If you are a recipe collector like I am, then I am sure you have quite a few of them scattered throughout your home. From lovingly dog-eared cookbooks to torn out pages from magazines it can be easy to have quite a few more recipes than you may actually need. Today we are going to go over my top ideas for organizing recipes so you can tackle the daily task of cooking dinner without breaking a sweat.
Few people know this about me, but I hate to cook dinner. Maybe it’s because I have been doing it for over 30 years and I am done already but for me, this is a task I simply do not look forward to. But even though I am not a fan of something that needs to be done every single day that doesn’t stop me from geeking out over a new recipe or cookbook.
And maybe that is why I have a nice collection of recipes in just about every format known to woman (or man).
Why do we love recipes so much?
Maybe it’s the idea of the meal that makes it so appealing. The picture is usually what grabs our attention first and if you are like me, many times the recipe is printed only based on that one part. Like buying a top that catches my eye without even glancing if it is something that is dry clean only. If it looks good then having it (or making it) will naturally make us feel good.
Then there is the size.
A recipe takes up so little room, there really is no harm in having so many. Right? Well, that all depends. If so many for you is just a few pages, then no there isn’t. But if your collection can fill several plastic totes, then yes you may want to pare things down into a more reasonable pile.
With so many formats for recipes setting up a simple system can be a bit tricky, however, that is our goal today and one I hope will help you to more easily organize a recipe center all your own.
How to Declutter and Organize Recipes and Cookbooks -Ideas for Organizing Recipes
Step 1. Set Up a Work Area
For a project like this one, you will need some space to spread out and work. A kitchen table is a perfect place for a job this size because it gives you plenty of room to sort things out into many categories.
Remove anything on the table so you have a clean and fresh space to work in.
Step 2. Gather Everything Up.
Before we begin decluttering you will first need to see all that you have. Gather up all the cookbooks, recipe boxes, printed recipes, and magazine clippings that you have throughout your home. Be sure to check your favorite reading spots like your bedside table and a bookshelf in your office. Don’t worry too much if you feel you are not finding them all. Once we have a system set up, any new recipes you find later on will be a breeze to add to your new system.
But more on that later.
Once you have everything together let’s section things off into piles to make the next few steps a bit easier to go through.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Cooking Magazines
- Printed Recipes and Recipe Pages
- Recipe Cards and Torn Sheets
Step 3. Do an Initial Sort of Your Recipes
Since our goal is to set up a recipe system you will first need to pare down your collection a few times until it is a more realistic one. To do that, let’s start with the loose recipes first. This will include the printed recipes, notecards, and magazine pages. These tend to be the part of a recipe collection that can get quickly out of hand, so don’t be surprised if your stack is a bit larger than you expected it to be.
Divide your loose recipes into categories.
- Family Favorites
- Can’t Wait to Try
- Hand Me Down Treasures
- No Longer Interested
D/M PRO TIP: Use labeled index cards to make this part of the project easier to do. Label each section clearly so you can leave this project and more easily dive right back in without having to start over. The index cards are your file labels and really do make sorting a breeze when the labels are easy to read.
Once you have your categories labeled, go through each loose recipe one at a time quickly scanning it over. Decide which section it belongs using the following as a guide.
Family Favorites – These recipes are your go-to ones. Those simple yet tasty meals that you keep going back over and over. Usually, the condition will tell you if this is a loved recipe or one that has not been tried yet. There is nothing like a few greasy fingerprints to tell you at a glance whether you use a recipe frequently.
Can’t Wait to Try – These recipes are ones that still excite you, but you have not yet had time to try out. Do yourself a favor and give the ingredients and instructions a quick glance. If you see anything that will make this recipe unrealistic for you move it over to the “No Longer Interested” pile. Trust me on this. Having unrealistic recipes in your collection is only going to add stress to meal planning. There is nothing quite as frustrating than a stack of Martha Stewart options nagging at you every time you make your weekly meal plan. Do yourself a (big and loving) favor and remove these recipes now.
Hand me Down Treasures – Whether you have a recipe that was handwritten from your grandmother or a full collection you inherited from your Aunt, these too need to be sorted out to a more realistic pile. Again, go through them one at a time pulling out any you love or use often. The rest can be handed on to a child or another family member. You can also use them to make a family recipe book that is a great idea for a holiday gift.
D/M PRO TIP: Remember, not all recipes need to buried in a drawer. Add a bit of love to your kitchen and frame out a family treasure. This lovely reminder will bring a smile to your face each time you see it and maybe even spark a conversation when your guests see it as well.
No Longer Interested – Sometimes you may see a recipe and think, what on earth was I thinking? Again, don’t judge your selections, just put them into the pile. Remember to be honest. If you find yourself hesitating because you are not sure whether to keep or toss a recipe, that probably means you need to toss it. Our goal is to create a treasure chest of favorites that you can turn to each night quickly, so do your best to only keep the ones you know you will actually cook.
Step #4. Do a Next Step Sort
Once you have all your paper recipes sorted out into piles, you will need to dive back into each one to pare things down a bit more.
Let’s start out easy focusing on the last pile, “No Longer Interested”. Since most, if not all, paper recipes can be recycled go ahead and take them there now. Don’t be tempted to pass these recipes on to someone else. There is no reason to give your clutter headache to someone else. Remove the guilt and get rid of these recipes.
Next up is the “Hand Me Down Recipes”. I just love to see a recipe that is written in my grandmother’s hand. Just a peek at her writing brings back so many memories. But rather than have handwritten treasures lost in a drawer there is another option. If this is a reasonable pile you may want to create a Treasured Recipe Album to keep up on a shelf. This is such a simple way to give honor to family heirloom recipes yet still have those pieces available if you do want to pull them out and give them a try.
To make a Treasured Recipe Album, simply put your recipes into page protectors to keep the integrity intact. Add a few stickers or notes, such as: “I used to make these with my Aunt Linda every Christmas. We loved to eat the batter as we were cooking together!”. This is a great way to personalize things a bit turning those loose recipes into a memory journal. Finish it up by putting them all into a pretty binder that will add a bit of charm to the room.
Next up is the “Can’t Wait to Try” pile. Even though we are decluttering here, there is no reason to give up on trying out new recipes. Dinner can be a bit boring so having a new option each week to try can spark a bit of life to a busy week. Pick a day to experiment each week to be sure you keep this pile to a more reasonable one. I like to have a file in my Weekly Planning Basket of new recipes. This way when I am planning out meals for the week ahead, those new ones are right there reminding me to give one a try.
D/M PRO TIP: When you try a new recipe and find it a success, put notes on it with post-its for the next time. Things like, cut the butter in half or double this for a freezer meal can be quite helpful the next time you make it.
Finally, it’s time to tackle the “Family Favorites”. This should be your largest pile now that you have widdled down the others. Go through each recipe and divide things down one more time. This time we are going to sort things out by meal theme.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Fast Food
Again, you may want to use index cards to make this step a bit quicker to get through.
Once you have all the recipes sorted out, it’s time to set up a system that will keep things easy to find and get to whenever you are meal planning or cooking. I really love to use a binder for this. With a binder, I can easily add or remove recipes as our family’s tastes change. A binder is also perfect to keep with my cookbooks so my cooking library is simple to keep neat and tidy.
D/M PRO TIP: If you have quite a few recipes on small index cards you can put them into page protectors so you can more easily file them in your recipe binder. Recipe boxes are nice, but if you want an easy and efficient recipe system, binders tend to be the better choice.
Find a binder that is large enough to hold all of your recipes, probably a 1 1/2 inch will work well for this. I just love the Staples Better Binder and even though they are a bit expensive, they are super durable and look so great on my shelf. Be sure to get subject dividers so you can more easily find recipes right when you need them. Label each divider with one of the sections listed above or any you may have come up with on your own.
Put each recipe into a page protector sheet and place them behind each tab. The page protector serves two purposes here. 1. It eliminates the need to punch holes in the recipe and 2. it keeps the recipe intact and free from tears, greasy fingerprints, and food spills.
Once you have all your recipes safely inside, label the spine of your binder so you can more easily find it when you need it.
Next up we are going to declutter recipe magazines and cookbooks.
Just like you did with the loose paper recipes you will want to go through your books and magazines one at a time using the following categories for sorting.
- Love and Use
- Love and Look
- No Longer Love or Use
These may be pretty self-explanatory, but let’s go over them quickly to be sure.
Love and Use are any cookbooks or magazines that you have out in your kitchen routinely. These are the ones you use so often that you actually keep them in your kitchen so they are always close by.
Love and Look are any cookbooks or magazines that simply look good on a shelf. Whether that be in your kitchen or on a bookshelf in another room. These books are ones you love the look of but you aren’t necessarily dog-earing it up with frequent use.
No Longer Use or Love are any cookbooks or magazines that you are ready to let go of. Now, before you send these books off to the donation center, you may want to think of a giveaway friend or family member. Cookbooks can be quite expensive and for that reason passing them on is a great option. Maybe your niece just moved into her first home and would love a few cookbooks to get started with.
Remember to always check before you give to be sure you are not passing your clutter onto someone else. If they are not interested, why not check with your local library or women’s shelter?
Where should I keep my recipe binder and books?
More often than not you are probably going to keep your recipe binder and most used recipe books in the kitchen since that is the place you will be using them the most. Remember, when organizing your home you are looking to make daily tasks as convenient as possible so if you have the room in your kitchen to keep these items, this might be your best solution.
If you are short on space you can use a few of these options.
No room for shelving? Then before we look for a home I want to ask you a question.
Do you meal plan?
If you do, then your recipe binder might do better with your Weekly Planning Basket. This way you have all the supplies that you need when mapping out a menu for the week ahead. This is actually where I keep my own recipe binder. On a shelf right next to my Weekly Planning Basket.
This allows me to simply grab all the supplies I need when mapping out my week ahead and move onto the next step quite quickly; planning my weekly schedule.
The best part of having a recipe binder is how easy it is to use when you are creating a weekly or monthly meal plan. Inside, each recipe is organized by the main ingredients such as poultry or pork and all are tucked safely inside of their own page protector making them quite easy to move in and out.
For each recipe you select for the week ahead, simply remove it from your recipe binder and keep it clipped with your meal plan. Now, when it’s time to cook dinner for that night you have the recipe right there all ready to go. This time-saving step will really help you on that hectic evenings when your family is rushed to get dinner done so they can head out the door.
D/M PRO TIP: Use a clear pocket protector like this one to hold your recipes for the week along with your menu. This tip will really help you to remove the stress of dinner time since you will always know where your recipes are. Not only that but the visual reminder each morning will help you to pull out any meat that needs to be thawed for that day.
This might just be one of those decluttering and organizing projects that really pay off when finished. Having a system set up that allows you to find the recipes you need quickly is going to significantly cut down on some of that dinner time stress. And that, for me at least, is a bonus win big time!