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Best way to box up cookbooks for long-term (2-3 years) storage?

OK, I've done a few cookbook culls in recent years, but I still have too many cookbooks I'm not using. These are books I've cooked from and loved, but just don't have the time or head space for right now. I hope that will change in the next few years and that I'll be ready to cook from these books in a few years.

I'd like to box these beloved books up for a while to make some space.

Honest question: what is the best way to pack up books for storage?

Do I lie them flat or on their spines or what? Cardboard boxes or plastic totes? Also, I'd like store them in the basement, because that's where I have space, but like most basements, it can get pretty damp (even though we run a dehumidifier throughout the spring and summer). Is there a way to protect them from mildew by putting silica packets in there or something? And, finally, any thoughts on the optimal sized boxes?

Thank you!


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  1. The Library of Congress has you covered: http://www.loc.gov/preservation/about...

    And no, storing in the basement is *not* recommended.

    Having had to box up books during my recent home renovation, I can say this; keep the boxes small. Books are heavy, dammit! Even a medium-sized storage box from Home Depot filled with boxes can be a challenge.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mcsheridan

      Thank you, wow, that's pretty sobering.


      1. I keep papers in two of the currently available plastic boxes you can get at Staples or Office Depot -- are those "totes"? -- and even after five years, I can still smell the chemical compound they are made from. I don't find my documents smelly, though.

        I don't know how books would do in such an environment -- not a choice I have to make today -- but I am purposely not using them to store CDs because I don't want to expose the CDs, their booklets, or their jewel cases to whatever makes the plastic boxes stink. Instead I keep my stored CDs in cardboard boxes (some are still on shelves).

        1. OK, these links make me feel like I shouldn't be permitted to own books at all! No wooden shelves allowed! Don't let your books get dust on them! (Live in the real world much?) Don't let your books lean!

          Good grief.

          ETA: this is obviously not going to be as easy as I imagined if I want to ensure they won't get damaged. :(


          10 Replies
          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Exactly. When you say beloved, what you don't want is to come back in 2.5 years (or more, best-laid plans and all that) and find one or more precious possessions mouldered, gone brown, whatever.

            Of course, wooden shelves are what we all are pretty much used to, and for books in use, I doubt it's a biggie. They are archivists and are thinking both optimally, and really seriously long-term.

            Still, it doesn't take long for other storage errors to cause damage, so look for archival storage boxes, and good luck.

            1. re: mcsheridan

              Thank you. Sorry to be crabby. I was just hoping for an easier solution to the current problem of having no time and feeling overwhelmed. :) But, if I wasn't prepared to hear the answer, I shouldn't have asked!

              It's really good info to have, so thank you very much.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                When I broke up my mother's home a year ago, I took the cookbooks that I don't already own and paid my youngest $8 per book to scan them into my computer. I then burned CD roms for each sibling and my older kids. I gave the books to our library charity book sale. I have an unfinished basement not suitable for book storage.

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    If you are interested in having this done consider reaching out to the local high school or even a nursing home. When my dad was relegated to a wheel chair he volunteered to do scribe and copy work at the local historical society where he essentially did what Bagelman mentioned. When my Aunt wanted to transfer a lifetime of photos to disc she recruited the high school photo club to do it for a nominal fee plus supplies.

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        Home Ec is making a comeback in some school so maybe even a culinary class might be interested or the culinary program at a local vocational school. You could offer to donate the cookbooks in exchange for them scanning.

              2. re: The Dairy Queen

                Boxing them up for a couple of years probably won't be a problem. I'd put them in some plastic bins with locking lids to help with the moisture problem. It won't be 100%, but at least you have better insurance against floods and the like.

                As for letting the books go - you have a young child, and very young children don't give you the headspace for serious cooking. As a mother of a 2 year old, I sympathize heartily. BUT I also have a 7 year old, and I can see from her that this overwhelmed all the time feeling is just a season, and you'll probably return to the kitchen at some point.

              3. After a couple of international relocations, I would wholeheartedly suggest you just let them go to be a part of someone else's life.

                I know it's hard to let go of stuff (believe me, I do) -- but if you have already ascertained that you're not going to use them in the near future, then don't let them weigh you down, either. We found boxes after both moves that we hadn't unpacked after a year or two...if you haven't used it (or even thought about it...)in a year or two, the chances of your EVER using it are slim and none. Let it go.

                With eBay and Amazon and Half.com just a few keystrokes away, you can always purchase something you wish you hadn't gotten rid of.

                21 Replies
                1. re: sunshine842

                  Yeah, I'm suddenly realizing this isn't the quick and simple solution I thought it was. I need to reevaluate. Except for my very very favorites, it might just be time to let these books go for now.


                  1. re: sunshine842

                    Would it be dumb to say that letting these books go would feel like saying goodbye to part of my identify and that I'm not totally sure I'm ready to say this may no longer be a part of me...or that it might not be a part of me again for a long while?


                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      Not at all. We all have what others might feel are irrational connections to things we have lovingly collected over the years. Letting go is always difficult.

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        not at all, because I felt the same way about my collection.

                        I had no options, because I was paying by the pound for our move...and it killed me to let them go.

                        By the time we got to our destination, with all the stress, I was mostly glad to not have one more stinking box of anything to unpack.

                        I think about those books I got rid of...but like past loves, I've yet to miss them enough to try to replace them....

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          unless there are personal/individual notes in the margins it's so easy to replace it.

                          1. re: hill food

                            As someone who only makes notes in most-loved cookbooks, the presence of that many notes in my books would mean that they were too well-loved and well-used to get rid of.

                            My copy of Joy is so broken, dog-eared, and stained that it's almost unusable. I'm in the process of transcribing all the gibberish to a new copy.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              in your own personal twin-talk type language, right?

                              I know, I spent a week scanning my grandma's handwritten cookbook, partly for the notes, partly for the handwriting.

                              1. re: hill food

                                the page for roasted turkey is lined with notes for how long the turkeys would be in the oven for a half-dozen years, including the crazy T-day dinners we hosted in France (those include lbs/kg conversions). I'm toying with using those pages in some sort of collage.

                                I was given my grandmother's recipe box...my favorite is a recipe for a deadly alcoholic punch recipe -- on the back of a church offering envelope! :)

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  that punch recipe HAS to be scanned 'in situ' and reproduced either on church envelopes or clearly scanned from one!

                                  I can probably boost some.

                                  1. re: hill food

                                    I've never even made it, because it's got so much of so many liquors it mostly looks like a hangover waiting to happen -- but it makes me laugh every time I see it.

                                    My project is to scan all her recipes and bind them for all my cousins (along with interpretations -- I was the only one who was old enough to cook with her very much, so they still ping me on Facebook to make her recipes)

                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                          Here's a thread from last year where Breadcrumbs did a lot of 'purging' and a number of us did the same:


                          I found it quite easy but then I purge all sorts of books periodically. The library loves getting them.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            Actually, it was a thread I posted prior to that talking about my cookbook purge that inspired breadcrumbs to post that thread and start on her own journey of purging. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8835...

                            All the books that are left are ones I really love and want to keep but don't have time to cook from right now. I don't want to purge them. I want to put them away for awhile.


                          2. re: The Dairy Queen

                            If you are saving a book for one or two recipes,, maybe check the 'net to see if they are listed anywhere before parting with the books?

                            (I had to store over 30 years of books, some valuable, some signed, some old favorites for about 6 months, only one or two cookbooks however and lost them all to a flood. I was pretty devastated for a couple days. But, I do have to say my next move was a lot easier.)

                            1. re: delk

                              or make a copy of that page and put it in a binder (or scan it to a computer)

                            2. re: The Dairy Queen

                              I think of my books as my leafy friends, so no, it's not going too far. That said, I am selling my beloved friends on Amazon. I realize this is not a course open to you as it is time consuming and can be frustrating.

                              I decided that I need to be able to move my furniture without spending days just moving books. I finally decided to sneak the idea of letting go of my books past myself by incorporating the deed into a larger task of "simplifying" my life. Once I started the process it got easier, but there are some books that will forever be mine.

                              Years ago I saved up for months to purchase a limited edition leatherbound signed set of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I LOVE these books. But they take up shelf space and I saw that the set was getting a very good price so I put them up on Amazon, thinking nobody would ever pay so much money. A couple weeks later I got a lovely request from somebody in The Netherlands asking if I'd be open to shipping them overseas. I looked up shipping, and told him that I was sorry but the cost to send them was too high. He wrote back and suggested I simply bump up the price of the books. I hemmed, I hawed, I ended up selling them. Just last week I got a lovely note about how thrilled he was to get the books and that he will take very good care of them. Kindred spirit, indeed. It made the wrenching decision a sweet choice.

                              I see you've already made your choice. Please remember your books when it's nice outside, and let them air for a bit every so often. And adding desiccant might be a good idea. I am hoping for the best for your own leafy friends.

                              1. re: MplsM ary

                                I'm trying to heart this, but can't get it to work. :( Sweet story, thank you for sharing.


                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  I am buying digital books these days, but not being able to write notes in the margins, or dog-ear corners to get to the good parts when I re-read a book (and yes, I know I can approximate this digitally), leaves me wanting. As Heinlein predicted, the flavor is just not the same.

                                  The note taking is even more important for cookbooks. I have worn out my scanner in taking down the notes Mom put in recipes. Sadly most of those books wind up in the recycling bin as even charitable organizations have no use for them.

                                  Oy, the divestiture of books can be painful!

                                  Thanks for the attagirl. You too!

                                  1. re: MplsM ary

                                    You know, one of my biggest problems with digital books is that you can't gift them. The license dies with you.


                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      On Amazon, if you are a Kindle owner (which I'm not), and you have friends or relations with Kindles (which I don't), you can lend your books. It's a limited cool idea.

                                      On the other hand, the ever growing library of free books is wonderful. I'm reading Captains Courageous and having a blast.

                                      The personality of books is completely lost in translation to digital. And yet I love the portability of hundreds of books on my tablet instead of having to figure out how many I can cram into my bag.

                                      Can you gift an ebook book with an inscription?

                                      1. re: MplsM ary

                                        Interesting points. I assume you can purchase an ebook as a gift, but I understand the license isn't transferrable.


                            3. As far as rubbermaid type storage of books long term in a MN basement, my MIL gave us a couple totes of my husband's college text books he told her he did NOT want to keep almost 10 years ago.

                              The books have hung out in our varied basements and are just fine. Eventually I'll toss them and take the containers, but now they seem quite happy sitting there.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: autumm

                                I found a box of cookbooks cleaning out my garage today ..they have been in a Rubbermaid type thing since my first move 18 years ago and the last seven in a coastal location with a hot as hell garage....they were still perfect .

                                1. re: autumm

                                  So, I've just boxed up about 5 boxes of books (and freed up about 4+ shelves). I have no idea where to put these boxes! I realize sticking them in a closet will be counter-productive as it will make my closets suddenly jammed full.

                                  I really think they are going to have to go in the basement, which I didn't really want to do, but I'm realizing it's probably my only choice.

                                  But if you successfully have kept books in your basement and Lala kept them in her garage, I think I'm going to chance it.


                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    It should be great. I would add we have a dehumidifier running from May to October. Otherwise we get basement mildew.

                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      at the very least put them up on blocks (or some kind of slats) not for fear of flooding as much as to just keep some air circulating underneath, nothing horrifies a bibliophile as much as seeing wood pulp (box or book) in direct contact with a concrete floor.

                                      1. re: hill food

                                        My parents lost several dozen books because of cardboard boxes, a cement floor, and a broken sump pump.

                                      2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        I have successfully kept books in our garage. I would use wine/liquor boxes that still have the flaps and tape them shut with packing tape. I think the books might have more chances of getting musty in your basement (even with the dehumidifier) rather than on a shelf in a garage.

                                        We're lucky enough to have a mostly finished walkout basement and still have a dehumidifier.

                                    2. I've often thought that every time I empty a case of wine, I should fill the box with books :) Wine boxes are a good size -- not too heavy when filled; and often a good shape for storing the books spine-up.
                                      We've kept books packed in boxes for years at a time, and they are mostly fine. Ditto for wooden shelves.
                                      As for humid basement: perhaps you could store the books under your bed instead?

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: KarenDW

                                        Can't store the books under my bed...that's where I keep the overflow artwork!

                                        But, I have carved out some space in the back of a very deep bedroom closet. As a practical matter, that space is almost unusable for anything I need to access frequently. So, we'll see.

                                        Thank you everyone for your advice.

                                        Also, I did photograph the contents of the boxes so I can find the books if I have a change of heart and ever need to.


                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen


                                          If you still have more books to box up, has anyone suggested lining the boxes with garbage bags? (I've read the thread, but don't recall seeing that idea...).

                                          Anecdote: Many moons ago, the Spousal Unit and I came home from a lovely dinner around the corner to find our cottage on fire. The Fire Dept was there in a matter of seconds, so the worst damage was from smoke and water. In the kitchen, we had a sort of tansu step chest of all his boxes of books (each cat had her favorite level...). When we finally got around to opening them (6 months after the fire) they were in perfect condition. He'd lined every box with a large plastic garbage bag.

                                          Maybe even a combo of plastic bags and dessicant packs.

                                          1. re: kcshigekawa

                                            I think you're the first to suggest garbage bags as liners, thank you. That's a pretty amazing story!


                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              You are most welcome!

                                              It was the second "event" of the year.

                                              #1 Spousal unit's truck was totaled while it was parked in my neighborhood (I had just moved in with him when we had the fire).

                                              #2 Two months later: Fire

                                              #3 Two months after that: Loma Prieta earthquake

                                              #4 Two months after that, we were visiting his parents for the holidays, and someone broke in to the house and stole all the Christmas presents.

                                              We were very happy to see the New Year...

                                              1. re: kcshigekawa

                                                wow, and I thought I had epic bad luck with vacations coinciding with political upheaval or environmental disasters...

                                      2. Do you have any friends that would be willing to store your books for you? I used that option many years ago for my wine collection when I was in transition between homes.