Day 254 Chemical declutter

Minimalizing Chemical Clutter

Guest Post by Betty Jo Martin – joy with less

Over twenty years ago I was diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). In broad terms MCS means an unusually severe sensitivity or allergy-like reaction to many different kinds of pollutants including solvents, VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds), perfumes, petroleum, diesel, smoke, mercury, lead,  “chemicals” in  general. The list of toxic chemicals used today in our homes, yards, and offices/studios are too numerous for me to list.

My physical decline began in my thirties when the first ever fillings were placed in five of my teeth. The dentist used dental amalgam fillings, sometimes called “silver amalgams,” which are actually half mercury. Within two days of having the dental work, I experienced severe pain in my limbs and along my spine. It was so painful I couldn’t hold a teacup, or climb the stairs to our bedroom. I sat up at night due to the excruciating pain in my back. I spent many days and weeks bedridden. Periodically, and for several days at a time, the pain would lessen somewhat and I could actually make it up and down stairs without crawling or being carried.

We were living in England at the time, serving with a benevolent organization as hospitality couple to families passing through the UK from around the world. We maintained a huge, rented, centuries old stone house in the country. It was similar to running a bed and breakfast. My husband also traveled five days into London working with book, and humanitarian aid distribution. I took care of school activities with our boys, the daily running of the house, and handled many of the hundreds of inquiry letters received by the organization. We also traveled many weekends with the ministries outreach programs.

After hospital tests I was diagnosed with a viral infection in my spinal column and told there was no treatment except bed rest. We never accepted that diagnoses and decided to continue our search for answers and hopefully a cure. Of course it was basically impossible to handle the vigorous work schedule, which took the two of us working together as a team, so we decided to take a less strenuous position in the US.  My husband would continue his work with the organization in one of their book distribution warehouses, traveling often. I would stay home, coping with my disabilities, and starting a very long trek through the maze of doctors and further medical tests. It was extremely difficult, and some days it took all I could do simply to get from my bed to our living room couch due to the horrific pain in joints, back, and head, much less face specialists and tests. At the time, we, nor any of the doctors I consulted, connected the amalgam fillings to my becoming basically an invalid within a couple of days of having them. That knowledge came years later.

Once back in the US the viral infection in my spinal column was ruled out as being nonexistent, as I suspected it would be. I was tested for MS, which one doctor was totally convinced I had. There were also tests for other immune mediated diseases. But, to everyone’s amazement, all of my diagnostic tests proved negative to any disease!

To make a long story shorter, I’ll now jump ahead three or four years.

My husband decided to take another “job” with less traveling, giving him more time to help me. We relocated to Chicago, IL where my husband was employed by a book company. A board member of the company rented a house to us only minutes from where my husband worked. This gave him opportunity to check in with me several times a day. It was an older home and my husband painted rooms, put up wallpaper, and made many repairs. We were only there for a short time when my health took a nose dive, the pain grew worse than ever, and again I was bedridden for long periods of time. I experienced relentless “brain fog”. Fighting depression was a daily affair.

When a new friend I met at church heard of my plight she began to educate me about chemical toxins and how they can affect our health, especially the immune system. My hubby and I began to read everything we could get our hands on about the subject. We read incredible information by Theron Randolf, Debra Lynn Dadd, Lynn Lawson, Doris J. Rapp. Light bulbs came on! It didn’t take us long to piece together that the toxic mercury in the dental fillings I received in England was the beginning of the damage to my immune system. I was later tested for mercury and I registered extremely high with mercury toxicity. We then realized that other toxins in our environment continued to add to the load, affecting my immune system even further.

We began to hunt down the toxins in our environment and rid our lives of the chemical clutter. We were forced to leave the home we occupied, due to new paint and repairs, a gas heat system and cook stove, as well as the volatile gasoline toxins from the myriad of cars passing our home daily in the congested Chicago area where we lived. We relocated to rural North Carolina, my hubby taking a job managing a pizza parlor, and to continue our cleansing process surrounded by cleaner air and natural beauty.

We learned that as consumers we were spending a lot of money on products containing toxic materials that were adding to my physical digression, and possibly harming our children in ways that might not be detected until they were older. We also began to realize the impact toxic products have on the environment at large.

I saw immediate relief from a lot of the physical problems as we began to replace household toxins with natural products. Although to this day I still have severe sensitivities to many, many chemicals I am now able to live a limited, but somewhat normal life, without daily pain. It is basically impossible to live in a chemical free environment, but I can and will, continue to minimize my exposure as much as possible.

Since reading much in the minimalist online community I’ve come to realize that clearing the chemical clutter from my home was the actual beginning steps to a more simple lifestyle and minimalism. Another reason I chose joy with less as the name of my blog.

Here are a few of the products we purged years ago, and perhaps something on the list will inspire you to clear away chemical clutter in your environment. For more in-depth information do a computer search of individual chemical names found on a product’s packaging. One of the best online sources for further info I’ve found is ATSDR (

  • Gas heat, cook stove, and hot water heater (Switched to electric. Solar power is even better.)
  • Chemically filled household cleansers
  • Oven cleaner
  • Synthetic materials in clothing
  • New furniture
  • New cars
  • New carpet
  • Pesticides: I use an electric (ultrasonic) device, and haven’t had any household pests in years.
  • Deodorizers, air fresheners
  • Nail polish and nail polish remover
  • Shoe polish
  • Paint, paint strippers
  • Dry cleaning
  • Perfume/cologne or perfumed personal grooming products
  • Chemically laced: shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and lotions
  • Prepackaged products sold as food with long chemical lists of ingredients
  • Canned foods
  • Most plastics: food containers, plastic wrap, bottles, cups, place mats, shower curtains, toys, just to name a few
  • Dryer sheets
  • Newspapers and magazines

Symptoms of exposure to the chemicals found in these items can include headache, backache, stiff and painful joints, nausea, diarrhea, asthma or allergy attacks, dizziness, memory loss, stuttering, premature puberty, low sperm count, reduced motor skills, sudden mood swings, dyslexia, ADHD, anti-social behavior/autism and birth defects, depression, among others. Pound for pound, children’s exposure levels are higher than adults because, although the amount of chemicals in an exposure remains equal, children’s bodies are smaller so the concentration is stronger. Also, their immune systems are still developing. Children are probably the highest risk population for chemical exposures. For many of these same reasons, pets may also be at risk. Other populations with a pronounced risk are breast cancer victims, the elderly, asthma and allergy sufferers and those with compromised immune systems.

Thank you Colleen for the invitation to share my story on your wonderful blog.


I hope some one will find these bits and pieces useful they are remnants from days when I used to sew more.

Sewing Items

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. I too have some sensitivities! One of the most unpleasant places for me is having to walk through the perfume section to get out of a department store! I can literally feel my stomach tense up! I have also had dermatitis from unwashed clothes in stores. I think that decluttering will DEFINITELY be an improvement for your overall health since chemicals are everywhere and seemingly in everything!

  2. Betty Jo, thanks for sharing this! I’m curious–what do you use instead of the shower curtain liner? I hate hate hate the smell of new ones, they give me a headache. Also can’t abide most chemicals that you mentioned. carpeting, dry cleaning, etc. But don’t know what to do about that shower curtain liner.

    So glad you found some kind of relief, and really feel for the years of frustrations and pain you’ve had to endure. Your hubbins was a real doll 🙂

  3. Colleen I had no idea I had written sooooo much! Thanks again my friend.

    Meg I use a cloth shower curtain with no liner. I actually bought it at Walmart and love it. I cannot tolerate the plastic (petroleum based) curtain liners either. may carry fabric shower curtains, as she has other non-toxic items for the home.

  4. Betty Jo, I am wondering if anyone ever suggested that you have your fillings replaced? I think I remember reading that those fillings can continue to leach mercury for a long time, and there are alternative materials now.

    You’ve really had a hard time. Good luck on your continued journey.

    • Hi Jo, You are so right. The fillings can continue to leach mercury and I had mine replaced a long time ago, bit by bit, as my system was sooooo sensitive. Thank you so much for your good wishes!!

      • Hi Betty Jo and Jo,
        thanks God for modern denistry I say.

        And Betty Jo, I knew it was a big post but it was all so interesting I had no desire to shorten it. Thanks for doing it for me.

  5. Dust mite is one of my curses. We just visited the Palazzo Pitti in Florence (Firenze) the other day and I sneezed for the rest of the day. Luckily at home I don’t suffer this problem much because I keep my house very clean.