Managing soil organic matter (SOM) stocks to address global change challenges requires well-substantiated knowledge of SOM behavior that can be clearly communicated between scientists, management practitioners, and policy makers. However, SOM is incredibly complex and requires separation into multiple components with contrasting behavior in order to study and predict its dynamics. Numerous diverse SOM separation schemes are currently used, making cross-study comparisons difficult and hindering broad-scale generalizations. Here, we recommend separating SOM into particulate (POM) and mineral-associated (MAOM) forms, two SOM components that are fundamentally different in terms of their formation, persistence, and functioning. We provide evidence of their highly contrasting physical and chemical properties, mean residence times in soil, and responses to land use change, plant litter inputs, warming, CO2 enrichment, and N fertilization. Conceptualizing SOM into POM versus MAOM is a feasible, well-supported, and useful framework that will allow scientists to move beyond studies of bulk SOM, but also use a consistent separation scheme across studies. Ultimately, we propose the POM versus MAOM framework as the best way forward to understand and predict broad-scale SOM dynamics in the context of global change challenges and provide necessary recommendations to managers and policy makers.