Thursday, January 1, 2009

Joy Units, Revisited

Christmas was only 10 days ago, but I think I have enough hindsight to start analyzing our Christmas experience. Because after all, you can't know if you had a truly "merry" christmas without a quantification and labeling of said merriment. Last year I came up with Joy Units, which is my way of determining which presents are winners and which are losers. Joy Units are earned by doing things like playing with the toy, and if a toy does not garner enough Joy Units to meet the Expected Joy amount, then it will have Negative Joy Units, also called Pain Units. Here's a quick example from last year:

Brad asked for an Eyeclops roughly 20 times, with an outrageous cost of $50, giving the Eyeclops an Expected Joy amount of 70. He played with it three times, and his siblings wanted to play with it too, earning 6 Joy Units. It was then never touched again. I was so frustrated by the -64 Pain Units of the Eyeclops that I threatened to sell it, which gave it another -10 Pain Units. It now sits in the back of the entertainment center, threatening me with additional Pain every time I think about how expensive it was, and how cheap they are now. This Christmas Brad asked for Eyeclops Night Vision (or some such redo of the original). The Pain total of the Eyeclops is so high that I can barely calculate it.

On a positive note, I bought a hoodie from Costco last year that Brad never asked for and cost $30. He loved that sweatshirt so much that he wore it basically every single day for the entire year, including many days in the summer. He frequently slept in it. By the end of the year the sleeves were shredded and the coat was full of holes - holes of love. We called it his Second Skin. That coat earned hundreds and hundreds of Joy Units, possibly enough to balance out the Eyeclops.

Here are some highlights from this Christmas:

I had low Joy expectations from Darcey, because she is only 18 months old and is too young to ask for things (thank goodness). She is also too young to do much real playing with her toys, so most of what I got earned it's Joy from me being able to buy girl toys for the first time. She got two babies, a baby stroller, and various other toys. She likes the baby my mom gave her more than the Cabbage Patch baby I bought, but that's fine - I mostly bought it for me. :) I'm going to call Darcey a win overall, and probably neutral in Joy Units.

Zack was super easy to buy for this year, and his Joy Units total is sky high. Most of what he received were Playmobil guys and Lego guys, in an effort to prevent him from stealing Lego guys from every kid in the neighborhood. The stealing had gotten so bad that one day I randomly asked him what kinds of things he likes to carry in his pockets and he said "Lego guys that I steal." We replaced the Lego Indiana Jones that somehow got left behind in Paris (making each one that showed up in our house one more strike against the Lego Bandit).

Zack's big winner was the Kidizoom Digital Camera by Vtech. He didn't ask for it, and it cost about $40, so I was aiming for at least 40 units of Joy to break even. He loves this camera! It is super easy to use, and Zack was able to turn it on, take pictures, use the special features, and look at the pictures he's taken all before I could wrench the user's manual from the packaging. He's used it every day (10 units), his brothers and father have all used it (another 10), we've had to download the full memory and the batteries are almost out, so we are very close to breaking even already. By the end of January, we'll be positive Joy Units on this one. Definitely a winner.

Brad's big winner was also a camera - he got a Kodak Digital Video Camera. He had asked for it many times, but was convinced that he wasn't getting it because they are so expensive. I found this one refurbished on Overstock, and as with all good deals, the good deal alone earned some Joy Units. He's been using it a ton, has also filled the memory card and gone through some batteries. Plus he was so excited to get the camera that his reaction earned a lot of Joy Units too. As long as he keeps using it, this will be earning Joy Units for a long time.

Noah didn't fare so well, Joy-wise. He was hard to shop for this year, since he's kind of outgrowing toys and not quite ready for older-kid things. His list was sparse, especially after we crossed off the things we weren't willing to buy, such as motorized scooter and Nintendo DS. (Side note, our days of fending off video games is coming to an end - at some point, there won't be anything else to buy our kids other than video games!) He ended up asking for an iPod Shuffle, to replace Ryan's antique mp3 player that is so large it requires a fanny pack to carry it around in.

We got him the Shuffle (again, refurbished so not too expensive) but sadly, he doesn't seem to care about it. He's used it once or twice, and the last time I saw it, it was at the bottom of his duffel bag from our trip to St. George. I would be ticked off about the abject waste of potential Joy (nothing brings me more Joy than Apple products) but the poor kid seemed a little let down by Christmas, so I mostly feel sad for him. We had also gotten him a hoodie like Brad's, a little briefcase with a combination lock (which he loved), and a watch, but I overheard him telling Brad that day that he didn't have anything to play with. And I guess it's kind of true. After Brad and Zack opened their cameras, Noah went to open the iPod and said, "I bet this is MY camera!" Ohhhh, that felt so bad to hear. Fortunately, Noah's birthday is in January, and he immediately started making a list of what he wants for his birthday. Not many kids do that on Christmas Day. Chances are, we'll be getting him everything he asks for (not the motor scooter) just to assuage our guilt. I should say, my guilt - I don't know how Ryan feels about it. Unless the iPod makes a sudden comeback, I'm expecting it to stay in the negative Joy Unit range, but it's not the kind of Pain that I got from the Eyeclops.

Lest you think Noah was completely shortchanged this Christmas, let me assure you that he adores his new hoodie. I bought a new one for Brad also, to replace the worn out one from last year, and the two of them wear them literally everywhere. Those are definitely into positive Joy Units, although the fact that I've already had to tell Brad not to chew on his sleeve gives me a little Pain, it shouldn't reflect on Christmas.

The surprise winner of Christmas was a present of Brad's. Ryan picked up a Boy's Doodle Book, which is basically a coloring book with most of the picture missing. It'll have an outline of a cave, say, and it'll say, "What's in the cave?" And Brad will do the job of the illustrator, who is sitting on his couch, raking in the royalties and gloating over how little work he did and what suckers people are. But somehow, Brad doesn't seem to mind. In fact, for $12, this little present has earned the most Joy Units of all the presents anyone received. He's taken it to friend's houses, on car rides, he'll draw in it constantly and we had to tell him he couldn't take it into church. Hands down, this was the very best present of Christmas.

The beauty of Christmas this year is that we tried to scale back a little. Every year I get to the end of my shopping list and think, "This just isn't enough presents!" And I get one or two more things for each kid, blowing the budget and then on Christmas morning I look at the ginormous pile of presents and say, "What was I thinking?? We'll be here all day!" We tried for a quality vs. quantity approach this year, and other than Noah's notable misstep, it worked out really well. We spent substantially less on Darcey than the other kids, which is the kind of thing that normally gets my fairness-hackles up, but she was happy with what she got and that's all that matters. And with fewer last minute add-on toys, chances are most of the toys the kids got will eventually earn some positive Joy Units. None of the toys are so neglected that it is causing me physical Pain (yet).

So after totaling up all of the potential Joy, Earned Joy, and Negative Joy, I believe that this Christmas can officially be called Merry. It is my opinion that the winners surpassed the losers by quite a margin, and Ryan and I can relax for another year until the Joy Unit contest begins again. Because nothing brings the Christmas spirit like a nice round of Present Analysis. If you'll excuse me, I have a Cabbage Patch kid to play with.


Luisa said...

This post was hilarious! I love that you do joy units. It reminds me of something I heard on NPR that I'll have to tell you about. Also, I didn't find out about the email I was supposed to be forwarded until New Year's Eve soooo . . .a little late. BUT I really appreciated the thought. How considerate of you. Thanks.

Cash_Killa said...

His sleeves!?!?!?! You cant even feed your children, but are willing to sling presents are left, right, and center?!??

Where's your humanitiy?

Emilayohead said...

Tim, you know very well that there's plenty of at least mediocre food available in my house, but for some reason Brad won't stop eating non-food items. He chews on his sleeves, various plastic things, he's been known to finish a sucker and pop the stick in his mouth and keep chewing. He makes me crazy.

rachel said...

So, can joy units balance each other out? Like Audrey's high joy unit American girl doll balancing out the only-used-for-one-day stupid spotz creator machine that I wish I hadn't bought?
I love the joy units idea - Jeff and I use it all the time. I even showed my sister in law the other day (the old detailed blog) so she could understand it. She thought it was great too.