Duffle Bags

How to Simplify and Live a Full Life


During the previous Great Recession, Garry and I lost our business and most everything else. It was during this time of cascading economic loss that Garry came to me with this task:

Go buy 10 duffle bags.

At the time, we were a family of five with three children ages 4-7. Garry’s intent was clear:

Each family member was to fill two large duffle bags with the stuff they wanted keep- with the stipulation that at least one bag had to hold non-toy-related necessities.

Everything else we sold in an estate sale- literally everything else we owned from the personal family pictures on the wall to my potty-training daughter’s dirty, plastic potty. Everything went. At the same time, Garry also cleared out his physical office spaces and transitioned to a work-from-home model. Amid the shock and changes, we both experienced a strange joy and sensed the purpose in such drastic measures.

Like many during this crisis, we had to downsize our lives. Although draconian, we chose to cut out everything extra from our lives to refocus on the work that needed to be accomplished.

We lightened up and got nimble, adaptable, and ready.

In the corporate world, Garry’s paperless, cloud-based, and asset-light strategy enabled his architecture and engineering firm to remain flexible, expansive, and easily pivoting into new ventures.

It was the turning point for success. With the simplicity of life and 12 duffle bags, we were able to move across the world, relocate for one year to regain our financial footing, and discover bright business opportunities (and opportunities to do good) that have led us to our current successes. In the corporate world, Garry’s paperless, cloud-based, and asset-light strategy enabled his architecture and engineering firm to remain flexible, expansive, and easily pivoting into new ventures.

With nothing to lose, we risked more and dove into new markets with no expectations or needs.

We lived simply, required little, and worked hard. The humbler we lived, the more we gained in wisdom, experiences, and wealth.

Even in our growing successes through the years that followed, we chose to keep it simple, frequently clearing out the extras and committing to live our lives fully, simply, and shrewdly. I will forever refuse to buy the four-dollar box of cereal when the generic half-price tastes fine. Target purses, Ford trucks, and plain white towels and linens work perfectly for us. We pass down clothes and adore the hand-me-downs given to us. Simple. Frugal. Thankful.

Although we do spend on the important stuff, we choose carefully where we invest. This minimalist philosophy gives us the freedom to do what matters to us- when it matters most. In the end, we choose to invest heavily in one of three areas: 1. our business ventures, 2. working on our large fixer-upper to heal and house our family of 14, and 3. helping others out.

It’s a full life.

GMDG’s Full Life Essentials:

  1. Get rid of all the stuff you don’t need or enjoy—Throw something out (or donate it) every day. When you buy something, give something else away. Keep the palate of your life clear at work and home.
  2. Say “yes” to new experiences at work and play—even when it’s big stuff. Try the job relocation, take the new position, or make a new friend. Get new people into your life and ask them questions. Learn from these encounters and find possibilities in every meeting.
  3. Rethink the demands others place on you (think PTA, business meetings, and HOAs), and say “no” to the stuff that won’t matter to you in the long run. Your kids try to take your time with existential obligations like joining little league or dance class when they have no coordination. (Hint: Spend the extra time you would have spent carpooling to little league and have dinner as a family instead). Your colleagues push for big group meetings to discuss what could have been done via honest, in-the-moment feedback. (Note: this takes your willingness to be direct and not hide behind the safety of a group meeting). Skip the long meetings and take back your time!
  4. When you say “no,” don’t let others pull you back into old busying routines. Keep your boundaries with friends, family, and colleagues alike. There’s lots of good stuff to do—now choose to do what you really love. Invest your time to make the most difference.
  5. Find the intersection of what you like to, what you are good at, and what the market needs—and spend your time doing that, no matter how crazy it sounds. Your financial success lives at this intersection, and with your success and increasing funds, you get to capitalize on the stuff that matters most in the service of changing the world.  #fulllife
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