Are You a Cook or a Cookbook Collector?

You may love to cook or you may hate it. No matter how you feel about cooking, I bet you have at least 6 cookbooks, and I’m certain that someone reading this blog today has at least sixty cookbooks. They’re fun to look at, fun to collect, fun to page through and dream with. But let’s be realistic: they’re also expensive, easy to ignore, and hard to declutter.

Prior to December 2009, I probably had two dozen cookbooks, and I don’t think I’d ever gotten rid of one that I owned. I just added to the pile; I loved them. When we remodeled our kitchen, I had a special bookshelf made just for them; it took up the majority of the storage space at my kitchen desk. Then my daughter was diagnosed with diabetes, and I knew our diets had to change. There were foods I was probably never going to make again, and I decide to get rid of cookbooks without mercy. I thought I would be heartbroken; I thought I might cry.

Prior to purging them, I decided that I would look through each one and photocopy those recipes that I could not live without. In the end, I had paged through all those books - all those treasures - and I copied fewer than 10 recipes. Ten! What an insight! The books that I loved and cherished were, in truth, almost worthless to me!

After the purge, I still owned a Cooking Light Slow Cooker book (because the recipes are good and because it contains the nutritional information I need), a Better Homes and Garden plaid cookbook (because I thought it would be wise to hang onto a basic book) and my own recipe binder. Later, I realized that I truly missed Horn of the Moon Cookbook, and I “borrowed” it back. (Thanks Lisa!)

Now I had far fewer cookbooks, but still there was a special shelf dedicated to them, taking up precious space at my kitchen (only) desk.  What a waste of space! I was trying to carry on the majority of the family business at a desk with just one shallow drawer, and here was a big gaping hole below. And, of course, it was getting junked up. Although not everyone has the same luxury I did in this situation, my kitchen cabinets were custom made, so I had drawers made. Two beautiful, spacious, useful drawers, which improved my desk situation 100%. I moved a couple of rarely-used oils into the pantry and put the cookbooks in the narrow cabinet between the vent hood and the wall.

Photo on Left: The hole where the cookbooks were stored has now been replaced with two useful drawers, so new that they still need paint. This space was 24 inches deep, 30 inches wide, and 18 inches high (12,960 square inches). Photo on Right: Cindy's cookbook collection can now be stored in a narrow cabinet, 13 inches deep, 9 inches wide, and 15 inches high (1,755 square inches). Now that is a whole lot of reclaimed space.

Next week I’ll discuss how I manage to be a from scratch cook without a storepile of cookbooks, but in the meantime, I want you to consider what you could do with the extra space you’d gain if you purged your cookbooks.

Today’s Declutter Item

I do have one or two cookbooks still to declutter but they need to be processed first. So today I offer this Art School book instead. I have already taken it to the thrift shop and it was already sold by the end of my shift.

One more book gone

Something I Am Grateful For Today

I am grateful in advance for the weather holding out until my sheets are dry. I am hoping that my powers of positive thinking will make this a reality.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. I have about the same amount of cookbooks that you do, but mine are in a cupboard by my stove. I find that I use my own recipe binder most of the time and have the other one or two for reference if needed. I just ripped out the pages in my cookbooks that I liked and donated the rest. There weren’t very many and I didn’t want to take up space keeping them. I still love to try new recipes, but I check out cookbooks or look on the internet. There are a bunch of great recipes out there, especially restaurant clones. It is nice not to have a lot of clutter with my recipe books.

  2. Great post. We don’t collect coolbooks but my mother has a box full of recipes that needs to be gone through. I think that many of them need to be dumped. We don’t use them and we shouldn’t eat them anyway. It’s one of those things I think I will suggest she do while recovering from surgery.

    • I have a cookbook stuffed full of recipes clippings that belonged to my Grandmother. It’s falling apart, and I need to go through it and see what’s what, but that hasn’t risen to the top of my “to do” list yet.

  3. This is a very timely post for me. We just (last weekend) cleared out half of our cookbooks (about 8 or so) in one go. They were in a small (half-width) cupboard next to the stove but took up the whole cupboard. Now we have half of the cupboard free and have moved other items into there to free up more counter space. I photocopied the recipes we simply *must* keep from the cleared out books and like you, found there were very few in total (fewer than twenty all told). We still have all our Jamie Oliver cookbooks, plus a very good soup one that we want to keep but there are a couple of others that we need to check through, photocopy and donate.

    Love reading your blog, I’ve been a reader for a while and although I don’t do all the mini missions, I find the stories inspiring. I did a major declutter of our house last year and am continuing this year to weed out the unloved or unnecessary items.

  4. I have a beautiful hutch in my dining room that my husband made. It is about 3 feet wide with two shelves that go all the way across (not open shelving but with doors.) That thing was once chock full of cookbooks. Now I am down to 1 shelf, double stacked. Just this morning I went through them and picked out two to review and possibly get rid of! Thank you so much for posting this. Maybe I can get real about the rest of my cookbooks!:)


  5. Thanks Cindy for picking the number six! As I lately downsized my cookbooks to five I feel a bit proud now 😉 The two baking books I had not touched (just like the year before …) when baking for Christmas had to go. With all the beautiful blogs and internet magazines out there my desire for owning cookbooks totally shrank to zero. even though my number of books has not come down that far, they are monitored closely for their usefulness. I came down from twentysomething cookbooks to five pretty effortlessly in about two or three years just by repeating to have a close look and an honest answer to the question whether I used them or would use them soon.

    • Nice and slow decluttering. It’s amazing how the special holiday cookbooks usually aren’t used when those special holidays come around.

  6. I am not a serious cook, but somehow, even with decluttering several over the past few years, I have about 20 cookbooks. My husband recently bought me The Joy of Cooking. It is so thorough (including recipes for lots of ethnic dishes) that I know it could replace all but the most specialized cookbooks on my shelf. Now I just have to get past feeling bad about giving away all of those cookbooks with the beautiful photos of amazing (but 99% unhealthy!) creations that COULD come out of my kitchen…but in all reality, never would anyway!

    • Hi Melissa, I usually leave Cindy to answer the comments to her post but in your case I just wanted to say… Rip of that bandaid girl! Take the plunge get those cookbooks out of there and once they’re gone you will probably never think of them again. It is that initial step out of your comfort zone, the I might “need” it someday comfort zone that is. Stop and ask yourself will I every really “need” it. Will I one day say ~ I wish I had that cookbook ~ probably yes, but that is only a fleeting wish not a need. After two years of this constant declutter journey I still find I have to throw myself into some decision to get rid of some things. Rarely do I ever think of the item again once it is gone but the relief I feel in biting the bullet is much enjoyed for several days after the event. Check out before making your decision and just see how easy it is to find great recipes on the web.

  7. I just decluttered mine last week, and I still think I could do more. It’s a small manageable collection but I find these days that I tend to search the internet for recipes for a particular food eg using up the leftover ham from Christmas! So I’m sure some more will go in due time, but that will probably wait till the next round

    • Good job with your decluttering. I had an amazing thing happen. My nine year old saw the plaid cookbook and started thumbing through it. Next thing I new, she’s whipped up completely from scratch cinnamon rolls with very little help, and she made bread pudding next. If you use them, cookbooks can fire your imagination.

  8. Just starting out in my home, I only have a few (a commonsense cookbook, which I think is equal to Cindy’s plaid one, a fish book, a curry book, and one from our masterchef). My mother bought the masterchef one (groan!). Truth be told, I could go without the bought books except the commonsense one, and just use the printouts I know I like. I weed out the recipes I never try &/or no longer seem appealing – like why do I have so many soup recipes cut out of magazines?!!? Le sigh

  9. Hi Snosie,
    concerning the cut out recipes I kept shifting from storage box to side table to kitchen hutch to desk in order to GO THROUGH them: One day I just dumped them all into the recycling bin because I figured there are so many recipes in my “recipes to try” bookmark folder that I really don’t need to add more by odd cut outs. Yeah, I probably lost super duper good recipes. But I assume the world is full of delicious recipes. The truth is that they don’t add anything to my life as long as I don’t cook them.

    • Well done Ideealistin, I have done just that myself before. It feels so liberating doesn’t it, all that aspirational clutter gone in the blink of an eye.

      • OK… Loose ones will get the ‘all out’ if they aren’t for this weekends BBQ! And any that I didn’t like will leave the loose leaf binder too.

  10. I have been thinking about decluttering my cookbooks for a while. I have many books but there is one set of 7 cookbooks that were collected week by week over about a two year period 20 years ago. I did go through the books at one stage and make a list of the ones I would probably use and listed the page number so I could find the recipe I wanted to use. Of the 60 or so recipes I listed I probably use about 10. It looks like I need to go through the books again and photocopying the favourite ones (plus any extras I find as tastes do change over the years) and then dispose of the books. I do have one cookbook by Readers Digest that I will be keeping as it seems to be the one that is open most on my bench when cooking.

    • Sounds like you’re ready to part with those collected cookbooks. Don’t let the sentimental value of “oh, I collected them week by week and it took me so long” slow you down!

  11. Now this is a classic case of aspirational clutter for me: I do have about a dozen books..and of course I barely use them. They live in my sitting room though, not the kitchen, as that is where I meal plan.
    I need to get rid of my stuff in my departure point first though before I do any more decluttering. I need to be in the right mood to do books…

    • Cookbooks are TOTALLY aspirational clutter. They’re no different that having a bunch of craft books and idea magazines sitting around, yet somehow because they’re COOK books, and everyone eats food, it’s more legitimate to save and collect, save and collect.

  12. Cindy,
    I just love your title! I have been a collector of recipe books, full of intentions. Fact however is I don’t really love cooking. I do enough to keep us alive and enjoying meals, and that’s about it, these days.
    While I was still not mobile last year, I condensed: boxloads of recipebooks left the house (some to my daughter, most further afield), boxloads more of paper recipes found the recycling bin. That left a drawerful in the kitchen, and a box of more recipe books upstairs in the library. After reading your post, I am now looking at that drawer again, and imagining it available for the frypans (just under the bench and oven). And the box upstairs? To my shame, since rehousing the recipe collection in the drawer, I have not even opened it, except to add a few more! Time for serious action, I think!!

    • I must say, I can’t think of a better waste of a drawer then to have it stuffed full of recipes. They’re not even easily accessible that way. As someone above said, there may be some real jewels in there, but all the sources where you gathered the recipes from (friends, newspaper, magazines, Internet) are all still available and all still pumping out new recipes on a daily or weekly basis. Out with the paper and in with the pans!

  13. I decluttered my cookbooks last summer. Do you know if you type in a recipe name (chocolate no bake cookies) over 1 million recipes come up. I had one cookbook since I graduated (1978) and I put little notes by the recipes we tried and after going through it last summer we realized we didn’t like most of the recipes in there go figure. I left the shelf empty except 1 book that was my moms. Now whenever we need a recipe we just go online. My daughter took my moms recipe box after she passed away and we had a good laugh one day when we realized my mom never finished a recipe card.

    • Hi Colleen, years ago, before I started this whole declutter thing, I brought home my mum’s handwritten recipe book and all the little clipping it contained. After many phone calls we finally chose all the ones she actually used. Then I typed them all up on the computer and printed out 3 recipe binders. One for her, one for my niece and one for me, I have since expanded on the recipes and I printed the new version up for my own daughter last year you can see a post I wrote about it here. That is the book I turn to the most although I still have a couple of books but they are only there because I haven’t yet got about to copying the recipes I want out of them. Perhaps it is time I got on to that. Like you if I want a new recipe I go on-line, then if it is worth repeating I don’t have to type it up just cut and paste into Word.

  14. I only have one very general cookbook that my mom gave me in the 90′. My kids don’t eat peanut, dairy, gluten, eggs, soy, beef, strawberry and seafood so it is near impossible to find recipes with these restrictions. Internet is my best friend. 🙂 I also get cook books from the library.

    • Wow NatalieinCA, I thought I had it hard because my son in a vegetarian and my husband doesn’t eat carb form Sunday to Friday. You really do have some serious restrictions there.

  15. I had well over THREE dozen recipe books, mostly that my mum and grandma had passed on to me. I was never cooking anything from them because I had literally thousands to choose from and could never make a decision!
    So one day I bought Donna Hay’s Modern Classics 1 and 2, and ruthlessly went though all my books. I realised that most of the recipes were just variations on a few themes anyway, and most things I couldn’t be bothered cooking. I’ve probably got less than a dozen books now, and know that I can get rid of a few more books that I don’t really use much.

    • Too many choices can be very crippling, as you learned. Congratulations for trimming down your collection.

  16. That’s amazing – I decluttered that exact same book a few months ago on eBay! 🙂

  17. I’ll admit, I have too many (it’s 10, by the way).
    However, I weed through all of my books including cookbooks regularly, so I decluttered about 10 cookbooks in the course of the last year.
    Among the up-to-date collection of 10 cookbooks, there are 4 we (I’m not the only cook in this household) use regularly, 2 more which are seldom referred to, 2 which have been presented to us by our grannies in the last year to let us know some traditional recipies, which haven’t been used much since, but haven’t been around quite long enough to know if they will be used, one which can probably go, because I can’t think of any reason to keep it and one which I used only about twice as a reference book but which I love to look at and marvel about the pictures.
    I think, it’s okay to take it slow with those last ones.

    • Where was my person with 60 cookbooks?? I know she’s out there, but she didn’t come forward and confess. Ten’s not bad, but as you pointed out, you probably don’t need them all.

  18. Don’t forget cooking magazines! They’re so thin, they’re easy to collect. And then suddenly you find you have dozens of them! I’m trying to convince myself to part with the magazines and just rip out the few recipes I like.

  19. Yes, I confess, I’m a cookbook collector, and a recipe collector. I started as a kid, cutting recipes out of my mom’s magazines. By the time I was in my twenties, I had binders of recipes, organized by category. At that time, I didn’t have a lot of cookbooks, more cooking magazines like Vegetarian Times and Natural Health. A few years ago, when I was trying to digitize as much paper as possible, I got a recipe organizing program, and managed to get rid of the binders. However, when I went vegan in 2008, and started trying to make more of our food from scratch, I started collecting cookbooks (they were good items to put on the family Christmas wish list.) I didn’t count at the peak, but I probably had about 30 cookbooks. I managed to declutter my cookbooks when I discovered the Amazon book trade-in program. Most of the newer books were worth a trade-in value for an Amazon gift card. I traded in anything I never used, and all smaller paperback cookbooks, as well a a plethora or art and art technique books. With my trade-in gift cards and gifts cards from debit and credit card points, I ended up with enough credit to get a Kindle, and to replace the paperback cookbooks I liked. Some of the Kindle cookbook formating is funky, and I wouldn’t want a large, weekly use cookbook on Kindle, but it works for me for the ones I have on it. Any books I didn’t use that were too old to be traded in got donated. I’m down to 7 personal cookbooks, all of which I use regularly (my husband also has 7 cookbooks, which he rarely uses but won’t part with.)

    • Hi Delona,
      I took a look at your blog and it seems we declutter similar sorts of stuff. After two years of getting rid of stuff I must admit I rather wished you were nearby so I could take those jewellery crafting tools off your hands, but that would be ridiculous as I have plenty of my own. I loved the Recovering Dabbler title too, I can relate to that.

      You have done a find job of decluttering your cookbooks especially considering collection them and recipes has been almost a life lone passion of yours. Well done! Your dabbling tendencies possibly indicates that you have a malleable mindset which allows you to adapt to new situations and change your way of thinking. You and I are a lot alike I think.

      • Hi Colleen,

        Thanks for checking out my blog. I’ve been enjoying following 365 Days. I’ve always had a thing for cleaning out and organizing. I guess it helps me focus. It’s lucky for you that I’m thousands of miles away in Georgia, USA, because I still have more jewelry items and books to declutter.

        • The beauty of decluttering one thing a day is that there is no hurry to declutter anything if you aren’t ready. You will get to the jewelry and those book when the time is right.

  20. I’m late to the party on this one. No, I don’t have 60 cookbooks. But I still have my grandm’as handwritten cookbook. What I’ve found is that since one round of cookbook decluttering, I still seldom use the cookbooks I have. The exceptions are a book of Indonesian recipes which I use often, the famous red and white checked book, and Joy of Cooking. As I have moved over to being vegan, I’ve added a couple of vegan cookbooks such as Appetite for Reduction which I consult often. But since we eat whole grains, legumes and fresh fruits and veggies, I seldom actually ‘need’ a cookbook.

  21. I used to collect cookbooks and actually had boxes of them prior to decluttering. I have a couple that will be gone soon. That leaves two I’m keeping. one I still use (my son likes many of the recipes from the book I made for him when he was a child), the other was a gift and once I blog about it, I may get rid of it. I have a tiny index card sized box with some old family recipes, from my mother, aunts, etc. All other recipes I save online, in a recipe file in my documents, or on Pinterest.

  22. This post hits home with me. I have a hard time letting go of cookbooks, cooking magazines and cooking equipment. I recently went to my SIL’s house for a cookie party and she has so much cooking “stuff” I found myself wanting to go out and buy a bunch myself. However, I borrowed a large mixer and it ended up sitting around for a month until I gave it back! 🙂

    • Hi Lisa,
      may I extend to you a very warm welcome to 365 Less Things. You showed such good restraint not purchasing anything at that party. Not only is the stuff tempting but the sales pressure is enormous under those conditions. Borrowing first is always a good idea. You soon work out whether you are really going to get good use out of something that way.

      I was considering something today along the same line of topic but a little different. My husband and I have been considering buying a house just recently and I had my head kind of set on two bathrooms. My son has been out of town all week and after cleaning his bathroom on Monday it has stayed spotless ever since. That got me thinking why do we need two bathrooms when we are buying for our retirement and the plan is for it to be just for the two of us (eventually). One less bathroom to clean who wouldn’t want that.

  23. Ahh, cookbooks are a huge weakness for me. Kitchen items in general really. I’m working on it though and just a few days ago I sold a stack of cookbooks and quite a few kitchen items. It was nice seeing it all go to someone who had just moved to the area and had very little. In all, I decluttered 60 cookbooks between those I sold and the massive amount I donated. I still have a ways to go though…

    • Hi Karen, and a very warm welcome to you from 365 Less Things. I been taking a look at your blog and wow that was a lot of kitchen stuff you got rid of. And my! You got rid of a lot of yarn as well. You are really on a roll. Just the room saved by those two decluttering efforts must have your head spinning. Good for you, space must be opening around you left, right and center. I have added your blog to my Friday Favourites for next week so expect some visitors.

  24. This post struck a chord with me. I don’t have that many — I just counted, and I have 19 cookbooks in all — but I don’t want that number to go up by much, either. I have difficulty getting rid of them because I enjoy looking through them and getting ideas, and even recipes that seem uninteresting today can sometimes become vastly more appealing if I have the ingredients they call for (anything to avoid the grocery store!). But if I really look at them, there are at least three that I’ve never made a single recipe out of, one that frequently calls for ingredients I don’t have, and a good handful that I’ve only cooked a couple of recipes out of. I think it’s time to go through them for interesting recipes and get rid of them if there aren’t at least ten or so. I am actually more likely to cook from my recipe box or improvise than consult a book!

    • Hi Jennifer,
      it is not always easy to see what is right in front of our noses sometimes when it comes to decluttering. It is only when it is brought to our attention that makes as ask question of ourselves. I personally only have my recipe binder that I use constantly and seven other books. One of the books belongs to my son, the Jamie Oliver book I will keep but the other 5 are only still there because I have been too lazy to copy out the recipes that I want. It’s about time I got onto that I think. Mind you, at the start of 2010 I hab about 20 cooking magazines and and at least 20 books but most of those are long gone and certainly no new ones have come in.

  25. I am a biblioholic who has many, many interests and thus, many, many books devoted to each. One would not call me an avid cook, but I’ve developed an interest in learning over the past few years. I laughed (nervously) when I read one comment above that mentioned they had over THREE dozen cookbooks. I have two bookcases with cookbooks….and I don’t mean two SHELVES, I mean two bookcases with six shelves each! I am continually adding and taking out some to donate. It’s completely insane to possess more than 200 cookbooks when you’re not either a) a gourmet cook; b) a caterer or c) a bookstore! One of my problems is that I find 95% of them on clearance racks for $3 or less, and that makes them hard to pass up for this biblioholic. My husband is the main cook in the house and he said as long as I leave him ONE shelf with his favorite tomes (less than 30 books total), he’s happy. So that shows you who is responsible for the other part of the collection! 🙁 I’m finally getting a grip on it—I’ll only keep books that are beautifully designed and photographed and cover a topic that I am MOST LIKELY to delve into (I’m on a baking kick lately). I’m a freelance graphic designer and photographer, so my interest in most of these books is partly drawn to their beautiful design and photographer and partly to their contents.

    • Hi Cindy, you are not alone when it comes to craving and ~ for want of a better word ~ hoarding books. I don’t personally understand the habit because I an not much of a readers and have a dust allergy so have no desire to collect them. But as I said, you are not alone. I am glad you are beginning to get a handle on it. The only suggestion that came to mind when reading this was, that instead of spending the $3 on the book donate it to a charity. There are so many worthy charities out there and making a new habit of sending money their way could only do good in this world. And also, all book require tree pulp for their manufacture. Beautiful old growth forests and natural habitats are often the collateral damage to clearing for pulping trees. There a so many ways to get a reading fix these days that don’t require paper. Good luck and happy reading, cooking and decluttering.
      Cheers Colleen