How to Deal With Your Doom Pile—and What It Is

Expert tips for quickly clearing the clutter of a doom pile.

You may have learned about doom piles (aka doom boxes or bags) via TikTok but the concept has been around a long time. Creating a doom pile helps reduce visual clutter, but doesn't completely solve the problem—because now you have a huge pile of junk you still have to sift through in the future. If you're a dedicated doom piler, take heart—there are some benefits to this not-so-organized organizing strategy. But these organizational experts are here to share their best tips for getting rid of your doom pile and kicking it to the curb for good.

Meet the Experts

  • Jamie Hord is the founder of Horderly, a professional organizing company.

  • Ashley Murphy is a co-founder and CEO of NEAT Method, a luxury home-organizing business.

  • Marissa Hagmeyer is a co-founder and COO of NEAT Method.

<p>SilviaJansen/Getty Images</p>

SilviaJansen/Getty Images

What Is a Doom Pile?

A doom pile is when you gather a bunch of random stuff that's cluttering your space, and neaten it up into a single spot, whether it's a paper pile on your desk or a box in your closet. While you might think "doom" refers to "a sense of impending doom," the "doom" in the phrase doom pile is actually an acronym for "Didn't Organize, Only Moved."

Doom piling has been associated with people in the ADD/ADHD community, as it's a common cleaning tactic to help reduce the visual clutter that can impact their productivity and mental health. "People with ADHD are more prone to creating doom piles, and will usually create more of these when trying to clean up," says Jamie Hord of Horderly.

Doom piles may have their time and place, like when you're too overwhelmed and don't have the time or energy to deal with it, or when you're simply trying to quickly clear off your coffee table or other clutter-collecting spot before a party. But in the long run, they're not a sustainable solution.

"Organizationally [doom piles] are not healthy. You can quickly 'clean up' by swiping everything off your desk into a pile, but this can end up causing more anxiety or stress knowing that you have a bag full of random items that you don't know what to do with. That bag then turns into a bag full of lost items as it doesn't have any rhyme or reason to what's in it."

Jamie Hord of Horderly

Tips to Manage Your Doom Pile

Keep your doom piles from growing or multiplying by addressing them as soon as possible after creating them. Use these organizer-approved tactics to help conquer your doom pile clutter.

Limit the Size

The trick to a doom pile is not to let it turn into a doom corner—or worse yet, a whole doom room. Using a specific basket or bin to hold random clutter until you're ready to deal with it—or until the bin becomes full—can help you keep things under control. Don't let the doom pile bin overflow, either: Take time to empty it once full.

Take Inventory

Analyze the items in your doom bag or box. If you're seeing a lot of similar items—such as a lot of unopened mail or a bunch of random pieces from your kids' toys—you may be able to diagnose the problem.

"These piles can help you determine what solutions you lack for specific categories," says Ashley Murphy of NEAT Method. "Evaluate whether the items could easily be relocated, or if you need to create space for that category."

Work on It in Chunks

While the goal is always to get everything in the doom pile into its proper place, you don't necessarily have to do it all at once. Commit to taking 15 minutes at a time to push through a portion of it, and have a set of tools at hand to make it as easy as possible to deal with the items.

"Have a trash bag for trash, a bag for [donatable items], and then sort any keep items by the areas [where] those items should live," Hord suggests. "Once you're finished, you can move anything that belongs in a different spot to the corresponding area. For example, tape, writing utensils, and notebooks can go in one pile to live in the office."

Give Everything a Home

When you have a lot of stuff and no good place to put it, it's easy for it to drift into a doom pile. So as you're sorting, find ways to designate a space for everything in your pile—and stick to it.

"Focus on one item at a time to determine where that item should live," Hord says. "If it doesn't have a proper home or if you don't know where that item should live, create one! Decide right there and then where that item can live for good so that you always have a spot to put it away. Labels can help put a stamp on that spot and make it foolproof for you to remember where it goes."

Trust Your Instincts

Try to avoid overthinking about items when sorting your doom pile. Instead of lingering on an item to decide whether to keep or toss it or where it should live, make a quick decision. Go with your first thought and follow your instinct.

If you're truly struggling to quickly decide, create a "maybe" pile for items needing further debate—and keep working. Then, be sure to come back and make final decisions about the maybe pile before finishing decluttering.

Create To-Do Systems

Let's face it: Paying bills or running errands aren't anyone's idea of fun—and so the mail and the platter you've been meaning to return end up in the doom pile. To help with this, find ways to make it as easy as possible to complete your to-do list, so you don't procrastinate.

"Piles can accumulate because we’re avoiding a larger task," explains Marissa Hagmeyer of NEAT Method. "A good example of this is mail and other paperwork that often requires an action item. Sort things into easier-to-manage groups like 'to shred,' 'to file,' and 'needs attention.' Add labels to keep track of your system. Then, make an effort to tackle each group as soon as that section is full."

Declutter Often

Though it's perfectly acceptable to create a doom pile when you're in a rush or to help you manage a bigger mess, taking time to declutter your space daily (or at least weekly) can go a long way. Create a decluttering schedule by designating a specific time of day or a certain day in the week (and set a calendar reminder) for working on clutter and any doom piles. Set a timer to help manage the task and avoid getting overwhelmed or tired.

Motivate Yourself

There's a concept called "gamifying" where you can apply the elements of playing a game to life habits. The idea is that by breaking tasks into manageable milestones and rewarding yourself for achieving those milestones, you'll be motivated to actually complete the tasks.

Create a game out of decluttering your doom pile. You can reward yourself after clearing an entire doom box, decluttering for a specified amount of time, or creating an organizational system (really, reward yourself for any number of microtasks). Give yourself 10 minutes of social media time, watch a TV episode, or even buy yourself a treat for completing your goals—do what works for you.

Prevent Future Doom PIles

Once you've emptied your current doom box, work on developing new habits that'll help keep the clutter from happening in the first place. It's much easier to avoid a doom pile than sorting through it.

"The sooner you can address stray items, the better," Hagmeyer says. "Put something away as soon as you’re done using it, with the idea that relocating one item now is much easier than dealing with a pile later on, or reset your home by relocating any clutter at the end of each day."

Related: 16 Steps to Finally Declutter Your Home Once and for All

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