Downsizing your Cookbook Collection

I’m thinking it’s time to downsize my cookbook collection.  I’ve collected them for as long as I can remember, and like many other people, my cookbook collection is a source of wonderful memories of years of cooking for my family, entertaining, and generally dreaming about delicious food.

A Lifelong Cookbook Collection

My very first cookbook was a gift from my grandmother: a red-and-white checked beginner’s cookbook by Better Homes and Gardens. Its snappy illustrations of dishes such as “Saucy Hot Dogs” and “Flip-Flop Pancakes” hooked me from the start. Oh, I spent hours looking at that book!

I spent plenty of time in the kitchen in high school, too.  I mostly relied on recipes from on our trusty Southern Living Magazine subscription, and various plastic-spiral-bound cookbooks compiled by the ladies in our church congregation.  Most recipes included either a can of cream-of-something soup or a box of Jell-O (True confession: I still love to cook from those books!)

In college, my friends introduced me to The New Basics by Julie Russo and Sheila Lukins. It was my first “adult” cookbook. I read every recipe, mesmerized by the variety and the ingredients I had never even heard of. Dover Sole with Basil Chiffonade? These were the Basics? My cookbook collection bloomed over the years… bolstered by an annual Southern Living volume each Christmas, many visits to the second-hand bookstore, and many as gifts. I love them all.

Books Can Feel Irreplaceable

Of course, then the internet came along and recipes became easier to pull up on my phone or iPad. I still keep my cookbook collection in my office, though, and it makes up for at least half the books on the shelf. These days the vast majority of my cookbooks have gone unopened for more years than I care to admit. But, every now and then I do enjoy looking through some of my favorites for inspiration, or just a walk down my culinary memory lane.

Books are hard to part with. In my downsizing business, I see my clients struggling to let go of all sorts of books. Some people tell me they are the one thing they just can’t bring themselves to let go of.  I truly believe the thought of reducing book collections has kept some people in their homes longer than was practical or advisable.

I advocate for an early start if you need to downsize your cookbook collection.  It’s common for people to want a long good-bye with each one. I know for me, a lot of other books would be easy to give away, but my cookbooks feel personal, like old friends. Plus, I’m thinking once I’ve downsized, I’ll have time to make all of those recipes I’ve been eyeing for the last 25 years.

Downsize Your Cookbook Collection

Most of us will not have room in our next homes to house all of our books. The first pass at sorting can be easy, though: How many cookbooks do you have that you’ve never cooked from? Or maybe only made one recipe? I know I could probably fill a couple of boxes with cookbooks in that category.

If some of your cookbooks are damaged, go ahead and rip recipe pages out to save them. It feels weird but you’ll have to tear the covers off to recycle them anyway.

Next, deal with your favorites. The good news is that you can scan or snap photos of your favorite recipes from your cookbook collection before you part ways. If you find that there are too many recipes to scan out of any one book, maybe you’ve found a keeper. No one said you have to get rid of ALL of your cookbooks!

If you want to go nuts scanning everything in your kitchen and office, you can do that with one of the heavy-hitting scanners, like this one that is recommended by some of my professional organizer colleagues: it’s the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 Color Duplex Document Scanner. Read more about how a quality scanner can make your life easier here.

But what if you just want a small, low-cost scanner you could keep handy for cookbooks and mail? I did a little research on low-cost scanners that would accommodate books and magazines, and I like the looks of one I saw on Amazon:  Canon CanoScan LiDE220 Photo and Document Scanner.  

Selling Cookbooks

As with all books, people wonder if they can sell them. It’s entirely possible you have a few books in your cookbook collection that have resale value: maybe a first edition of a famous cookbook, a limited edition one, or a pristine copy of a new and popular publication, or one signed by the author; you get the picture.

For everything else, reselling books is not an easy way to make money. The vast majority of resale books go for about a dollar each. Try bookscouter.com to get an idea of what things are going for if you want to go that route.  But generally speaking, when you downsize your cookbook collection, donations will be your main tactic.

Donating Cookbooks

Once you’ve separated out any title you think you can sell, it’s time to downsize the rest of your cookbook collection. Donation is a great option, but you really have to be realistic about the condition. No one at all will want cookbooks that have pages stuck together with cake batter, coffee (or wine!) rings on the cover, or water damage. But those are likely your favorite ones anyway right? The ones that got counter time? But seriously, don’t try to donate books in poor condition. It’s not a good use of everyone’s time, and recycling is better in these cases.

On the other hand, people still generally enjoy looking at cookbooks, and you can often have luck offering them up for free on your neighborhood site, or dropping them at your favorite thrift store. The library will accept newer, popular titles in very good condition also.

 

Enjoy a New, Curated Cookbook Collection

This is hard to do, but my 25-year old collection of Southern Living Annual Recipes, all gifts from my mother, are on the way out as I downsize my cookbook collection. So are most of the cookbooks I have received as gifts or never cooked from.

When you’re downsizing, it’s up to you what you value and want to have with you in your new space. I’ll definitely be taking my New Basics and several other titles, including my beloved beginner’s cookbook from 1976.

Next, I’ll turn my attention to that two-foot-high stack of Cooks Illustrated Magazines. But, that’s a job (and a post!) for a different day.

 

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