Ask Unclutterer: Displaying a collection

Reader Star submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My husband [and I] like to collect restaurant menus where we have had memorable meals. As you can imagine these are all shapes, sizes, colors and quality. Right now they are sitting in a plastic box awaiting some action from us. Can you please offer some suggestions as to how best to display/store/organize them?

What a fun collection! I’m going to give you just one suggestion, and it’s based on what we have done in our home with memorable concert posters. I hope our readers then provide you with even more suggestions in the comments. Among all our suggestions, hopefully you will find a solution that works best for you.

My recommendation is to find frames and hang them all as a collection. You can either do all of the frames in a matching style or find frames in all different styles. When you group them on the wall, it will be obvious they are a collection. And, in my opinion, a collection like this would be wonderful on a wall in a dining room or kitchen.

The reason I suggest hanging them up is so you can see them every day and be reminded of the happy memories each time you look at them. If they’re in a box, like they are now, you can’t regularly enjoy them.

Thank you, Star, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Now, go and check the comments for even more suggestions from our readers.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

43 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Displaying a collection”

  1. posted by Craig | Simple Black Coffee on

    I like Erin’s idea of hanging them up, but depending on how many menus you have and how large they are it could fill a wall crazy full. What if you took the larger menus (8 1/2×14 and larger) to a place like Kinko’s and have them reproduce the covers in a smaller scale like 8×10 or 5×7. Then you could frame those smaller pictures alongside the smaller menus thus creating a more compact display and a mixture of “real” and pictures of menus that makes it even more of a neat display. And if you still want the real menu I guess you could stick them in a box in the attic.

  2. posted by Anne on

    I love collecting this kind of stuff, although for me it’s usually ticket stubs, boarding passes, baggage tags, brochures and suchlike. However, I don’t feel the need to keep a physical copy of such things – I scan/photograph then chuck ‘em, so I would suggest doing the same with your menus.

  3. Avatar of

    posted by tmichelle on

    I’m no longer a collector so having the physical stuff is not sentimental to me. I like the idea of scanning them. Perhaps then you could make them into a collage. You may have to do several of them for new menus.

  4. posted by Honkytonkfoodie on

    I saw a magazine article one time (Real Simple?) in which someone had wallpapered their bathroom with menus. Condensation might be an issue but I am sure any other small room would be neat too.

  5. posted by Jessica on

    What about purchasing some kind of decorative magazine rack or basket and keeping them on display in the kitchen? Although, as someone mentioned, it would depend on how many you have and how large they are.

  6. posted by Ann on

    We, too, collect menus from some of the fabulous restaurants we have been to. We would never ever ever ever scan them and record on the computer. I think there has to be some reasonable uncluttered way of appreciating a collection rather than digitalizing and tossing the physical evidence of having been there. Some of ours are autographed by the famous chefs.

    In my opinion (and let me state that my husband and I have many collections and ARE NOT minimalists), framing the most special menus and displaying the collection on the wall is a wonderful way to enjoy your experience and to share it with others. Other ways would be to set up a special “scrap book” (I HATE THAT TERM) that would be devoted to your menu collection. Another way is to simply have them in the plastic box or get a good (fancy) document box…it keeps them clean and doesn’t take up much room and lets you enjoy and share them by letting people page through the box.

  7. posted by Karen Newbie on

    Though I know menus can come in many different sizes, I like the idea of scanning the bigger ones down to letter size, and then placing all the small ones and letter size documents in sheet protectors, and keeping them in a prominently displayed binder on a shelf near a reading chair, or next to your cookbooks in the kitchen.

    When I was a kid, my grandmother gave me a box of placemats that she had collected over the years in NYC, New Jersey, and at various roadside restaurants between NJ and NH. These were all from the 1930′s to 1950′s. They even had some spillage/stains on them, but she usually wrote the town and date on the back. They were too large to keep in anything other than a box, and though the graphics were cool, they never saw the light of day and became clutter. I haven’t seen them in decades, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I tossed them a few moves ago.

  8. posted by Cherri Porter on

    You might consider some kind of sheathing for them (if you want to protect them) like comic book collectors would use and stack them vertically in a nice crate in the dining room or on a book shelf. Often when you go to antique stores, magazines and old prints are displayed vertically in wood crates and it’s lovely. You could flip through them as you like and could still access them easily to view all sides and folds. Framing them would prevent the viewing of all sides of the menus. I linked to a few Etsy items just to show you what I’m talking about.

  9. posted by Karen on

    If you don’t want to display them on your walls, I will second the idea of keeping the menus in a binder or scrapbook. You can buy oversize scrapbooks that will fit larger size pages. (I would check an art store if you can’t find anything at a crafts store, since many artists store larger pieces this way.) People hear the word “scrapbook” and imagine that it will take a lot of work to put together, but you can get organizers where you just slip the individual pieces into sheet protectors – very easy. I have something similar that my Mom made for me when I graduated from college, and it’s easy to take out the individual pieces if you want to look closer, while still keeping everything neat and out of the way for storage. And the binder fits fairly easily in a bookcase or on a coffee table, and also reminds you to keep the collection to a reasonable size.

  10. posted by LB on

    We do exactly the same thing! Ours are in a stack in a cabinet at the moment, but the plan is to frame them all (the frames will not match nor obviously will the signs) and hang them in our dining room. I saw that done in Southern Living about 15 years ago and have been collecting menus ever since. Right now our dining room is being used as a playroom/exercise room, but one day it will be a dining room!

  11. posted by Michele on

    It’s obvious that this collection gives you so much pleasure. You should have them out so you can enjoy them.

    How about setting up a small shelf on a wall in your kitchen or dining area and rotating a few in and out at a time. Maybe by color to match the seasons? If you go this route it might make sense to organize them by color. Other ideas of organization may be by size, city, year or type of restaurant. Maybe you could box your collection in a beautiful box organized in manila folders to keep them separated while lying in the box.

    For display, I’m thinking of something similar to those DIY kid book shelves where the books covers face out or shelves that you can prop up pictures on (Ikea has some in at least white and black).

    Another idea are these ‘Dynamic frames’ where you can easily pop in different menus. Maybe you could by a few in different sizes to accommodate the different menus in your collection.

  12. posted by Celeste on

    Paper goods that are retained as collectibles have a special category called “ephemera”. I think food containers fall into this as well.

    Framing gets expensive quickly IMO. I suggest something that lets you look through your collection. I had a friend who collected matchbooks. She’d carefully remove the matches and then inserted each one into a groove of a special holder; it was sort of like what a library uses to store daily newspapers–a series of thin poles in a frame. But with this, you could spin the poles (like in foosball) to reveal different matchbooks.

    I’ve heard of people who save wine labels and paper walls with them, or who put each one in a plastic page protector in a notebook and write some remembrance of the wine when they drank it.

    I’ve heard of movie poster collectors who had a set number of frames and just rotated the posters through them.

    I think there has to be a way to categorize the menus that you aren’t going to decorate with, whether it’s type of restaurant (all one ethnicity, steak, fish etc.), city, or even size of menu. I have this idea that it would be kind of cool to store them by size in a set of vintage nesting suitcases that are stacked one on top the next.

    Finally, there’s collector furniture for display. I’m talking about the coffee table with the glass box on top, the hutch with the sheet of glass on its back wall so you can fill it up with in this case menus, or maybe even one of those hassocks that’s empty for storage. Others like a narrow shelf or ledge that goes around the perimeter of a room for display of a collection. I think I’d only put laminated ones up there just to be able to keep them dusted better. I think anything that gets at least some of them out of boxes is good, though.

    My personal experience here is with fruit crate labels, which were an art form of sorts in the 40s and 50s. I ended up having only a few that I like well enough to live with framed, but just keep the rest in a box to sift through once in a while. Sometimes I share these with someone if I find they have an interest in the subject matter or if they have a connection to a town listed on the label. Each time I’ve done that, the person has thought it was a really thoughtful gift, and I have to say that I’ve never regretted parting with any of them because the memories of the pleasure given are so great.

  13. posted by *pol on

    On the uncluttered office flickr, you have a bunch of cards clipped onto wire lines on the wall. A sliding gallery effect. I think that would be the PERFECT way to display the menus and still have them accessable to touch and look at, easy to switch around and still look organized. Ikea and JYSK both sell the wire line set ups.. cheaper than frames… they look sleek and modern and visually minimalist (which is always good, right?

  14. posted by Melanie on

    What kind of restaurant let’s you take a menu home?

    My two suggestions are to use either 1) the type of portfolio that artist’s use to transport and display samples of their work or 2) purchase the type of display rack that stores use to display posters and artwork. With the second choice visitors can simply flip through the menus.

  15. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Melanie — It’s become a trend in recent years for expensive restaurants to give diners menus at the end of a dinner. At The Inn at Little Washington, they even print your name and the date on the top of the menu. They expect you to take them with you.

  16. posted by Anne on


    What difference does it make having the original paper copies instead of a high-quality scan on your computer? I don’t get that mentality at all. I’m really curious, what do you lose by not having a physical copy? You could always reprint from your scan.

  17. Avatar of

    posted by camellia tree on

    I love the idea of having an old-school scrapbook, something pretty with leather binding and black paper pages, and fastening the menus on the pages with those little corner brackets or something. Then I’d leave the book open on a coffee table (or a music stand or shelf or something), and just every once in awhile flip the page to a new menu.

    I’m not a huge fan of plastic, but I think those plastic sleeves in a binder (you could get a pretty leather binder for these too) would work too, especially if you are concerned about keeping the menus in the same condition you got them in. But, you wouldn’t get the same Wabi Sabi effect that you would with the paper scrapbook.

  18. posted by Celeste on

    Oh, high end restaurant menus. For some reason I was thinking this was something else.

    LOVE Camellia Tree’s wabi-sabi album idea.

  19. posted by Rachel on

    If you are crafty, here are two ideas to turn your menues (or other paper memories) into an art display or a useful peace of furniture. Fair warning though, these ideas will render your menus useless for any other purpose.

    Because frames can get expensive and it is a hassle to get them lined up perfect (and yes, I know the Martha Stewart method of using paper the size of the frame), perhaps you could use a product like mod podge to adhere your menus in either a scatters or methodical way to a large, thing piece of wood. Or, you could use multiple squares and hang them in a row or in a square.

    The second idea is to cover the top of an old coffee table or two side tables. You would need a better coating to top it off since it would nee to be waterproofed.

    If the rest of your decor is simple and clean, an accent piece such as the wall art or coffee table could be a fun, personal addition.

  20. posted by Rachel on

    The third idea I had is to make your menus into a bound book, either by scanning them and using a service like Kodak or Snapfish, or by taking them to a printer who could put a cover on them and bind them.

  21. posted by chacha1 on

    A lot of great ideas here, but no-one suggested a good old cork board? The benefits: you can make a cork board fit any size or shape you have on your designated wall; you can paint it to match your wall, or frame it; you can swap out what’s on it without damage and without even taking the board down. Just get some decorative thumbtacks, choose a selection of menus to “collage” – and away you go.

    This collection, like many, is a work in progress. It would be good to have a way to display parts of it – or all of it – that is easy to modify. :-)

  22. posted by Kelly on

    I wonder what the woman at does with her paper copies? I love love love her website.

  23. Avatar of

    posted by Sky on

    You could have a glass top coffee table or dining table and put the menus under the glass. They would be protected and you could rotate them when you want a change.

    It would seem a shame to scan them and toss the menus. There is something nice about having the original item.

  24. posted by Amanda on

    I would hang up the best and then put the rest in a book that can sit on the coffee table.

  25. posted by Ann on

    I like Amanda’s suggestion.

  26. posted by Brandy on

    Re: the double-sided problem, I have several items that I wanted to display but see both sides. I had made several custom frames (let’s see if I can explain how this looked) that encased the pages between two panes of glass that slid into a wide one-piece wide and flat wooden frame through a slit in the bottom and seated into a groove routed in the middle of the inside edge of the frame. The frames could either be hung on the wall or could stand upright on a table or shelf. They were admittedly expensive but lovely and perfect for my needs.

  27. posted by Annie on

    I currently have all the menus in a box. I’m thinking this weekend would be a good time to go thru them, find the gems and scan the rest.

  28. posted by Sally on

    Lots of neat ideas. I’m not much of a “collector”, but I love the idea of the glass topped table for displaying paper collectibles. I actually might try it with my Dad’s matchbook collection I inherited early when he was cleaning out a closet. I think they are kind of neat looking, even some vaguely racy pin up girl covers from the early 60′s in there which I think would be perfect for our game room ;)

  29. posted by Jen on

    There are a lot of good ideas here. Since I get the idea that there are a lot of menus (rather than just 5 or 6), I like the idea of putting them in a nice binder and displaying it on a coffee table. This is inspiring me to finally do something with my collection of matchbooks from restaurants we’ve been to over the years. For a while I’ve been thinking that I need to get a couple of shadow boxes and glue them on (probably after getting rid of the actual matches…) and display them…kitchen seems like a good place. These are mostly NYC restaurants and they come and go quickly so I was thinking maybe one shadow box for restaurants that are still open and one for those that have since closed. But the collection is extensive so I’ll have to go through and purge a bit first!

  30. posted by Karen on

    Another idea would be to scan them and then upload them to Shutterfly, Snapfish, or another online photo service and have them made into a bound book. You can get all sizes of them and they make wonderful coffee table books. What a great conversation piece to have in your living room and it eliminates the clutter of having large, small, and bulky menus. You could scan all the pages and put each menu on one page or one 2 page spread to show all the different parts of the menu. As the paper menus are printed on is not archival, I would suggest spraying them with an archival spray and storing them in a box or envelope made out of archivally safe materials. So, you never lose the original, but you also have them displayed in a very beautiful and elegant manner.

  31. posted by Shirley on

    I would scan them, and do a digital album of them all.

  32. posted by Peter Drew on

    I like the idea of using a glass topped coffee table to store them under so they are on display and add character.

    One of my friends has a dining table to which she has glued menus, pictures from kids and the like. She then varnished it – it’s called Decoupage. The table is used everyday and is a great conversation piece too. If you don’t want to destroy the original menus, you can simply copy them and store the original in an album or something.

  33. posted by Nancy Jo C on

    I worked with a lady some 35 years ago who wall papered a wall in her office with menus. To figure out where she wanted to go out to eat, she just studied the wall in her office!

  34. posted by Bax'sdaddy on

    My idea would be to hang each (or your favorite) menu(s) each in an individual frame minus the protective glass. If you could somehow mount the menu to the frame back (or a white or nicer looking painted backing) the menu would be hung nicely for display and at the same time allow one to open to see all the pages. Hmm, maybe nicely framed individual magnet boards –painted, not bare metal, of course–paired with a bunch of mighty magnets to hold them up would work nicely too.

  35. posted by Michele on

    My husband and I do the same thing with inexpensive posters from places we’ve been…but we have used this process
    and rotate them on the wall throughout the year. They are beautiful and practically indestructible and we can store then stacked, in a tall cabinet in the garage. No moisture issues, no damage, and we get to keep them looking amazing! And not too expensive! Love your collection….I might have to do this instead of posters….salt & pepper shakers and vintage quilts!

  36. posted by Ms Macie on

    I’m surprised no one asked if you would be interested in turning them into placemats. Laminating them and having them for placemats in a home with casual (not minimialist) decor seems natural to me.

  37. posted by Jess@minimalistmum on

    I think they would be great on a table so you could remember them as you eat.

    You could either attach them permanently as suggested, or make them into a large plastic “tablecloth”.

  38. posted by PB on

    @Michele — I love your Colorplak suggestion for posters, but I didn’t see any prices on their website, and a search found no dealers in my area. To help me decide if I should pursue this idea further, can you share an approximate cost for a 24″x36″ poster? (Thanks!)

  39. posted by Izzi on

    My fiance and I travel all the time and started collecting the safety cards from the planes. Foreign carriers in particular have hilarious pictures to illustrate the safety principles. I’ve been searching for years for a good way to display them. I like the idea of papering a wall with them, but how do you expand the collection? Once you design them under a glass coffee table, they’re kind of stuck there. As a side note, I wish I had made notes on the cards of the dates/locations we were traveling on the safety cards!

  40. posted by JustGail on

    Laminate some and use for placemats?

  41. posted by JustGail on

    Acck! Sorry Ms Macie – I didn’t see your comment as I was scrolling down!

  42. posted by JustGail on

    For a more casual look – put up a cable and hang them by cloths pins or other clip and rotate through the collection.

  43. posted by Andrea @ Behind Closed Drawers on

    I’ve read many of the comments and agree with a combination of the frame them and binder them teams.

    If you choose binder, I’d highly suggest going a little pricier and investing in an artist’s portfolio as you can buy at any art supply store. They have clear plastic archival quality sleeve/pages that can hold a variety of sizes, not just 8 1/2 x 11.

Comments are closed.