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Renting toys, the Netflix way

A website lets parents receive a monthly rental of toddler toys.

By Yvonne ZippCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 16, 2008



Shoving toys in a box and sending them back where they came from (preferably accompanied by maniacal chortling), sounds like the fantasy of every parent who's stepped on one too many Legos.

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Now, thanks to Lori Pope, that dream is a reality. Last year, the Houston mother of four launched the website Baby Plays (www.babyplays.com), which operates as a sort of Netflix for the under-4 crowd. Parents can browse and, for a monthly fee ranging from $37 to $65, choose four to 10 toys per month, which arrive sanitized and revved up with fresh batteries. All are tested for lead and exceed US safety standards, Ms. Pope says.

Once a child gets tired of a toy, the parent just sticks it back in the box and attaches a prepaid mailer. If the child isn't ready to give up a toy at the end of the month, he can keep it longer. Baby Plays will just send one less replacement toy the next month.

Parents can even buy one of the toys if a child seriously falls in love with it.

Pope got the idea a year or so ago while trying to figure out how to keep her twin sons entertained. "I was really challenged to find stuff to do with my little guys. It was time-consuming to try and find the right thing," she says. "And they outgrew things so quickly – at a young age, all they do is grow."

Paying for items such as toys that were needed for only a short time seemed wasteful.

When Pope began the program last May, she felt that there had to be other parents who felt the same way she did. "The challenge is to find those people who were interested in tearing down clutter, not owning things that we don't need, and making sure the toys aren't going to be wasted," she says. (Toys that have been loved beyond the "gently used" stage get donated to needy families.)

"I love it for a million reasons," says Conner Herman, an infant sleep consultant and mother of a toddler. "First of all, I live in Manhattan, so I have a very small apartment. When you have a 2-year-old boy who's incredibly busy and interested in everything, you have to have a lot of toys to entertain him throughout the day."

After filling a set of steel industrial shelves with boxes of outgrown toys, Ms. Herman says, "We were running out of space for me and for my husband."

While easing the pressure on her closets was her main reason for trying Baby Plays, Herman also appreciates the financial savings – her son now gets to play with four toys for the $30 she estimates she used to spend on one. And "if he doesn't like it, it's no big deal."

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