Why keep cookbooks

Are you one of those people who has a shelf full of cookbooks with the good intention of being experimental in the kitchen but tend to stick to the same tried and true recipes? Or perhaps you are someone who steps that up just a notch by trying a new recipe only once in a while. Then this post is for you.

In fact even if you are adventurous in the kitchen then this post may also be for you. Especially if you’d rather spread out your cooks gear than waste space on cookbooks that you don’t really need.

Or perhaps you are a want-to-be cook who buys foodie magazines and clips recipes that you never get around to using. And when you do remember a clipping, that you want to try, you can’t find it among the masses.

The solution is simple for those of you who own either a laptop computer, a tablet such as an iPad or a smart phone. Instead of hoarding shelves full of cookbooks that house only a few recipes that you like, try using the internet as your endless supply of recipes at the touch of a few buttons. Whatever you want you can just Google search either by recipe or by ingredients on hand. You can create a board on Pinterest of those recipes you want to try, bookmark them, or only look up a recipe when you need it and then only save it if it turns our well for you.

When you are ready to use a recipe all you have to do is place your mobile device on the countertop and have at it.

Now lets say you only have a dest top computer. This is a little harder to manage, however you can still save yourself all that shelf room by only printing the recipes you are going to use. Of course you can save paper and ink by only printing the ingredients and instructions on the back of already used paper. I suggest this because paper and ink cost money but then so do cookbooks and magazines. You can them limit your amount of wasted space by only keeping the printed recipes that you are likely to use again.

I decluttered all but my home printed family recipe file a long time ago and I have never regretted it. Sometime I print and add another often used recipe to it. I could even declutter this file and access the recipes via my laptop if I so wished.

So give it some thought. Could you make better use of that kitchen shelf to spread out your other kitchen items, making them easier to access.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter the messiest most cluttered drawer in your home. if you have one that is. If not perhaps you have some other small, messy, cluttered space you could attend to.

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” — Unknown

Eco Tip for the Day

Only print out document that are absolutely necessary thus saving paper and ink.

For a full list of my eco tips so far click here

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

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. I tried a new recipe this weekend. I was about 80% successful with it. I think an altitude adjustment needs to be made for Colorado. I’ll make it one more time and if I don’t like the result, this recipe is going to go into the recycling bin. My husband also experimented with a new green chili recipe and I have four in the book (including this one). I’m going to ask him to compare the recipes and decide which ones we can recycle.

    I want a computer near the kitchen SO bad so that I can dump more books. Argh!

    Today’s quote by Unknown is fantastic, Colleen! 🙂

    • Michelle – I have a friend who is a chef and he worked in a restaurant right up in the Swiss Alps at one point, and yes they have to adjust for altitude.

      • Well, you know what? There was not much excitement when I took the new recipe of coconut cupcakes to work. 2 guys don’t eat sweets and one was allergic to coconut. This one is going in the recycle bin! 😉 I make other goodies that are mostly well-received. LOL

    • Hi Michelle, I am a bad influence because now I have you wanting something. However that something would help get ride of a whole lot of something else. Be patient the the universe will provide. Don’t be in a rush.

      And I am very impressed with you working your way through those recipes so you can happily declutter the books or clippings if they turn out not so successful. Good for you.

      • Hi Colleen – yes, we are taking our time on this. We have been discussing getting an ipad for several months, but I haven’t been able to justify the expense. I’m okay with waiting. 🙂

  2. Great quote Colleen and a good post. We decluttered the cook books some time ago. Now if I could get Mom to declutter some of the recipes in the recipe box.

    • Hi Deb J, I think she would actually do that if you start asking the question of “When was the last time we made this?” or “Does this recipe match with the foods that are good for us?” She comes around when you are logical with her but in her own good time.

      • Colleen, Mom has this idea that she might want a particular recipe someday. I have decided that since they are all on cards in a small recipe box to not get uptight about it. It’s just not worth the hassle.

  3. Idgy of the North

    We thinned our cookbooks from 15 to 3 (lots of recipes used from each book). For new recipes, we store them electronically (favourites folder or Recipe Box app). If we don’t like the recipe, we delete it. We use a tablet or smartphone propped up to show us the recipe. Allrecipes.com is one of our favourite sites – great to read ratings and substitutions in the comments.

  4. I must have 250 hardback cookbooks and never cook. What was I thinking? Still can’t bring myself to let them go…. In boxes. I need help!

    • Carolyn – if I might jump in. I’m not a fan of cooking. In the past I have referred to myself as ‘cateringly challenged’. And I had plenty of cookbooks, and nothing in these changed my cateringly challenged status.

      So I got rid of the majority of the cookbooks. Most recipe books are written for the ‘above novice’ cooks and make foods that are more for foodies ie often have lavish ingredients. My theory is that I AM a novice level cook and I’m just as happy with a simple chilli con carne as I am with something more exotic.

      I did a challenge to eliminate food being wasted last year – and the best thing ever is to google “how to use leftover (insert name of food item)” – these have turned into really popular family favourites, cause the ideas that google turns out, are written by everyday people. Which reminds me that mashed potato pizza (done in a pan) could be just the thing for dinner tonight. Or layered Watties Chilli Beans in sauce, cream cheese, salsa, guacamole and cheese chucked under the grill for a couple of minutes and eaten with nacho chips (all of which I have in the pantry or fridge) might be even better for a Friday night. Yum, thanks for reminding me of these ideas.

      I also use online recipe sites such as allrecipes.com (there will be one for your country ie .co.nz .com.au .co.uk etc) look for the recipes with good reviews, lots of photos submitted by reviewers and marked as ‘easy’. Often I have simpled them down even further ie honey mustard grilled chicken, rather than mix up the recipe (which wasn’t hard) but I just grabbed the honey mustard dressing from the fridge, squirted it on the chicken and under the grill it went. Likewise, sweet chilli sauce. Usually the reviewers will add some hint or variation idea.

      So here’s my suggestion. Your cookbooks are in boxes, so that’s a good start. Trial seperation, put them in the garage or somewhere out of the way. Whatever you bring back to use after 2 or 3 months, keep. What you don’t bring back, donate to a charity book sale.

      Keep a note book of good food ideas that are easy. Ask your friends for really easy meal ideas. My best ideas came from a friend who is a chef. She rarely looks at a cookbook and keeps her pantry really simple. And also says if your fridge is too full you won’t see what you’ve got and it won’t get used. Your brain becomes resourceful when it can see what is actually available. Sites like allrecipes usually have a search by ingredient option.

      Cindy who used to write a weekly post here, recommended that if you can see the back of the fridge, its too full.

      If you look on ebay you will see that there are loads of used cookbooks for sale and there’s probably a reason for that.

      • Carolyn – that should have read re: Cindy “if you can’t see the back of the fridge” rather than if you can see the back of the fridge.

  5. I’ve gotten rid of almost all cookbooks quite early on the decluttering Journey and have Not regretted it. I,ve gotten rid of several whole categories of stuff: audible books, DVDs, Cook books, collectible whatevers … I found this very freeing as I now don’t Even think about Getting spmething from these categories anymore.

  6. I have started my recipe decluttering with my recipe box. I am entering them into a file on my laptop. I take my laptop to the kitchen whenever I want to use one of these recipes. I also save recipes to folders in my favorites. I only put recipes on my laptop that are tried and liked. I don’t want to clutter up my computer either. I will start on the cookbooks copying my recipes to my laptop when I get my box done and then get rid of the books as I complete each one. Also for those that want to the library has a large collection of cookbooks.

  7. From now on, I’m going to avoid cookbooks or cooking magazines altogether! No need to be tempted to store another book or to clip another recipe.

    • Good thinking Michelle. I have just spent another three days decluttering with my friend, hence my absence from the blog comments until now, she was going to waste precious time going through free grocery store recipe books last night while we were working though the boxes I had set aside for her to sort. I suggested it was a waste of time because she could find any recipe her heart desired on the internet. I walking away to put some stuff away while she contemplated the idea and the next thing I knew they were being thrown in the recycle heap. another proud moment for us.

      • Wooooo Hoooo! That’s awesome! Sometimes having to sit and go through things is a real bother and just better to dump it all! Good for you and for her!

  8. I still have a few old favourites, but I find Pinterest is great for this kind of thing – there’s space to put your own comments about a recipe and of course you have the picture. Pinterest has taken the place of a gardening notebook for me too, as well as a place to keep bits and bobs of information of interest to me. IMHO a lot of social media is time-wasting and really not good for the self-esteem or promoting happiness, but Pinterest is actually a nice place on the web. Anyway here’s my recipes – http://www.pinterest.com/calicoginger/my-recipes/

  9. I have a box in my cupboard that houses my cookbooks – it is about 8 inches wide. That is what marks the boundaries of how many cookbooks/recipes I allow myself – about 3 or 4 books. It has worked well for the last 5 or so years.

    • Hi Vicki, I love boundary setting for stuff. I mentioned this more than once on the blog and several times to my friend, that I have been helping declutter, over the last couple of weeks. We decluttered several items of furniture along with car loads of stuff and now I have told her that she is not allowed to over step the boundaries. Actually I have told her she isn’t to buy anything for at least twelve months but I am sure she won’t adhere religiously to that.

      • Colleen – I’m having a philosophical moment here, do you think a nothing new for twelve months is achievable? I’m not talking about your friend, I’m wondering if it could be done.

        • Hi Moni,

          Yes — it is achievable! A few years ago I heard of something called The Compact which is an idea that came out of environmentally & simple-living folks in California, I believe. Anyway, upon learning of this I embarked on it myself and the idea is not to buy anything new for a year. At the beginning you know there will be exceptions (like, in my case, I needed new glasses and new running shoes) but the emphasis is on creatively solving the problem of how to make do or buy used or make whatever is “missing”. I thought it was a fun experiment & a very positive one for me, too. The most difficult part of it for me was at the beginning, when I would tend to forget that I wasn’t going to buy something new. But after a bit, it felt very creative to do — I made presents for people for gifts, I bought clothes from recycle shops, and it even prompted me to clean out more things I did not need but could be passed on to others. The upshot of it was: I feel totally cured of mindless buying, and have been for several years now.

        • Forgot to mention — I don’t think it is necessary to “do it perfectly”. I think I probably ended up actually purchasing about 8 or 9 “new” things. And I still thought it was a Big Success & I learned so much from trying to do it.

  10. I de-cluttered my recipe books a few years ago and only regretted one -” The Australian Womens Weekly Original Cookbook”. But I found a replacement quite easily on ebay -minus the stains ! I do actually use it and enjoy seeing it on the shelf . I happily decluttered some much more modern books -I had no emotional attachment to them and never used them . I use the internet to find recipes too and a binder folder with plastic sleeves to keep favourites -or for inspiration.

    • Hi Jez, I only regretted decluttering one recipe book. Had I remembers to copy down the only recipe I used it for it wouldn’t have concerned me. I got over the regret a long time ago. I find that regrets are fleeting.

  11. I have a few cookbooks by the same author and the discovered most were in her ‘big’ cookbook. I will have a look thru, maybe I could copy any and add to the ‘big’ cookbook. I have some random items in the freezer which need using up so I will add that to my to-do list.

    I have off and on times as a foodie but I stick to my rule that if Im into a new kind of food I have to make it by hand 5 times before I buy a gadget. Usually the fad has passed by then. ie sushi. Its winter and Id rather something warm at the moment and half the fun is having the variety to choose from.

    • Hi Moni, I hear what you are saying. I like Jamie Oliver recipes but his are all on-line so I don’t buy his cookbooks. And I would live without them if they weren’t on line because I have no intention of ever buying another cookbook. I could also borrow them from the library if I felt the need. The library is only about 500m away.

  12. I have been getting rid of cookbooks a few at a time over the past couple of years. I just donated a few more and now I am down to 2! Only 2 that I actually use. It feels good to have gotten rid of all of the rest that I never used. Those pretty colorful food pictures were so enticing but I never made any of the recipes!

    • Claire, so true! I too was so happy after I sold all my cookbooks (except one favourite that I use all the time). I sold them at a car boot sale for 50 cents each and they were snapped up really quickly. It was such a relief. I no longer have to walk past my bookshelf and feel guilty that I’m not making any of the recipes. Getting rid of them freed me of the guilt, and if I’m honest I now prefer simpler food, definitely not recipes with too many steps and processes.

      • That is exactly it, Kelly! All those extra cookbooks just made me feel guilty for not cooking anything from them! Thankfully I/we could finally unload them along with the guilt! I definitely prefer simpler food too.

    • Hi Clair, you are so right about the pretty coloured enticing photos. They can really draw you in. That is why last night when decluttering with my friend I said to her, “Just don’t look in them and you won’t know what you are missing.”. She saw the logic in that and tossed them in the reject pile.

      • Good idea, Colleen, “don’t look in them!” I need to keep that in mind as a method for decluttering other things too.

  13. I pulled out some cookbooks along with some other books to take to the consignment place last week, but won’t have time to do the list this week. I have one cookbook that has all kinds of microwave recipes that I mainly use to look up timing since I cook a lot of things in the microwave, especially when it is hot weather–about 8 or 9 months here. Most of our meals now are pretty simple basic things no recipe usually necessary. No added sugar or calories most of the time. Instead of apple pie, just an apple. We’re no longer young and skinny, lol.

    • Nana – if you don’t mind me asking, where are you located?

      • South Texas

        • Nana – thanks for that – yep I’d imagine its warm there. I live in the Bay of Plenty region where the temperatures are pretty mild for NZ but as with all the country, rain fall is regular thru out the year except during the the hot Summer months. So we tend to prefer hot food.

          However, I remember as a young girl the arrival of the microwave to our home – mum and her friends all went off to microwave cooking classes. So I mostly learnt to cook in the microwave growing up – I think early predictions were that there wouldn’t be ovens in kitchens by 2010!

    • Hi Nanna, you are a smart lady. Not adjusting to ageing when it comes to what we eat is a fatal flaw. As we grow older all those nasty carbs and fats just don’t miraculously disappear like they used to. Many people don’t make this adjustment and wonder why the weight piles on. We need less and healthier. A good reason to get rid of those old cookbooks thats for sure.

  14. Thirty years ago I decluttered the majority of my cookbooks. I kept five favorites that have been dog-eared, stained, spilled on and written in over the passage of time. Most of the recipes I have made so often, I have the recipe memorized. I also have a recipe box with my favorite recipes (not in cookbooks) on recipe cards. Do any of the other “oldsters”, haha, remember when someone would ask for your recipe, you wrote it on a recipe card for them? I still do it that way, on recipe cards 🙂 Just going through it, brings back so many memories as I wrote the event and year on each card. Even my recipe cards have been stained, spilled on and written on over the years. In the cookbook arena, what I have is small, manageable, used and loved.

    • Kimberley – I text one of my daughter’s friend to please bring her risotto recipe with her, she text me back a link to an online recipe, that’s how the younger generation pass on recipes. I stood there laughing because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with that on the little screen of my phone.

      • Moni, I could be your daughter’s friend. My stepmother and my mother in law often ask me for recipes, and I send them a link all the times. I have only one cookbook my own, and I love it, because is written and designed for young people. My problem is the inherited cookbooks. My parents were and still are real hoarders and I’m havingthe greatest headaches trying to get rid of lots of cookbooks and even a cook enciclopaedia!

        • Silvia D – kids and young adults (ie teenager) level books are actually the best for learning in a hurry. Here in NZ we have the Edmonds Recipe Book (its legendary here) – my ‘grown’ up version eventually fell apart so I use my daughter’s ‘junior’ version instead. More pictures, more straight forward and designed to be made in a reasonable attention-span. What’s not to like about that?

          My recommendation for the inherited cookbooks is to donate them to a charity book sale. They will be snapped up by foodies and get used.

          I’m not sure if you inherited the books from your parents and there is a “I don’t want to hurt their feelings” aspect to it or if you took them off their hands to help them let go of their stuff……but if you’re not using them, someone else will.

          I find that a lot of cookbooks assume that I am a more advanced cook or baker than I actually am and use techniques and/or equipment that I don’t have. Of course, one can always improvise, but to be truthful I have a lot more fun with recipes that are for the more ‘novice’.

          • Hi Moni,

            I love The Edmond’s cookbook. I’m married to a Kiwi (we live in Lake Macquarie NSW) and he has the 1986 version. We go Christchurch regularly to visit his family and when we were there in 2008 I purchased the centenary version.
            I love that it has recipes with ingredients that are staples in the pantry. My husband loves the treats that remind him of his mum’s cooking like ginger crunch and Afghan biscuits.
            Even though it’s closed now, I love driving past the Edmond’s building.
            I didn’t know there was a junior version of the book. That is one cookbook I will be able to pass up though.
            Are you on the North or South Island Moni?


      • Oh, my. It takes so little time to put pen to paper and make the recipe personal, or even photocopying the recipe would be a step up from the dreaded link on the computer. The computer just seems to take everything personal out of the equation.
        My daughter who is 32 years old and very computer, iPhone, iPad etc. saavy still does many things the old fashioned way. Makes this Mummy proud. My niece is 20 years old and wouldn’t know what to do with a pen and a recipe card, haha! What a difference 12 years makes?

    • Hi Kimberley, I remember this process too but I don’t follow it anymore. I do everything digitally. If anyone wants one of mine they had better have an email address.

  15. There were some cookbooks we got rid of because we (I) never used them. In some cases, we got rid of them because they were mostly for traditional baking and, with my daughter and I both gluten intolerant, we have no use for traditional baking now. There are two cookbooks I’m likely to hang to as time passes: an old Cajun cookbook and an Egyptian cookbook we got back when we lived in Cairo.

    We have maybe a foot to a foot and a half of shelf space taken up by cookbooks. It’s only that much because my parents decided I must want Alton Brown’s Good Eats books. Those things are huge.

    • Hi Rachel, as you can tell, from reading the other comments, that we all have our favourites that we keep. Mine is a binder of family recipes and other favourites that I laboriously typed in to my computer and then printed copies for several family members. I use mine often as do they. I could access all these recipes digitally but I kind of like this one so, for now, I will continue to use it. My husband once had some from when he lived in Malaysia and I had several from when we lived in the US but they are all gone now, and none missed.

  16. It’s interesting to see what areas others can easily par down in and what areas cause the stumbling blocks. Cookbooks are my stumbling block. I love to cook and entertain. There’s nothing better for me than to have a cooking day, I fill up my freezer, the children’s freezers and take things to work and into my neighbours. When I’ve had a bad day coming home to cook or even browse through a cookbook is so relaxing. The internet just doesn’t do it for me on those days.
    It’s very true that any recipe can be found on the internet and I do find loads of great recipes online that I can save to a recipe file.
    I have reduced my cookbooks from the high 400’s to just over 100 and feel comfortable with the amount I now have.
    All the reducing of things in other areas has freed up time so I can have more time to do what I enjoy and that is cooking.

    • Good for you Mich, 300 is a lot of decluttering. We all have our weaknesses and I am sure that my crafting supplies take up more room than your cookbooks so who am I to judge.

  17. Wow! Just trying to imagine almost 500 Cook Books! Even 100 is hard to think about. I decluttered a lot of cookery books when we remodeled our kitchen in 1997 and since thn I haven’t added many to the few I kept. They are used quite a lot. However I do frequently use 2 school exercise books of recipes I have written out over the almost 43 years we have been married. I was also ruthless with magazine clipped recipes a couple of years ago although I think they need culling again! This decluttering is a never ending task and it’s good when you direct my attention to another area that should be thought about. However there are still several areas that were on my own ‘To Do ‘ list this year which are still there waiting for my attention.

    • Linda – I was also wowed by the number of recipe books and then I remembered how many of us here are crafters, scrap bookers, book lovers or DVD collectors, it’s just we’ve never had such a dedicated foodie amongst us.

      There is a new series on TV being advertised on one of the channels and each week they look at a couple of new crafts that are done competitively and the host has to learn and compete within a week, I told my husband I am not to look at that programme… Lead me not into temptation and all that.

  18. About 7 or 8 years ago we went away for a 2 week vacation. While we were gone a 2 gallon plastic jug of water broke and saturated my 15 or so cookbooks. At first I was devastated, I’d had some of the books for years and years. I threw them all out as they were ruined. The more I thought about replacing them, the more I decided I didn’t want to. The water disaster turned out to be a blessing, it would have been hard to get rid of some of the cookbooks. The “mini flood” made the decision for me. I have not missed the books at all, and like many of you, I get most of my recipes online. I am putting more and more recipes on Evernote, that way, I have them with me if I’m grocery shopping and have forgotten to write ingredients for a certain dish.

    • Hi Barbara – I completely understand how you felt at the time of the mini flood. Colleen has posted before about “if there were a disaster – fire/flood – what would you replace and what would you not miss at all?” It’s a good thing to ponder. I haven’t heard of Evernote, but that sounds neat to be able to access the recipe while shopping. I’m going to have to check that out . . . . when I get a phone that has internet. (I’m assuming that’s how Evernote is accessed when you are shopping?)

      • Hi Michelle, right you are about Evernote – it’s an App for a smart phone, it’s very handy but you do need a smart phone or tablet to use it while shopping.

  19. Waitrose supermarket gives away a free paper every weekend , containing food related articles and lots of interesting recipes and each season a beautifully produced booklet of seasonal recipes. Then there are regular magazines they also produce , again containing lovely recipes. If I am not careful I clip far too many, put them in my recipe file (I do make some of them, a few several times). Yesterday I decided to just put an unread paper and unread Summer booklet straight into the recycling without risking recipe-clipping temptation!

  20. Mich – Im in the North Island, Bay of Plenty. Yes its a good all round cookbook. A few months ago a 1st Edition Edmunds Cookbook was on Trade Me Auction, it had a huge bidding war over it. Ive also seen original baking powder tin cannisters go for big dollars.

  21. I have a huge pile of recipes pulled out of cooking magazines, plus a huge stack of magazines I haven’t even read yet and another box of recipes on 3×5 index cards, some of which i’ve used and others I haven’t. I keep meaning to get through them, but I know it will be a large and daunting task, unless I just get rid of (recycle) the whole pile of recipes and magazines, which I’ve thought about doing. Then, all I’d be left with are the ones on 3×5 notecards, of which there are still plenty. A new and streamlined system is in need for my home and my sanity.


  1. […] my attention again while decluttering with my friend. Also boundaries was mentioned by Vicki K on Tuesday in a comment regarding the boundaries she has set for her cookbooks. You might remember the much […]