Christmas for hire: shoppers turn to renting for trees, toys and outfits | UK cost of living crisis

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This year’s thriftiest Christmas hack isn’t about making your own fudge or foraging for pine cones – it’s hiring everything from the toys to the tree.

With the cost of living crisis and sustainability at the forefront of everyone’s mind, more and more people are turning to renting as an alternative to retail.

According to the Bank of England, a typical household in the UK spends 29% more in December compared with other months. This year, due to soaring inflation, alongside increased energy and food prices, spending is set to be even higher. Figures from the market research firm Kantar show households will spend nearly 10% more just on Christmas dinner (and that’s using a frozen turkey), so it makes financial sense to rent certain items rather than buy.

Then there’s the planet to think about. From throwaway trees to sequinned tops worn once and toys that are barely played with, the festive period has one of the worst impacts on the environment.

For anyone who has watched a child pay more attention to a cardboard box than the toy inside, rental makes sense. “People started looking for alternatives to buying Christmas toys as early as August,” says Russell Khan, operations manager of the toy rental company Whirli. “The cost of living crisis and all the talk around energy and mortgages is driving it. There’s also a huge sustainable appeal.”

According to a study by the British Heart Foundation, on average a child loses interest in a toy within 36 days. A fifth of parents said their child lost interest after 11 hours of play. Meanwhile, a whopping 80% of toys end up in landfill.

A Whirli subscription starts from £9.71 per month for £80 worth of toys. Users can then choose however many toys they want within their token allowance.

They can swap individual toys, rather than the entire package, any time. “It’s a great way of trying out toys they might like,” says Khan. “They can open them all on Christmas Day and then in January you can exchange the ones they are bored of.”

Proving popular this festive season are Magformers, a sort of magnetic construction kit. For children that do get attached to a particular toy (“mainly Baby Annabell dolls”, says Khan), after 12 months of rental they are theirs to keep.

Elsewhere, bikes and scooters – another popular Christmas present – can be rented from the Bike Club, starting from £4.49 a month.

As for placing gifts under a tree – that can be hired too. Cotswold Fir’s Rental Claus and Christmas On The Hill in north London report high demand this year.

Each year Craig Tennock from Rental Claus rents out thousands of trees: 80% are repeat rentals, with families christening them with names such as “Twiggy” and “Spike”. Tennock’s most established customer has rented the same tree for 12 years.

With prices for buying some cut trees starting from £14.99 at supermarkets, rental is not always the cheapest (Rental Claus starts from £25 for a 3ft tree). However, it does have a huge environmental benefit.

The Carbon Trust says that rental reduces the average amount of cut trees ending up in landfill (estimated to be 7m) which in turn reduces CO2. Artificial trees, a popular alternative to real versions, have twice the carbon footprint of a real tree that goes to landfill and 10 times that of one that is burnt.

So far for Christmas 2022, Clare Slater, the co-founder of Christmas On The Hill, says they have rented out more than 1,000 trees. Prices start from £30 for a 2ft Norway spruce.

“People book them months in advance. Our largest trees were booked out in August,” she said. Nostalgia plays a part too. “Families buy them when their kids are quite small. They name them – think Treena Turner and Treesa May – and each year come to take them home.”

Designer dresses are available to rent from Matchesfashion.com from £49 for four days. Photograph: Trish Ward

With one in five people admitting they won’t wear the same outfit more than once to a party, rental is a smart option for dressing up. At Matchesfashion.com you can rent designer dresses from £49 for four days. Anya Hindmarch’s twinkling Dairy Milk tote costs £92 for four days compared with £995 to buy one, while Hirestreet has cosy knitwear and coats from brands including M&S. For children’s clothing there is My Wardrobe Kids and the Little Loop.

As for the big day itself, for extra guests you can rent a bigger dining table and even sofas. A five-person corner sofa costs £84 per month from Roomservice By Cort, while a long dining table starts from £42.

For an Instagram-worthy setup, use the Clicc and Maison Margaux to borrow table decorations such as eucalyptus wreaths and candlestick holders as well as gold-rimmed glassware, cutlery and pretty patterned plates. They even share advice for laying a table for maximum likes. Unfortunately, the washing-up isn’t included.

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