HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


How do you choose what to keep when downsizing your cookbook collection?

After 50 years in the kitchen, it's time to cull. I'm not concerned about what to do with the ones I decide to part with, as I've got a lot of options. But what criteria do you use for keeping vs donating/selling?


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I regret every book I gave away when I downsized my collection several years ago. But I have to say that it's been fn building it back up again!

    1. 1. Whether I have used it at all during the past year.

      2. Does it have sentimental value.

      3. How expensive was it.

      4. Is it an antique.

      If it meets any of those criteria, I keep it.

      4 Replies
      1. re: diablo

        That's a top notch set of criteria, diablo. I hadn't enumerated them, but those are the ones I used when I pared my collection down prior to a cross country move earlier this year.

        1. re: ccbweb

          Thanks ccbweb. My own criteria actually forced me to buy a bookcase for just my cookbooks, though. I just can't seem to stop myself from purchasing more---and, believe me, any sane person would have stopped a looong time ago :)

          1. re: diablo

            Just one bookcase? I'm working on my third...(floor to ceiling).

        2. re: diablo

          Thank you so much for this! I am preparing to make my first move in over five years and this helps so much!

        3. oldhound, do remember that nowadays we have the Net. Sure, the pleasure of cookbooks is not just looking up a recipe for say artichokes - chicken and lemon, but I find I've been hesitating to buy certain cookbooks that would have had much appeal ten or 20 years ago.

          Are you moving into a smaller house or apartment after empty nest or retirement? Then you do have to be a bit brutal.

          1. I've only kept the ones with charts and information/references inside: Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (inside cover has cooking times and temps and a substitution chart) and Joy of Cooking (lots of hints within a recipe or section..."about spices" tells you curry should be blended for each recipe and used dry to coat meat, and sour for marinated meat)....how to bread and fry (when you get to the egg wash, make sure it isn't bubbly or the breading won't adhere evenly)

            All other recipes I can get from the internet.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Cathy

              When I was downsizing I made copies of the charts, which I have in plastic page protectors taped to the inside of the cabinet door by my stove. Sometimes the chart was the only thing I used in the book - so now I have the info and more room for the books I do use!

              1. re: meatn3

                Ha. I copied the cuts of meat drawings and have those taped to the inside of the cabinet door next to the stove...

                ...and never thought of the charts.

                <Synapses. Need two.>

                1. re: Cathy

                  Oh, I like that idea! I finally mounted all my bits of notes to sheets of paper and went with the page protector method when I moved. It has worked well for me. I also have my holiday checklists/countdown notes there as well, tucked behind the more frequently used cheat-sheets!

            2. I cleaned out my collection of cookbooks and magazines a few months back and it was difficult. I got rid of most of the magazines, save for a few collector's issues or ones that were sentimental favourites. As for getting rid of actual books, I donated all of the ones that didn't have that special 'something': I never cooked from them and would never sit down on a rainy day just to read through them, as I do with all my favourites. A lot of them were gifts or bargain bin purchases that seemed like a good idea at the time. If it doesn't inspire you, get rid of it.

              1. I just listened to ""It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff" by Peter Walsh, book on CD. The author suggests that set a certain amount of time (a month for example) and every time you use a cookbook, put a sticky note on that page, sticking up like a bookmark, then cull from your collection by getting rid of the ones with no or the fewest stickies.

                1. About 6 years ago we moved from a large house to a quite small one. From my collection of several 100 cookbooks, I moved about 100 or so. I chose to move the ones that are used often, referred to or read and re-read. Many of the ones that moved are 30 or so years old and much treasured. I can't help it, but I have bought several (many?) since we moved. Cookbook shelves are now, again, overflowing and it is time to weed out more because new ones won't fit. What is it about cookbooks???

                  1. I sort of split my collection under three headings - reference, reading and recipes. I try to keep the reference section (glossary of cooking terms, basic oven temps for different meats, conversion charts, etc) down to one or two tomes. Reading - I only keep those I re-read regularly, which is maybe 10 of them. And recipes are ones I go to for inspiration and how-to. That's about 20.

                    The best rule with cookbooks is, every time you buy a new one, you have to get rid of one you already have.It seems more manageable that way, getting rid of one at a time.And just like clothes I've given away, I've never thought back and wished I hadn't given _that_ one away! Out of sight, out of mind.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Gooseberry

                      So far, I haven't seen anyone talk about using technology to save recipes. We all own cookbooks that contain only a few go-to recipes. In that situation, I scan my few favorites and save the digital images. This lets me hang on to my recipe gems without having to hang on to the whole cookbook.

                    2. Oh, I'm so the wrong person to ask. I don't hoard anything except for cookbooks. I think I may have a cookbook collection disorder. I haven't even cooked out of several of them, but I like them just to read like a novel. And I've got some that I know I'll probably never use but I just can't bear to part with them for some strange reason.

                      But if I REALLY had to give some away, I'd go through all my books and photocopy the recipes I'd like to make again and would like to try in the future and put it in a binder (or two or ten). Then I'd get rid of all of my books except for the ones with sentimental value (my mom's stained spiral notebook with recipes in her own handwriting).

                      And I just ordered $300 worth of cookbooks from Amazon a couple of days ago! And I went through the list several times asking myself, "Do I really NEED it?" before I pared it down to just $300.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        I love reading posts like this. I'm so glad it's not just me! :) I love, love, love my cookbooks and the very thought of having to cull any of them actually makes me break out into a cold sweat. I don't necessarily cook out of all of them. Sometimes I like them for the pictures, as a reference source, or just plain reading pleasure. That said, I have a few that I purchased on bargain tables etc. that I could probably part with without too much pain and they are probably going to make their way to the library book sale in the Spring.

                        1. re: flourgirl

                          This is why I visit this site. I feel semi-normal here! : )

                          Actually, reading this thread some more, I think I'm going to simplify my life and photocopy every recipe that I have made that is worthy of making again and put it in a binder. So when it's time to make something that I know will work, I'll have it in one place instead of going through all of my books. I was keeping a file of all my recipe notes in the computer. But there is nothing like touching a real book with real paper. I'll never get into Ebooks.

                        2. re: Miss Needle

                          Thanks to everyone for all the sane and sage practical advice and the commiseration. I enjoyed and value the varying points of view. After an absence of some months, it was fun to meet some new (to me) voices. To perform the suggested assessments may take me a lot of time, but the journey of a thousand miles,etc....

                          Many thanks again!

                        3. This was good for me to read. My situation has gotten out of hand. I no longer have any room to put away the new books that -- in some cases -- I really need for what I do!

                          Many of my books are autographed by my friends (who wrote them), and I hesitate to get rid of those. However, I need to pare at least one whole shelf of my "Wall of Cookbooks," and you are giving me inspiration!

                          Worse than the books, are all the sheets of recipes I've printed out from here and other great recipe sites. I can't possibly live long enough to make all those recipes. I'm going to attempt to just put the whole pile of untried recipes into the trash. I CAN find them again on line, can't I????? ;>0

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: ChefJune

                            I scanned an entire file cabinet onto discs (4 drawer)last winter.Having a young family member to hire,help on the cheap is useful.Books just won't go.Way too much status in this house to be healthy,so what.It could be a "bad" habit instead.

                            1. re: lcool

                              I went through 50 books I had accumulated over 33 years; there were some that I made 2 recipes out of the whole book so I ripped out those pages and recycled the books, most of my books were out of date and uninteresting.

                          2. I love cookbooks, but when it comes time for the cull, all sentimentality goes out the window.

                            If I have never cooked out of it, it goes.

                            If I can't find three recipes in it that I'd like to make soon, it goes (that's also my criteria for buying/not buying).

                            If I've been unhappy with the recipes I've cooked from it, it goes.

                            I know the internet is a great resource, as others have mentioned, but I like books. I don't keep my computer in the kitchen, and I just like having the book there to flip through when I need inspiration. I just try not to buy too many of them.

                            1. My method is to flick through any book I'm unsure of keeping. If I fnd myself sitting down to read it, I keep it. If it doesn't suck me in within a minute or two, it goes. Most books it's easy to decide about however - and I've kept about 1 in 3 books in each 'cull' I've done.
                              If there's a particular recipe or two I use in a culled book, I copy them into a handwritten recipe/cuttings cookbook. Magazines get cut up and the kept recipes pasted into the same books.

                              1. Once you have decided which books you are willing to part with, two good places to check on a book's current asking prices are amazon.com and bookfinder.com. Many cookbooks that are currently out of print sell for quite a bit more than their original MSRP. You mnight be surprised how much cash you could raise, depending on the books that you own, their current condition and availabilty in the marketplace. Even used books currently in print can still sell for a substantial percentage of their original price, depending on condition.

                                1. Confession: of my 500+ cookbooks, I paid cover price for fewer than 50. The bulk have come from antique malls and yard sales, or old-book stalls at flea markets (I sold off about half my collection in a yard sale before leaving Nashville, but almost immediately found what a gold-mine those sales can be in Pasadena!). If it looks interesting and the price is right, it comes home. Sometimes I'll find, on closer examination, that it's just not a particularly great book; once in a while I find myself actively disliking the author, or see that I'm looking at a lot of fatally flawed recipes. More often I simply discover that I've had no reason to look into this or that book in a long time, and if a quick review of it turns up no good reason to keep it then it's out. I don't usually resell these losers per se, but periodically take a stack to a favorite used-cookbook seller and do some horse-trading. If I can get a good Shirley Corriher book for two Pol Martin things plus a spare copy of that show-offy Vincent Price thing, I've made a bit of room for myself and gotten a good book besides.

                                  I don't need to cook from a book much to keep it, but it must be either a good source of ideas or fun to read. If it's both, I'll never get rid of it, unless it falls apart and I can get another copy.