Why I Started a Rental Business in a Global Pandemic
By Rachael Classi, Founder & CEO
Leaving the workforce
Like many working parents at the start of the pandemic, I became one of roughly 8 million female workers or “about one-third of all mothers in the workforce (to) have scaled back or left their jobs” - LA Times. With two young daughters at home (1 and 3 at the time), it became obvious that no amount of scheduling could accommodate the demands of two full-time jobs. Making the decision to stay with my daughters was a privilege, one I know many working parents couldn’t make, and for the option to decide I am grateful.
Transitioning from a fulfilling career to full-time caregiving was not always easy but a journey marked with lasting moments and memories of my daughters’ early childhood. During our spring and summer we spent most of our time hiking, exploring trails and green zones and finding ways to expand our ever shrinking world. Below is live footage of my youngest fully experiencing what the outdoors taste like (these were taken one year apart so I don’t think there is any hope that she stops licking nature anytime soon).
There were moments of frustration (hello, I was with two toddlers 24 hours a day) and anxiety as I attempted to create nourishing and enriching opportunities. There are literally 94 million articles about “child brain development” and I’d go down this Google rabbit hole regularly. But we settled in and built a routine.
How the pandemic affected our home life
Over time, with the space to be more present in our home and with each other, I noticed a few important themes:
Despite all the outdoor adventures, we were spending so much more time in our home
I felt like I was constantly buying educational toys, books and crafts, most of which were plastic - heck 90% of toys are made of plastic
Our home became cluttered and chaotic from all the stuff we had accumulated and outgrown in early parenthood
The clutter and chaos stressed us all out—and I later learned “fewer toys lead to richer play experiences”
I do want to give myself some grace here. I truly wanted what was best for my daughters. I wanted them to have age-appropriate, safe products that were tailored to their developmental stage. But in the process we became over-consumers and it began to worry me deeply what type of impact this was having on the environment and on our own sanity. In fact, “There is a growing body of evidence that clutter can negatively impact mental well-being, particularly among women. Clutter can also induce a physiological response, including increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone” - New York Times. And our habits were exacerbating climate concerns – as a recently published study in Nature states, “consumption of affluent households worldwide is by far the strongest determinant and the strongest accelerator of increases of global environmental and social impacts.”
How we created a neighborhood exchange
My partner and I thought a lot about what we could do about overconsumption in our home and all the clutter associated with toys. I’ve always been lucky in my community to have a tribe of parents with young children to lean on. And luckily one of my closest friends with young kids lived less than half a mile away. With a son and a daughter a bit older than mine we decided to start a book exchange. We’d swap 5 books every two weeks and it was like Christmas morning for my girls every time a new bundle would arrive. We’d read, explore the topics in the book deeper with art and then deliver them back to our friend’s porch. We loved it. A few weeks later we started a toy exchange with another family who had a daughter a few months younger than mine.
Why it became urgent to start Tiny Earth Toys
The idea for Tiny Earth Toys came slowly during those first 6 months of the pandemic. But what finally gave me the conviction that Tiny Earth had to exist (as if the clutter, chaos, waste and environmental impacts of our overconsumption wasn’t enough) was watching how closely my daughters watched me.
They watched me when Amazon delivered 3 new boxes to our front porch and they assumed there were more new things for them inside.
They watched me when they broke a plastic toy and I dumped it in the trash (because most plastic toys cannot be recycled!).
They watched me clean up their playroom that was FULL of stuff.
They watched me when I’d flippantly buy more and more and more.
What could I assume they were learning to do besides become tiny, stressed out, dissatisfied over-consumers? And this is backed by science. Research from the University of Washington shows infant imitation begins by 14 months. And their actions over the next few decades can significantly change the rate of rising temperatures and environmental disasters.
How families overwhelmed us with interest
My conviction was strong but my certainty about the impact of a systematic toy exchange became crystalized when we launched our waitlist in September of 2020. Within days nearly 350 families from across the country signed up to be the first to access our educator-curated toy rental (shoutout to our advisory team of early childhood experts!). It has become clear that families are ready to change.
They are ready to embrace simplicity in their home.
They are ready to help their children become environmental stewards through the power of toy reuse (without sacrificing their learning).
They are ready to make small changes that have the ability to have big impacts.
Because they are willing and ready to change the paradigm of ownership and consumption.
At the intersection of interest and readiness
One of our beloved early childhood education advisors, Olynda Smith, recently shared a concept about children’s learning with me. She said “children learn at the intersection of interest and readiness". I believe this is true for us as adults. We will truly learn to embrace our role in solving the climate crisis at the intersection of our interest and readiness. I am so proud to have launched Tiny Earth Toys to equip interested and ready parents with a tactical solution to overwhelming, plastic play spaces that they can share with their tiny citizens. I believe deeply these small changes will have big impacts on how our children view reuse, environmental stewardship and the future planet they will inherit.