Recipe Re-Org

Cookbook shelf and new recipe binders (orange)

Cookbook shelf and new recipe binders (orange)

I’ve been collecting recipes on bits of paper forever – well, since 1987, and that is before some of my readers were born! You would think I’d have a system, but I don’t. They sit in a manila file folder which grows thicker and thicker: 3″. The folder itself is getting softer and softer and starting to disintegrate. I can barely pull it off the cookbook shelf.

About ten years ago I laboriously typed out all the recipes into a document and saved it. I thought I would print them out onto recipe cards, or just read them on the computer as needed. That was a complete failure. I like having it as a backup, but for me, there is nothing like handling a recipe that someone hand-wrote or dictated to me. Or something I clipped from a homemaking magazine or photocopied from a library book. Looking at the piece of paper brings back memories of who I knew and what I  did then. Just like a playlist!

Old recipe folder

Old recipe folder

This weekend I had a go at organizing the folder. The recipes were in no order except the most recently used were on top, and the never-used were at the bottom, with various strata in between! I pulled together a large assortment of stationery supplies that I already owned. (I have a serious trove of stationery supplies and even some scrapbooking stuff).

I wanted to be able to find recipes in a way that makes sense to me for the way I cook (or bake), so I developed the following categories:

Vegetarian Meals:

  • Salads
  • Soups
  • Sandwiches
  • Chilis and Stews
  • Curries and a Tagine
  • Risottos and Pilafs (what are the actual plural forms of these?)
  • Pasta Dishes and Sauces
  • Oven Meals (casseroles, loaves)
  • Other (omelettes, quiches, pancakes…)
  • Reference pages on which foods are grown locally and at what time of year


  • Breads
  • Quick Breads, Loaves and Muffins
  • Desserts (crisps, cobblers and puddings)
  • Cakes
  • Cookies (I also have a few recipes for squares/slices)
  • Candy (fudge, etc.)

and Misc (drinks, jams and jellies, granola…)

and I do have one section of meat and fish recipes I used to make. Maybe I can adapt some of them. Tofu à la King? More likely mushroom!



I now have two 3-ring binders, one for meals and one for all the rest. Each binder is tabbed into the categories, and all the recipes are put into plastic page protectors. If I need to see both sides, I put only one recipe in the sleeve. Otherwise they can go back to back. Since a lot of them are on small pieces of paper, they slide around in the sleeves. I have put sheets of paper or cardstock behind the recipes as needed. As a last resort, I will use photo corners to keep them in place. Definitely no glue, tape or paper clips! (And yes, the page protectors are archival!)

I’m thinking I can write notes on the backing paper about how I adjusted the recipe or when I made it.

The final stage, for next weekend, is to order the recipes in each category so my favourites are at the front, ones I’ve tried and liked are in the middle, and untested recipes are at the back of each section. They will get moved up if I try and like them. I have already turfed (recycled) all the recipes I’ve never tried and know I never will – mostly cut from magazines and food packages.

I have several cookbooks that I use often to make the same 2 or 3 recipes. I will copy those recipes into my binders so it is more of a complete reference. If I am not enamoured of the whole cookbook, it can go. I have already printed some recipes that I bookmarked online. A couple of my favourites were inexplicably taken down from their web sites! I can’t risk losing more of my favourites that way.

I am enjoying this project and it has inspired me to want to cook more. I’m wondering about my choices: I could have organized the meals into how long it takes to make them , or by season.

Although I do loads of modifications, I will never be someone who cooks without recipes. I think there is only one chili recipe I ever memorized! How about you?

And how do you organize your recipes?


  1. As a declutterer Dar, I’m pleased to hear the possibility of you turfing cook books – there’s certainly no end to them being printed!! I figure it’s cause they are a good gift! Even I have one or three as gifts!

    I use display folders like you, but cheap non archival ones, cause nothing in them is that special to me. And cause of those years in the loft, there’s some printed out from websites. I also have one ‘scrapbook’ style recipe book from my teens, and I tear out the ones I’ve cut out that I’ll never try… So, in the top cutlery drawers I have two display folders and a scrapbook for all the ‘common’ recipes, and the BF will mainly ‘google’ whatever he wants to make.

    • As you see, there is a full shelf of cookbooks, half mine and half Rom’s. Mine were mostly gifts. I use a few of the recipes but not enough to merit keeping them all. When I search out new recipes, it’s either online or in library books.

  2. My wife loves buying recipe books at estate sales with the owners notes written on what is good. Nothing like the personal touch.

  3. My recipe book is like this too but fifteen years later. I have an A4 ring bound blank notebook by now filled about four fifth. My categories are by main ingredient and has been growing chronologically. (see photo here: I go rid of most of my cookbooks a few years ago in the great move. I only kept about 5 (the man on the other hand has aaaaall of his, nothing I can do about that.)

  4. Fiona

    What a lot of organising – but how satisfying! Reading this makes me immediately want to collect binders, labels, dividers and pockets and fix the mess in my recipe cupboard!

    We have a closed cupboard over the oven that is perfect for Recipes and also for hiding ‘treats!’ We have 12 Recipe books now…I keep eyeing them off to declutter, but we actually use almost all of them constantly.

    I have one hand-written Recipe book from Uni days that’s hilarious – it contains such fantastic memories! Then I have my grown-up Recipe book with all my sensible, grown-up recipes in it. There’s also a Recipe Binder which makes me twitch – so messy with all those stained, cooked-on, scrappy recipes! Definitely needs plastic sleeves + organising!

  5. Very neat! I have ripped out recipes stuffed in book shelves, in books, in the filing cabinet. All awaiting me to organise. The ones I use are stuffed along side recipe books or in the crockery cupboard.

    Are those Village candles on the top shelf?

    • Those are Yankee Candles. I used to love Village candles but can’t get them anywhere. My favourite was Apple and Oak. Please tell me they are not online 🙂

      • I think they have gone out of business. I used to buy them from shops in Queensland – a 12 hour drive away. My favourite were ones so unlike Australians scents. Blueberry pie. Cinnamon apple. I think Yankee Candles are the only ones nearly, but not quite, the same. As I said, they are so different from the scents we get here. Was hoping I could still get them but will have to settle for Yankee ones.

        You are closer to that neck of the woods so if you locate them, let me know I am wrong in thinking they are no more. Not that I could buy them online. Posting candles would be too expensive.

      • Well, it appears they are online, but only ship to continental US. I would say the most popular scents here are anything to do with baking (vanilla, sugar cookie, gingerbread, pumpkin pie, cinnamon roll) Fall fruit ones, especially cranberry, and Christmassy ones like balsam fir and holly berry. Very curious what the usual scents are in AUS.

  6. Kris

    We have an exercise book with tried and trusted recipes, handwritten. The page with the recipe for chocolate has some cocoa stains. I guess I need to say no more! 😀

  7. We mostly only use recipes for things that we don’t cook all of the time, or for baked stuff where you need to get the proportions of ingredients just right.
    The greatest honor is that our friend’s children, who now have children of their own, are starting to call for recipes for the things that they ate at our house when they were growing up.

  8. I have print-outs of recipes that I want to try. If it makes the cut, then I handwrite it into a book that’s full of stains. LOL. I guess I should put the recipes all in a binder or something but it seems to me that the best recipes to be shared are written with stains on them. 🙂

  9. That’s awesome! Time well spent I’m sure 🙂

    Most of my go-to recipes are saved on pinterest (and of course some on my blog), but now you have me worried that they may disappear if the website goes away . . I might have to cut and paste my favorites over to word documents. We have an eat-in kitchen, so I usually cook with my laptop open on the table and go visit it when I need the next step or ingredient. The few paper recipes I have are stacked in the tiny space beside the dinner plates in the cabinet. The plastic protectors are a great idea!

  10. Margie in Toronto

    From Margie in Toronto – this is a project that is definitely on my radar! I am addicted to cookbooks – although I did manage a good clear out in the Spring. But during the latest de-clutter I did find a couple of boxes of recipes from my mom and a couple of binders that I had set up in the past! I can see this being a winter project for those dark, cold nights when I’m watching TV or listening to music – it’s going on the “To Do” list!

    • Hi Margie, How nice for you to have them! It would be an ideal winter project. I didn’t save mine for later because I have a stack of winter projects waiting for me. Plus it has been rainy here…

  11. mtandb

    When it comes to keeping recipes I’m a total minimalist! Ha! I don’t have anything printed or any cookbooks. If I want to add anything different to our menu (which rarely happens lol) I’ll search the Internet. I have owned cookbooks in the past, but haven’t held on to them.

    You did well with your organising project – I could spend hours doing stuff like that. I’m a minimalist who likes organising, but doesn’t have much left to organise 🙂

  12. Yes!! I have been doing this also. I have all of my cookbooks that I leave stickies in with suggestions for changes and those little sticking-out post its (it is late and I am forgetting official names for things) for if I loved a recipe. The bits of paper are now on pieces of card, organized into my card box. Felt great getting it all sorted!

    • Nice! I also use sticky notes or bits of paper in all my cookbooks with notes on them; same thing – how I changed the recipe, what I would do differently next time. Now I will slip the notes into the page protector with the recipe.

  13. I want to be exacting in my next life. I have many, many cookbooks. I can never find the one I want, so I usually do an internet search for the book plus the ingredients…and end up with the recipe. This “filing system” is not going to work as I get older.

  14. I have an extensive collection of recipes now in folders – cuttings from magazines etc. If I do not like them when I try them I clear them out. However I don’t tend to keep many cookery books as I photocopy the recipes I like and then get rid of the book. Every so often when I feel our weekly menus are getting a bit the same I have a delve into my collection and pull out something new to try. At one time I made Fridays the day when I would try a new recipe – hopefully I might get back to doing that one day!

  15. Dar, I have a problem with recipes. I rarely use a recipe to cook yet I copy or save recipes I think would be enjoyed by family get-togethers. Unfortunately I haven’t come up with a system I like yet. I’ve tried small notebooks with nice hard covers but invariably I find a new one that I’d like in the front of the book but that is filled up. I too thought about printing them and organizing them in a folder but for now I just deal with the notebook. As for cookbooks, I long ago got rid of the ones that only had a recipe or two that I liked. I copied what I used and passed them on.

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