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Penkava: Downsizing your stuff, upsizing your life

Well, it finally happened. After having survived the F5 tornadic years of raising our four children, my wife and I have realized that it was time to take our lives down a notch or two.

That included not only a slower pace, but also a frank evaluation of how much stuff we really need as we meander down life’s final plateau together. Thus, we contemplated the prospect of the downsizing of our life.

Of course, my opinion of life’s necessities differs greatly from my wife’s. I think my beer can collection from the 70s is as essential as air; she thinks they are an essential part of the recycle bin. I think my vintage Wrigley Field seats are crucial to interior home décor; she thinks they are crucial to an exterior garage sale. I think my high school varsity jacket is an indispensable link to my past; she thinks it is an indispensable link to Savers.

Although difficult, we actually have made some progress in our downsizing negotiations. For example, I sacrificed my life-sized cardboard cutout of Babe Ruth if she would make me a blueberry pie. I got rid of my box of old baseball caps for a giant Snickers bar. And I gave up my Bud Light neon sign for a six-pack of said beer. I do feel a bit guilty taking advantage of her with my shrewd negotiating skills, but all’s fair in love and downsizing.

But there was one downsizing item that we didn’t need to negotiate: the house. We both agreed that it had become bigger than the both of us. We had grown tired of fighting its gravitational pull as we daily ascended its stairs multiple times each day. My wife grew weary of two stories to clean and I ran out of stories to avoid helping her. Besides, taking care of the outside upkeep of the house was getting harder and harder every year. It takes both of us to get the ladder up, and when we clean the gutters we look like an act from the Flying Wallendas.

So we decided it was time to seek a smaller home. We had two main requirements: It had to have only one story and it had to be in our neighborhood. I tried to have as a prerequisite that it would have a giant theater room with reclining, vibrating chairs and all-you-can-eat popcorn, but I eventually agreed to settle for Jiffy Pop and my trusty rusty Amish glider chair.

My wife and I biked around the area looking for houses, but there was really nothing for sale that fit our needs. Then I had a brilliant idea: why don’t we just find a home in the neighborhood that we would like and then knock on the door and ask the people if they’d like to sell it to us. My wife wasn’t too keen about that, but was willing to accompany me…at least until it was time to talk to the person. Here’s how it went…

“Hello, my name is Michael and my wife is over there on the sidewalk. (Wife timidly waves as she shrugs her shoulders)

“Yes, what do you want?”

“Well, we were wondering if you’d like to sell us your house.”


“Your house…we’d like to buy your house.”

“Please leave.”

“You don’t under…” (Door slams)

Well, maybe the direct approach wasn’t the best way. So we kept our eyes open and one day we saw a “For Sale by Owner” sign in front of the neatest little home a block away from our house. I knocked on the door and told the owners that we would like to buy their house, and, this time, instead of having a door slammed in my face, they shook my hand. It was a deal!

So, here we are, happy in our new little home, all downsized. Now if only I can sneak off to Savers and buy back my varsity jacket.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. If you recently bought a vintage ’60s Cary-Grove varsity jacket at Savers, please contact him. He can be reached at

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