The basics of everyday decluttering

Being as this is the first week of the new year I have decided to put together a basic everyday decluttering post for those who have stumbled onto my blog looking for help with their New Year’s resolution to minimise their possessions. So without further adieu I present you with the basics of decluttering your home with the slow and steady approach.

Keep it simple ~ Everyday decluttering is about decluttering slowly and deliberately one item at a time. There is no need to disrupt your household by pulling everything out of a large area causing a huge mess, making rash decisions on what to get rid of and taking hours to regain control of the area.

Pledge to remove, on average, at least one item a day ~ Simply walk into a room spy something that you not longer need, use or care about and remove it to your departure point. If it is not convenient to do this immediately, make a note of the potential clutter items for later removal.

The departure point ~ Designate an out of the way area to place your decluttered items until you are ready to take the next step. The next step might be to through it in the bin, recycle it, sell it or donate it.

Start with the easy stuff ~ A surefire way to deter yourself and give up early in this mission is the make it too hard on yourself to begin with. So start by getting rid of the stuff that you care the least about and is easy to part with. As you get more excited about your progress you will become more ruthless.

Don’t reclutter while you declutter or ever again for that matter. Learning to let go is one thing learning not to acquire potential clutter is a whole other kettle of fish. It may take a little more willpower to achieve this status quo. I would suggest banning yourself from all other shopping except the essentials for at least three weeks. Read my Alternatives to Shopping post for ideas on how to keep yourself out of the shops. Hopefully after three weeks you will have strengthened your resistance enough to at least reduce recreational shopping if not eradication it as a pastime altogether. If you find yourself weakening and considering buying things you don’t need use the advice in this post by Cindy to make yourself think twice about a potential purchase.

There is no speed limit ~ If one thing a day is too slow for you declutter as many things as you like just be sure to keep within your comfort limit. Don’t set a pace too difficult to maintain or it will all get too hard. Speed up and slow down whenever it suits you but be constant in regularity. Try to do something everyday to maintain your momentum.

Be mindful about your decision making ~ Don’t declutter items just for the sake of getting rid of things. Give each item careful consideration you. You don’t want to find you are replacing items a month or two down the track because you got over zealous. Similarly don’t keep items for the wrong reason’s either. I have a declutter decision making guide to help you with this process so use it if you feel the need. You want this decluttering effort to be a lifestyle change not a mad dash to the finish line only to find yourself back at the starting point in another six months.

Be responsible about disposal ~ Please dispose of your decluttered items responsibly. Sell, donate or give away everything that is still usable, recycle the things you can and only put in the trash items that are no good for anything. Yes this can complicate the process but consider that your penance for accumulating stuff environmentally irresponsibly in the first place.

So that is it in a nut shell. In summary everyday decluttering is about reducing your belongings slowly but surely without the mess and back breaking drudgery. As little as one item a day will make a huge difference in the long run and is a lot less stressful than disrupting your entire household with one of those week long possession purging marathons that are a one off event rather than a lifestyle change.

(We will return to the normal routine of Mini Mission Monday next week.)

Today’s Declutter Item

This treasure chest has been around my house since Christmas 2000 it has escaped decluttering up until this point due to sentimental reasons. Yes I can still be a little sentimental about things at times. My husband purchased this box in which he secreted away my Christmas gifts during our first exciting winter Christmas in Seattle. He would go shopping on the weekends leading up to the big day, tell me to close my eyes of I was nearby when he returned with the latest addition and place it in the box. He even had the cheek to padlock it. Up until recently it contained keepsake clutter but now I have reduced that to a more reasonable level and this box is no longer justified. It has been sitting in my clutter collection point awaiting the final verdict to actually declutter it. I am ready to let it go. Now I wonder what took me so long, it is just a box after all and I still have my husband and my memories.

Treasure Chest / Sentimental Clutter

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Great points. As for the chest, this is one point where I would take a picture and scrap a story about it. That way I would have the picture to remind me and the story for kids & grandkids.

    • Hi Deb J,
      that is the beauty of putting my web posts together everyday everything does get photographed. Whether I will ever get around to scrapbooking it is another question altogether.

  2. Some really great advice there Colleen. I would just like to add that you should also put out ‘the feelers’ and let friends and family know that you are not open to their stuff 🙂 I know i struggled with this, well meaning friends would turn up at my house with things, and i would feel bad saying ‘NO’ so i would just take it. Now they telephone ahead and ask if i want whatever is on offer. The answer is usually no. This also hleped at Christmas too, although my younger two children got a little bit more than they should have, it wasn’t overwhelming.

    January is Hubby’s birthday, that’s easy everyone gives him money as he is working on his sleeves with ink. February is my little two’s birthday, We have bought our daughter tickets to see the x-factor tour, and my Son we are hoping to get tickets to a big footy game, all clutter free 🙂 I *hope* that as i have put out the feelers to family that that should be relativley clutter free too!!

    Your so right about the chest, it’s your memories that count.
    Sharron x

    • Good point Sharron I think I will go over to the post right now and update it with that tip.

      I had to laugh at the way you explained your husbands birthday gift, I wonder how many readers will know what you are talking about. It did give me the thought that this is a way I could get my back finished the way I want. I couldn’t just come at spending $1000+ frivolously like but if I got the outline done one birthday then added the colour for subsequent birthdays, mothers days and Christmases I would eventually have it done. It would make it easy for hubby and kids to know what to get me.

      • Colleen, if you do get the “art-work” done, just don’t change shape, or get old!! My grandfather had a geisha girl on his upper arm – she fattened, eventually got skinny and elongated, and especially wrinkled – and with all the decades, the ink faded and blurred. In the end it was sad.

        • Ah Ann, you may have thought it was sad but did he. He may well of viewed it fondly until the day he died. One thing for sure though is that one had better be sure they want this because my darling daughter is having to have two removed in order to join the Air Force. The removal of two little tattoos that cost her about $60 each to put on is now going to cost her $1250 to remove and they are tiny little outlines not but coloured tattoos.

          • Ouch, for your daughter!! However, I know that when I was a kid, it had to be a very hot day before he wore a short sleeved shirt, so perhaps he wasn’t so thrilled with it. I know when he was young, he thought it was fantastic. He used to make it dance.

          • Wow, that is a lot of money for removal! All my ink can easily be covered (feet and back) but i very rarely do cover it, as i like it so much 🙂 Hubby, in the process of his sleeves has had two really badly done tatoos covered up, a misspent youth and they really didn’t represent the type of person he is. Out of interest where are your daughters tatoos?

            Sharron x

      • Exactly Colleen. Hubby has been working on his sleeves for 3 years, now, we are not The Beckhams, and disposable income is not a plenty, so every birthday and Christmas he has money, off me and relatives so he can have more work, at £70 an hour he has managed 5 hours last year. He is constantly ‘work in progress’ , but as the saying goes, it’s all about the journey!!

        Do it Colleen, and it will keep your house tidy 🙂

        Sharron x

        • Funny. I had no idea what you were talking about at first. I thought he was a clligrapher with messy cuffs. (Ink on his sleeves.) I’m suprised I didn’t get it because Austin feels like the tatoo capitol of North America.

          Just last night I was telling Clara about a pretty woman I saw at the swimming pool: she had an elaborate sun tatooed around her belly button. I laughed thinking that someday she would probably be pregnant and her star would expand (red giant) then, after the birth, it would contract (black hole with her belly button as the center.) Makes me laugh to think about it.

  3. It’s always good to have a reminder of the basics, and especially the point about recluttering for me! I’ll find myself bringing in mail, or receipts, and laying it down occasionally rather than dealing with it on the spot. Before I know it, I’ve got an unwanted stack in my tiny room taking up precious space.

    I wrote on my blog today about your New Year challenge. I think you might be right about me not having 365 things to go. So I’m going to do a modified version of the challenge, getting rid of one thing five days per week, Mon thru Fri, rather than seven days until the end of 2012 or as long as it takes.

    • Hey Betty Jo,
      that is what I have been doing all of last year and this year will be the same. Only decluttering five days a week that is. When I decided not to blog seven days a week I cut back on the decluttering as well. I read your list and what a good one it is. I think you do all those things already but it is the sign of what a wonderful person you are to want to improve even more.

      • My aim this year is to blog three times per week, Mon, Wed, and Fri. I’ll do well to succeed at that. Thanks for your comments on my list. No matter what we do, I feel there is always room for improvement.

  4. I think that starting with the easy stuff is the way to stay motivated since it is not as emotionally draining and difficult to make decisions that way. As you feel the joy of less, tackling the more difficult things won’t seem as bad.

    • That is exactly right Spendwisemom.

    • I totally agree Spendwisemom. When I started decluttering, so much of it was emotional, as I was sorting through forty years of stuff that belonged to my hubby and me as a couple. But as I plodded along, there came a day when I felt the joy of less and that was inspiration to tackle the bigger jobs.

  5. What I find very motivating: alternating areas of decluttering, size of the decluttered items, donating, selling … When I moved big things I usually am happy to do something that maybe is hardly visible (like weeding out some papers or do another round through the already pretty decluttered bathroom cabinet) as the next thing. But with much still ahead I would be unhappy if there weren’t big dents every now and then.
    The „disrupting of the whole household” you don’t like, Colleen, I actually love it to a certain extent. Taking the time and the space to empty a couple of boxes or shelves at once can really put things into perspective and putting (less!) things back into an empty and clean cupboard really feels good. I have learned over time though that planning whole days of decluttering just tires and demotivates me. If I can start in the afternoon or early evening and then go as long as I feel I need to and put things away the next morning and be through with it till noon that is very rewarding and effective. I try to schedule in such a session every now and then from friday to saturday to tackle fields that are too intimidating for the daily bits.

    • I agree with everything you say here Ideealistin. Decluttering items that make an obvious difference sure does make it feel like big progress is being made. It is funny thought that I get just as much satisfaction from a good use-it-up challenge. Even if it is just a little tube of hand cream I am glad to see the back of it when it has been lingering and I have been anticipating its eventual completion. I get even more satisfaction when it is something of my husband that I want to see the last of and he finally decides he will get rid of it after all.

      I also enjoy a good reshuffle once an area has been downsized to a manageable project. What I often do is slowly declutter in my usual thing a day fashion and when the area gets to a point where it needs reorganising due to the changes, I pull everything out and rearrange. I still try to keep it to a manageable area so I don’t have a huge mess to tackle though. I do think it is better to dwindle down the excess first so the task isn’t overwhelming. I did this just last week in my craft area (again). Each time I reshuffle my craft area I manage to remove one more piece of storage furniture and the space is starting to really open up. Many of the people coming to my blog are looking for help that isn’t overwhelming and too confronting and I think that is what everyday decluttering offers for them.

      • I like what you said about the hand cream, Colleen. It made me realize how I actually ENJOY opening my bathroom drawer now that I have tossed all the thoughtless stuff that piles up. I don’t have things in there that I MIGHT use,or samples, or that someone gave me: only what I need and want. It is like the beautiful sparseness of a hotel room, and makes me feel luxurious. Sometimes that little stuff bogs you down even more than the big things, with its small, but persistent tapping on your peace of mind.

        • Sabine I love what you said; It is like the beautiful sparseness of a hotel room, and makes me feel luxurious. I never thought of it like that, but it is so true.

        • yes. exactly. on the surface of my bathroom display are 4 items… Super luxurious, and (having cleaned hotelrooms for 5 years back in schooldays) I get close to the ideal now.

          My second drawer (the one that is holding the use it up and guest items) is filled after christmas at my mums house. 3 half used bottles of shampoo and a lot of deodorants to use up. saves me money. I love it.

        • The little stuff does bog you down and it may be small singularly but in huge numbers it feels like you are drowning in it.

        • Sabine, the more I think about your comment about “a luxurious hotel room” the more I really like that description of what I want. That’s exactly what I want in my home. I’ve stayed in a few and worked at one (a long time age) and the thing I liked most about it was that I could immediately put all my stuff in nice clean drawers and have nothing laying around. I even put my suitcase out of sight. I know where everything is and all of that. It’s so lovely and I want it for my home too.

    • Me too Ideealist, my craftroom defiantly needs me to spread the whole thing over at least two rooms so I can see what I have. Then I can clean and vaccum the carpet.
      Then everything can be looked at, DECLUTTERED and sorted then put away.. I love the look of the room with nothing on the floor.

  6. Even for those who’ve been reading for some time, this was helpful!

    I got rid of two lipglosses last night, as I passed over them yet again. And the skirt I wore out last night (despite compliments), never fitted me perfectly, and makes me feel lumpy and frumpy… So it shall be ebayed.

    The ‘don’t reclutter’ point is a little harder for me – I need to equip my home, but I’m very very mindful of too much. I just got one jar for flour, to test how I like it, before I get one for the other flour, sugars etc. I didn’t buy a draining rack til it fitted MY requirements. And the fridge is still rather bare, so I think I’m doing OK. I certainly haven’t wanted to ‘unclutter’ anything I’ve bought for the new house yet (although, it’d not even two weeks in!!)

    • What are you enjoying most about your new place snosie?

    • Hi Snosie, I think you are doing very well equipping your new house. You are showing great restraint and very good decision making processes. Just don’t forget to clear everything out of your parents house so they aren’t lumbered with it for years to come.

      • Hey Colleen, Despite my BEST efforts, my mum keeps carting odds and ends left in my room (namely some curtains, some paper bags – like really!?) Then she was miffed I freecycled the wardrobe that I own – pft… She’s over it already!! There are two boxes of water polo archives and two water polo banners that will come across once the new carpet is in (yesterday was cancelled 🙁 Sat hopefully). And then I need to ‘re-home’ a semi-antique wardrobe, and toss empty boxes that are in it – why I find throwing out shoeboxes so hard I’ll never know! they are just so versatile!

        Katharine… the thing I’m thankful for daily is the super fast and strong hot water. Which is weird! I also like cab-pooling with friends three blocks away, walking home from dinner one block away, and generally feeling close to different friends.

        • Ah mothers they are hard to figure out sometimes.

          I liked your answer to Katharine’s question. They are all good reasons for loving your new home. Hot water and social convenience what could be better than that.

          • Yeah, illuminating answers Snosie: I like the sound of such simple but life enhancing pleasures. I moved to my current location because I could build a life of variety within a few square miles that was easy to reach.
            And I am with you on the shoe boxes – sturdy and such a delicious size and very hard to get rid of for months after a purchase. One particulalry funky one holds my unfinished novel…

  7. The main thing in your list, that really helped me stick to it, is to have what you call a “departure point”. I have several boxes, hidden in my home office room, for that purpose. Each box, one destination. This way, I don’t have to worry about where to put my daily “thing”. I also have a misc box about things I don’t know how to responsibly dispose of yet. Thank you so much Colleen. You had a full post about this and it was really key for me. 🙂

    • Hi NatalieInCA,
      I think the departure point is important too. Mine is in the garage, it used to be on the floor by the door but now the shelving has been decluttered enough that it can all fit on the shelves. My biggest box is the thrift store box, then there is the ebay/freecycle box beside that. There is a space beside the two boxes for things I am not sure about yet. It really is helpful to have this area to store the things until it is viable to move them on. If one thought they had to actually exit the item from the house everyday that sure would put a huge level of difficulty on the task. Likewise choosing the item and having nowhere to store it out of the way would be frustrating as well. Maybe it is time I did another post about this subject.

      • that was a great post. its very good to get sums up once in a while. Its good to make the little checks in your head while reading… especially the departure point. I realized while reading, that I never made an area this special spot, but one shelf somehow turned into it, automatically. So now I call it departure point and remove all things that are supposed to stay from there. Thanks for making things so explicit…

      • oh and I forgot to add: finding and “labelling” places, where items live I find also very helpful. no more searching for yourself and very easy clean ups… and those things you somehow cant find a place for are going to the departure point sooner or later.

  8. Dear newbie people, it is SO important not to get too tired by hauling out huge boxes, emptying whole cupboards etc at the start. If you do smaller tasks and see them right through to the end (ie taking out the rubbish and putting it in the bin, putting you op-shop bags in the boot of the car etc, etc) you will feel much more satisfied and that you have really accomplished something. Later on, when you have gotten ruthless (and you WILL get ruthless), is the time to take on the big black holes of clutter!

    • Good advice Calico ginger

    • I just am finding it hard to find someone or organisation that wants things that are perfectly good just not NEW.

      • Denise send me an email through my contact page and let me know where you live and I will see what I can find out for you. Colleen

      • See if there are thrift stores, charities or that will accept your used goods. You could call up churches and see if they have a use for such items or if they need things for their yard sales.

        • Thank you Angela.
          I tried this with st Vincent de Pauls a few years ago. A friend of mine had a friend who worked in one.
          I had lovley baby fisherprice toys for babies and todddlers and some stuffed toys. All these were in very good condition. I worked for hours washing and disinfecting all the toys before giving them to my friend.
          she got back to me a few days later saying that her friend had said that unless they were new that the toys would be thrown out as the society was frightened of being sued for anyone getting hurt from used toys. Pretty bad when the poor can get fussy.
          Since then I have been not keen to do more on this but the time has come. It just goes against everything I believe in the just throw them out.

          • Hey Denise, try donating them to Lifeline instead they tend not to be that fussy. The is also Father O’Riley and the Samaritans. Freecycle is a great way to give away the things that charity won’t take. I love freecycle and I have never failed to get rid of things there.

  9. I think there are a lot of positives for both methods of decluttering but i do think the slow and steady is more sustainable. I guess it’s like most things it’s a matter of working out what works for you and doing it that way. I’m itching to get some more smaller projects under way, for instance after the success of the other day with culling 25 books from one shelf, the rest has been left, but I’m okay with that as the last 2 shelves are reasonably under control. I just know they could look so much better if they were cleared out a bit! And so much now for me it’s not just about how it looks, but how much better it feels for me not to be surrounded by things that aren’t of any use to anyone in the house eg books that haven’t been touched or looked at in absolute years! It’s great to have such a like minded helpful community to share our successes (and failures!) with. Thanks everyone xx

    • Judy I am so glad you are feeling so good about your decluttering success. That is all it takes to keep you enthusiastic and spur you on to the next item and the next and the next. Good for you and we are always here for you.

    • Judy, There is absolutely a place for both types of decluttering. My husband adn I spent 4 hours working together on the garage this weekend, and I made two drop-off trips to the local store that resells building materials. However, that’s a sprint, and decluttering is a long, long journey that can’t just be about sprinting.

    • Sometimes I go through both types! I’ll throw away a bunch of stuff in a day and then will declutter one thing a day for a few weeks. As long as we keep it up over a long time and don’t buy more stuff I suppose it should work out in the end!

  10. Colleen, A key factor for me was what you wrote: “You want this decluttering effort to be a lifestyle change, not a mad dash to the finish line only to find yourself back at the starting point in another six months.”

    For years my decluttering was going around in circles until I FINALLY understood the ‘lifestyle change’ and STOPPED the shopping madness. I truly needed to read this (see it again – think about it) to be reminded what decluttering is all about! Your timing and content today is PERFEKT! This is a great start to the New Year for me! Thank you!!!! 🙂

    • Hi Annabelle,
      where are you now are you still in Germany or back in The States. I am looking forward to here how the transition went for you.

      Decluttering is a waste of time if you don’t stop the shopping madness so I am glad you go that message. And a little reminder every now and again doesn’t hurt.

  11. Colleen, you are so right about pressing on going little by little but daily again and again. One reason (maybe a bit embarrassing to admit but oh, well …) for my liking of big action is that
    a) yeah, you actually can get a lot done
    but (probably more important in the long run)
    b) you can’t get it all done in a day. Or two. Or even a week. (and honestly, who wants to be decluttering for a week?)
    Biting off more than I can chew from time to time sets my head straight again that STEADY (whether slow or fast, but steady) wins the race (though actually decluttering is not really a race as I think it will never stop completely but I am looking forward to have it be a convenient walk instead of a mountain run with a heavy backpack some time in the future)
    I admire people who don’t have to fool and trick themselves all the time but just do it. But at least I am getting my tricks together and apply them on myself for the better.

    • Once again you are absolutely correct. What works for each individual person is always the best method. Whatever floats your boat is what is going to keep it afloat. No matter how fast or slow you go changing your lifestyle is the key. Letting go of the desire to possess things is what success is all about when it comes to permanent decluttering. There will always be maintenance but that will be minimal if we learn not to always be wanting something new.

  12. Celebrate with me!! I have started on the HARDEST of my declutters. I pulled the first (xerox) box of mementos out onto the study floor and have decluttered (almost finished decluttering) it. It WAS a crammed box with lid balancing on top – the topmost of four boxes, with many more to do. NOW the lid will fit easily, there is room for the savings of another box (if the proportions of keeps to farewells remains the same), and much has gone (some already rehoused elsewhere, the rest to go) to recycling, kindergarten, hospice – actually none to landfill! Now, I just have the other 999 boxes to sort (just kidding). Still, one box at a time….

    • Yay, Ann! Memorabilia IS hard. I’m so glad that you started, and made some progress. Hip, hip! I bet the next box will go easier, too, now that you’ve been through it once.

    • Ann – such good news! Yes, I’m celebrating with you! Yaaa-hoooo! Annabelle. 🙂

    • Ann, I bet sometimes it does feel like 999 to go. Good for you though tackling the hard stuff. In fact you have tackling a lot of hard stuff. First it was paper clutter and then books. Once these keepsakes are out of the way things should be easy for you. Especially now that you have well and truly exercised and strengthened your ruthlessness.

      • Well done Ann! That is some of the hardest stuff to deal with IMO. Definitelt worth celebrating!

  13. it’s also been super helpful for me to put together a list of what you’ve accomplished/decluttered. It’s easy to get dragged down and feel like we can’t see a difference in spite of how much we’ve thrown out. When you feel this way you can take a look at everything that is gone and see your progress. Instant gratification when you need it most!

  14. Hi Colleen,

    Happy New Year! Thank you for putting this particular post together. I’ve been following your blog for over a year & I finally decided to do the one-a day challenge and say ‘Hello’ & ‘Thanks’. I’ve been decluttering a bit here & there over time, but with 2 boys (a 5 year old & a 16 month old, who coincidentally is named Liam 🙂 ) I’ve found that the sometimes it’s easy to overlook the clutter for another day.

    To help me I created a Excel work sheet that had each day of the year listed. I have 2 columns, 1 to track my weight (I’m not a diet, but I don’t wish to gain any more that I already have) & the other to list my declutter item. So far so good! 🙂

    So Thank you again, & to Cindy, for the inspiration your blog has provided. I look forward to reading more.

    • Hi Heidi K,
      I am so glad you have finally come forward to introduce yourself and may I say welcome to 365 Less Things. Decluttering can seem like a endless battle with kids around but it doesn’t have to be. I would suggest focusing your daily declutter on your own items while periodically decluttering the kids stuff as they grown out of them either physically or intellectually. With different ages you are going to hang on to thing to hand down of course and the trick is to keep them organised. I have just ready a book that was kindly given to me by a book supplier which I am about to finally do a review on. It sounds perfect for you. If you are living in Australia somewhere I would be glad to send it on to you if you would like to read it. Contact me through my contact page and give me your address details if you are interested. The book is called Absolutely Organise Your Family ~ by Debbie Lillard.

  15. cindy I think you know ME !!!. i feel that I have just read about myself.LOL.
    I do that ( rush at the decluttering like a bull at a gate) and through out anything I can get my hands on and the outcome still more stuff and the cycle repeats itself.
    I do need to do it slowly and one or two things at a time.
    thank you so much for you daily emails and encouragement.

    • Denise, read this post ~ Take 5

      Now take a minutes and think about your usual feelings when you think about decluttering. Now eliminate all negative thoughts and preconceived ideas about how hard decluttering is for a minute. Really try to calm your mind and think how easy it sounds to just find one thing a day to declutter. Remember not to think of the big picture, that is how many things there are. It really is that easy if you only focus on the one small thing a day.

      Once you find that one thing a days is not so difficult you may even find yourself wanting to do more and that is ok too. Just keep it at a pace that doesn’t overwhelm you.

      At the same time ban yourself from buying anything new that isn’t a necessity. The best way to do this is to not put yourself in a situation where you will be tempted.

      Once you build up your enthusiasm for decluttering buy see the stuff leave your home you will become more ruthless. And if you ask yourself “Why did I even buy that?” when you a decluttering certain items don’t feel bad just take it as a lesson learned and try to avoid the same mistake in the future.

      Good luck! And don’t forget we are always here to help.

  16. I am going to follow the tip to remove at least one item every day. Amazing tips as usual.



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