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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Paper Doll Cuts Cookbook Clutter and Removes Recipe Rubbish

Last week, we looked at Eat Your Books, a recipe indexing web site designed to help you find the exact recipe you need amid the cookbook clutter in your household. That had me flipping through the Paper Doll archives in search of what we've discussed previously about organizing cookbooks and recipes. I was surprised to find that we haven't touched on the issue since 2007.

So, it's time to update our recipe for eliminating cookbook clutter and recipe rubbish! Today's post combines traditional organizing advice with some modern alternatives.

Take a look around your kitchen. Does it practically snow indoors with the flutter of clipped and copied recipes every time someone creates a mild breeze by walking past the counter? Are you drowning in cooking magazines and cookbooks for holidays, special meal requirements and more?

It's easy for kitchen clutter to become a sticky mess, preventing us from ever finding the perfect recipe when we want or need it. Of course, having something (like a recipe) and not knowing where to find it is no better than not possessing it in the first place.


Years ago, I wrote Book 'Em, Danno: Organizing Your Beloved Books, where I talked about the difference between NOW books (that represent the life you currently lead), THEN books (representing who you used to be, desire and care about) and SOMEDAY books (representing what you hope to become). These categories are applicable to cookbooks, and recipes in general.

NOW recipes include the cookbooks, magazines, clippings and bookmarked sites that fit your current life. They may be for improving a family member's medical conditions or they might be the tried-and-true holiday recipes your family anticipates all year long. These are the recipes that belong in your collection.

THEN recipes come from outgrown cookbooks, diets and guidebooks that once fit our lifestyles but no longer do. Part amicably with Macrobiotic for a Groovy Life or 172 Ways To Lose Weight With Grapefruit. Trust that Feeding Your Picky Toddler won't give you insight into solving the nutritional needs of your teen athletes.

SOMEDAY recipes are the cooking equivalent of Fluent In Urdu In 30 Easy Lessons. They're harder than they seem and impractical for everyday life. If they're collecting dust because you haven't looked at the esoteric instructions and exotic ingredients since you acquired them, the cookbooks are rude patrons taking up space in your family restaurant, repeatedly asking for water refills and never ordering.


Ask yourself: Have I used a recipe from this cookbook in the past year?

If you use the cookbook heavily, even during just one season, keep it—it's a NOW book. If you seek it out frequently but only for the same two or three recipes, scan or copy what you use and set the cookbooks free. And, if you can't remember the last time you opened it, the book has become a stranger in your home—shoo it away. Your options are to:
  • Donate the cookbook to your local library book sale or a book-related charity.
  • Trade cookbooks with friends or use an online book-trading service.
  • Sell it at a local used book store or online.
  • Store it elsewhere, outside your kitchen. If you have ample shelf space and enjoy perusing cookbooks even if you don't actually cook, store extraneous titles as you would history or reference books.
In the future, test-drive a cookbook to see if it's a good fit by borrowing it from friends or the library before making a purchase.


Gather your piles of loose recipes clipped out of magazines or copied after tasting a friend's culinary triumph. Select one recipe at a time and follow these simple rules:

1) Separate The Eggs

Divide reality (NOW recipes) from fantasy (SOMEDAY RECIPES) by asking yourself "Will I ever really cook this?"

We have to be honest with ourselves and realize that if the fanciest thing we cook is spaghetti, we're not really going to be dabbling in egg drop soup or meringue flambé from scratch. If your lifestyle is such that you, your spouse and your kids aren't home yet before stomachs start rumbling, recipes concentrating on dishes that require all-day loving attention just don't fit your lifestyle.

If the photos with those recipes are truly dazzling but out of your reach, create a Dream Recipes folder to keep in your family file system along with dream vacations and dream decorating ideas. You can preserve the dream without cluttering your kitchen.

2) Publish Your Own Cookbook

This is simply a matter of divide and conquer. First, divide your clippings and index cards into piles. Pretend you're a cookbook editor and come up with some major categories, and then add the ones that fit your family's dining style:
  • Appetizers
  • Salads
  • Entrées
  • Desserts
  • Ethnic meals (sub-divided by region)
  • Holiday food
  • Picnic meals
  • Special nutritional requirements (allergy-free recipes, diabetic-friendly, etc.)
Once you have a healthy stack for each category (and are certain you're really going to attempt to cook each item), you're ready for the final step.

Buy a fat three-ring notebook and a box of transparent, plastic sheet protectors and slide the recipes into the sheet protectors. If a recipe is continued on the back of a page, you'll be able to see the front and reverse easily; if the recipe is continued on another page, place it back to back with the prior page. The sheet protectors keep the recipes from getting damaged or sticky and can be easily cleaned with a sponge. Use simple subject dividers to separate the categories.

If you don't feel like making one from scratch, buy a mix -- consider the pre-made Cookbook Binder Tabs Kit.

3) Go Digital

There are two routes for making your fluttering, crumbling recipes virtual. The first involves scanning your recipes to your hard drive or to cloud storage (Evernote and OneNote are popular options) and using titles and tags to make it easy to search your database for recipes.

The biggest advantage of going digital is that you rid yourself of paper clutter in the kitchen. However, out of sight remains out of mind, whether a recipe is buried under the microwave or hiding in the kishkes of your digital recipe library. I encourage you to commit to trying any recipe before you store it digitally, assuring that you've got a reason to keep it.

There are a variety of recipe management websites available to help you input, upload and share your recipes. Some popular (free) sites include:

Kitchen Monki is designed to improve your kitchen productivity. Sign up through Facebook, then upload and organize your recipes, plan meals, share recipes with friends, and automate your grocery shopping list.

One Tsp. helps you collect, organize and manage all of your recipes online, in one central account, accessible from anywhere (via computer or mobile device). Enter your favorite recipes in the simple One Tsp. form, or use the browser bookmarklet to clip digital recipes, Evernote-style, and save them in your One Tsp. account.

Recipe Thing is a simple community-based site, still in beta, with over 30,000 recipes contributed by users. Search recipes by key word or recipe contributor, and use the interactive menu planner to prepare meals.

Taste Book features more than 100,000 tested recipes from professional and home chefs. Import your recipes or search the database by ingredient, dietary rules (kosher, low-fat, vegetarian, etc.), cooking method, seasons, convenience, ethnicity, brand names and sites of origin.

We Gotta Eat is an all-purpose recipe organizer. Search existing recipes by ingredients or tags, or upload, rate and tag your own recipes with key words. Share comments and recipes with other site users.

The other digital path involves giving up your clippings altogether. I know, that's a scary proposition for some people, and this is only an option if you really, truly, don't ever do anything with those recipes you clip besides tossing them wistfully in the trash when the piles get too high.

If the adventure of recipe discovery outweighs the quotidian act of actually cooking, consider turning your eyes to the internet. For example, sometimes you can just type a short list of ingredients into Google, and you'll be led to various recipe options. You can also search for recipes at these helpful sites, often by recipe name, category or just ingredients:

Cooklet is an international cooking platform to help inspire cooks with new recipes. Browse the database, share your own recipes, interact with other members of the community, and create a shopping list you can print or send to your cell phone.

Foodista is a wiki-style recipe site where you can search for recipes and cooking techniques, contribute your own recipes or edit existing ones, add or remove ingredients and provide explanatory comments.

Man-Tested Recipes is a community of food-loving dudes. Search recipes by degree of difficulty, main ingredients, meal type, tools or cooking time. View photos, read and write reviews and choose to save, share and print recipes. (OK, please don't print the recipes -- that's what we're trying to avoid.)

My Fridge Food is a nifty database that lets you check off the ingredients you have in your own refrigerator (or pantry) to come up with recipes you can make without a shopping trip. Opt for the Quick Find list, or if you keep a well-stocked larder but merely lack culinary imagination, pick the detailed view.

They Draw And Cook presents recipes in an entertaining visual format. Browse by ingredient, meal type or illustration style, or register for an account to submit your own recipes.

Yummly is a shockingly powerful search engine that not only lets you search thousands of recipes by ethnicity or ingredient, but also by taste type (salty, sweet, sour, savory or bitter). Yummly provides a nutritional search scale so that you can select a maximum number of calories, carbohydrate or fat grams, or cholesterol amounts, and lets you refine your search to identify allergy-safe recipe options. You can even search by cooking time and recipe sources!

This is just a sample -- consider it a tasting menu of the wide variety of recipe sites available. It may take a while for the inveterate "clippers" out there to give up clipping recipes they don't actually use, but perhaps the searchability of web options will be a comfort.

Keep your recipe clutter to a minimum and you'll have more space to cook and dine well, and more time to enjoy your meals and the company of your dining companions.

Bon appétit!

posted on: 11/15/2011 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Discuss This Post

by Janice Simon on 11/15/2011 11:01:49 AM:

Great post, Julie! I like how to ask what cookbooks and recipes are Now, Then and Someday.

by Janet Barclay on 11/15/2011 4:58:12 PM:

I've recently discovered Big Oven, which has a website and iPhone app where you can enter your own recipes and search and rate other people's. It's free too!

by Julie Bestry (Paper Doll) on 11/15/2011 6:35:44 PM:

Thank you, my partners in J-namedness. Janet, I imagine that whenever I can eventually speak knowledgeably about phone/tablet apps for solving paper clutter, there will be more posts of that nature. I'll take note of Big Oven! And Janice, could you tell from the photo that all of my cookbooks are aspirational? They're up above the stove bonnet, as I've got oodles of unused cookware space. :-)

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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