Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Having Control of Your Calendar

Too often I see people out of control with their lives. Some people have no choice as they are going through things like illness, divorce, death, working several jobs or even job loss. But for many it is the fact that they are just too busy. But there is hope out there, we can take control of our lives and it starts with our calendar. I recently sat down with my calendar and started filling it in with things that are important to me. For me it started with only accepting work clients during my prime work hours. Hours that I have found that I was at my best. I also scheduled in regular exercise. I found if I didn't schedule it, it never happened. Seeing everything in one place has helped me feel a bit more in control.  I use a paper calendar and have an electronic one as well. I like the combination of both.

Here are a few steps to take to help you regain some sanity and put to rest the word "busy."

1. Take control. Realize that you are the one who is in control of your life.

2. Figure out your non negotiable items. This is your work hours. I add in date night with my husband and quality time with friends and my children. For some it is prayer or meditation. I write these things down in my calendar.

3. Put in time for self-care. This is as simple as making sure you have an annual health exam as well as dentist and eye exams. Preventative care is huge. Exercise is also in this category. Write it down. If you schedule it, the more likely it will be that you will go.

4. Respect time. Make sure that you are on time. I have a friend and he is late for everything. It drives me crazy. It doesn't matter that you think you are a big deal. When you are late you are giving the message that your time is more important than the person who you are meeting. Also make sure that you end on time. If you say a meeting is going to last 45 minutes, keep your word. All of our time is valuable.

5. Find pockets of time. I am the person who is writing a blog post while flying on an airplane. Or I listen to a book that I have wanted to read on Audible while I exercise. Or pay my bills while I am waiting for my son to get out of school. There are those pockets of time that we can grab and get things off of our to-do list.

6. Let others help you. I have someone who cleans my house for me. It is the best gift I have given myself. We got rid of cable which was a bill equal to the cost of having my house cleaned. Best decision ever! Figure out ways to carpool so you are only driving kids one night a week. Know that it is ok to ask for help.

7. Find shortcuts. I am a big fan of the freezer meal. Pinterest has great ideas to help you with this. If you spend a few hours on a weekend planning and prepping you can have meals ready to go for the next two weeks or longer. Schedule that time and see the domino effect of more time in the evenings to help with homework or relax with your spouse or take your dog for a walk.

8. Don't say yes to everything. I once suffered from the disease to please and said I would do anything that was asked of me. But my family suffered and I suffered. I was too busy getting ready for a meeting I didn't want to go to and missing family dinner.

9. Learn to say no. Once I understood that saying no was not a bad thing, it was much easier to say. By saying no to things I didn't want to do, I was able to say yes to the things that really mattered to me.

Just remember, you get to choose to add and subtract many things in your life. You don't have to put your children in every activity. You don't have to have a well balanced meal on the table every night. Sanity is important.

To joyful, organized living,
MS. Simplicity

The Organized Student

With school in session, many students are feeling the crunch of having to get it all done with limited hours. We are all over scheduled and over tired. We try to do everything and try to say yes to everything. But remember the power of the word "no".

This year my middle son started college and I write this with him in mind. I remember when my oldest went to college and he said he went from high school wondering what questions on tests he got wrong to in college, wondering what questions he got right. All of a sudden, school was harder and having to balance work, activities and school became more difficult. Most college students work and some even have families. This can be a challenge. Throw in moving away from home and no longer having the nagging voice of a parent reminding them to get the homework done can be an adjustment.

So I hope I have instilled in my children good study habits. My study habits were "wait until the last possible minute and cram everything in and go into panic mode." Hopefully they can learn from my mistakes and make better choices.

1. Find a place to study that works for you. This may mean a quiet section of the library. Or laying on your bed with headphones in. All dorm rooms are equipped with desks, but usually dorm rooms are the least quiet spot. Dorm room desks are used to give the parents the illusion that their child is going to sit there all the time and be studious. As an organizer, I find dorm desks a waste of good space. Multipurpose the space and use it as a bookcase. In dorms, people stop in and distract you and it could take hours to get back on track. If you are a college student and have a family, you may need to be creative with this. It could be early morning hours on your kitchen table before anyone wakes up. It could be a local coffee shop. Experiment and find a place that works for you and your needs.
With laptops and smart phones, we are no longer tied to a desk. My middle son would take a book to the zoo and read. There was something relaxing that he found at the zoo. Being unconventional is ok as long as you are getting the work done.

2. Schedule heads down time. It is always good to schedule things that may be overlooked. Sometimes we just try to fit in studying into empty pockets of time in our day. If we get an invitation to do something fun, we will say yes and those empty pockets will evaporate. But schedule the heads down time. Because what would happen if you had regularly scheduled hours of the day that you use for studying?

3. Keep track of deadlines early on. Make sure you know when papers are due and what dates tests will be. Put them in your calendar system now. Knowing that you have two papers due on the same day will be an important thing to know early on for planning.

4. Turn off distractions and unplug. This could be social media, email and text messages. Once we get distracted it could take us hours to get back on track. If need be, reward yourself and take a break every hour and use the break time for getting plugged back in.

5. Plug in headphones. I find headphones are the universal sign of "don't bother me." When I have my headphones on and my head down people don't approach me and I can focus for long periods of time. I may appear anti social but I am getting work done.

6. Keep your study materials organized. More and more school work is being condensed electronically. We don't go through reams of paper and notebooks. I think this year my middle sons college books cost under $100. Even in high school, my youngest was given a PLD, or personal learning device. His Chemistry class is taught using upside down learning and the instruction is done via video that they watch at home. Class room time is used for questions. So it boils down to making sure your laptop is organized. Learn how to use folders and cloud storage.

7. Know when to join a study group. This was essential when I was in law school. Some classes simply have the need for a study group. Talking to students who took the class ahead of you should help you determine the need. Don't make the group too large or scheduling of the group will become a logistical nightmare.

8. Know when to hire a tutor. Not all classes are easy. Knowing early on that you need help is better than realizing it the night before the final. Finding a tutor is easy. I had a Latin tutor who happened to be the graduated student working with my Latin professor. Colleges want you to succeed and there are resources if you just ask.

9. Take a speed reading class. Sometimes you just need to learn to read faster. I read very fast but comprehend little. My middle son reads slowly and comprehends it all. I think finding the middle ground is perfect and usually a speed reading class is just what you need to find the ability to read quickly and also comprehend.

10. Know when to drop a class. In graduate school, my husband had one class that it took the average person several tries to pass. Unfortunately it was taught by only one person who was highly intelligent but lacked basic communication skills. If you find yourself in that situation recognize it early on and talk to your advisor about options.

11. The mom in me wants to remind you to get plenty of sleep, eat your fruits and vegetables. Hang out with friends who are good influences on you. Limit your alcohol (if of age) and caffeine consumption and increase your water consumption. Take time to exercise and don't have too much fun!

It is early fall and now is the time to evaluate your study habits. Have an organized school year!

to joyful, organized simplicity,

MS. Simplicity

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Holding On

Admit it, you have that pile of things that need to be mailed or dropped off to a family or a friend. The pile always grows and never seems to disappear. It may be an article in the newspaper that you thought they might like. Or it may be your son's hand me down jeans that you are giving to a friend. We all have that pile. For some of us the pile is small, for others the pile is large and can even be all the contents of your house.

If your pile is small and you get the items to people on a consistent basis chances are you don't have a problem. But if you are holding on to things for much longer and the items are much larger you may need an intervention. Here are some things that I have encountered in my role as a professional organizer and as a mother who holds on to things for her kids.

  • My son may need these dishes when he moves into his first apartment. Yes I have those dishes in my basement. Son #1 has said he doesn't want them, but why wouldn't he? They are perfectly good bowls.
  • This set of furniture will be perfect for my niece's new house. I know that she will be in need of furniture so I should just hold on to them for her.
  • My daughter will love this family heirloom/china someday! This is the sad reality, someday may never come. I have a beautiful set of china that I registered for when I got married. It really was the only gift that I registered for. I don't use the china and in fact I started using my butter dish as a soap holder in the bathroom just so I could say I use my china! My china's days are numbered as they will be leaving the house soon to go to someone else's home to be loved.
  • My grandchildren will love these Precious Moments figurines when I die. Chances are the answer is no. However my grandmother did have a set of tiny porcelain  animals that were on the top of her door frame in her living room and I would have loved to have gotten those when she passed.

So my advice to you (and to myself) is that if you are holding on to something to pass on, ask yourself a few simple questions:

1. Have they expressed interest in the item? This does not mean a passing comment like "this is a comfy couch." They should say things like "I love this! When you are tired of it I would love to take it off your hands!"

2. Have you asked? If you are not sure of the answer to question one, just simply ask.

3. Accept the answer.  This is an important piece of advice that you need to take to heart, don't let your feelings get hurt. Just remember it is just stuff! Their memories with the stuff may not be the same, so there may not be the same attachment to the item. The pepper grinder that my grandmother used, I see her hands when I grind pepper. My children never met her, so they do not have the same memories. It means something to me, not to them and I am ok with them not wanting the pepper grinder.

4. Do you have room to store the items? We don't always have the space and we could live a simpler life if we let go of those things we are storing for someone. Do you plan on downsizing and need to hold onto these items for someone? Or worse yet do you have an offsite storage unit.

5. How fast can you get it out of your house? The sooner the better! I challenge people to call the niece who wants that couch and say you have a week, come and get it or it is going to the donation site. When people have a deadline you will see action. Without a deadline people will take advantage of the situation and keep dragging their feet.

So I challenge you this week to look at what you are holding onto! Can you get these items out of your house and start to live a simpler life?

To Joyful, Organized Living,

MS. Simplicity

Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota and South Dakota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Boxing Up A Life Part Two



Last week I blogged about how painful it was to pack up my son as he prepares to move 250 miles away to college this week. I not only packed up the stuff he was taking to college, but also the stuff he was leaving behind. This one container of memories will go to his forever home and I will store it for him in the meantime. As I wrote the blog, my husband told me that I should be prepared to make people cry. I did. And I heard from some of them.

I was reminded in these exchanges just how important it is to go through our possessions when our mood is lifted and it is a positive experience. One friend reminded me of when we were in college together and her parents got a sudden divorce and her childhood home sold in less than six weeks. She reminisced that her mom packed up her room in boxes and it took her years to go through those boxes, and even then, years later it was very painful.

I think of my own parents home, where they have lived for almost 25 years. It is a home full of memories. This is a house that someday will need to be boxed up. I don't mean to sound morbid, but we all come to a physical end someday. Each time I visit my parents I see less and less "stuff" at their house. I am very mindful of when I give gifts to make it consumables, like a bouquet of flowers for my mom or dog toys for my dad {for his dogs, not actually for him.}

I recently joked with a friend that I am going to have a box in my house that is titled "throw away, don't open" for those things I don't want anyone to see upon my death, like my love letters from my husband. There are things I want to keep private.

Here are some tips to get you thinking about boxing up your life:

1. Walk around your house and think of your loved ones going through your home. Is it going to be an easy process? Are they going to know the treasures from the junk? How are they going to know?

2. Have a conversation. Yes, sometimes just talking can help. Explain to your family why things are important to you and should be held onto. Please, please I beg of you, do not guilt them into keeping anything. We live in a different society where possessions are more transitory. Your family may not want something that you think is a treasure.

3. Let go of perceived value. We may think that grandmas china that has been passed on for 100 years has monetary value, but chances are the only value is sentimental. Be ok with that and move on.

4. Start to let go of "stuff". Chances are you won't miss it. It is ok to start living a simpler life with fewer possessions. If you feel the need to ask your kids if they want stuff, ask them. Take a picture or call them and ask. You may think they want it, but chances are they don't. Go back to the second step and review why.

5. Take one area of your home at a time. Don't think you are going to tackle your entire home. Take one drawer, closet, box at a time. The saying goes, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Same is true for your home. Just do bits and pieces at a time. When I organize my clients, I hand them small piles and they sort those piles. It is easier when done in manageable sizes.

6. Know when to ask for help. Going through our life possessions is not a fun process. However looking back can be a reminder of the happy times and what a good life we are living. But there are those times that reinforcements need to be brought in. Call a professional organizer in your community who is experienced. Call a friend who can give you advice without your feelings being hurt.

7. Treasure the important things. I am always reminded that if you love it, you should use it. If the china is important to you, use it. Don't hide it away in a box. I had a set of crystal glasses that my husband and I bought when we were first married. We put them away when the kids were young and now they are out and being used. As each one breaks, I am not sad. I think to myself, at least they got used.

8. Back up the really important things. To me that is family photos and hand written recipes. Start implementing a way to keep these items safe. Are you going to scan them in? Hire a service? Hire a teenager?

9. Start making memories not from your possessions. My final tip is to remember that you are not your possessions. Start letting go. As my husband and I begin the downsizing process, I see it as a challenge to live with less and less "stuff" and travel more with our friends and family. Memories don't take up space or need to be dusted. Memories don't need to be insured or maintained.

To Joyful, Organized Living,

MS. Simplicity

Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota and South Dakota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Boxing Up A Life

As I prepare to pack up my middle son and send him on his way to college 250 miles away, I am reminded by some advice a friend of mine gave me when I did this two years ago, if I was to cry, it could only be tears of pride and joy. I am trying my hardest but it is not working as well this time around. The tears are being shed in greater frequency and I have taken to wearing my sunglasses in the house so nobody sees my tear stained face. I have warned my son that I will be crying, but it is only because I am happy for him. Please don't get me wrong, I am so happy for the adventure that he has lying before him. I am so proud of the young man that he has become. However I am grieving the change of our family dynamic. I remind myself that when I moved from home I moved 370 miles away, 250 miles is nothing! But sometimes I wish he was going to school over a bridge and only 5 miles away.

I get that my son is alive and healthy and not going off to war and that I am lucky and that this is what we raise our children for. But it is still not easy. There still is a grieving process that we need to go through. Nobody explains this to you. Nobody has written the book, "What to Expect When Your Child Moves Away." Nobody prepared me for this. When I sent my oldest away, I was blissfully naïve. I was excited for him and his new adventure. But when I got home I had to close his bedroom door as each time I passed his room it reminded me of his absence.

But you may wonder what this all has to do with organizing? You see, I not only pack them up for college but I also pack up their rooms. I know, I am probably a crazy person. But what I have learned from my clients is that if I don't do it now, I may never get around to it. It is like ripping a band aid off. I just want to do it and be done. So we are going through every drawer and every nook and cranny and cleaning his room and packing everything up. We vacuum and wash walls. Everything goes into four different piles.

1. Take to college: This contains all of his clothes he wears or intends to wear again. He has books that he wants to keep as reference. Small mementos and decorations like his mini zen garden and his toilet coffee cup.

2. Donate: Clothing that no longer fits or interests him. He was able to purge most of his graphic t-shirts with logos on it. A belt that no longer fits is going to be taken to the consignment clothing place.

3. Garbage: Sometimes there is no salvaging something and it needs to go. When we moved his bed from one area of the room to the other we found a pack of gum under his bed from our dog that we put to sleep in March. He would sneak in my purse and grab my gum and snack on it. We all paused for a moment of silence as we saw that pack of chewed up gum.

4. Save for your future life: This is a large rubber maid tote that I will store for him for when he lands in a permanent place. He has placed in here the t-shirts of his high school that mean something to him. His graduation party guest book. I have limited this to one large tote. I am hopeful that we don't need to expand this.

It is important to sort this stuff now before they leave home. Why you may ask? Well we come to resent the room and the clutter. Most teenagers have messy rooms. I am not wanting to go in and clean and organize once they are gone. I don't want to close the door and ignore the space. This is a project for us to do together. If I wait for some school break it will be a chore and not exciting. He will want to hang with his friends not clean his room. And I do not want to be that mom who nags. I have been that organizer who has helped parents organize the young adult's room who has left home. It is very difficult. Most of the room is in a pile called "ask the young adult" and we don't get much done. By doing it now, they are excited for their new adventure and this is not seen as a chore.

Added to my anxiety is the fact that he has a chronic disease that he needs to give himself an injection every two weeks. He has to line up the delivery of this drug and make sure that it is stored properly. He has all the numbers to call and line this up, but part of me wants to visit every two weeks and hand him the drug to inject.

His bedroom is now our first guest room. I will not paint the walls and I will leave the guitars hanging up but he has sold his drum set. The dresser is empty. The closet is void of his clothes. The room is more spacious now that the drums are gone. The sheets will be washed and clean for our first guest to arrive. Extra bedding will be placed in the closet as well as a guest basket with towels and toiletries.

My kids all know that when they move out there is no coming back. They are more than prepared for life and I am proud of them. I keep on chanting, "only tears of pride and joy....only tears of pride and joy."  So if you pass me in the grocery store in the next few weeks, I will probably still be wearing my sunglasses, but please don't judge as I am a work in progress.

To Joyful, Organized Living,

MS. Simplicity

 Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota and South Dakota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lack Of Time Getting In Your Way?

There is a proven fact out there that we all have the same 24 hours a day in a seven day week. This is where it becomes interesting, we all have the choice to decide what to do in those 24 hours. My biggest pet peeve, and I mean biggest, is hearing people say they are "too busy" {bang my head.} Busy is not a badge of honor that you should be proud of wearing. Busy is for people whose lives are out of control. I see these same busy people spending time on Facebook or watching hours of TV.

Here are some tips to help your 24 hours count!

1. Limit screen time: Yes this means in front of the computer and television and now add your smartphone to the list! Schedule your time that you will do these activities. Or find ways to share the screen time with something else. For example my husband will watch a show on Netflix while cooking dinner or folding laundry. And once we got rid of cable with stopped watching TV as much and with less time in front of the TV I was able to get other things done.

2. Wake up earlier: This was a huge game changer for me! Waking up even 30 minutes earlier allows me to start a load of laundry and throw something in the crock pot or start something marinating for the grill. I can fill out paperwork and have everything ready for the kids when they leave the house for school.

3. Make a list: Write down what you need to do in your 24 hours and play a game of seeing if you can get everything done. If your list is huge, circle your top 5 to complete today. Feel good that you got those done.

4. Enlist helpers: Start looking around your life to see what can be done by someone else. In our home it meant that the dishes were done by the kids. The dishwasher may not be loaded to maximize space, but it was done and not by me, so I was okay with that. This also falls in line with car pooling. Share rides with other parents and kids. This can be a huge time saver when you have other children that you need to be running. It is ok to ask for help!

5. Find your families top 10: Gather your families top 10 favorite meals and the recipes and have them all in one space. So when you are at the grocery store you know that you need tomato paste for the spaghetti recipe.

6. Eliminate caffeine late in the day: I know some of us have to have coffee the first thing when we wake up. I find that if I have caffeine too late in the day I do not fall asleep and that makes for a horrible morning.

7. Find time to exercise at least 30 minutes a day: this could be as simple as going for a walk around the block. This added activity will help calm your mind and focus on your day. I always feel like I can kick a little butt after I have a good workout in. I feel more productive and I am able to tackle more things on my list.

8. Start saying NO: This is huge. This lesson took me years to learn. But I have found that if I don't want to do something with my whole heart, it is a painful activity. So I have started saying no. I even turn down paying jobs if they don't feel right to me. Now when I say YES it is much more powerful as I am able to engage with my whole heart.

9. Surround yourself with doers and positive people: They say that you are most like the people that you surround yourself with....so make sure that those are people who are getting stuff done with a good attitude. My big irritation is with people who are complainers. Stop complaining about something and take action. I want to be a person of action. I have ended friendships because they are negative and I simply don't have time to hear them complain. They were toxic and they had an impact on my mood and how I treated other people.

10. Have regular date night: Yes you may need to have it scheduled for every Wednesday night. I have found that when my husband and I are in the same room for an uninterrupted time we are able to focus on our dreams and what needs to get done in our family. Being on the same page is important in running a household. Connecting is an important part of that. I have a friend who has had a standing Wednesday lunch date with his wife for 4 years and he has never made it. How happy do you think their marriage is? I also will schedule one on one time with my kids as well. It is important to get to know them outside of the house where their typical answer is yeah....fine....good. I have found that the more quality time you spend with them the more they open up to you.

What can you do today to add more time in your 24 hours?

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota and South Dakota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

To Multitask Or Not Multitask That Is The Question

"Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time." Steve Uzzell

As women, we pride ourselves with being able to do a million things at once, but can we really? It seems to me that we have been sold a bunch of lies when we were told that multitasking is good for you and makes you more efficient. That is a lie that we need to stop believing. I am reading the book "The ONE Thing" by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan where you focus on just one thing for 66 days. This book has been very eye opening! They focus on one thing for 66 days but I think we could break it up into simply focusing on one thing at a time as we go about our day. The chapter on multitasking hit home with me!

When I work with clients I have a rule that they can not leave the room that we are organizing. What happens when they leave the room to put something away they suddenly find something else that needs to be done. I call this the "If you give a mom a cookie" phenomena after the popular children's book "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie."  For example, if I were to go and check my mail I would see that a bill needs to be paid, I would reach for my checkbook to pay the bill only to find out that I am out of checks. Then I get on my computer to pay the bill online and I see a funny cat video one of my friends posted and then I decide I better go on Pinterest to see what to make for supper. Three hours later no bill has been paid and my morning has been sucked away. I lost track of my one thing, paying that bill. What should have taken me two minutes took me three hours. I think I can do it all at once; I can't.

Some people say that they can multitask, I am hesitant to agree. I am the girl who can't even walk and text. My husband makes fun of me when I stop to reply to a text. Hey I have seen those videos of girls walking into holes on the street, I don't want that to be me! I admit that I am bad at walking and texting, so I will not do it.

However I think I can multitask at household chores that I find enjoyable. I can cook a five course meal while juggling the different components of the meal and not break a sweat. My friends who have watched me says it is like watching a cooking show as I move from recipe to recipe. But put me in front of my desk with 20 things to do and I'll flounder from one to the other doing a bit here or there. When in reality I should simply go down my list and don't take a break until my "one thing" is done.

While working with clients I have them create a distraction free zone, no family, pets or phones. We work solid for three hours. I need to take my own advice and start doing that as well. Too often my mind is jumping from one thing to the next, really not completing anything. But they have completed studies on multitasking and it doesn't work. Sure there are some multitaskers out there, but for the majority of us, it does not make us efficient.

So today I am taking my list in hand and systematically working my way down it. I didn't sleep last night because I knew how much I had to complete today. Today I have to bring my "A" game and I have to be efficient. Today I am not going to bounce from project to project, oh look a squirrel! Here are some tips that I am using to get my projects done today.

1. Leave my phone in another room. I can go without hearing a text come in. Better yet is to turn off your notifications on your phone. I use to have email notifications on my phone that would ding each time an email came in. I really don't need to see the latest sale at Pottery Barn. So if you are one of those email notifications people, please turn them off.

2. Turn off the social media. Yes it is sometimes hard when our brains are looking for that hit of dopamine to see how many people liked our Facebook post or Instagram photo. But everything in moderation. Turn it off for a period of time. Learn to wean yourself off of the social media hit.

3. Make a list. Too often I have a mental list that I try to keep track of. It doesn't work. Having a list and brain dumping everything I need out on a good old fashioned piece of paper makes sense. On days where I am not feeling very productive I will do the hardest thing first on my list. Taking the one hard thing off my list seems to make everything else go smoother.

4. Take care of other distractions. I work at home and my kids are home for the summer. Some days I simply need to close my office door. If you work in an office setting and need quiet, create a system that people know to leave you alone. Maybe it is to place a red piece of paper on your door that signals stop and only come in if you are on fire or bleeding. Once you are distracted, it takes several minutes to get back the work groove you were in.

5. Set a timer. Yes this really works. Work on your one thing until the timer goes off. I have used this trick on tasks that I am really dreading, like paperwork. But I know I can quit when the timer goes off so I keep on going. Sometimes we need these little tricks for our brain to get things done!

What would happen if you focused on one thing in regards to your daily tasks and said no to multitasking? Is this something that could make you more productive?

To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity

Serving the Fargo-Moorhead area as well as North Dakota and South Dakota. Also seeking new representatives for Clever Container in all areas of the country.

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