Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Recipe for Clutter

Years and years ago, I had accumulated enough recipe clutter that I needed a way to organize it. I took an empty photo album, added tabs for the sections, and slid the recipes under the plastic. The tabs say things like “Main Dishes,” “Salads,” etc. The binder is big and red and full of favorites.

Well, not big enough. There are no more empty pages.

Now, when I tear a recipe out of a magazine, it has no clear destination. It sits on the counter for a few weeks, awaiting relocation. (Along with all the other clutter-orphans awaiting their own relocation.) Recipes are a recipe for clutter. Eventually, I stuff them into the front of the big red binder. Loose. Now the big red binder is REALLY big.

But it’s an unstable kind of big. Unstable as in when you pull it off the shelf, all the loose magazine clippings fall out all over the place.
Something had to be done.

So I sat down one day and culled the recipe pile. Created a big recycling pile and a little pile of sorted recipes. (In your Third Third, you know you are NEVER going to make something requiring more than five steps….) I put them in folders, but this time – after years of cooking – I had more specific categories: Pasta, Vegetables, Rice and Grains, Salmon. Eleven relatively thin folders. Plus one folder titled “Favorites,” those things that we dub: the repertoire.
And then it occurred to me: What if eggplant were in season and I wanted to cook with eggplant? What if the eggplant recipe was in Pasta or Rice? How could I find it? Pasta comes with other ingredients – how would I find them? And what about the wheat berry salad; does it go with Grains or Salad?

My friend Judith says the only solution is to make an index. She’s making an index. To me, an index is more than a to-do list item; it’s an insurmountable hurdle. It would need constant updating. Before I’d get to that, I’d make a list of all the movies I’ve seen so I’d stop coming home from the library with DVD repeats I don’t remember….

So I took the dilemma to my friend Sharon-of-the-400-cookbooks. Sharon has two file cabinet drawers of folders. Over time, just as I’d discovered, the categories refine themselves. Sharon’s “Meats” split off into “Beef Brisket” and “Lamb.” “Soups” spawned “Tomato Soups.” She has separate folders for “Avocados” and “Dates” and “Asian and Curries.” The problem Sharon is facing is that her favorites file is now two unwieldy files thick so she has to figure out some way of culling it.

Then I took the dilemma to my friend Marj. I’d remembered that Marj had a meticulous shelf full of white binders neatly labeled with her categories. Well, the four feet of binders is now eight inches of folders – a de-cluttering victory for Marj!

Marj sorts her folders by function, not by ingredients: “My big confusion is does beef stew go under Beef or under Stew or under Slow Cooker. Again, I look at the function – if I want to make a Crockpot meal, I only want to make a Crockpot meal, so everything Crockpot goes into one Slow Cooker folder, regardless of ingredients.”

All of us – good de-cluttering Third Thirders – are going through our cookbooks, identifying the keepers, copying them, and donating the cookbooks. In the meantime, Sharon puts flags on her cookbook pages. I’m going to start doing that because a good recipe tends to get lost in a closed cookbook, but Sharon even keeps a Dinner Party Journal citing the page numbers and cookbooks of what she prepared.
In my mother’s Third Third, when her last child left home; she ate out, brought home leftovers, and stopped cooking.

What’s your recipe for de-cluttering recipes?


  1. I have four levels: two original recipe boxes (my mother's and mine from my 20's), two albums with semi-organized recipe clippings, one family recipe album made on my second pc, and the app Paprika that I now use. I have thrown most away because I'll never make them. Really, I love recipes but don't like to cook. I did, however, keep a number of recipes from my youth, including chipper tuna casserole, Spanish noodles and Russian fluff. Haha!

  2. You need yourself an online recipe book.
    Organizing is so much fun.

  3. I have/had a file drawer full of recipes sorted into about 100 different folders. Most of the recipes were added before I had kids, which also happens to be before the internet. I have been gradually going through and tossing these files. Now I tend to use when I want a recipe and I have my own favorites file online.

  4. Hi! Thanks for sharing this clutter recipe, this is exactly what I was looking form. Cheers! :)


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