If you’re anything like us, you have a robust home cookbook library—maybe too robust. In the spirit of spring cleaning (and keeping yourself busy if you need distractions during the coronavirus quarantine), here are expert tips on curating and organizing your cookbook collection.
In the years before Pinterest and food blogs became regular resources for aspiring and home chefs, it was all about the cookbook collection. Those beautiful books would look great in the kitchen and offer up plenty of cooking inspiration for people at every level of culinary experience (or, perhaps more appropriately, inexperience). As Pinterest and food blogs have gained popularity, however, these cookbooks have become less essential for many, and may instead be gathering dust or taking up valuable real estate in your home.
Still, it’s hard to let go of them!
Related Reading: The Best Modern Classic Cookbooks by Women
“Cookbooks represent our idealized versions of ourselves,” Lucy Milligan Wahl, founder of San Francisco home organization company LMW edits, says. For example, “the person I want to be cooks from scratch every night, throws fabulous dinner parties, and can whip something wonderful up on a moment’s notice.”
Cooking aspirations aside, it’s important to maintain a streamlined, organized cookbook collection, especially if space is at a premium in your house or apartment. Use these eight tips from professional home organizers to help you curate your existing collection and make smart purchasing decisions about new cookbooks to ensure you have the best, most useful selection at your fingertips.
1. Think Objectively About How Often You Use Each Cookbook
Before you make any big decisions about which cookbooks to keep and which to donate, start by organizing your collection by type of cuisine. From there, you can think about how often you use each one and how meaningful they are. “If [a cookbook] ranks up there with regard to meaning and usage, it is a keeper,” Wendy Silberstein of The Aesthetic Organizer says. “If it has collected dust over time and no longer bears importance, donate it.”
2. Consider How Your Eating Habits or Preferences May Have Changed
That stack of baking cookbooks you’ve been carting around for the last decade or so is probably going to continue gathering dust if you’ve cut out gluten or reduced your sugar intake. The low-carb or paleo cookbooks you bought when you were testing out those diets are of absolutely no use if you’re no longer sticking to those regimens.
Amanda Wiss, founder of NYC-based home organization company Urban Clarity, recommends reviewing your existing cookbook collection based on the way you eat and cook now and the way you anticipate eating and cooking in the immediate future. Don’t hold on to ghosts of diets and cuisines past in the form of old cookbooks!
3. Take the Aesthetic Value of a Cookbook into Account
“A hardcover cookbook will always be a treasured item,” Silberstein says. “The images and story translate beautifully in a hardcover version. Hardcover cookbooks deserve a dedicated space in a kitchen or adjacent space where shelving can be dedicated to the curated assortment.” Pinterest and food blogs may be great resources, but they can’t necessarily give you the same warm and fuzzy feelings as a beautiful cookbook in your hands!
Follow Silberstein’s advice by reviewing your existing collection and prioritizing the books that are so aesthetically beautiful that you know they deserve a place of honor in your home.
4. Lean Toward Cookbooks Written by Chefs, Not Celebrities
Michael Sultan—who is not only the chef at Philadelphia boutique catering company 33rd Street Hospitality, but is also married to professional organizer Angela Ficco of Angie Organizes—is a big believer in the value of cookbooks…even in the age of Pinterest. “Chefs work tirelessly to create these cookbooks,” Sultan says. “They test, test, and retest these recipes and it’s another medium to represent their craft.”
That being said, if you’re hoping to pare back your collection or to curb your cookbook shopping in the future, Sultan suggests avoiding cookbooks written by celebs and other entertainment personalities.
5. Think About Whether You Can Learn the Techniques Better Online
As you’re curating your cookbook shelf, Wiss suggests evaluating the methods explained in each and asking yourself if you can pick up any of those methods more effectively using a video. If so, it may be time to donate those books. (Of course, you may need to wait a while to do that in the current environment, but pencil in a trip to Goodwill when social distancing restrictions lift!)
6. Challenge Yourself to Cull Your Collection to a Specific Number or Space Allotment
If you’re not sure where to start with cutting back on the cookbooks taking up space in your home, Ficco suggests giving yourself a cold, hard number to work with. Are there 20 cookbooks in your kitchen? Commit to cutting that down to seven, ten, or some other number that feels reasonable.
“Alternatively, you can give yourself a space limitation,” she says. “For example, ‘I must only keep what fits on half of this shelf because I need the other half for spices.’”
7. Find Another Way to Preserve Recipes with Sentimental Value
Cookbooks can be especially difficult to let go of because of the emotions and memories tied up in them. If, for example, your aunt gifted you a cookbook at your wedding shower and earmarked her favorite yellow cake recipe or you inherited your grandmother’s favorite cookbook, it’s not going to be easy to part ways with those items…even if you rarely crack the bindings!
To help manage this issue with her own clients, Wiss often tears out cookbook pages (especially the ones with old handwriting or stains!) or photocopies special recipes, then compiles them into a binder. The books those pages come from can be donated or otherwise given away. This allows you to save valuable space in your home without totally letting go of the pieces of those cookbooks that are most meaningful to you.
Russell + Hazel 3-Ring Marble Binders, $28-$36 on Food52
8. Let Go of the Pressure to Keep Every Gift
“When it comes to gifts, the act of giving and receiving is the most powerful part of the process,” Wahl says. “The giver feels great because they expressed their love and thoughtfulness, and the receiver feels great because they know they’re loved and thought of. Whether or not you keep the actual gift, both of you will always have the beautiful experience of giving and receiving.”
Just because you love a gift giver doesn’t mean you have to love the gift they gave you until the end of time! If you never use it, it’s OK to donate it so someone else can use and enjoy it more.
Header image courtesy of Food52