THE story of Western consumerism is usually told as a winter's tale. Every Christmas, shocking statistics about our profligate spending habits are gathered by campaigners such as Adbusters and reported across the media, and then the well-heeled carry on buying stuff we don't need while hundreds of millions of others can't even feed their families.

But lest we forget amid the summer sunshine, here are some chilling facts. Around 60% of the world's private consumer spending is done by the 12% of us who live in Western Europe and North America. The average British 10-year-old owns 238 toys yet plays with only 12 of them. A typical UK household has at least eight internet-connected devices. And every year, the army of professionals dedicated to helping us rid our lives of unwanted clutter grows by 10%.

Guilty as all those statistics make me feel, I could do with some professional guidance right now as I attempt to deal with the accumulated detritus of my own household's consumerist past. So I search the internet, where I learn that there is actually something called the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers, that it's possible to do a specialist training course in how to chuck out other people's stuff, and that the best advice of all was coined back in 1880 by William Morris, who said: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

But what, I wonder, would the father of the Arts & Crafts movement have made of the mess of electronic gubbins I've just pulled from the cupboard under the stairs? There are chargers for gadgets I don't remember owning, software CDs for devices that haven't worked in years, dozens of unlabelled video cassettes and a diabolical tangle of cables that have somehow become conjoined.

None of it is beautiful. The fact these objects have been unmissed for years would suggest they long ago outlived their usefulness. And yet … What if, somewhere amidst that technological morass, there lies the key to unlocking one of the umpteen outdated gadgets currently doing time in my loft? Up there among the bat droppings there are cameras that just might contain precious photographs. There are old PCs containing jottings that may one day be hailed as literary gems. There are broken vacuum cleaners that could conceivably be repaired, inkjet printers that came home with the laundry from various student flats, and VCRs I can't throw out in case one of the unlabelled video cassettes turns out to contain lost footage from my children's infancy.

Clearly, I am suffering from a bad case of disposophobia” – fear of getting rid of stuff and then regretting it. Then again, “usefulness” is a stretchable term and William Morris – who was speaking at a time when homes didn't even have electric sockets – could never have envisaged a society in which many people change their phones every year.

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” wrote Morris's literary idol, John Keats, and the Morris & Co founder – whose own furnishings were built to last – would have been horrified by the contemporary industrial trend for creating goods with built-in obsolescence. The old PCs in my loft, for instance, weren't replaced because someone fancied a new one, but because technological advances made them genuinely dysfunctional. As for the two-megapixel camera, my phone now takes 13-megapixel photos and cost around a quarter of the price I paid for that once cutting-edge device.

According to United Nations environmentalists, discarded electronic goods constitute the world's fastest-growing waste problem. Each year in the UK, the average person throws away 20-25kg of gadgets such as laptops, fridges, TVs and phones and in 2016 alone, some 43 million tonnes of electronic refuse were disposed of worldwide.

Hoarders like me may kid ourselves we're not adding to the tech mountain but, deep down, we know we are simply delaying the inevitable and that sooner or later, all that metal and plastic will have to come down from the loft. We could, of course, simply leave the excavation to our beneficiaries, by which time those old printers and vacuum cleaners may have acquired a veneer of vintage charm as offbeat coffee tables or lamp stands. But it appears that leaving your offspring to deal with your stuff is the height of bad manners in the 21st century, thanks to the growing popularity of the gloomy-sounding cult of Swedish death-cleaning.

Touted as “the new hygge”, this Scandinavian trend was introduced to the UK by Margareta Magnusson, author of The Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning. Offering tips on “removing unnecessary things and making your home nice and orderly when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet”, the book is the latest in a long line of clutter-clearing manuals.

But while Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up and Fumio Sasaki's Goodbye, Things both drew inspiration from the light-filled minimalist interiors of Japanese tradition, Magnusson's approach is more Nordic noir, focused, as it is, upon the final curtain. Yet the Swede, who describes herself as aged “somewhere between 80 and 100”, insists there is nothing sad about death-cleaning, a process she advises everyone over 65 to begin.

I'm not sure about Magnusson's exhortation that we “really must” death-clean in order to “save precious time for our loved ones after we have gone”. People who have led useful lives and raised families are surely entitled to expect their descendants to make a little effort on their behalf and it's distressing to think of people feeling the need to disappear without trace – the ultimate exercise in “not being a burden”.

But she is undoubtedly right that getting rid of superfluous possessions helps people of any age to “live in the moment and focus on what really matters”. There's plenty of evidence that being surrounded by mess is bad for your mental health and psychologists say it interferes with our ability to make decisions – including, ironically, about what to do with all that stuff.

The long-term answer is, of course, to stop buying things and for manufacturers to be legally prevented from deliberately designing products with a limited lifespan, but in the meantime we still need to deal with the legacy of our past profligacy and Magnusson's suggestion that readers invite friends and family round to take what they want certainly beats dumping your cast-offs in landfill. “To know something will be well used and have a new home is a joy,” she writes, adding that handing things on while you are still around lets you pass on some of the memories that are attached to the objects.

I love this idea but sadly it won't work for defunct old VCRs, which no-one's going to want, however much I regale them with happy tales of family video nights past watching The Best Of Tom & Jerry on the loop. Nor is there any hope of persuading anyone to take over that other domestic bugbear, clearing out the bureaucratic bumph, which for many people remains a major source of anxiety, even in this supposedly paperless internet era.

In our house, there are three key places where piles of correspondence accumulate. There's the top of the radiator beside the front door, where boring looking letters gather dust, unopened. There's the hall table, where envelopes that just might contain cheques, tax rebates or the like get opened, then abandoned after the disappointing truth emerges. And there's the kitchen table, where stuff that urgently needs dealt with gets placed and then ignored.

When visitors are expected, those piles get swept into drawers or sometimes shoe boxes along with a mental note as to their whereabouts that immediately gets forgotten amid the frenzied business of creating a veneer of domestic orderliness.

And there they remain for months, sometimes years on end, until another attempt at home rationalisation brings them to light.

So what to do with them? According to the website of data security company Data Shield, “trashcans full of old documents could potentially be a gold mine for identity thieves”. They recommend shredding bank statements immediately, although Martin Lewis of advises keeping them for at least six years, in case you need to back up mis-selling claims.

Confused? Me too, but I'm also fed up with the amount of space those documents take up, particularly now that contactless payments mean each statement consists of several pages worth of bus fares, postage stamps and pound-store purchases. Even those who embrace online banking need to deal with the pre-digital backlog – which in my case, dates well into the last millennium. So can I just chuck it all in the recycling bin, I ask data protection consultant Daradjeet Jagpal, director of the Glasgow-based Information Law Solutions Limited? Apparently not.

“When recycling bins were first introduced by local authorities,” he tells me, “people were putting junk mail and even old bank statements in with their newspapers and magazines, thinking they'd be shredded or otherwise destroyed. Unfortunately they didn't realise there were people who would go up to recycling bins during the night, and see what they could find.”

Identity thieves, he says, are always one step ahead and bank statements need to be shredded, though even then: “People who perpetrate these crimes are savvy and sometimes they take the shreds and join them together to create an image they can then use for their illegitimate purposes.”

Since burning your papers may breach local environmental laws, he recommends using cross-cut shredders (which are safer but dearer than older models) or a professional shredding service. Can you, I ask, get away with removing your contact details and account numbers from the statements and recycle the rest? Jagpal sees no problem with this and is sanguine about energy bills going in the bin, though he warns phone bills which show other people's telephone numbers could potentially compromise their security too, and that old passports and driving licence documents must always be securely disposed of.

What about computers, I ask, thinking about the decrepit contraptions in my loft. Again, advises Jagpal, these should be disposed of carefully since even if they don't work, savvy thieves can read your hard drive and steal your data – with or without your passwords. If the machine still functions and you want to recycle it (which you really should), he suggests approaching a reputable company or charity that will certify that your data has been securely wiped.

If you must bin the machines, he recommends “putting a hammer and chisel through the hard drive” though points out that data protection legislation requires more stringent methods of corporate bodies.

All of which sounds very sensible but doesn't cure my disposophobia and although I briefly consider buying a cross-cut shredder (which can be bought online for less than £20), I realise it would eventually end up joining all those inkjet printers in the loft.

So I opt, instead, for a low-tech solution. Phone bills, energy bills and dental check-up reminders get recklessly recycle-binned. Some yawn-inducing pension stuff gets relegated to the kitchen-table pending pile, along with car tax reminders and anything else that might result in a jail sentence if ignored.

Next, I start on the bank statements, beginning by cutting off the bits containing those risky personal details. Twenty minutes in, however, bored rigid and with 10,000 unexpurgated sheets to go, I throw the whole lot into a large box along with the electronic gubbins and squash it into the cupboard under the stairs.

It may be useful; it may even be beautiful, in a surreal kind of way – but death cleaning can wait until I'm dead. And if anyone wants to steal my identity after I've gone, they're welcome to it.

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