It can be difficult to have conversations with loved ones regarding over-gifting and spoiling the kid's with toys. I believe with some open communication, you can teach your friends and relatives to buy less things for your kids and offer instead experiences or useful items they need and use.
I think we have finally found that balance, five years in. Theo received only a few small thoughtful gifts for his birthday; his first board game, small lego sets, a perfect dinosaur, a new backpack for kindergarten and passes to our favourite art classes at Collage Collage. And of course this was after insisting no gifts. Your first line of defence is to ask for no gifts! There will always be friends and family that insist on gifts but at least starting with no gifts means less "stuff".
Below I have written a form letter to start the conversation with family and close friends about living small and the lack of space for many toys and gifts. I hope it is helpful! I tried to write it with intention and love. Mostly I thought about my mom who is so loving and generous with my children and it would break her heart to not be able to buy them gifts. With lots of communication over the years we have a system now where I share what the kids need/want with her (that fit in our space) and she chooses what she wants to buy them. Anything extra she keeps at her house (a 5 hr trip away). Needless to say the kids prefer her house to ours, also because she gives them tiny ice cream cones for breakfast sometimes (ha!). Other family members give the kids a bit of money and we report back on what the kid's received. Some don't give them any gifts. The kids have more than they need and they also know that if they get too many new toys then they have to let some older toys go.
Here is the letter... use it as a starting point for your family and let me know how it goes. Feel free to blame me and the blog if it goes poorly!
Dear Beloved Friend or Family,
We love you and so does ___child___ . This parenting thing really takes a village and we are thrilled you are in ours! As you know we live somewhat unconventionally in a small space. It is a bit crazy but mostly wonderful as it helps us focus our time and possessions. So that being said, we can't accept all the toys and gifts that can come with kids.
We don't want to take away the joy of gift giving and receiving from you or __child___. If possible, gifts of experiences are so wonderful, passes to science world, play gyms, aquariums, art classes are such a big help and a lasting memory.
Or if buying something really is important I can send a small list of things _child_ needs for this season or school/daycare (ex. new shoes, backpack, lunch kit, hat, books, clothes, lego, magnatiles)
We love you and appreciate your support of our family and our unique living situation.
Also if you don't live in a small space but don't like to fill your space with clutter and toys you could slightly change the wording of the letter to "we live a bit unconventionally in a minimal space".