The pumpkin rule

Today, I would like to welcome Megan Drayton as a guest author to Unclutterer. When I learned that Megan is the mastermind behind the recipe organization eChef Software, I asked if she would write a post for us about how her product came to be. Thank you, Megan, for sharing your insights with us, and hopefully you’ll inspire a few Unclutterer readers to create some more organizing solutions for the rest of us! Oh, and Megan also has a cooking blog, complete with pumpkin-themed recipes, which can be found here.

I learned “The Pumpkin Rule” at a young age. Every autumn at the pumpkin patch, my brother and I were allowed to select any pumpkin we wanted.

As long as we could carry it.

One would assume that my parents just didn’t want to get stuck carrying a 40-pound pumpkin to the car. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that they knew that one of the keys to a simple life is to not take on more than you can handle. The Pumpkin Rule is a great metric to apply to any of life’s messy situations, and I use it often (it only seems natural that a foodie like myself would have a gourd-themed life mantra).

Even with life-guiding tips like “The Pumpkin Rule” in hand, combating our weaknesses is not always easy. Knowing that I’m the founder of a recipe software company, you can probably guess where my uncluttering standards once collapsed. Three years ago, I reached rock-bottom with my recipe obsession. What started as innocent magazine reading and internet browsing soon developed into all-out hoarding. My passion for food and flavor manifested into a need to collect every possible taste available. I was genuinely afraid of missing out on the “perfect recipe”. I figured that as long as I had them all in my binders, the recipes were within the realm of my organizational ability and, thus, always at my disposal.

They weren’t.

My collection was completely out of my control, leaving me helpless at dinnertime. When I eventually realized the extent to which I had violated my own Pumpkin Rule, I feared that I must declare recipe bankruptcy and live a life of back-of-the-soup-can casserole dinners! Luckily, I had a better idea. I needed something that allowed me to digitally manage my recipes just like I did my photo and music collections. Like they say, necessity breeds ingenuity.

Today, I’m pleased to have the eChef tool at my disposal. The various organizational features allow me to quickly locate any of my recipes and create grocery lists. Additionally, I can easily share my collection with others via email, Pownce, or my personal website. I’ve created an organizational solution that does my collection justice, and the sloppy recipe binders are gone.

The idea behind The Pumpkin Rule is simple: at the end of the day, there is only so much that each of us can maintain in our life. Find a way to keep your most important possessions and hobbies in the fold and eliminate the rest. When it comes to collections, a properly organized one allows you to become more aware of your inventory, thus enabling you to eliminate redundancies while exposing gaps. Furthermore, achieving some clarity with regard to your collection can curb any compulsive tendencies you may have. Taking control of my recipes brought enjoyment back to a beloved hobby, which I had let get out of control. Now, all that is left for me to do is cook.

Thai Pumpkin Soup, anyone?

24 Comments for “The pumpkin rule”

  1. posted by Shanel Yang on

    The pumpkin rule! So easy to remember that visualization! Unfortunately, a bit harder to apply to my life. But this very simple, cute imagery certainly helps. Thanks, Megan!

  2. posted by Kurt on

    I love the Pumpkin Rule, and I’m going to start using it.

    Fyi, your link to the echef website is broken.

  3. posted by Sony on

    I have a similar rule at the grocery store – “If I can’t lift it, I can’t afford it.”

    Whenever I shop for food, I use the handheld basket instead of a cart, or I’m at the farmer’s market and carrying things around in bags.

    This keeps me from wasting money on pointless liquids – do I want that root beer enough to carry around the six pack for half an hour? And it also keeps me from straying too far from my list.

    Caveats: I do shop in more than one store, so I’ll hit the farmer’s market, then Trader Joe’s, then fill in whatever I couldn’t get at the first two places at Safeway, but that still keeps my final shopping under three baskets, and waaaaay less than I would bring home if I filled the cart. Wouldn’t work for a family, but it works great for one or two adults in a household.

  4. posted by Melissa A. on

    I tend to follow this rule with groceries. I buy only what I can carry home, because I do not have a car or ride a bike. Sometimes I will do a big stock up though, but that only ends up being a $5 cab ride.

    I find it hard to organize recipes since most of them are online. I use Google bookmarks and reader, plus I have a lot of recipes on my computer (I made my mother a giant cookbook once with all of her recipes typed out). So, maybe I’ll check out eChef.

  5. posted by Megan on

    @Kurt — looks like the link just has a little Unclutterer love at the beginning of it. Hey, we’re friends. πŸ˜‰

    You can find our website here:

  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    The link is fixed! Sorry about that, everyone.

  7. posted by Matt on

    As well as the commercial eChef, there is an open source alternative KRecipes for Linux and so on. No idea if it’s any good.

  8. posted by Tara on

    What a thought-provoking post, Megan. Thank you for sharing The Pumpkin Rule with us!

  9. posted by Anne on

    great visual….
    4 kids here, we do take what you will eat rule…and that has brought smaller portions…but I really like the idea in life.
    You can’t carry it, don’t get it! LOVE it!
    Time to initiate it!
    Hey kidlets…I got a new idea…………

  10. posted by Katie on

    The eChef Software looks like a great tool, but it doesn’t appear to be compatible with the Macintosh operating system, which is what we use. Too bad. πŸ™

  11. posted by penguinlady on

    That rule works great with packing too. If you can’t carry your luggage then you’ve packed WAY too much.

  12. posted by lana on

    Really great post, Megan. Thanks for sharing. It’s funny, I’m pretty good about applying the pumpkin rule to tangible items like clothes, books, and electronics, but I’m terrible when confronted with intangible items (like the dozens of demo applications I keep meaning to test which are currently cluttering up my hard drives). The Pumpkin Rule has inspired me today! Thanks πŸ™‚

    @Katie: I use YummySoup (stupid icon, great software). Read about it here:

  13. posted by Beverly on

    This looks like a wonderful thing. However, I’ve just finished entering my 1000+ books into LibraryThing, which was a HUGE undertaking, and the very THOUGHT of entering the hundreds of recipes in my collection is exhausting. I really want to be more organized, but it’s so much work. Maybe next week…

  14. posted by Deb on

    I love the idea of having the indexing capability of a recipe application. The issue with binders and cookbooks is a problem with me. How do you go digital without having to recopy all the books and recipes you have?

    What do you do with the hard copy recipes other than scan them in? I am not going to spend the time typing the recipes and I end up printing off the internet ones I need at the time anyway.

    I have one binder of clipped recipes that are trimmed as small as possible and glued to printer paper I recycled after other uses. I can fit three of four recipes on each side and each page is for a specific category.

    If I print off a recipe, I also place it in the binder if it is good enough to use again. I still have a good 2 linear feet of cookbooks and a box of recipes but my goal is to reduce these to what I really use.

  15. posted by Deb on

    When reading the article, I am struck by how similar the recipe “hording” is to my lesson plan collection. I teach science, so I have a kazillion clipped and printed ideas all over the place. Literally, about 20 binders full (purged down from 70 last summer). After 20 years of new state standards, workshops, technology revolutions and conference materials, I am a mess!

    The generalist nature of middle school science means that I need resources for every discipline in science, from genetics to the stars. So, my post above this one is seconded by my wish to access teaching materials more effectively as well!

  16. posted by Megan on

    @Deb: Like anything else, translating your recipes to a useful digital format (one that indexes ingredients and allows you to build automatic shopping lists, etc) is never totally effortless. Entering my recipes was a great way for me to cut down on my excessive inventory — if I didn’t like a recipe that much, it wasn’t worth the effort! Plus, I could easily look at recipes that were in the system to see if I already had something similar. I had a lot of duplication. How many variations on spinach and artichoke dip does one person need? πŸ™‚

    Of course, as more people start to share their eChef files via email or personal websites, you can import files and not be required to type everything in for yourself. I have a lot of eChef files on my personal site. You are welcome to use those as a starting point!

    Thanks so much for your comments!

  17. posted by Jennifer on

    Wow, I really like that you mentioned Pownce in there, haha.

    I think that this really is a great rule. As a teenager just starting to discover the benefits of living a better organized life, I think that your pumpkin rule will really help me a lot when I move on to college and so forth. Thank you!

  18. posted by Deb on

    Hey there, Megan,

    You have a great point there about sharing files as well as purgin that which is not worth typing! I’ll keep it all in mind!

    Deb (only 4 more weeks until school starts!)

  19. posted by Jeff Pollard on

    The Pumpkin Rule is a perfect way to remind everyone to periodically streamline their lives. Excellent!

    Congrats on your guest authorship too, Megan Drayton. You are SO above average – lol

    Much success and continued best wishes!

    PS: Cool corporate ID/product logo!



  20. posted by Jasi on

    My father issued a similar directive for vacation packing. If you cannot carry it, it gets left behind. Usually he’d carry it for us, but on occasion we’ve been taught the merit of packing light.

  21. posted by Colleen on

    As an eChef user, I can’t recommend this software more. There is so much feature functionality. But my favorite is the ability to create shopping lists based on the recipes. I can create a menu for the week and create an entire shopping list. This makes my life so much easier!

  22. posted by William on

    It seems to me that your conclusion and the “Pumpkin Rule” don’t align. What I’ve gathered from your story is that in order to grow, to learn to do more than we believe we can do, we must take on much more than we believe we can.

    By letting your recipe collection grow out of control, you naturally encountered a situation that forced you to adapt and to grow, to learn new tools, to adopt new ways of thinking and working. That is really what your story says, not that you gave up (found a lighter pumpkin) because you couldn’t carry the load. You didn’t focus on this hobby by eliminating other activities (like you claim the “Pumpkin Rule” is about). You got smarter. You can handle more because you tried to carry more. You even said it yourself: “Necessity breeds ingenuity,” not, “Necessity requires simplification.”

    Not to take the analogy too far, but our arms only grew stronger by lifting pumpkins that are heavier than the ones we carried the time before. If we’re afraid to try to lift what looks like a heavier pumpkin, then we’ll never know whether we can really “handle” it or not. We’ll just keep carrying the same-sized pumpkins our whole lives.

  23. posted by Julie on

    I organized my recipes online by creating a free gmail account.

    Gmail allows you to easily search through your emails by keyword, so I email myself all of my recipes and if I’ve got extra chicken on hand, I simply search for “chicken” and all of my chicken recipes are found.

    Same idea, but it’s free and I can search my recipes from anywhere that I have internet access.

  24. posted by » I Need Help! Simple Recipe Organization on

    […] than we are and you’d really like to organize your recipes on your computer, read about “The Pumpkin Rule”. She developed eChef software to help digitally manage her recipes just like her photos and […]

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