Declutter Recipes and Cookbooks to Meal Plan Better

Eating out at a restaurant is nice, but enjoying a home-cooked meal is better. Even if it’s just spaghetti and meatballs, there is something so comforting about food cooked by someone you love. A time will come when your recipes become overwhelming from years of collecting them from friends and family. Get ready to declutter recipes and cookbooks!

I am going to walk you through the process of decluttering recipes and cookbooks with two different scenarios in mind. 1) My mother who inherited a box stuffed and crammed to the brim with recipes (and who is a cookbook lover) 2) Myself – we’ve been gifted many cookbooks over the years and I have a bad habit of printing out recipes I’ll probably never use.

There are 4 steps in this decluttering process:

  1. Gather
  2. Sort
  3. Discard
  4. Organize

There could be a fifth step of meal planning, but we’ll get to that at the end.

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#1 – Gather

Rummage through your kitchen and dining room. Gather all the recipes and cookbooks you can find. If you’re a serial food blog reader like I am, go ahead and check your printer too (you might find a few recipes there). Collector of the Food Network magazines? Grab those too.

At my mom’s house, I wasn’t surprised that there were two storage spaces for cookbooks. One was in the china cabinet. The “pretty” and more utilized cookbooks go in there. Other, older cookbooks were stored on the bottom shelf of the pantry.

Before you discard, please ensure that you have found everything that exists for this category. To declutter recipes and cookbooks without finding them all first would be to do the whole process twice. Twice the work? No thanks.

#2 – Sort

After you’ve gathered all of your recipes and cookbooks, you will need to sort them. I suggest four categories:

  1. Family favorites
  2. Going to try
  3. Heirloom recipes
  4. Yuck, hated it, no longer going to make this

Family’s Favorite Recipes

This is the easiest category to sort through! These recipes are likely bookmarked and easy to access. Our printed recipes are stored in a binder. Our favorites are at the front of each section because we use them most often.

Other favorites can be found in folders, marked in cookbooks, jotted down on note cards, or dog-eared in magazines. Make note of which ones are actually favorites if they are in magazines or cookbooks.

The “going to try” recipes

These recipes are harder to declutter. Like me, you might have the high hopes of making a Pinterest worthy meal. But trust me, you don’t want to put that kind of pressure on yourself.

Take a realistic look at the recipes you want to try. Do you have the time, energy, and money to make them? If yes, put them in this pile. If not, then they go in pile #4 (never-going-to-make-this pile).

Heirloom recipes

When my mother inherited all of her mom’s recipes, they stayed in the same box for the better part of a decade. Sure, she looked for a recipe here and there when the time came for a big family gathering. But who knew what was lurking in there?

We sorted the recipes one-by-one into a few categories:
– handwritten by family
– family favorites
– magazine and newspaper recipes

My mom kept most of the handwritten recipes and the family favorites. This was the hardest category of recipes to declutter. Those newspaper recipes were fun to look over, but in the end, they didn’t mean much. We put these in pile #4 (discard).

The inherited box of recipes from my grandmother

#3 – Discard

It can be hard to let go of a cookbook that’s been with you for many years. However, when you do finally say good-bye, it can bring a wave of relief knowing that your kitchen has one less item in it.

Start with cookbooks and magazines. Determine if they are in a condition to be sold or donated. If not, recycling books and magazines is quite easy through your local recycling program.

Printer paper and old newspaper tear-outs can also be recycled.

Any heirloom recipes that you would like to get rid of but have a hard time letting go of because they are in your loved one’s handwriting have a somewhat simple solution. Take a photo of the front and back of the recipe card. Save it to your phone, computer, flashdrive, or whatever floats your boat. This way, you’ll have it digitally for years to come (and you’ll have the option to send it to other family that may want it).

In cookbooks, if there is only one or two recipes that you like to make, go ahead and make photocopies of them. It is better to make a copy of the recipe (or jot it down on a recipe card) than to keep the whole cookbook. Donate or sell the cookbook after you’ve extracted the recipe(s) that you like to make.

The pile of “thanks but no thanks” recipes (pile #4)

#4 – Organize!

After you declutter recipes and cookbooks, there are several ways to get organized. Whichever you choose should be based on the size of recipes you have (index card or printed on paper/magazine tear-out).

In our case, we have both sized of recipes.

Recipe card organization

There are two ways recipe cards can be organized:
1) the traditional box method with tabs
2) recipe binder (like a photo book)

You can use both! My mom has the heirloom recipes in a box and the recipes she uses all the time in a binder.

If using the traditional box method (like this one)there are a few things to keep in mind:
– You must use tabs of some sort to designate categories
– Subcategories in the box method are helpful since there are often more in one category than another
– Each recipe card should be clearly labeled

In using the binder method, purchase a recipe binder (like this one) and insert your recipes in the page protectors. A few things to consider:
– You will need to designate categories within the binder. To do this, take an index card and write “pies”, “casseroles”, or whatever the category is and slip it into a page protector.
– Leave enough space for new recipes to be inserted. So if you have 10 pie recipes, but love looking for new ones, leave 4-6 open spaces behind the last recipe card.

Recipe card binder

Printed Recipes + Magazine Tear-Outs

The best way to organize printed recipes and those magazine tear-outs is in a binder. After you declutter recipes and cookbooks, you might find that this is the only thing you have. And that’s okay! It’s very simple to organize.

All you need is:
– 1″-2″ three-ringed binder (depending on how many recipes you have)
– Page protectors
Tab dividers

Categorize the recipes and make tabs that reflect them. Put all the recipes in page protectors (I do front and back) and insert into the binder behind the appropriate category.

Bonus! #5 – Meal Planning

Now that you’ve decluttered recipes and cookbooks, it’s time to put that work to good use!

Meal planning is a great way to stay organized and save money. If you want to learn more about meal planning and how to do it the right way, sign up for my email list! Don’t want emails? You can also find it here.

How to Declutter Recipes and Cookbooks + how to meal plan better

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