One of the most difficult aspects of growing older is knowing what stage you’ve reached in life. I suppose we’d all agree that we’re nearer the end than the beginning, but if we’re feeling OK, we don’t tend to dwell on it.

But that doesn’t stop one particular worry from niggling away at us, which is how long we’ve got before we have to make a serious attempt to declutter our homes.

Interestingly, many of us have made ourselves write a will, and plan our finances for the future, but when it comes to having a big clear out, procrastination kicks in, bigtime.

Yet, we know we must face it at some point, and preferably while we still have sufficient energy and brain power. After all, many of us have had to deal with a state of chaos when clearing our own parents’ homes, and we vowed then that we’d never leave such a mess for our own offspring.

So why don’t we get on with it? I suspect it’s because a little voice in our head tells us ‘You haven’t reached that stage yet!’.

Maybe we haven’t. But we’ve lived long enough to know how uncertain a viable existence can be, and that a new stage may force itself upon us with little or no warning.

Of course, it’s worse for some than others. A friend said the other day: "It’s all right for you. You’ve moved house twice in the past five years and have done lots of clearing. I’ve been in the same home for 40 years."

Moving does, it’s true, make us reappraise what we have and what we need. But there’s no law in the universe which says you can’t rid yourself of unnecessary items, even if you plan to stay put for years.

Experts on those decluttering websites and TV programmes invariably say that we spend 80% of our time using only 20% of what we own. This is a good statistic to plant in our minds. And that, I think, is the key here. Before we embark on the overwhelming task of reducing our worldly goods, it will help if we learn to think differently about possessions. And I believe the best way to do that is to start limiting what we add to what we have.

So, before making a new purchase of clothes, kitchen equipment, bedding or sizeable furniture, we should ask:

1. Do I really need it?

2. Where will it go?

3. Where will I put the item its replacing?

Next, stop telling yourself that everything you discard could be useful for someone else in the future. This means you should no longer dump stuff in the loft while uttering the immortal phrase ‘Just in case one of the kids needs it.’

We all know that rarely happens. I imagine, like me, you have held onto tired-looking tumblers, cutlery, mixing bowls and mugs, believing they might be of use when a younger relative goes to university, only to realise when the time comes that they’re not at all what is wanted.

As for that big set of encyclopaedias, your offspring may have pored over them when they were young, but habits have changed, and anyway, these books take up space they don’t have in their modern homes. The harsh fact is that most of our families do not regard our hoarding as helpful. Quite the reverse.

Another bit of rethinking concerns the packaging that comes with all the deliveries we have these days. At least twice a week, I hear myself saying: ‘Ooh, that’s a useful, strong envelope,’ before I try to find space for it in a drawer full of equally useful, strong envelopes.

As for boxes, I soon won’t be able to get my car into the garage because of the number I’m keeping ‘just in case’. This is madness. And writing this column has forced me to admit it, so I now plan to take all these ‘useful’ items to the nearest big dump. Well, almost all of them!

Once you think differently about not adding to your possessions, or assuming that a close relative will want your discarded stuff, your mind should become more receptive to the idea of getting rid of those items in the cupboard under the stairs, or the attic, or spare room that you haven’t used in years.

And where will they go? Well, though your family may not want your old possessions, plenty of charities, who look after the homeless or refugees, will be grateful for them. And many, including the Salvation Army, Sue Ryder and the British Heart Foundation, will come to your home to collect them.

There are also organisations like where you can post pictures of your possessions online for free and give them away to local people who can collect them. This is recycling at its best.

So, shall we have a collective clear out? I’m sure we’ll be pleased when we have – and so will our families, who are probably already having nightmares about clearing our homes in the future.