity into my home. Your path to creativity through personalization will undoubtedly look very different. Recall your childhood loves and fascinations, and then explore your senses to discern your current preferences. I hope these processes help you fashion a more personalized and creative life, even if it means wearing a Spider-Man shirt, a tutu, and cowboy boots, all in one outfit. What is important is that you feel authentically and fabulously you.

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