EarthWorms Castings

By Jean Ponzi


The Hearts Not Taken


In life’s bargain bins, I’m an ace shopper. Able to spot the find in the flotsam, to get the good deal.


My acquisitive gene is mighty useful, but it’s a trait I have to monitor. With vigilance. Whether I’m picking on a trash day street, trolling the seas of resale, or selectively scouting what’s new. I must work to remain resourceful, to resist the dark side of consumer excesses.


To maintain my balance with Get and Let Go, I rely on a three-point decision-making code:

1 – I have to really like it

2 – It has to fit now, or be useful for something

I will actually do

3 – It has to be a good deal


But on a recent trip to Chicago, the spirit of my trusty code left me stranded in one of today’s consumer cathedrals, IKEA.


I had shopped an IKEA just once before, in Texas, and forgot how ginormous IKEA will be, jammed with items labeled with those baffling Scandinavian umlauts and rings. Three huge floors, miles of aisles, mounds of merchandise. It was scary.

I remembered, though, where the best stuff was.


“Where’s the clearance section?” I asked the greeter guy.

“You mean As Is.” He pointed me toward an area bare of signage, an appendix in that big-box body. Fragments of furniture were strewn between shelves of odd items, all deeply discounted, all Final Sale. I perked right up and plunged into the dregs of IKEA.

Eureka! A pallet piled with boxes of leftover Christmas ornaments, little glass hearts. They were a champagne color with the opaque sheen of bridal gown satin. Odd, all right. And priced at just a quarter per dozen!


I did a quick mental tally. A mere $10.50 would buy me the works, 42 dozen, 504 shiny little ivory hearts perfect for massed dangling around some occasion, sometime. Bingo!

Inspiring scads of a pretty cool item – so cheap – should be for me a no-brain decision. I had the money. I had room in my car. No practical barriers stood in my way, but I stood there paralyzed in As Is, reluctant to pass and unable to play. What would I use them for?

All those hearts . . . I told myself they could be a fabulous fun festoon for my brother’s upcoming wedding, or a group art project for some Earth-lover event. Nothing really fit (my Rule #2), but I couldn’t just say no. My shopping acumen was out of tune. I drifted out into the store, trying to think, wandering and feeling unsettled, which shortly unraveled into feeling totally overwhelmed by stuff.


Lured to IKEA’s top floor by the sweet onion aroma of Swedish meatballs, I realized I had skipped lunch. No food, no brain power. I was done. I fled to an escalator, down, down, down and out of there – and heartless.


Days passed and I couldn’t get those hearts out of my mind. I missed the chance to acquire them. Now they had me. I tried to get others to set me free with their views on the matter. My brother and his beloved were not a bit disappointed to learn they would not get 500-odd white hearts transplanted into their bridal décor. My husband was blatantly thrilled not to have to cram another case of good-for-something-someday into the eclectic glut of our basement.


A month went by. I could not make peace with the thought of those hearts, or let go of thinking about them.


Then in a chat about spirit and stuff, my friend Ruth mentioned her code for choosing from among life’s fabulous finds, learned from a course in Voluntary Simplicity. She asks herself:

1 – How will I use this?

2 – Why do I want this?

3 – Can I live without this?

4 – What are my alternatives?

“I might not have every answer,” Ruth explained. “Maybe I won’t know how I’ll use a thing, but I can say for sure why I want it, and then I can decide. There’s so much stuff around pulling on us all the time. When I ask myself these questions I usually don’t take it, whatever it is. But it’s OK if I do.”


Four questions. A little more dialogue within. No judgment on the acquisitive gene, but a better way to navigate the aisles of mind.


I guess I needed hundreds of hearts to beat one tiny tweak into my value system. I know I got the best of the deal.


“Green” is on special every Monday 7-8 p.m. when Jean Ponzi hosts EARTHWORMS, the environmental talk show on FM-88 KDHX St. Louis Community Radio – and at www.kdhx.org.