Toy Box Club: The new toy borrowing service

What bothers me about my children’s toys isn’t their appearance. I’ve accepted that my boys will always love the ugly, plasticky and noisy ones best. (And hand-painted wooden ones cause more damage when there hurled at someone).

It’s the sheer volume of them that irritates. Our children don’t have big toys such as kitchens, tool benches and ride-on cars (yet!) but we live amid a sea of Lego, dressing up props, puzzles (always with a piece missing), educational toys and tat from the front of magazines, most of which NEVER gets played with.

So when Toy Box Club, a toy borrowing service, offers Mumfidential a two month trial I jump at the chance.

Tox Box Club is an ingenious idea. For a £30 monthly fee,  a hamper of age appropriate toys and books is delivered to your door and – crucially – the previous month’s box is taken away.

It was founded by friends Jessica Green and Sheela Berry, both mothers, who were fed up with their homes being shrines to little-used, plastic toys.

“I’ve been shocked by the ‘toy blind-spot’ that exists in normally socially and environmentally aware parents,” says Jessica. “I’ve watched once minimalist and elegant homes (including my own) become awash with cheap plastic. We’ve all become victims of a belief that this is how parents of small children have to live.”

Co-founder Jess Green
Co-founder Jess Green

I sign up Alfie, who is two and usually plays with (age inappropriate) cast offs from his three-year-old brother, Hector.

The first box arrives in the evening which is good for two reasons: I don’t have to hang about waiting for a courier during the day, and as the boys are in bed I can hide it until Hector has gone to nursery the following morning.

Alfie’s eyes light up as he opens the box to reveal a whole stash of shiny new (or nearly new) toys. “Mine,” he says, firmly, glancing at his baby brother, safely imprisoned in a bouncy chair.

Alfie with his Toy Box trainset

Alfie is impressed with the contents (valued at £89.92) . He pulls out a few books, a box of puzzles, a stacking toy, a telephone, and a bag containing a BRIO train set. “Choo choo!” he shrieks. “Make choo choo!”.

I feel slightly ashamed. We already own the BRIO train set, the puzzles, a similar stacking toy, the telephone and one of the books. Still, Toy Box Club has only just launched so I can’t feel too guilty that I’ve been buying our own toys. Plus, these ones are newer, so Alfie actually takes an interest in them (for a few days at least).

When the time comes to return them, however, he doesn’t miss them at all.

A Toy Box Club hamper

Happily box 2 (value £76.91) doesn’t contain any duplicates. The flip side of this is that Alfie falls deeply in love with his new toys. A singing aeroplane, doesn’t leave his hand for the next few days and he is only fractionally less possessive of the Casey Camper Van (a WOW toy – I love WOW toys because they NEVER break).

When the time comes to return them, however, he doesn’t miss them at all.

We have fun doing the Melissa and Doug insect puzzle together – great news as Alfie’s concentration levels aren’t the highest – and enjoy reading a word book before bed.

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All Toy Box Club toys and books are gender neutral: “It seems to us that it’s all too easy to foist lazy stereotypes on our children,” explains Sheela. “Child psychologists have shown that the toys children play with develop certain skills and reinforce certain interests, which could influence future choices.”

As I pack the camper and plane back into the box at the end of the month (when Alfie is safely in bed) I am convinced that we will have to buy them. He’s going to miss them too much.

But interestingly he doesn’t say a word. Even when we spot the singing plane in a toy shop a few days later.

There are five to seven toys and books in each box which (even for my spoilt brat child) is plenty of new stuff to play with for one month although you will probably want to supplement with books from the library. It’s expensive, though, if you don’t usually spend £30 per month on new toys for your child.

You don’t have that build up of “debris” toys; if your child doesn’t like something or gets bored with it quickly, it will be gone by the end of the month.

But there are so many benefits: you are sure to have the latest, age appropriate toys in excellent condition. You don’t have that build up of “debris” toys; if your child doesn’t like something or gets bored with it quickly, it will be gone by the end of the month. The toys arrive ready to go with their batteries in and no nasty packaging.

Co-founder Sheela Berry
Co-founder Sheela Berry

You also teach your children not to fixate on possessions and ownership. “Children are better at sharing when they know the toys aren’t really theirs,” says Sheela. “And it’s easy to teach them that they have to look after things if they know there’s a new box of toys arriving in a few weeks.”

I wish it had been around when I first had Hector, before I headed blindly into mass toy acquisition. Sheela insists, though, that even a second or third time mum can save themselves a lot of stress with a Toy Box Club membership.

Hector and Alfie both enjoying the toy box

“As well as our basic boxes, we also offer the large, expensive baby toys that only keep them occupied for a couple of months. You can rent jumperoos, walkers, cookers, cars, bikes, doll prams and model railway sets.”

It’s collaborative consuming, as per Netflix, Zipcar and Spotify and I’m convinced it’s an example that we should all be setting our children.

When I found myself begging family members not to buy toys for birthdays and Christmas I realised a new approach was called for. Sheela Berry, co-founder, Toy Box Club

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