What’s in your doom pile?
I first learned about doom piles from a client during one of our therapy sessions. She told me she was recently diagnosed with ADHD, and she described all the signs and symptoms that led to her diagnosis. That’s when she said two words that changed my life: doom pile.
The doom in ‘doom pile’ is actually an acronym. It stands for “Didn’t Organize, Only Moved” – an experience many people with ADHD can apparently relate to when they try to organize their spaces, whether physical or virtual. Instead of sorting things in their rightful places, they end up stacking them along with other random, unsorted things to be organized later – or never. That’s how people end up with doom piles, doom boxes, doom bags, doom folders and drives, doom rooms and closets, and other kinds of doom arrangements.
As my client described doom piles as a messy consequence of her ADHD (especially undiagnosed ADHD), I immediately thought of the mountains of paperwork on my desk. Though I loved my career as a therapist, some parts of my work made me feel anxious all the time. It seemed like my work life was ruled by unopened emails, unchecked voicemails, and piles of incomplete case notes.
Though I was hesitant to do so, I continued to explore doom piles from a personal lens. Piles, boxes, and bags full of “stuff” seemed to define all parts of my life even outside of work. Combined, my home, office, and car were one massive junk drawer of unused worksheets, clothes, receipts, books, and other miscellaneous items. Nothing had a home, and whenever I tried to tackle the piles, avoidance and procrastination reigned supreme.
Diving deeper, I realized that doom piles have always been a part of my existence. Whether it was a messy closet behind a closed door or a school locker full of crumpled-up papers, doom piles were always there. I also thought about how disorganized, restless, and anxious I felt most of the time, even as a child, and how I believed I was lazy and prone to chaos.
Could it be that my own doom piles pointed to ADHD?
After that single session, I began to connect the dots and make more sense of my experiences from childhood to the present. Eventually, I pursued an evaluation, and I was diagnosed with ADHD.
The diagnosis afforded me a huge sense of relief. It explained so many of my frustrations and challenges beyond my doom piles — from my troubles in school to how I’d beaten myself up for being unable to complete menial tasks. Many of the negative beliefs I held about myself, including my overwhelming sense of being a failure, were directly tied to my life with undiagnosed ADHD. After years of thinking I was making up excuses for myself, I was finally given a reason to show myself self-compassion.
My journey toward structure and organization didn’t start with my diagnosis, but it definitely took an interesting turn in that moment. I knew that ADHD medication wouldn’t be a fix-all solution for my doom piles, but it was certainly a game changer. I felt like I could finally focus on one task at a time.
Then came taking a hard look at the organizing systems (or lack thereof) I had both at work and at home. Each week, I would schedule a few hours to read about ADHD, planning, and organizing. I looked into how others with ADHD tackle their own doom piles, but the most valuable thing I learned is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. What worked for someone else with ADHD may not work for me.
As I sorted through the doom pile in the trunk of my car, I grappled with the surprising difficulty of parting with items that had followed me for years. Still, I knew it was necessary. Organizing the smaller things gave me a sense of accomplishment that kept my motivation high.
Another big learning curve for me was learning how to prioritize while cleaning. I’d sometimes try to convince myself that another, non-doom task was equally important, only to realize this was just a form of avoidance creeping in.
My home, office, and car are still not immaculately organized. I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of person who can effortlessly keep tidy. But I have come a long way since that therapy session. Slowly but surely, I have cut down on my doom piles and have set up organizing systems that work for me. My doom piles no longer fill me with so much doom and gloom.
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