How to decide what to keep

terri0628April 27, 2006

Hello Everyone,

I am so happy to find this forum. I have recently been visiting the decorating and kitchens forums and now really need this one!

We will be moving in approx. 1 month. We've been in our present home for over 17 years. I'm so overwhelmed with "stuff" and do not want to move anything that I don't want or need and I do have a plan in place to get rid of things. My problem is that this process is taking me forever. I start analyzing things and wondering if I really should get rid of them or not.

I'm not too much of a pack-rat and have donated loads of stuff over the years. Still, I still get bogged down by sentimental things such as certain toys (my son is now in high school!) and knick knacky things that I don't display anymore. I start thinking that these *could* be the collectibles of tomorrow. The reason I think about things like that is that I have come across vintage things in stores that I remember from my childhood and wish someone had kept. But is it worth it, really?

I have a specific target date for having this all done but sitting around analyzing every other item is not getting me anywhere. I guess I'd really like to know if anyone has ever regretted getting rid of certain things and if this is worth the fretting or if I should just become hard hearted and get rid of the stuff!

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Just a little advice, take it or leave it. When my two daughters were little, I put away only two toys, one for each as a "future collectible". A wooden train just like the one on Mister Rogers and a wooden shoe with laces "The old Woman in the Shoe." These toys are sturdy, well-crafted, not prone to rot. All the rest of their toys were weeded out regularly and donated, some to the pediatrician's office, others to charities. Some were just thrown away, pieces of legoos sets, dusty stuffed animals, etc. My kids are now 16 and 17, and the wooden toys are safely in the attic in storage. On the other hand, my mother had four children and she placed all our old toys in the basement, just piled them up against a wall. They have just sat there since the 1960's. They were not passed down when we married, nor when the grandchildren came. They are mostly dusty and moldy, some collapsed under the weight of the pile. There appears to be nothing of value in there. I mean, do you want to have an Easy Bake Oven from 1964 complete with scortch marks from the light bulb? My youngest sibling is 47 and the youngest grandchild is 16. No way anyone wants those toys now. Also, who are you selling to? My very limited experience with antique dealers and even garage sales is that everyone wants to buy low and sell high. Even if you have an original Barbie doll complete with the box, who are you going to sell it to, A collector for $100 or to a dealer for a quarter? And how do you find these "buyers" ? Does anyone really make a lot of money selling on Ebay? My ultimate suggestion, keep maybe one or two toys your son really cherished, and donate the rest. Moving to a new home should be an opportunity to get everything sorted and cleared out. Good luck to you!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2006 at 6:54PM
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stuff *might* be tomorrow's collectibles, but it also might not. It will be years before we know whether people want stuff from their childhoods, and how much it will be worth. Put a dollar value on your time and energy, and the space in your home.

Also, the only person who has a valid "sentimental reason" to keep stuff from your children's childhood is your kids. (You don't, not beyond the very basics) Give them a big box, and have THEM decide what they want to keep. Give the rest away.

I've never regretted giving away things that seemed sentimental. The ones I really care about, I *know* I care about. I have the jar my grandma kept the sour-cream cookies in, the cookies I loved and that she made especially for my visits. (other grandkids loved them and she made them for their visits, but they weren't as vocal about it) But the knick-knacks she had sitting around her home, I don't miss. (in fact, I'm relieved my mother told me I could toss them)

I think the things you will regret not having, you KNOW you'll regret.

The other stuff is just stuff. You might *say,* years from now when you see a vase you used to own, in a collectibles/antiques shop, "gee, I wish I'd kept that," but you won't REALLY mean it. It won't be the sort of regret that genuinely makes you sad. And finding out that you could sell it for $45 or $125 or $15 won't make you feel you let anybody down, or keep you from sleeping.

It's time not to be afraid of those small regrets.

Be afraid of the regret you might have because you made a 12-year-old self-conscious about her appearance. Be afraid of the regret you might have because you were a careless driver and messed up someone else's car or body.

Try to avoid, perhaps, the regret you might have because you threw out your son's most beloved stuffed animal because it was dirty.

Try to avoid the regret you might have because you carelessly packed away Grandma's cookie jar and it got broke.

But don't give a thought to the regret that you didn't keep the animals your kids DIDN'T care about. Don't be afraid of the regret that you didn't keep a vase you maybe could get money for--what--25 or 50 years later?

Do those knick=knacks matter to YOU? Do you think of them fondly now and then, when you don't even see them? (If so, start rotating them out and into use now and then). But if not, then don't keep them. No matter who gave them to you.

Ask your kids about toys, outfits, art projects, etc. Even now, they know which ones they REALLY want to keep, no matter what, and which ones they don't care about. (Just be sure to give them a limit, such as a set number of boxes, so they don' t get carried away)

Also, make THEM do it, so they can't blame you later, LOL!

Have you considered approaching it, not from what you want to toss, but from what you want to KEEP?

Stand in front of the table-linens drawer,a nd say, "which ones do I really like?" and "which ones are important to keep?" and then take only those out. Tell yourself you'll deal w/ the other ones later.

And later, pack them up and take them to the Goodwill. (or wherever)

I did that w/ a few decluttering areas, and it was really useful.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2006 at 7:57PM
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Moving can be expensive. When you start getting overly sentimental, just give some thought to is this item worth packing, carrying, unpacking, storing, remembering where you stored it....

Picture your new home as you would like it to be. How much living space do you want to devote to unused items that may be collectable someday?

My motto: I need a place to live my life, not store my life.

My mother kept tons of stuff from our childhood. All those years it sat in a basement or shed, when some child could have gotten some pleasure out of it seems like a total waste to me. All that I kept fits in a medium sized box and that's enough.

We have many family items which have meaning, just like Talley's cookie jar. But most items which pass through our home are just visiting, not deserving a permanent home.


    Bookmark   April 27, 2006 at 8:30PM
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Gloria, I love your motto. I'll try to remember it as I again try to declutter my space. I'm gradually making progress and it feels so good to find a little more space. I have to work on finding a LOT MORE SPACE.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 12:04AM
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I agree that identifying what you want to TAKE with you is better than trying to decide what to KEEP.

I would start, however, with a fast purge: go through each room like a whirlwind and discard all broken things (if you didn't fix it before now, it ain't gonna happen), all old magazines and newspapers, unfinished craft projects, etc. Also discard/donate the stuff you didn't ever like, but that was inflicted on you by well-meaning friends and relatives. Clear the bookshelves of the stuff you read once and don't want to read again.

Then go through each area and pull out what you would take IF you were moving into an apartment, or overseas. The ruling criteria is "is this worth the time it takes to pack and unpack, and the money to move it?" Cherry-pick the truly important or useful things and pack them first. If it's not in daily use, tag it with a little label (colored dots are wonderful)

Ask your family to identify their priceless stuff with a box limit. When we moved, my mom gave us each a couple of boxes and said "if it fits, it gets moved", which let to some serious negotiations involving space im my box for my sister's treasures and her handing over her piggy bank :)

    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 10:27AM
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Thank you so all so much for such insightful advice! I am really excited about the new perpective I've gained from reading each of these posts. I think part of my problem (as I just posted on another forum) is that I am dealing with the recent death of my mother and handling the contents of her home. It has made me somewhat sentimental yet has also made me start to realize that someone will one day have to weed through all the the *stuff* that I keep. From that perspective there isn't a lot that I have that is truly worth keeping. I'm going to simplify!! I also love your motto quiltglo and hope you don't mind if I borrow it. Thanks everyone, you have no idea how helpful every single post has been.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 11:23AM
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Terri, I don't have any real advice to offer (I'm a patient, not a therapist, on this forum!), but I have to chime in, because your last post resonated with me. Much of my motivation stems from the experience of dealing with my mother's possessions after her death. (BTW, my Mom's name was Terri, too!) She had already pared down her belongings, so what was left was useful and/or meaningful, and yet there was so much to be disposed of--and my sister and I had to work quickly, taking time off from work and our families, 1000 miles away, to clear out her apartment in the week after the funeral. We had to make thousands of decisions on what to take, donate, or discard, and we had to do all the heavy lifting after our husbands took the kids back home. It was a great bonding experience for us, but it was stressful, difficult, disruptive, and expensive.

When I finally returned home, I realized that MY house was so full of junk and clutter that the job would be far worse for my own children than Mom's house was for me. (There must be a name for this: FOREGUILT?) I resolved to begin the process of clearing out the attic and basement, at least, and to pare down the main living quarters. As I was working full-time, the job went slowly (OK, it came to a standstill for a while) because I didn't have the time or energy. A couple years ago, I asked my grown kids to sort through their "stuff"; they really weren't very sentimental, and there were only a few things they wanted me to keep. DH (who has OCD) is far less cooperative; I've resigned myself to the idea that his dresser, night table, and closet will NEVER be cleaned out. As for myself, I've decided to control my keepsakes by consolidating them: I now have photos, cards, and other mementoes sorted, labeled, and corraled in just a few storage boxes. But there is a lot that I CAN part with, and having seen my kids' lack of sentimentality, I know that it will be considered trash after I'm gone. I'd rather make these decisions myself, so that usable items can be recycled through donations or sales. Now that I'm retired, I want to harness whatever energy I have, and get the job DONE--not so much to improve my own quality of life, but to reduce the future stress on my children and the "foreguilt" for me!


    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 12:57PM
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Sue, I'm glad you shared your experience. I know what you mean by 'foreguilt'. I'm not only worrying about throwing away things I'll later wish I'd kept...I'm also worrying that the things will be eventually become a burden to someone. Oh my, as if we don't have enough guilt already! I think the best thing for me to do is to get rid of most of the things and all of the guilt. Sounds like you have made great progress. My dh actually suggested that I take photos of the sentimental things and then get rid of them. I can just imagine a scrapbook full of photos of old *stuff* (e.g. baby's favorite teddy, grandmother's vase, etc.) I laughed at him but it's probably not a bad idea!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 6:24PM
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I think this is certainly a common motivator on this board. When I saw myself becoming my mom, with all of the stuff for "someday" and half-finished projects, empty promises of "getting it done" I knew I had to change my mindset as well as my home.

When we were growing up there was way too much stuff in the house, but now that my mom is 88 and can no longer move it around, shuffle, or rearrage the stuff it has become the "isles of piles" mentioned by Julie on another thread.

My brother says he has given up and just leaves the stuff alone since she gets upset and "I'm going to get to that." While she has been the keeper of the important family items I now treasure, I truly resent that it will fall to me to deal will all of the crud in the next couple of years.

While I want my kids to appreciate the quilt that their great-great grandmother made in 1880, I want them to also recognize that a Little Tykes toy mass produced by the ga-zillions doesn't always need to be saved for future generations.

It's been a process for us over the past five years. DH and I have made some big changes in what's important and what's not. When we moved almost 2 years ago, I would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that I had purged everything which needed to go. As I was unpacking, I still loaded up the van with "why in the heck did I pack that?" items.

In our society of easily gotten materials goods, many of us will continue to stuggle. Just recognizing that "too much" is just that. Too much.

Life is just so much easier these days. I know we have all read that clutter sucks energy and how it does is sometimes past my level of comprehension, but it sure does.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 6:37PM
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Actually as my husband and I discovered movng into a 2 bedroom apt while remodeling what now seems like the castle --lots of what takes up space is clothing, towels, tablecloths, sheets, etc, So we got rid of the guest room double bed and now just have Queen size sheets, got rid of the smaller, older towels; and the round tablecloths. Where did they come from? I never had a round table. It is easier for me to get rid of stuff by giving it away.

I am a probate lawyer and know how hard it is for family members to sort stuff and throw it out. People keep such loads of clutter. One woman had the envelope for every social security check she ever got, and bags from stores long closed. I try to encourage people who come in for estate planning to start giving things away now, so they can see how delighted family members are with stuff, and they can label photos with the names; start Mom off giving away the National Geographics and you may start a habit.
Its a struggle for all of us--I can't remember anything I have thrown out that I regret. I sorted all the photos by person and gave everybody in the family photos with them in it; plus an assortment of other photos. Extra books can go to Friends of the Library or left at the health club. I dispersed 30 years of National Geographic by taking them to the hospital everytime I went. Disappointing to know they were worth nothing no matter how old they were, but they disappeared in the hospital immediately.
I left other magazines, books, puzzles and games at the jury rooms in every court I went to. When traveling recently I gave magazines and books I had finished to other travelers, or left them in the subway.
The solution for me even here in an apt is to have big baskets lined with black trash bags for laundry, dry cleaning, give away and trash.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2006 at 6:17AM
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I had to reply even before I read the other responses.

The subject of hoarding and garbage houses has fascinated me for about 20 years, back when one was discovered in my hometown. I started wondering about why people saved things and just becoming very observant. I too, have some pack rat tendencies and am very sentimental.

One thing I notice is this weekly segment on our local news, where the reporter goes to someones house to see their "collection". Maybe people really enjoy this, but to me it is a huge turn-off to see someone's entire home taken over by the Wizard of OZ collectibles, or golf, or baseball hats, or John Deere Tractor name it. These people are all so proud of themselves and I wonder, WHY? What do these items do? Nurture some hidden desire? Or do they see dollar signs (what everything is worth). My husband frequently reminds me that an item is only worth what you can get. These items take up valuable real-estate (think small: real estate is your home).

I know firemen who get firemen or dalmation statues for every birthday, father's day etc. whether they really want them or not. My deceased step-father was an excellent golfer. Yet I knew he didn't "really" want all the golf decorations he continually got for every occaision. You get the picture. Collections, ugh.

As for the knick knacks that could be the collectibles of tomorrow: I doubt they're going to go up much in value. And if they did and you took them to the antique store of the future the antique store doesn't give you much to take them off your hands, and they mark them up to cover their over-head (rent). Kind of reminds me of people teaching their kids to be greedy with the beenie babies. In essence, don't buy them to enjoy them. Buy them to make money in the future. Toys should be enjoyed NOW.

I was a caretaker in an old rowhouse when I was in my early 20's. An elderly woman moved out and I set off to deep-clean her pantry. This pantry had a few cupboards and about 4 drawers, each entirely filled with folded paper & plastic bags. As I kept pulling them out I read the names on the bags. I was shocked when I saw a department store name that became defunct BEFORE I WAS BORN (but always remember my mom referencing it.) She even had the old insulated bags the corner drugstore would give you when you bought ice-cream. I couldn't believe the amount of bags (filled an entire dumpster). They obviously weren't used or they wouldn't have been left there after she moved. Wouldn't the pantry have been more valuable if used for storing items you were currently using? That is what I mean by "valuable real estate" when it comes to the drawers & rooms in your house. Don't get caught up in the "I might need it someday syndrome". Keeping things to make you feel secure causes overload and that way also keeps you from finding the things you really need.

Now in my original reference I didn't mean to say that you had a garbage house, no way! I just wanted to point out that this psychology has always been of interest to me. I look at items in a home as "weight." And tossing and purging as "losing weight."

    Bookmark   May 11, 2006 at 12:35PM
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Plastic bags, ha. My mom has a couple cubic yards of plastic bags in one 'bedroom.' (A 3BR apt w/ one bed in it) She does use them for garbage, but not nearly at the rate they accumulate. I always take several bags' full home when I visit--MIL uses them to dispose of kitty litter. Otherwise, I don't know that the entire room wouldn't be full of plastic bags. And let's not get started w/ the Chinese soup containers.

The thing about collectibles is this: the reason old baseball cards and whatnot are collectible is that people used to THROW THEM OUT. So, the few that are left are of interest to people w/ an interest in baseball history. Nowadays, everyone keeps everything because it 'might be collectible.' I guarantee you that little ceramic figurines of big-eyed children sold in Hallmark stores will never be worth anything, becasue so MANY people hoard them. Only when those people's grandkids start using them to practice their tennis swing is there any chance they'll become valuable.

I'm a recovering pack rat myself. I quit buying newspapers because I noticed that I'd set aside a section because there was an article I found mildly interesting and intended to read 'one of these days.' Siz months later I'd find it at the bottom of a pile. I also have an issue w/ sentimental items. DH has an issue w/ paper--little scraps w/ notes; grocery receipts; and whatnot.

It's a process. But once you get rid of some clutter, you'll find you like it. The joy of neatness will overcome the stress of parting w/ things. It'll get easier.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2006 at 12:54PM
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One thing I notice is this weekly segment on our local news, where the reporter goes to someones house to see their "collection". Maybe people really enjoy this, but to me it is a huge turn-off to see someone's entire home taken over by the Wizard of OZ collectibles, or golf, or baseball hats, or John Deere Tractor name it. These people are all so proud of themselves and I wonder, WHY? What do these items do? Nurture some hidden desire? Or do they see dollar signs (what everything is worth).

I think there are numerous reasons for collecting like that. Some folks may like the memories that return when they look at those tractors or koala bears or whatever. Others really enjoy the thrill of the hunt and showing off "the collection" helps them remember how they found each item and also demonstrates their hunting ability to others.

I collect old computers. I have some very specific rules, however, about what ends up in the collection, which keeps the collection functional and limited. Computers are almost ephemera -- when most people get a new computer, they're only too willing to kick the old one to the curb. In addition, it's hard to know even at this point who the long-term winners will be. So items which will be valuable historically are being sent to recycling bins and shredders as we speak. Christie's proved this last year with an auction of computer items -- mostly business plans and things like UNIVAC parts -- which yielded more than $700,000 from about three dozen lots.

Certainly, collections can get out of hand. And anyone buying anything with the word "collectible" attached to it had better enjoy it, because it likely will never have much value among the thousands of similar collectibles. But there are collections that don't appear to be really reasonable to the "outsider" that make perfect sense to the collector.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2006 at 9:03AM
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Steve, you just proved housenewbie's point: the only reason those things were valuable, is the OTHER examples of them had been tossed.

i'm a big comic book reader (when I let myself be one). I used to buy my comics, then go to Burger King and eat while I read.Then I'd toss them in the bottom of my closet. The kids at the comic-book store were HORRIFIED! I was getting burger juice on them; they were getting wrinkled!

Meanwhile, they were all putting their comics, untouched by human hands (seriously; the guy wore gloves) into Mylar bags w/ acid-free cardboard backing. Some of them bought an extra to read, but lots of them just never read them at all.

i used to say, "they aren't going to be valuable. 1) there will be too many of them; 2) no one will care what they say, bcs they won't have fallen in love w/ the STORY or the CHARACTERS."

I also told them, "I'm making your comic books more valuable, by damaging mine."

I like your point about enjoying "the hunt." That's me and my penguins. It's also about enjoying the beauty of each one I get--which is why I don't buy very many anymore; they're just not different enough.

And I bet you shape your computer collection to document or demonstrate technologies that interested you when they were current, or that you think were seminal to the field.

But I also think a HUGE collection starts to lose its value; it becomes "same-old" so quickly.

I wonder how our OP is doing w/ the decluttering.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2006 at 11:58AM
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I hesitate to drag up an old thread, but just want to report on how well I did with my "decluttering"! I made a lot of progress, mainly because of the advice here. We've already moved and it was tough enough with what we kept, so thank goodness I got rid of so much.

I became brutal and it was really worth it. The Barbie collection - gone. So, it might have been worth a few bucks one day, but probably not! And thanks to advice here I can see that the satisfaction of not having it clutter up space in my house is worth more to me. When I started dragging things out of the attic and my son's room, it was amazing how much I'd kept. I remembered the post about how much better it would be for a child to enjoy it than to pack it away. So, off it went! I called an auction company and they came and packed up a trailer load of stuff. Pictures, furnishings, toys, odds and ends of all types. Old household decor, dishes, knickknacks (despite future value at the antique mall!) - gone! I made $500 even after paying them for the pickup and after their percentage. I didn't have time for a yard sale and this way I didn't have to do anything except gather it together. It was an enormous amount of *stuff* and I didn't even consider myself a packrat to begin with. In addition, I've made countless trips to donate to local charities and even passed some things on to friends. I can't believe I had so much stored away.

I wasn't perfect. I confess that there is a drawer of beanie babies, a couple of baby outfits and a few toys left. But overall a huge improvement!
The only thing that I'm still overwhelmed with is a huge stash of photos and scrapbooking supplies. I used to be an avid scrapbooker but lost interest in it. I have a lot of clutter from that. But I have begun to learn about digital scrapbooking and hope that this might help reduce the amount of *paper* that I'm dealing with. However, this is going to have to be a project for the winter months.

As for the things I've inherited from my mother, I am also overwhelmed a bit there, especially after my good job of decluttering my own things. Right now I've put some of her things in storage so that I can continue to unpack and not have to make any immediate decisions about her keepsakes. As the only daughter of an only daughter, I see that I am ending up with things that I have been passed down. I'm going to decide what is important for me to keep and then offer the rest to other family members. For now, procrastination is working for me.

Thanks again everyone for the excellent information I received here. For me, this thread turned out to be very helpful and practical, and also very insightful.


    Bookmark   July 3, 2006 at 12:31AM
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Ahh, good job Terri. We moved a almost two years ago and I was amazed at the items I still needed to get gone. Just remember that filtering the items in your home is an entirely new skills and will get easier with practice.


    Bookmark   July 3, 2006 at 12:44AM
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Awww...Terri! Sounds like you did a great job of decluttering! I've sure gleaned some food for thought rereading these posts today. Now, to get in there in that spare bedroom closet. I KNOW some of that stuff just needs to be passing through our house and not moving in! LOL

    Bookmark   July 3, 2006 at 10:19AM
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If there was a fire or a flood...would you miss it?

    Bookmark   July 4, 2006 at 11:15AM
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We going through this right now. We are selling our almost 4300 sq ft house, moving to a 2400 sq ft rental house while we build about a 3500 sq ft house. We did a lot of decluttering when we listed our house for sale.

We threw out a lot, donated even more (we can't have a garage sale in our subdivision), sold some things on eBay and put into storage things we thought we could do without for 6 months. We've been renting 2 large storage areas since then.

it is interesting that we have not missed most of what we packed away. My sons miss the video game systems we packed away (yes, we'll retrieve them for the rental house). My daughter missed her Barbie car. Most of the other toys that they protested my packing away have never been asked for.

I've missed a lot of books that I packed but not much else.

I just went through my file cabinet to pack it for our move. After we move I plan to do a couple of things. A lot of the paper we have are instructions for various devices. I plan to see where I can download manuals. If I can then I'll get rid of the paper manuals.

I also have a lot of paper that I potentially want for the information in it but I don't have to have an original. After we move, I plan to scan that stuff to pdf.

I read a good book about many of these issues called Scaling Down: Living large in a smaller space. I thought it had a lot of good ideas. One of the ideas was to take pictures of certain things that had sentimental value rather than having to keep the entire object. I think I will do that with some items as well.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2006 at 2:36PM
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