5 Signs It’s Time to Get Rid of a Cookbook

published Feb 25, 2018
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Like most books, cookbooks are hard to part with. They can carry the sentimental weight of recipes you’ve loved, or dreams of the sort of cook you hoped to become, or the disappointment of diets failed, or meals that turned disastrous. But the reality is that most of us have only so much storage space for cookbooks, and at some point you may have to pare down.

The key is to assess where you are now, where that cookbook fits into your life, and whether it’s worth holding on to or if you’d be better off clearing the space (physical and mental) for something else. Here are five signs it’s time to get rid of a cookbook.

1. It’s never been opened.

Maybe you went to a talk or book signing and ended up with the cookbook, or bought it at your kid’s school auction, or acquired it in a gift bag. And it’s been sitting around since you got it home. If it’s been years and you’ve literally never cracked the spine, you can let it go. True, some cookbooks are more like works of art, designed to be displayed on your coffee table or kitchen shelving instead of used as a nightly reference. If you just like the cookbook for looks, that’s totally fine — as long as you have space!

2. It’s covered in dust.

When we got married, friends of ours gave us a lovely cookbook full of beautiful, labor-intensive recipes to serve two people. We certainly enjoyed a few meals from it! But now that we’re a family of four, it’s just not relevant. If we’re dining ầ deux, it better be either at a restaurant or on the sofa — no fussy, romantic meals at home with dishes to clean up after! Same goes for baby food cookbooks once your kids are in school, cocktail recipe books when you only drink wine, or Paleo/vegan/gluten-free cookbooks if you’re just not eating that way anymore. Those books are relics from the past. Let your collection evolve with you.

3. You literally can’t read the recipes.

Oh, these are the hardest ones to part with! If you’ve spilled and stained a book to the point where the pages are stuck together and the words are covered in pasta sauce, it might be time to let it go. Chances are, this cookbook served you well as a novice cook, but now you’ve memorized all the best recipes. At this point, you’re probably only holding on to it for sentimental reasons — which is a totally legitimate reason to keep it, if you have the space! If you don’t, though, have a Marie Kondo moment: Hold the cookbook, thank it for all it’s given to you, then put in in the trash. Or take a photo and write an ode to the book on social media (or frame it for the kitchen!). Then let the physical book go.

4. You tend to get all your recipes online these days.

Even though I have cookbooks I use regularly, for simple weeknight meals I’m much more likely to go online or pull up a recipe in an app than to open a cookbook. That’s fine, but if it’s been years since you cracked an actual cookbook, you don’t really need them anymore. Keep them if you like the way they look and have the storage space, but if you don’t, embrace the way you cook now and let them go.

ICYMI: We have recipes online here!

(Image credit: Michelle Tam)

5. Your shelf is totally overflowing.

When you run out of space, you have to declutter. Simple as that. While it can be heartbreaking to think of cookbooks as clutter, if they’re so stacked or jammed into your space that they’re hard to browse, they start being becoming a burden. So pick the cookbooks you only sometimes reference, photocopy or write down the recipes you love, and donate the book.

More on Organizing and Caring for Your Cookbooks

Have you gotten rid of any cookbooks lately? Which ones? Was it painful or were you happy to see them go?