Friday, July 31, 2009

Stump the Organizer! How To Organize Recipe Clippings

This week's question is from Betty:

"I like to clip recipes from magazines and the newspaper. Last year I saw an episode on one of those organizing shows where the organizer said clippings should be stored in a three-ring binder. But it seems like my clippings never make it to the binder and worst I don't even feel like trying out any of the recipes because of the disarray. What am I doing wrong?"
Betty, thank you so much for sending me this question.

I think your experience exemplifies one of the guiding principles of organizing: organizing strategies and tools must be individualized. So the short answer to your question, "What am I doing wrong?", is "nothing."

There are two "flavors" of recipe clippings, in my experience: "tried it and loved it" and "want to try it." The first thing to do is to separate the former group from the latter. You'll be able to find a loved recipe faster to make it again if it's not mixed in with the untried recipes. Let's face it, there are a lot more untried recipes than there are tried recipes, and the number of untried recipes increases regularly.

The simplest way to keep the number of untried recipes under control is to limit the size of the collection, and the easiest way to do this is by the size of the container. Promise yourself that you will clean out the recipe clippings if the container gets full. What to cull? The recipes that seemed like good ideas at the moment but upon reflection there is no way you'll make them, let along eat them. Recipes that are really old and still haven't been tried are also candidates for the recycle bin.

Considering the volume of new clippings, it is best to use simple containers. The sections of an accordion file provides some organization by category. Put the newest recipes in the front of each section so when it's time to cull recipes you can focus on the oldest ones. Some folks may not like "digging things out" of the accordion file though. Another solution, but a bit more restrictive, is to put the recipes in a magnetic sheet photo album. Use the glue-on tabs to organize the collection by categories. There really isn't a way to easily distinguish old recipes from new recipes if the photo album is used, though.

At the NAPO Conference this spring I saw a new product called Recipe Nest. Recipe Nest is a attractive binder-sized box that holds your recipe clippings. Dividers organize the collection by categories. Just toss in your clippings. Plus the box is ingeniously equipped with a clip on the front and a built-in easel on the back - so your recipe is easily read during a cooking session. One Recipe Nest for untried recipes and another for tried recipes and your entire clippings collection can be organized with a minimum of effort.

Back to the three-ring binder that Betty tried: I think the three-ring binder is a possible storage solution for the "tried it and loved it" collection. Add subject dividers to create recipe categories. The plastic page protector allows both sides of a recipe to be viewed. Artistic folks can decorate the binder. But if the binder leaves your artistic side unfulfilled, consider making a scrapbook of favorite recipes.

One of my clients created a tribute scrapbook to her grandmother complete with the grandmother's recipes from the "old country." The grandmother's handwriting in her native german added to the charm of the scrapbook. Photos and little momentos were part of the scrapbook of course, but the use of grandmother's apron as a scrapbook cover was brilliant and touching.

Typically the number of recipes that make it to the "keeper" collection is relatively small so this group lends itself to more complicated methods of storage. But recipes get clipped for trying pretty freequently so a fast, simple way to store them makes sense. The underlying organizing principle is the frequency of use is partially driving how an item is stored. Personal preference is also a factor, which is why organizing must be individualized.

The bottom line: Betty, don't feel bad about that binder! Maybe it should only be used for the recipes you love.
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