What is a Cubby?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A cubby is a small space which can be used for storage. Cubbies come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, from small rooms, to arrays of boxes which can be used to store interoffice documents. Some people use cubbies for storage and organizing, and they are a common feature in offices, mailrooms, and other locations where large volumes of objects are sorted.

Cubbies are commonly used in schools for children to store backpacks and other belongings.
Cubbies are commonly used in schools for children to store backpacks and other belongings.

The term “cubby” originally referred to a small cabin, with this usage of the word appearing around the 1600s. By 1825, people were talking about cubbyholes, as in small boxes used to store mail and various household supplies, and this word was often shortened to “cubby.” Although we can determine when people first started to use the word, the origins are a bit of a mystery, and some people have suggested that it may be derived from a child's nonsense word.

In the sense of a box for storage, a cubby is often part of an array of boxes which are built in place or built into a large and heavy piece of furniture. In a location like a mail room, cubbies are open on two sides, allowing staff to insert mail on one side, while people retrieve it on the other. Cubbies can also be enclosed on five sides, with a single opening provided for access to the cubby. This style of cubby is common in offices and schools, with children storing lunches, backpacks, shoes, and other possessions in their cubbies so that the classroom does not become cluttered.

Usually, a cubby is open and unsecured. For schoolchildren, private cubbies are often the introduction to the honor system, with children learning that the contents of other cubbies should be left alone, no matter how tempting they appear. The same honor system is often used in gyms, spas, and other locations in which people want a place to store personal items while they work out, take a hot tub, or engage in other activities. In some regions, the tradition of using cubbies has been replaced with lockers for greater security.

Cubbies can also be very useful in home organizing. A desk with cubbyholes, for example, can be used to sort bills and other correspondence. A cubby system can also be used in the kitchen to sort kitchen utensils, food, and so forth, with many mixed households assigning specific cubbies to particular roommates to make it easier to keep possessions separate. Some people also use cubbies in entryways and halls so that family members have a place to stick shoes, backpacks, purses, and other belongings.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


My dad has a cubby in his office at home. It's an ancient piece of furniture, it's probably older than me! But my dad loves it and refuses to let go. He paints it and polishes it every few years to keep it in tip top shape. I find it old fashioned but I can't deny that it does store a lot of stuff.


@Terrificli-- I had completely forgotten about the cubbies in elementary school until I read your comment. Now I remember! We used to make valentine's day cards and put it in everyone's cubby in February.

I think that's why we had them, for these kinds of exercises. I don't think that the switch from cubbies to lockers has anything to do with security. It does have to do with privacy. Think of it this way, girls start menstruating in middle school. They need lockers for personal items like pads, etc. It's not just about not wanting people to steal your books and pencils. It's just that teenagers have different needs than children.


I work at the reception at my school and we have cubbies as an in-house mail room. One of my duties is to take the mail and distribute it. All of the faculty have their individual boxes labeled with their name and we keep their mail in their box. They can pick it up whenever they want.

It's nice and organized. The other advantage is that they all come to the mail room to pick up their mail. Otherwise, it would be difficult to run around the building and distribute mail to each faculty member's office.

The only downside is that the cubbies aren't very large. Once in a while, a faculty member gets a package or box that doesn't fit in their box. So we do have to take those separately.


@Terrificli -- I have never thought of that transition from cubby to locker in such dramatic terms, but you may have a point. I wonder if older kids are actually considered less trustworthy than younger ones when it comes to respecting personal possessions, or is there some other reason older kids get lockers and younger ones get cubbies.

By the way, I think cubbies are somewhat newer. My kids had to deal with them in elementary schools, but I never did. Instead, I had a desk in home room with storage space for books, my pencil box and etc. It was kind of the same thing, I suppose, but in desk form rather than in one, central structure.


I well remember my kids dealing with a cubby while they were in elementary school. What school kid isn't familiar with those wood cubby shelves and cubby cabinets that have become common in elementary classrooms?

But, here is the interesting thing. As soon as my kids entered middle school, the days of the cubby came to an end and they started using lockers.

It is interesting that the cubby is used to teach kids to live by an honor system. You know, that some things are private and should not be touched. When kids get older, that honor system method of storage is replaced by lockers that are far more secure. It seems we, as a society, recognize that young kids are more trustworthy than some older children. That is a shame.

Post your comments
Forgot password?