Buy vs rent – this is how much money you'd save having a sustainable Christmas

Anna laying the table with hired decorations, crockery and cutlery - Andrew Crowley
Anna laying the table with hired decorations, crockery and cutlery - Andrew Crowley

Chris Pine, Treena Turner and Treesa May – three Nordmann firs – will soon be sparkling with Christmas lights and draped in decorations. Since January they’ve been luxuriating on a farm in Gloucestershire, where they were fertilised, irrigated and given a seasonal haircut, and now they’re ready to be delivered back to the same families who gave them their silly names.

“Children in particular love having the same tree each year; they become family,” explains Clare Slater, founder of Christmas tree rental company Christmas on the Hill. “Although you don’t have to rent the same tree each year; you could go for a different size.”

The craze for renting rather than buying at Christmas is catching on so fast that Clare’s largest trees were reserved in July. It’s not just trees that people are renting, though: sparkly party dresses, children’s Christmas jumpers, tree decorations, tablescapes for the Christmas feast, sofa beds for extraneous relatives and enormous televisions are all being hired for the festive season.

“People are really excited by the concept; they want to cut down on waste and free up storage in their homes – many of us don’t have space to keep boxes of decorations that we only use once a year,” explains Callum O’Driscoll, who founded Ecoelf, a Christmas-tree rental service that delivers nationally. “Around 12,000 extra tonnes of rubbish is collected in January, including around eight million cut trees, the majority of which end up in landfill. Renting is the perfect antidote.”

Family choosing Christmas tree
Family choosing Christmas tree

Meanwhile, Sacha Newall, founder of clothing rental website mywardrobehq.com, believes that for statement Christmas outfits, which are so often one-off wears, renting makes perfect sense. “The rental mindset is so much more fun: you can be more daring as you know you don’t need to get lots of use out of it, and you don’t have the guilt of sending an item to landfill after one wear,” she says.

As someone who gets much too nostalgic about Christmas, I’d worry about filling my home with items of no sentimental value. We’ve all seen the soulless ready-decorated rental Christmas trees in hotel lobbies and offices; I’d miss my motley selection of tree and table decorations and the pink Christmas jumper I bring out every year. Besides, renting a ready-decorated fake tree is extortionately expensive and even renting a real potted tree can cost up to double the cost of a cut tree.

“We’ve got the cost of looking after them, just as with any sustainable alternative,” explains Callum. “It’s not going to be for everyone; I’m trying to offer an alternative rather than tell people what to do.”

Yet when I attempt to rent everything I need for Christmas, I discover that apart from our rented Nordmann Fir, almost every festive item is much cheaper to rent than it is to buy – and more often than not it’s better quality and more beautiful than I would usually purchase.

Anna laying the table with hired decorations, crockery and cutlery - Andrew Crowley
Anna laying the table with hired decorations, crockery and cutlery - Andrew Crowley

My green MHK dress, for example, costs just £9 a day to rent, yet would be £400 to buy; a Christmas tablescape for four from Maison Margaux, worth £1,400, rents for around £30 per person for a Christmas dinner party, and a £600 Ikea sofa bed to put up extra relatives can be borrowed for the month of December via moveandrent.com for £56.

I find a Nutcracker outfit for my toddler for just £2 a day that would cost £25 to buy (and be redundant by Boxing Day); I can even rent all the cots, high chairs and other paraphernalia required to spend Christmas away from home on toyboxclub.co.uk.

Once I’ve taken delivery of my rental tree from Eco Elf, however, I decide that it’s probably worth signing up to a tree subscription, where you pay a £5.99 monthly fee throughout the year for your rental tree – then I won’t notice the extra cost. It smells wonderful, doesn’t drop needles (because it’s alive) and it’s hassle-free: as soon as Christmas is over it will be picked up and become Eco Elf’s responsibility again.

“Traditional Nordmann firs have fallen out of fashion as they drop needles, yet they make perfect rental trees,” Callum explains. “The carbon footprint of a cut tree is 16kg whereas our living trees are still actively absorbing carbon.”

I’d have drawn the line at renting presents – who wants to have to hand back their new sweater or socks? – yet according to Jess Green, from toy rental company Toybox Club, renting children’s presents is taking off. “Our customers often hire out larger items, such as ride-on cars and toy kitchens for longer periods over Christmas – they are £10 per month for subscribers so it makes sense, financially and environmentally,” she says.

Anna and her son Edgar - Andrew Crowley
Anna and her son Edgar - Andrew Crowley

Meanwhile, curated toy boxes, which include age-appropriate toys, books, puzzles and games can be wrapped as individual gifts or stocking fillers; a month later they will be picked up and replaced with a new box of toys. “If your child becomes attached to a particular puzzle or soft toy you can always buy it for them – better to invest in one they love than a whole heap they never play with,” Jess says.

For teenagers, tech rental companies such as musicmagpie.co.uk offer a cost-effective way of gifting gaming consoles, projectors and laptops. Good luck trying to wrestle the device off them when the rental period is up – although you do have the option to upgrade.

Happily, renting Christmas does not mean retiring the things you already own and love, insists Louisa Preskett, founder of tableware company Maison Margaux. She suggests taking a half-and-half approach: buying the classics that you will reuse time and time again and renting the rest – those frivolous one-offs, which you’re in the mood for now, but probably won’t be forever. “A tablecloth can be used year-round and is easy to store, so if you find one you love, buy it,” she says. “But rent the festive tableware and glasses – it’s more cost-effective this way.”

Alas on Twelfth Night, when the time comes to pack up Christmas for another year, rented decorations, clothing and furniture carry with them all the same hassle as the objects you own. You’ll need to find the box, packing tape and the courier instructions. The plus side, however, is that once you’ve waved them off in the delivery van, you need never see them again – unless, of course, you want to.

The Christmas feast

Rather than pulling out the contents of my kitchen cupboards to find matching glasses and plates and the right-sized cutlery, I hire a £30 per person tablescape from Maison Margaux, which includes champagne and wine glasses, bubble tumblers, crockery and cutlery plus a beautiful tablecloth. Laying the table took less than 15 minutes, as everything I needed was packed neatly into a crate and sparkling clean; I used my favourite candlesticks and jug and bought some potted cyclamen.

Anna Tyzack - Andrew Crowley
Anna Tyzack - Andrew Crowley

“The idea is that you rent pieces that go with what you already have to create a new look each time,” says Louisa. “As well as not having to worry about space and the hassle of storing different pieces, rental is much more sustainable. Christmas is the one time of year you can be fabulously over the top and dress your table how you dress yourself.”

Tablescape for six

Another tablescape rental option is theclicc.com, whose rentable winter tablescape, including runner, vases, candlesticks, pine cones, dried orange slices and festive faux flowers, costs from £120 for four. The company, which was founded by two childhood best friends determined to make hosting more affordable and sustainable, includes a step-by-step guide with each tablescape and they can supply real flowers, too.

The tree

Our 5ft Eco Elf Nordmann fir hasn’t been officially named by the children yet, although I don’t think it will be long. There’s something more personal about welcoming a live tree into the house; we have to look after it, watering it each day and not letting it get too hot, and of course there can be no spraying it with fake snow or glitter.

It’s definitely not a cheaper alternative, but given a cut tree takes seven years to grow, during which time it requires around 4,000 litres of water, it offers peace of mind. Other Christmas tree hire companies include rentalclaus.com, loveachristmastree.co.uk, winstonesicecream.co.uk and greeniestrees.com.

Christmas tree

The decorations

I rented mine from decorativedeliveries.com; £20 for an extremely generous box of curated, high-quality red, gold, silver and green baubles. If I’d wanted more baubles as well as bead garlands, I could have paid £30 for the upgraded box, but there are ample here, particularly if I want to add some of my own, too (the boys pointed out there is no tree topper included).

Anna's son Edgar hanging a hired bauble on the rented Christmas tree - Andrew Crowley
Anna's son Edgar hanging a hired bauble on the rented Christmas tree - Andrew Crowley

Founder Monty Key sources the decorations from leading brands in their January sales rather than bulk-buying boxes of baubles from the cheapest retailers. “It gets boring using the same decorations every year and they take up a lot of space,” he says. “This way you can keep using your old favourites, but change the look every year without buying new.”

I struggled to rent Christmas lights, so will at some point have to untangle my own, although if you invest in Christmas On the Hill’s tree decoration service, your rented spruce will be decorated with lights, sustainable decorations and even some decorative wrapped presents (from £230 for the tree and decoration service, christmasonthehill.co.uk).

Tree decorations

The outfits

If you want to wear sequins, velvet or feathers to the office Christmas party it makes sense to hire your dress, says Sacha. “Buy your safe clothes and rent your fun outfits,” she suggests. Sharing clothing saves water (it takes 15,000 litres to manufacture a single T-shirt) and ensures fewer clothes go to landfill. At the My Wardrobe HQ concession in Harrods, I got to try on party dresses by Oscar de la Renta, Stella McCartney and Ganni that would usually be way over my budget but cost from £8 a day to rent.

Your designer outfit

Embellished winter coats, cashmere jumpers, blouses and children’s clothing from expensive brands including Molo and Caramel can all be rented, too – and purchased at a reduced price if you find yourself stricken by the thought of not keeping it forever. “It’s the perfect opportunity to try before you buy; you only know if you really love something after it’s been in your wardrobe for a while,” Sacha says. Other clothing rental sites include hurrcollective.com and children’s clothes site borro-it.com, where reindeer bodysuits from Mori costing £22.50 rent from £3 a month.

Kids' party outfit

The presents

Not as outrageous as it sounds, at least for small children who often forget toys after a short period of time. I wouldn’t get away with wrapping up rented presents for many family members, but for Edgar, who’s two, a rented box of Toy Box Company toys would definitely give a month’s worth of joy. The toys are concealed within the box in cloth bags; Edgar enjoyed opening each bag in turn, pulling out a toy aeroplane, musical instruments, books, a train set and puzzles.

Children's stocking fillers

Edgar - Andrew Crowley
Edgar - Andrew Crowley

The contents are aesthetic in appearance, age appropriate and gender neutral from reputable brands, and if you subscribe (£35 per month) they will be replaced with a new selection each month. I also like the idea of renting larger toys, such as ride-on cars and toy kitchens for three to six months rather than buying them – it’d free up so much space in the playroom (from £10). Plus, you can upgrade it at any stage and if it breaks you can send it back to be replaced.

Big present for child

For older children and teens, meanwhile, renting a games console or phone for the year is less of an outlay than buying new and enables them to try out the latest tech. A tech rental revolution is currently underway, according to research by musicmagpie.co.uk, with 53 per cent of us no longer feeling the need to own our gadgets. A Nintendo Switch or Playstation 4 costs from £12 per month to rent; an iPad costs from £11. You can upgrade it at any stage and if it breaks you can send it back to be replaced.

The furniture

If it’s only at Christmas and New Year that you need a longer table, more beds and a larger television, renting makes much more sense than buying. All these can be rented locally via fatllama.com. On my local portal, I could rent a 12-person dining table for £12 per day, a John Lewis sofa bed for £10 per day and a projector for £17.

According to Joanna Palermo of Fat Llama, speakers for parties, cameras, games consoles and bikes are all currently being rented for Christmas. Meanwhile furniture, appliances and televisions can also be rented from £6 per week via switchrentals.co.uk.

Total savings

Are you planning on renting anything this Christmas? Join the conversation in the comments section below