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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 18, 2004

Stressing a simple solution

 •  The simplicity movement

By Tanya Bricking Leach
Advertiser Staff Writer

Kathy Davenport relaxes by her pond at her Makakilo home on a Wednesday afternoon. Before she moved to Hawai'i and remarried, she had a high-stress job in Washington, D.C.

Photos by Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Davenport relaxes with daughters Catherine Davis, 10, left, and Caroline Davis, 13.

Click for tips

Don't know how to slow down? Then read up.

Here are Internet links with tips on leading the simple life:

• realsimple.com
• rescuemag.com
• simpleliving.com
• byebyeclutter.com
• fastcompany.com
• getmoredone.com

The doctor was blunt:

"Lady, I don't know what's going on in your life, but unless you get rid of some of the stress, you're going to have two motherless children."

It was Kathy Davenport's doctor talking, giving her a prescription in cold English: She was not going to see her children grow up unless she made some drastic changes. It took a harrowing trip to the emergency room to hear it.

In an age of instant messaging, instant credit and rapid refunds, Davenport had become one of those people not realizing how complicated her life had become. Instead of looking for something more, what she needed was something less.

"I had no idea that the stress was doing that to me," said Davenport, who was often working 60-hour weeks and commuting in D.C. traffic for her job in the Air Force.

It should have been a perfect life. She and her husband were both up for promotions, they had just renovated their first home, and she had just given birth to her second child.

But everything was falling apart, and it was beginning to dawn on her that she couldn't do it all.

Learning to say no

Who knew she was on the cusp of a trend? Ten years later, she would discover "the simple life" had become a catch phrase (and we're not even talking Paris Hilton). But at the time, it was just the doctor's orders.

Davenport, usually active and healthy, was sicker than she'd ever been, sent to an emergency room with pneumonia. Her husband sent her to her parents' house to recover, but she had a second bout with pneumonia and news from her husband that he wanted a divorce.

"I remember just sitting on the floor bawling my eyes out," she said. She thought about what the doctor said, and she knew it was time for an overhaul. She took an assignment back in Hawai'i, where she had been stationed before, and prepared for a future as a single mom.

Today, Davenport, 44, is remarried. Her daughters are 13 and 10, and she has found time to be home with them. She took an early military retirement five years ago and built up her side business as an independent scrap-book consultant for Creative Memories.

She downsized her career, but simplifying her life has given her time to relax, building waterfalls in her Makakilo back yard, taking walks with her husband, gardening and going to lunch with girlfriends.

"I have learned to say no a lot more often," she said. "I have now got a balance going on in my life, and if I sense that I am getting out of balance, then I try to get it back."

Slowing the pace

From magazine stands in the grocery checkout line to programs popping up on cable TV, you don't have to look far to see that more and more people are picking up on the idea of slowing down.

Maybe it's a Martha Stewart backlash, or career-climbers starting to wonder whether it was all worth it, but there is a rage against excessiveness going on. It even has commercial appeal in pop culture, with magazines such as Real Simple and cable shows such as "Simplify Your Life," with experts who help regular folks do it.

"People are looking, I think, for a different pace," said Patty Kreamer, a professional organizer in Pittsburgh and author of "The Power of Simplicity."

She makes a living teaching people how to make decisions that will rid their lives of clutter.

Most people don't choose, she said, they just keep piling things on.

Barbara Buchanan came to the realization on her own that less is more. It just took a while.

"The way I'd been living my life just didn't seem to be working," she said. "I should have been happy. I just thought, 'What's missing here?' "

Maybe she'd been expecting a happy marriage, or for her life to turn out a little differently, she said. Upon reflection, Buchanan, 52, of Mililani, realized the only thing missing was a better attitude.

All her life, she'd heard people say: "Live for the present."

When she went on a Big Island yoga retreat in February, it began to sink in.

She cleared out the cobwebs and decided to start "living life more mindfully instead of mindlessly," she said, to stop regretting her past or agonizing about her future and to actually live for the moment.

"Maybe it was going on the retreat, or it may be that time in my life," she said, "but it just clicked in, and I've been trying to practice that."

Balancing her life

Nowadays, Kathy Davenport is quick to tell other women to take care of themselves.

She doesn't want what happened to her to happen to them.

She is conscious of the balance in her life, and if she senses it getting out of whack, she makes changes to bring it back to center.

She doesn't see her job as only about making money. She sees it as a choice. Being her own boss is a little luxury that gives her control over how hard she wants to work and whether she can take time for a bubble bath after the kids are in bed.

After living a stressful life, she doesn't want to go back.

"I just feel so full, and happier than I've ever been, because I've been able to change my circumstances," she said. "I'm so much more rich now with what I've got. It's so much better. It was entirely, entirely the right decision."

Tanya Bricking Leach writes about relationships for The Advertiser. Reach her at 525-8026 or tbricking@honoluluadvertiser.com.

• • •

The simplicity movement

Want to simplify your life? The irony is that you could subscribe to dozens of magazines, watch countless makeover programs, spend hours researching the topic and buy all kinds of organizational supplies ... if you wanted to make it complicated. Here's a sampling of those taking on the trend.

On the newsstands:

Real Simple: This sophisticated glossy claims to have a "less-is-more" philosophy, but don't kid yourself. Pure and simple, it's beautiful by design and is as upscale as they come.

Rescue Magazine: Founder Dan Ho takes an unorthodox approach to home decorating and says people are tired of perfection. Time magazine called him an "anti-Martha," and his lifestyle magazine is a quirky take on "deconstructing the notion of the American Dream home."

On television:

Simplify Your Life: Cable TV's Fine Living network comes to the rescue of homeowners who need expert help to conquer their clutter and organize their lives.

The Simple Life: Just kidding. The popular "reality" series followed richie-rich Paris Hilton and her uptown friend through life in a small town. Hilton's definitely a diva, just not a domestic one. Don't look here for advice on freeing yourself from the pains of perfection.