Nine questions to help unclutter your recipes

For people who like to cook, it’s easy to wind up with overflowing recipe files. While this may be more of a problem for those who keep paper files, even those who keep their recipes in a digital format can get overwhelmed at times.

If you would like to unclutter your own recipe collection, the following nine questions may help you to reduce your number and better organize those you wish to keep:

  1. Does this recipe fit with the way I eat? Our food preferences change over time, so our recipe collections should evolve, too. You may also have health reasons — your own, or those of family members you cook for — that lead you to change the type of recipes you cook.
  2. Does this recipe call for things I don’t have? If a recipe calls for a number of ingredients you don’t normally use, the recipe might not be one you want to keep. The ingredients may be hard to find or just things that will linger on your shelves, unused, and taking up space. (Of course, sometimes trying a new ingredient is a fun adventure. If you are feeling adventuresome, buy the smallest container of that ingredient you can.)

    I’ve also found that if a recipe calls for a tool I don’t have and wouldn’t use regularly, such as a tajine, I’ll probably decide it’s not worth keeping unless I can readily borrow that tool from someone else.

  3. Does this recipe take a long time to prepare? Sometimes, a time-consuming recipe is worthwhile — for a special occasion, perhaps. If the recipe will make many servings and it’s something I can refrigerate or freeze for future use, that helps. But some recipes just don’t seem worth my time, and I let them go.
  4. Is this another recipe for something I already cook? If you have a favorite recipe for brownies, do you need another one? For some people, the answer may be yes. But, if you know you’ll always choose your old reliable recipes, you can get rid of the others.
  5. Am I keeping this recipe purely for sentimental reasons? You may have recipes you want to keep but never intend to cook: recipes inherited from your parents, for example. In such cases, you may want to store the recipes with memorabilia rather than with recipes you do use for cooking.
  6. Alternatively, does this recipe bring back unpleasant memories? If a recipe is strongly associated with a person or an event you’d rather forget, you may want to ditch the recipe.
  7. Am I keeping this recipe because I think I should prepare it? Maybe a friend or a health practitioner gave you the recipe. Or maybe you have some other reason why you think you should prepare this recipe. I’m giving you permission to stop should-ing yourself, and let the recipe go if it’s not one you want to make.
  8. Have I kept this recipe for months or years without trying it? If you have many such recipes, you may want to create a plan where you try some of them on a regular schedule: once or twice a week, perhaps. If you don’t plan to ever make it, you may want to let it go.
  9. Why am I accumulating so many recipes? If you subscribe to numerous magazines for the recipes, maybe it’s time to reevaluate at least some of these subscriptions.

7 Comments for “Nine questions to help unclutter your recipes”

  1. posted by ImmaterialGirlUK on

    Crikey I thought I was getting better organised but a few weeks ago I tried to fit another couple of recipe books into the kitchen shelving and I knew then it was time to make some decisions. Years ago I took a pair of scissors to my first 5 or 6 recipe books and the ones I kept formed the beginnings of a book with 60 or so slip-in clear pockets which has been filled with favourite recipes over the years. Now it’s time to repeat what I did back in the 80s and 90s and yes, I even think there are sentimental recipes of sorts – things I made for not-so DH1 that very DH2 doesn’t even like – and nor do I!

  2. posted by Jane on

    I hack up cookbooks with no regrets. I cut out the recipes I wanted & put in a binder as well. Most cookbooks contain onesie/twosie decent recipes (that I’m willing to attempt), and the rest are just fillers. Like most albums or cassettes that I bought in my day!
    I keep a separate section in the back of my recipe binder devoted to “maybe” recipes that I might want to try one day as I don’t want to keep those recipes intermingled with my go-to recipes.
    Most recipes that end up in the maybe section are recipes I cut from mags or got off the Internet and more often than not, I look thru that section and can’t for the life of me remember why I thought most of those recipes were even an option. Must have been hungry when I added them to the binder.

  3. posted by kathny on

    I had binders and file folders full of recipes that I had clipped and forgotten about. I finally decided to sort and scan all of them. It was great to purge all of the recipes that I realistically know that I will never make. Now I have all of the recipes I want to save on my laptop, with a backup on a flash drive. They are sorted into folders and so easy to find when I need them!

  4. posted by April on

    Do you have any suggestions on organizing recipes? I have books, magazines, print outs, scribbled instructions from family/friends, and digital recipes saved on Web sites. Plus lately I’ve been subscribing to a meal plan service because planning out our menu/grocery list each week was so overwhelming. I think if I could get the recipes organized and in one place maybe I wouldn’t need to pay someone to tell me what to get/make.

    I’ve been looking around online and Plan to Eat looks promising.
    What do you think? Any better ideas?

  5. posted by Harry on

    April – my organizational system works well for me. It has two parts:

    1. Books & magazines, when I keep the whole magazine:
    I use Post-it tabs to mark recipes I want to try, writing a 2-3 word name on the tab and attaching it along the top of the book (with the name showing, of course). After I try the recipe, I either move the tab to the side of the book/mag, or throw it out. I also keep an excel list of these recipes organized by tried/untried, so I can scan at all the available recipes at once. So tabs along the top means “to try,” tabs along the side means “keepers.”

    2. Other sources (magazine when I don’t keep the whole thing, online, own creation):
    After I try them, I rewrite in an abbreviated version, as I find most recipes are too wordy. I save them in a computer folder, with helpful names that organize well alphabetically. For example, “chix, browned w shrooms.” This way all the chix recipes are together, and the major ingredients are easy to see. I put the printed-out recipes in a plastic sleeve in a binder. The binder is organized by category, some of mine are: chicken, soup, Asian, appetizers.

  6. posted by Avril Rustage-Johnston on

    This is for April (my namesake). What has helped me in decluttering is the following advice I heard from a tv organizer: you can’t organize clutter! First toss what is unused, unloved or unnecessary; only then can you organize.

  7. posted by Andi on

    I use the program Evernote to organize both digital recipes and magazine recipes. I can save a recipe directly from a website to Evernote, along with tags (such as type of recipe, ingredients I often have extra of, or season.) My recipes are then available online and on my computer, and are fully searchable. I also add a tag for when I’ve cooked something before (or delete the recipe if I didn’t like it.) If I find a recipe in a magazine I like, the name and main ingredients get typed into a note, along with the name and date of the magazine. That way I can search for ingredients without typing out the whole recipe. I use the website Eat Your Books to search ingredients from my cookbook collection.
    I definitely will be using these questions to help streamline my Evernote collection!

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