How “Doom Boxes” Can Help You Tame Clutter

published Dec 17, 2022
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Credit: Liz Calka

I recently started seeing videos in the ADHD corner of TikTok about “doom boxes,” an ominous name for something I thought everyone did, regardless of their neurotypical or neurodivergent status. Turns out, maybe not. 

“Doom” is an acronym for “didn’t organize, only moved,” and a “doom box” is a space where you store these random unorganized items, just for the sake of putting them away. I have a doom closet, and I know people with doom rooms too. While a doom box may seem like an organizational no-no, you can make this habit work for you. 

Why do some people create doom boxes?

Some people, especially those who have conditions like ADHD, occasionally beat themselves up for being disorganized and creating simplified methods of hiding clutter. However, it is perhaps a strength that they have in their ability to cope. 

Dr. Gregory Young, a pediatric psychologist at Franciscan Children’s in Boston explains that “individuals with ADHD have deficits in organizing, planning, and general executive functioning. As a result, people with ADHD utilize multiple ways to reduce laborious organizational demands.”

Much like how students with ADHD sometimes have trouble organizing school work, leading to overfull backpacks, adults with homes of their own sometimes feel overwhelmed with managing household things. “For many people, putting things away is a difficult task and for people with deficits in executive functioning, knowing where and how to organize things can seem impossible. For this reason, some may find it easier to store random items together because it requires less cognitive demand,” says Young. 

While they “may be seen as a sign of poor organizational skills,” another way to look at it is that “doom boxes may be considered an adaptive compensatory strategy,” says Young. People who live in a world that doesn’t fit their brains have had to create adaptations to it.

How to make doom boxes work for you

Piles are unattractive and clutter on the floor is unsafe, so doom boxes can contain the unorganized chaos. However, you might lose things in their Mary Poppins’ bag-like expansion, and, without a system, you may never remember where anything is. 

I have two kids who have ADHD and hate cleaning, and I sometimes tutor out of my home, which means I sometimes have to do a quick transition from “parent” to “teacher” persona. To make my home look a touch professional, I have purchased a series of opaque canvas open bins in various sizes and colors. They fit on the bottom shelves of my bookcases, can be stashed in a closet, and don’t even look that terrible sitting next to a couch. 

The point of having multiple empty boxes at all times is that when my son refuses to put his Lego creations back where they go (among the Legos in the clear Lego bins) or my daughter has left markers and drawings of cats all over the coffee table, I can sweep the variable items into one opaque bin and stash it until later when I have the emotional fortitude and time to supervise having my children put their things where they actually belong. 

Similarly, I often have a variety of objects surrounding me as I work. Currently, on my desk, I have suction cups for tight shoulder muscles, two pairs of glasses, hand lotion, notepads, and bills, even though I swear I told them I wanted to go paperless. When I’m having the tutoring client over, I don’t have time to go through all of this and put it in perfect little drawers. I’m going to want it all surrounding me tomorrow anyway. So I sweep it into a small doom box and place it to the side of my desk, out of the way, but creating a clear space. 

Categorized, not organized

If you are prone to doom boxes, don’t be ashamed. The problem with doom boxes is when you put all manner of chaos into one box. So, if bills, Matchbox cars, and makeup all lived together in one box, I’d be in trouble. 

To the best of your ability, let your doom boxes have some form of category. It can be broad, like “kids,” “bathroom,” or “for tomorrow.” Or, it can be more specific. I have doom boxes of kid toys that don’t come in sets. I tried, for a while, to separate cars, animals, and trains, but, eventually, all “smaller than a breadbox” non-sets live in a series of three doom boxes on a shelf. My kids are happy to let a Dorothy from Oz figurine go on an adventure with Thomas the Train, so it works for them. 

If you feel motivated, on a rainy Saturday, you can go through a doom box or two and see if anything needs recategorizing, or if you want to donate or trash anything. For important items like those bills, I make sure they stay pretty close by because doom boxes out of sight do tend to go out of mind. For the non-minimalists, doom boxes are a way of life, one that should be embraced, not hidden.