How Many New Items Should We Buy Each Year?

A few weeks ago, I launched the “End Closet Chaos” closed Facebook group.   The discussions in this group are so interesting and thought-provoking that I will periodically share some of them here on the blog.   Today’s post includes the very first discussion topic that I posed for the group (since then, group members have started multiple threads of their own and there is always lots of great conversation going on there).

New Items Per Year

What’s a reasonable amount of clothes to buy per year?

The Question…

Here’s the question that I asked the group members to comment on:

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how many new items it is reasonable to buy within a given year. I know there isn’t one number that will apply to everyone, but I’d love to get some thoughts on this subject. I know that the 50+ items I’ve been purchasing each year since I started “Recovering Shopaholic” is still too many, although it’s a lot fewer than the 150-200 annual purchases I made in 2012 and previous years. I’m thinking that I could probably reduce my purchases by half and it would still be more than enough, provided that I make wise choices. Thoughts?”

Thoughts From Group Members

Here’s what some of the group members had to say on the subject of yearly purchase numbers:

  • “This is something that I’ve been pondering a lot. Last year was the first time I counted my purchases. I bought 60 items. I was (and still am) trying to figure out my style and rebuild my wardrobe, so while I think it was too much, perhaps it was understandable. I think you’re right that bad purchases make us buy so much. Many of my bad purchases last year were made in the first half of the year when I was still fumbling, and many were also relatively cheap items. My first thought was “Well, no big deal. At least it was only cheap stuff.”, but then I realised that it was precisely the fact that they were cheap that was the problem. I make far fewer mistakes with expensive purchases because I put more thought into them.”
  • “For my 100-110 item wardrobe, the 60 items I purchased last year represented over half of my wardrobe, and, in my opinion, were way too many! That’s an average of 5 items per month. Three items per month (36 per year) seems more reasonable, and should be more than enough, I think. Even 24 (2 per month) seems like plenty to me on paper, but in reality I think I’d be bored and itching to buy more. I wonder if higher satisfaction with what I already have would help, though.”
  • “I always buy more than I plan also. I think my ideal number of things to buy as of right now is about 20. This year I’ve bought 35 things through July and about 14 of them are things that I’m very happy I have. Others have been okay and I’ve worn them, but I could have done without them. I have about 65 items of out and about clothing, so 35 pieces is about half of my wardrobe.”
  • “I think that an appropriate number of items per year is directly related to the size of your wardrobe, and that’s a highly individual number. My number of items is relatively low – I wear dresses rather than separates, and almost all of my clothes are casual.  If your wardrobe consists of 150 items, then purchasing 50 items a year seems like a lot of churn to me.”
  • “I’m tracking differently, with the same goal in mind. I’m looking at the average cost per wear and overall % of my closet lost or gained. My goal this year was to reduce my wardrobe size by 30% and increase cost per wear by 20%. I can’t do this if I bring in lots of stuff because new stuff has never been worn and automatically moves my numbers in the wrong direction.”
  • “I usually aim for around 32 items, as I tend to shop seasonally not monthly. It breaks down to about 8 items a season. However, if my basics wear out, I will shop for new ones and exceed 32 sometimes, going to 40. That’s clothes and shoes. I don’t count accessories, but I wear everything I have before making a new purchase. So I guess it’s a checks and balances thing. However, there are so many factors to this question, like: Do you need to rebuild your wardrobe? Do you have two main seasons or four individual ones? Do you shop monthly or quarterly? So the number for each is individual; this is just what I personally do.”
  • “Great thought exercise, especially relative to the size of the wardrobe. I have just under 100 items of out-and-about clothes (including shoes, bags, and scarves, but not jewelry or other accessories). I think the idea of cycling through about 1/4 of the wardrobe every year sounds right (tees and sweaters may need replacement more frequently, outerwear, woven items and shoes less often). So for me, that would be 25 items/year or about two per month. That is a lot less than I have been buying, but would still allow for a lot of variety and new things.”
  • “I looked into the replacement rate vs. wardrobe size last fall and decided for myself, about 20% or 25% rate was realistic. For my wardrobe right now, that’s about 30 new pieces each year. I include footwear and outerwear. I have 100 clothing items and 30 pairs of shoes right now, give or take. I’ve bought 24 items so far – including a hat, purse, and belt. I think I can get by with just 6 more for fall if I plan well. The past few years I’ve tracked, I bought around 50+ items. Before that, it was likely closer to 70 or more, as I subscribed to a bargain only mentality that gave me a huge wardrobe, but not a lot of cohesion.”
  • “I think next year my goal will be under 20. For me, this includes lounge wear, bras, etc., so it’s not always as many as it seems. I think I will focus more on accessories next year, as I now have a lot of good basics and get bored of them. Accessories seem to be a good way to spice things up without buying too many new items.”
  • “I’m trying to focus on cost per wear, loving everything I have in my closet and purging the items that are just… meh. Instead of a specific number, I try to only buy something when I feel there is a gap in my wardrobe. If I just “go shopping” without a plan, that is when I’ll go crazy and buy more than I want (or need).”
  • “Figure the number of days per week you need to dress in any type of clothing (summer wear, business, etc.) and how many weeks each year. Then you will see you have X opportunities to wear Y and Z.  If you find you realistically only can wear 6 skirts half a dozen times for the year, and you own 6 skirts already, you certainly don’t need to shop for more than maybe 1 or 2 refresher ones each year – simply to update your style.”
  • “I wonder if it really makes more sense to look at this in absolute terms (or based on frequently of wear) rather than as a percentage of wardrobe size. Imagine you only had 20 items –due to wearing each item frequently, you would probably have to replace them more frequently, and could be looking at a 50%+ annual turnover. Conversely, if you had 500 pieces, a reasonable-sounding 20% turnover would have you buying two pieces every week!”
  • “For me, it’s not about numbers nor cost per wear. If you owned only one formal expensive dress and you used it twice a year because there weren’t more occasions, I think it would still be absolutely worthwhile.  Instead, I think the key is ‘you will have reached your ideal minimal closet when you feel AT PEACE with the items you have.’ And that changes from one person to another.”

Your Thoughts?

I hope you enjoyed this selection of comments from the “End Closet Chaos” Facebook group on the topic of how many items is reasonable to purchase each year.  I’m sure we didn’t completely exhaust the topic, so I’d love to get your input as well.   How many clothing, shoes, and accessories do you buy each year?  What do you think is a reasonable number of pieces to purchase in those categories?  What factors come into play in determining the right number for you?  I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

I will be back soon with more thoughts from the Facebook group, another photography interlude, and some useful links related to wardrobe management, shopping psychology, and personal style.


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Comments

  1. Great topic Deb! I set myself a goal to purchase 60 items this year and I have now gone over that number. I also spent above my budget, unfortunately.
    I like to keep a 40 item capsule wardrobe, not including shoes and accessories. I would say it’s reasonable to add 10 new pieces each season to freshen up, and then a few cocktail dresses throughout the year for events. All up, approx 50 items seems reasonable for my sized wardrobe.
    That would equate to 30%, so I suppose in my mind I think it’s reasonable to renew your wardrobe by 30% each year.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I have been enjoying reading your posts, Jessica. I think replacing 30% per year is within a reasonable range, especially for someone who is very into fashion like you are. I have liked reading about your thought process and seeing your new items. You seem to be learning a lot from dressing with a capsule wardrobe. You’re making me wan to try it again…

  2. Hi Debbie! Like your group members have said, it depends according to the individual. Personally I’m aiming for 52 items this year, including coats, footwear and bags but not including “non-essential” accessories (e.g. jewellery, hats, etc.) For years I’ve stuck to the one in one out principal, but this has meant that I find myself in the position that if something wears out, it becomes an emergency for me to replace it because I literally don’t have more than is necessary in my wardrobe. This emergency buying has led to buying things that were sub-par out of pure need and then a few months later I let it go when I buy something in the same category that I like more. I’d like to give myself a bit more wriggle room so that I have more options.

    In case you’re not sure what I mean – at any one time I try to keep 10 work tops for spring/summer and 10 for autumn/winter. I’m currently down to 9 for spring/summer, though that doesn’t overly bother me because summer is well and truly over in the UK and I have about 8 months before I have to start wearing my summer clothes again. I’ve got time to find another summer top! I currently have 10 autumn/winter tops and dresses…but I’m not sure about all of them. I’ve just started wearing them again so it will soon become clear if any of them are worn out or otherwise unsuitable.

    My problem is that my style aesthetic has changed so many times over the past 5 years, to the extent that I’ve done a lot of purging followed by a lot of panicked, “emergency” buying. I don’t want to carry on like this. I’d like to have a medium sized wardrobe with low-medium turnover, but that also fulfills all my occasion needs. Isn’t that the dream though, the wardrobe holy grail?!!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing your process, Molly. I can see how a one-in, one-out policy could have both positive and negative aspects to it. Like you, I also want to have a medium-sized wardrobe with low medium turnover and have my wardrobe meet all of my occasion needs. It CAN seem like a sort of “holy grail,” but I believe it’s doable.

  3. How interesting!

    I have been on wardrobe building/starting from scratch mode from 2014. The end for this stage is in sight though. Next year, I plan to focus on accessories, and in 2017 I can hopefully change to maintenance mode. I have also been tracking what leaves my wardrobe. My style is classic rather than trendy, and all my purchases are meant to last for a long time.

    Recently, I calculated that in zero growth/slow turnover situation I would need to buy only 12 items per year, including shoes (but not including sportswear or underwear):
    -two pairs of shoes (one for fall/winter and one pair for spring/summer. We have 4 distinct seasons).
    -one coat (depending of need, either winter coat or a light coat)
    -5 basic items of clothing (replacements for things like jeans, white shirt, basic sweater, tank tops etc.)
    -two statement items of clothing (could either be interesting new pieces or formal items)
    -two accessories (jewelry, scarf, or a bag- pick any two!)

    This amount sounds very small, but the replacement rate of basic items/coats/shoes is calculated on based on what’s actually happened in my wardrobe. Since these items are classic and neutral, my goal is not to need to dispose of them while they are still in good shape.

    In addition to basics, I can buy two more exciting pieces. Only two, since these pieces are worn less frequently and thus last a long time in good shape. Though these items are more colorful or detailed, they are not overly trendy and can be worn for many seasons.

    Also, amount of accessories sounds tiny, but real accessories and silk scarves can last decades and even at this slow but consistent speed my collection will grow over the years. Assuming that I enter maintenance mode with a nice collection of classic jewelry and some scarves, I really don’t need more.

    Obviously, everything needs to be of great quality. But if the amount of items needed is this small, I can afford to pay for quality.

    I have to say though, that after a few years of shopping quite a lot, I expect that switching gears will be a challenge!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I appreciate your sharing your thought process, SR. It seems the tracking you have done has given you a lot of useful information. You have a very sound plan to govern your purchases. I think it helps a lot that you have a classic style. Classic pieces don’t need to be replaced as often, especially if they are high quality, as they don’t “date.” I wish you the best of luck with your plan!

  4. Life expectancy of clothes and planning the number of purchases over a five year period have been the resent topics on my blog, http://theyogasticshoppingplanner.blogspot.com.es/2015/09/five-year-shopping-plan-revisited.html. I have checked the expected life of every item category (2-3 years for tops, 4-5 years for pumps etc) against my spreadsheet where I have been tracking my wears for about 18 months. I know the number I want in each category and then the rest is simple math. My number is approximately 30 items per year (clothing, footwear, coats) but the planning also includes accessories, makeup and even household textiles:).

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I loved that post, Mette, and shared it in the Facebook group. We had a good discussion of clothing longevity there, which I may share a summary of on the blog at some point. I love how analytical you are with everything. A girl after my own heart 🙂 30 per year seems to be a very reasonable number for most people.

  5. For me the perfect number of clothes depends on various factors; the replacement of worn-out items, the changing of our tastes in clothing (I liked straight pants, now I favour skinnies, go figure!), our personal perception of ‘too much clothing’; this year I bought much less than the past year, but I was building my closet back then, while now I just have very few closet holes… So I decided that anything between 24-36 items is the perfect number for me, and while I may exceed a bit this year, I’ll try to be more cautious of what I buy next year!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Good recap of the factors that go into how much we should buy, Maria. You’re right that there are some years when we need more, but I think your perfect number of 24-36 per year is probably the right number for me, too. I also plan to be more cautious of what I buy next year!

  6. Once upon a time I used to buy things purely because they would “look good” or “go with” something else. I never contemplated the question of whether I would really wear it. I shopped all the time and bought things weekly, had way too much and never wore half of it anyway.

    Nowadays I am more deliberate and I shop less. Asking the question “when and where am I ACTUALLY going to wear this?” has stopped many random purchases. And in fact, I have found that being strict with myself is just as much fun as shopping used to be. High Five to Self when I walk out of a shop with nothing.

    I don’t think I need a set limit of purchases but I try to aim for no more than one item per month. But it can depend. For example, this winter I will need several new sweaters as I have been wearing mine for a few years now and they look shabby so I could well end up buying 4 in a month.

    Americans seem to buy a lot of things. I guess that’s because clothing is much cheaper over there than here in Europe.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Your question is a good one to keep in mind, Carolyn. I know that if I used that question diligently, I would buy a lot less. You’re right that Americans buy a lot of things, often TOO many. Sadly, a lot of people here view clothing as disposable because the prices are so low and there seem to be sales going on all the time.

  7. I need to replace about 4 short-sleeve tees and 4 long-sleeve tees each year, plus a couple of pants/jeans. These are necessary. The rest is just out of boredom. My business casual clothes last me several years. Button-downs and pants do not go out of style. So strictly speaking, I need to replace about 10 items of clothing a year, plus maybe a pair of shoes or some underwear. The rest is gravy and not essential.

    If I need, say, a new blazer, I will look for a few months – in consignment stores, online, on ebay. I wear very specific silhouettes and colours, so 90% of those I see will not work. When I do see something that fits, I will buy it and the worn out one goes out. I have a large wardrobe – of about 150 items, but I have four distinct seasons and wear everything.

    • Deborah (Deby) says:

      My wardrobe is very similar to yours in terms of quantity, strategic purchases and seasonal divisions, except I combine spring/summer and fall/winter to have two seasons. I tend to wear darker colors in fall/winter.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Good point about boredom being a factor in why we buy more than we truly need, Nutrivore. That is definitely the case for me, as well as shopping for emotional reasons. You have a good plan for your purchases. Doing “one in, one out” helps to keep one’s wardrobe to a more manageable size.

  8. I’m surprised that people list “sweaters” as stuff they need to replace often. My wool sweaters last years and years. Hand wash them with Eucalan, dry them flat (drycleaning shortens their life considerably) and you’re good to go. Lambswool lasts much longer than merino. You can get a good non-itchy British wool sweater for $50 at Woolovers.

    I also hand wash silk/wool scarves and suits with Eucalan.

    Acrylic and other fibres are a different story, which is why I never buy them.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing your sweater care tips, Nutrivore. I am not a fan of acrylic, either. I find it itchy and uncomfortable, but it’s in so many knits these days…

  9. I really appreciate your publishing excerpts of the discussion. I need to hear people’s numbers (and need to keep track of my own). I am–if anything–an underspender, but the quantity can so easily get out of hand. Yes, clothing is cheap in the US and there are many second-hand venues, which are even cheaper…hence the overstuffed closets.

    Again, many thanks!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I’m glad you liked this post, frugalscholar. I agree that it’s helpful to learn others’ numbers. I intend to do more posts like this in the future, as there is a lot of great conversation going on in the Facebook group and I know that not everyone is able to or wants to participate there.

  10. Great topic. What I’ve discovered is that there is no reason for me to buy near as much as I once thought I did! Since I work at home and spend a great deal of time socializing at home with friends and family, and our casual lifestyle includes dogs, cats, children and sticky fingers and muddy paw prints and cooking, home chores and yard work– I need to replace my “day-to-day casual wear” far more often. Whereas my nicer clothing and dressy clothes that are only worn when I’m away from home when I’m not doing any type of dirty work– requires replacement and additions less often, and I keep my purchases in this category limited to about 10-12 items per year.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      My lifestyle is very similar to yours, Terra, and I need to replace at-home wear more often. My plan is to put a lot more focus on that category of my wardrobe moving forward, as that’s what I wear for the majority of my life. I could probably limit my out and about purchases to about the same number as you make if I could discipline myself to do so and aim to high quality pieces only.

  11. I actually buy very few things during each year, but I do not plan my wardrobe based on one number or even numbers of items. (Does a coat have the same cost as a tee shirt?) I have my budget (means planning based on dollars, folks) divided into undergarments, bedtime, basic garments for work, casual and exercise wear, outerwear, and shoes and purses. Other accessories have a separate budget. The “wear patterns” are very different and the “need factors” are also different. Then there are the issues of (1) climate and (2) daily activities including work. Finally, unless one is very wealthy, one cannot buy a lot of anything that is of good quality. That is a fact. The only mitigating factors in stretching a budget (that I can think of ) are (1) being able to sew very, very well … and that includes being able to fit a pattern to perfection and (2) taking very good care of your clothes. My opinion only, of course. The only other comment I can make is that it is crucial that women think long-term about their finances and budgeting for clothes is a part of that plan. Otherwise you are compromising your future (and your possibly your family) in very serious ways.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I admire how organized and methodical you are about your budgeting, Susan. You certainly put me to shame! I agree that one can’t buy very many items if the focus is on quality. Taking good care of our clothes helps a lot to make things last longer so we need to buy less.

  12. I’ve bought 19 items so far this year, and it feels like far too many to me. I probably won’t buy anything else the entire year… though I have been looking for a very long sleeveless jacket for some time now, so if I find one, make that 20 items. My intention in general is to buy no more than 10 items (clothes and shoes, but not including underwear and gym wear) per year, so this is way more than I intended to buy. I really don’t see why one should need to buy more than 10 items a year. I need to remind myself that there are only so many days in a year in which to wear my existing clothes, let alone any new ones. And getting rid of stuff might shrink the size of one’s wardrobe but if you’re still over-buying you are just over-purging too, and I’d rather spend a higher proportion of my money on investments that will MAKE money (actual investments, not the fake ‘investment’ of ridiculously-priced clothes that will never make money) rather than clothes and shoes I’m just going to donate or throw out irrespective of condition. Just think about how much money you could make with that money you’re currently using to buy clothes you will go off in a year or two!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Good point about how over-buying can also lead to over-purging, Wendy. That has definitely been the case for me and I want to turn both around. I think that if one is buying good quality pieces, being mindful about what they’re buying, and buying for their real instead of imagined lifestyle, the purchase number would likely go way down.

  13. Interesting topic. I shop only twice a year and buy probably 12 to 15 pieces. And while I am happy with each of these items, I could have easily made do without most of them. I just moved from a walk-in to a closet the size of a shoe box. Great answer to the question of whether I need something.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Having a small closet can definitely help to keep our shopping in check! I can’t imagine having a closet that small, but it would likely help me to buy less…

  14. Another important factor is what you consider your wardrobe. I live and work in/near San Francisco so most of my wardrobe is professional fall clothes. I just bought 2 dresses, shorts, and 2 t-shirts for a week in Hawaii. If I count these as part of my wardrobe they are a waste since, other that the t-shirts, they likely won’t be used for years or will be donated before the next similar trip. Instead I see these as vacation costs; similar to buying clothes for a costume party. I could buy a cheap costume or I could thrift/ h&m with some possible residual wear.

    I try not to have a set number or percent since I now have a workable wardrobe with special situation clothes set aside. Instead, like someone above, I try and wear new purchases a few times before buying anything else. I tend to buy in clusters so this means I have a few new things to roll out over a couple of weeks and often I return some items when I realize I did feel compelled to grab them. That said I am mindful of all purchases; basics, accessories, etc. are all given the same treatment since $$ spent and wears is the ultimate decider for my wardrobe. And for that I do include vacation spending.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Very interesting perspective, Julia! It makes sense to consider vacation wear as part of one’s travel budget if those types of clothes will never be worn at home. I never thought of it that way before, but I can definitely see your point.

  15. Deborah (Deby) says:

    I’ve been reading with interest how most of you seem to predetermine the quantity of garments you are allowed to purchase each season or year.

    I go about it a very different way. I permit myself a certain dollar amount to spend each six month season (spring/summer, fall/winter). As I learn what the trends are for the upcoming season, I experiment with some of them to see if they are right for me. At the outset of the season I may buy just a few things, but I do the bulk of my purchases mid-season when the first big sales start. I very seldom ever pay full retail for anything. I will target in advance what I want to add to my closet after I’ve had a chance to look at what’s out there, then I wait for it to go on sale. My process is very strategic and I am content to wait–I do not feel a sense of urgency.

    For me the “numbers” boil down to dollars spent not quantity of items purchased. I may do a certain amount of returning in my experimentation to get the perfect garment. I am very picky about fit as I don’t like to spend money and time on alterations. If its not perfect off the rack when I get it home, it goes back. I am not sentimental. There’s always something similar but different or better out there. The end result is that I usually come in under budget for the season, and then I get a reward.

    My reward for coming in under budget for spring/summer 2015 was a new Coach work tote bag in the exact purple color I have wanted since I was 16, and not been able to find before now. It will work for me 365 days a year and I think its one of the best purchases I’ve made in recent history!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Your approach is very smart, Deby! I think it’s great that you are so methodical about your shopping and still don’t pay full retail for your purchases. Your strict standards and lack of sentimentality in shopping is surely serving you well. Congrats on your amazing purple bag purchase – what a great reward!

  16. I think the word “should” is a tricky one. The number of items one purchases for a year can very so much based on circumstances. If you have a change of location, job, or health with resulting weight loss or gain, then you will have to buy more clothes than you would if your life remained status quot. Even having an epiphany about your style can require a big adjustment in your wardrobe. Maybe it is just me, but I can’t seem to work with a numbers based approach. As soon as I set a budget or tell myself I can have only so many pairs of shoes, I am just setting myself up for failure! For me, just becoming aware of the realities of my life circumstances, purchasing patterns and emotional triggers has been tremendously eye opening. This and other blogs, the Konmari method and researching the psychology of over shopping and working on “family of origin” issues has been very helpful in becoming aware of what I have been doing to myself and my family finances. It is indeed a long road to recovery. I am not on Facebook at all and don’t want to open that can of worms, so I limit my comments to this comments page. Thanks for keeping this up Debbie, and I hope you have a good rest and a insightful refocus.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing your insights, Lori. You raised some very important variables here. I think it’s hard for some of us NOT to have boundaries on our shopping, whether it be numbers or a budget. But your approach is quite sound. Not being on Facebook is probably saving you a lot of time! You’re right that it can be a can of worms!

  17. I love your thoughtful questions. I had no idea how many articles of clothing [and pairs of shoes] had come in so I went back and looked at my purchase logs.
    In 2014: 27 [with 8 not working out] A big part of this was being in a wedding and being in charge of finding a suitable outfit – not a typical year.
    In 2015: I am at 25, with one mistake. A cotton skirt that wrinkles so badly I gave it to goodwill the day after buying/wearing.
    I track purchase because I want to know what I have spent in a given category but I don’t think about number of new items per year. I live in a 4 season climate and I buy either according to needs [I need new snow boots] or when things I like wear out [want new dress as purple one wore out]. Weight fluctuations of 10 pounds necessitate buying as well.
    Still slush can creep in! When I went through my Autumn/Winter I got rid of two bags of stuff, either too worn or unloved. My total clothing wardrobe for all 4 seasons is around 95 pieces right now. [tops, trousers, skirts, dresses, blazers/jackets/cardigans]

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing your numbers and your mistakes, Mary. I am going to do a purchase analysis soon and I know I haven’t fared as well as you have!

  18. Debbie Roes says:

    Thank you all so much for your wonderful additional feedback on this topic! I enjoyed reading your various perspectives on how many items to buy each year and the thought process that goes into what you do. I like that some of you shared your numbers, too!

    I knew that if I posted the comments from the Facebook group here, readers would have more to add – and you definitely did! You brought up lots of things I had never even thought of, which was great. I will be doing more posts like these in the future, so those who are not on Facebook or don’t have the time or the desire to participate in the group will still get to benefit from some of the discussions that are going on over there. I hope you liked this format!

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