How to Hold a Fragrance Free Birthday Party (Part II)

How to Hold a Fragrance Free Birthday Party (Part I)

Whew! Am I glad that’s out of the way (by 11 months now!). And I can’t believe it’s nearly time for the next one; I sure hope it’s a quiet one. Kid’s 18th and 21st are ritualistically on the larger, noisier side; and, for my daughter’s 18th, I wasn’t about to let my health dull the event for her.

This post has been half-ready, sitting in my drafts folder for a while now but there’s this thing about teenage offspring and their first ever long-term relationship that means that if they break up, all speaking, blogging, showing photos, or anything to do with that person is absolutely forbidden. For some time. That time is now over, so here’s what happened… at the fragrance free 18th birthday party, that is. But first:

In brief (click here for the long version) here’s what happened, leading up to it:

  • Outdoor balcony at restaurant was fully booked out by us (this meant we had to invite 30 people, at least)
  • Catering staff were asked not to wear sprays or fragrance (this helped us decide on the actual restaurant, itself. The first restaurant owner who agreed to this, we booked with; which just happened to be the first place we tried: Miyako Japanese Cuisine & Teriyaki. Usually, Japanese restaurants have a lot more gluten-free, healthy-type food choices, anyway)
  • We asked for them to keep the door leading into the restaurant  (from the balcony) closed at all times, due to fumes from high-temperature cooking of Teriyaki (indoor Japanese BBQ)
  • Menu was decided on in advance (this saves money. Can’t have people going: “Oh, I’ll have the Gently-Baked Lobster and that bottle of Dom Perignon.” And, more importantly, we needed to take many people’s dietary requirements and particular tastes into consideration: children, old people and those on a special diet. I think we pleased our guests… and no one got sick)
  • A gluten-free (GF), dairy-free, artificial flavour free chocolate mud cake was ordered from delightful cake making people at Wooden Spoon Cakes (they specialise in GF cakes–and as usual, this one was delicious. Often people complain about GF food; but every year, people always want more of this particular mud cake.)
  • Invitations were sent out (very clear message about the fragrance issue, why that is, and what happens–people need to know that it’s not about the smell, yah? It’s the chemicals!)
  • Phone calls were made to remind people about the fragrance issues (People forget. They do! It’s like brushing their teeth (or something that they do automatically each day) as they get ready to rush out the door.), we did this the day before the event
  • Lovely cousins took the birthday girl shopping for a new outfit so I didn’t have to get sick by going into Myers (our department store, here in Melbourne, Australia)
  • Daughter’s slimy ex-boyfreind finally saw they he was NOT the only one who gets asked NOT to wear fragrance chemicals

So here’s how our fragrance free event actually went down:

Yes, it was fragrance free (FF), practically: if you don’t count the fumes from the fabric softeners, washing powders, and soaps, floating around the air; however, when with a group of people who normally wear fragrances, I count this outcome as good. Real good. And the ‘old’ fragrance coming from some people’s clothes? You know the sort: the stuff that some people smell of permanently, even when they’re not wearing it? That was still there. So, even with these mildly impacting on my health, yes, I was still marvellously impressed, coping really well, and totally humbled by all thirty-three people’s effort to go fragrance free. I really feel that the reminder phone calls helped–even though, I felt like a total nuisance getting someone else to make these calls, they were necessary. And perhaps, the rumour that they couldn’t come if they were not FF, I’m sure that was a huge incentive, too.

But, it wasn’t a rumour, and I was all keyed up, ready to do the deed. And I didn’t read the comments on this blog until the night after the party. But I’m not sure that there is someone in my life who can “play the bad guy”; well, there is, but it’s mostly that person’s friends/relatives who wear it, and going by previous functions, I’m often left out in the cold—literally [think sitting outside at events in winter while people who are wearing fragrance are inside]. As years have gone by, the smaller gatherings have become more socially inclusive of my immune system’s fragrance intolerance. However, this was our event and the boundaries were clear. (Most people knew that I’d been awfully sick for the previous year, so I had that on my side.) My daughter was nervous because the last two birthdays were disasters as far as fragrance went–and that it happened in our own home.

The Melbourne skyline was amazing. The weather was overcast but it was a hot day of 33 degrees celsius; however, the north wind (our notoriously harsh, hot and dry, densely polluted wind, which blows up from the north) decided to stay away. Apart from the boat taxis on the river, the restaurant was perfect. I can’t recommend this place highly enough for anyone who needs an outdoor eating area away from main roads, and that can be closed off from the public.

The time went quickly and it was just like an ordinary party where there is a large group of people, gathering around for a celebration. It felt surreal. I had not yet had success at Uni with fragrance free classes; and I’d been so sick throughout the previous year, that just organising the party was exhausting. (As was anticipating what could go wrong.) So when we were actually there, it passed like a dream come true.

However, it wasn’t all unscented roses and gluten-free chocolate cake…

I couldn’t invite many people with chemical sensitivities, you see, at gatherings where everyone is already fragrance free, these often include people who are chemically sensitive; *such is the nature of chemical sensitivities, people simply don’t use chemical-based products*. (Just so you know, they don’t end up with bad BO (cause they wear fresh clothing), smelly bum cracks (umm–they shower, daily), or turn ugly from lack of Estea Lauder applications (cause they know they are already beautiful).) At these type of events, people who are wearers of fragrance chemicals are easily filtered out–unless, or until they have been well trained in the fine art of going fragrance free. This segregation of events is stupid (and guess which ones would have to sit up the back of the bus? Well, that depends on whose in the minority and if the bus has the windows open) and it’s freaking impossible to invite most of my chemically sensitive friends because I don’t want them to get sick. It’s rude to even ask them to risk it. This was my daughter’s event so I only invited one chemically sensitive person who is close to us; but she couldn’t make it down from Queensland. I wish she could have cause then I wouldn’t have been the only one there (She’s not as chemically sensitive–some fragrances, and mould–and has a job where she deals with people all the time, so I felt I could invite her without risking her health or wellbeing).

Anyway, I’m sure just a couple of people who were there think that I’m mentally ill, and maybe, on some creative level, I am, but that’s a totally separate issue from getting chemically ill; however, certain people can, and do, get confused. I gathered this from the ‘enquiries’ about my ‘mental health’ and ‘stress levels’ in the weeks leading up to it. *Well meaning, of course.*  *And, from the usual suspects.* My answer was: “I just need to move out of the city, away from the pollution and that mould-ridden house.” (I was about 30 days away from moving to the beach house that I’m in now.) I said this knowing that fresh air fixes it every time. I know this. So do my doctors. Who wouldn’t end up with crazy-screaming-woman issues when they spend their whole time trying to control others who they have no control over? Or, trying to avoid chemicals in a world where chemicals are almost everywhere? Actually, the idea that we can control anything is sure to turn into an anomaly, anyway:

After all that organising, one hour into the party my upper respiratory system was suffering symptoms from diesel fumes, of all things.

The one thing I didn’t anticipate (oh, the bloody stress of tying to anticipate things in advance) was a boat taxi pulling up, parking on the edge of the river, outside our building’s balcony, a few floors down. This happened for ten minutes, every half hour of so. The diesel fumes floated up into our dining area. I told our darling waitress, Cony (thanks, darling x), and she raised the plastic side wall, and that helped. Because the diesel was mixed with fresh air, it wasn’t so bad–as opposed to being in a closed space such as a car or room with it.

It just goes to show that no matter how much planning there is, not everything will go to plan; but without the plan, it would be a complete and utter disaster. End result: My daughter was happy; I was happy.

Anyway, here are some photos:

If you have a situation where you or someone you know is excluded from family events, try printing out this Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign, and sending it to relatives. It’s visually explicit.

Have you ever attended a fragrance free event? If you have any tips or suggestions, please share…

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Scent-free Canada

Choose Friendships Over Fragrances

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

About Michellina van Loder


  1. I’m glad the party went well. I know you worked hard to make it nice for your daughter and FF for you.

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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