Lessons from Closet Reorganization

I was inspired to reorganize my closet yesterday after reading an article by Jill Chivers titled “You Don’t Wear What You Can’t See.”  In this article, Jill offers her top tips for creating an organized wardrobe you can shop in.  Since I’m working to “shop my closet” rather than the mall these days, I’m all for learning more about how I can successfully do this.

Organized Closet

How do you organize your closet?

A New Suggestion

Many of Jill’s tips were things I’ve read and used before.  In fact, some of them I’ve even offered myself in previous blog posts.  However, there was one suggestion that was new to me which may make a big difference in terms of how I approach my wardrobe:

With prints, I advocate putting them together in a ‘print’ grouping and not interspersing them with your colours…”

I had never thought to separate my printed pieces from my solid pieces.  For as long as I can remember, I have divided my closet into sections by garment type and then organized each section by color.  In terms of my tops, for example, I hung all of the sleeveless tops together from white to black, and I did the same with my short-sleeved and long-sleeved tops. The printed items were all organized according to their dominant color in the white to black color scheme.  I thought this means of organization worked well for me, but since I’m still struggling with my closet, I decided to try Jill’s method for a while.

Tops - Before Closet Reorg

My tops before the closet reorganization – by sleeve length, prints mixed in with solids.

So I Reorganized My Closet…

So yesterday, I took an hour or so to rearrange my closet as per Jill’s recommendations. I put all of my tops together and organized them into color and pattern groupings.  Within each color or pattern grouping, I organized the tops by sleeve length (sleeveless first, then short-sleeved, then long- sleeved).  I did the same thing for my toppers, hanging blazers and cardigans together instead of separating them like I’d done previously.

I still kept the tops and toppers I wear with skirts separated from the ones I wear with pants, as these garments are shorter in proportion.  I know many of you probably wear the same tops with both pants and skirts, but that never seems to work for my proportions and I haven’t been one to tuck things in, either.  The fact that I have different tops for skirts and pants means that my wardrobe is both larger and less versatile.  I’ve been okay with that up to now, but I may try to find a way to change that moving forward (a topic for another post perhaps…).

Tops - After Closet Reorganization

My tops after the closet reorganization – by color, solids on left, prints on right.

Followed by a Different Type of Closet Inventory…

After I had completed my closet shift, I was immediately struck by how many printed garments I have in my wardrobe.  My next inclination was to count my numbers of printed and solid garments.  I also took the time to do an inventory of my closet by colors and patterns.

I find it quite interesting that I’ve never done such an inventory before (you can see my last standard inventory here).  After all, aren’t I the “Queen of Closet Data”?  Those who’ve been reading “Recovering Shopaholic” for a while are well aware of my penchant for compiling data and crunching numbers, but I had never tabulated stats on the colors and prints in my wardrobe.  Well, now I have!

It’s amazing how much I continue to learn about my wardrobe through my various closet exploration exercises!  I share today’s experiment in the hope that what I’ve learned will shed some light on some of your closet issues and dilemmas. Perhaps some of you will be inspired to either reorganize your closets or do an inventory of the colors and patterns in your wardrobes (if you do, I hope you’ll share what you learn!).

First, I’ll present the numbers and then I’ll share the conclusions I’ve drawn from that information.   Here goes!

By the Numbers – Solids vs. Prints

  • Number of Solid Garments:  92  (62%)
  • Number of Printed Garments:  56  (38%)
  • Number of Solids, Including Shoes & Bags:  130  (68%)
  • Number of Prints, Including Shoes & Bags:  62  (32%)

I don’t think there’s an ideal proportion of solid versus printed garments in a wardrobe.  While it’s true that solid pieces can often be more versatile and easier to mix and match, the current trend for pattern mixing is leveling the playing field a bit.  The most important consideration is how often your wardrobe pieces get worn.  If you love prints and wear them all the time, then it makes sense to have lots of them in your closet.

As for me, I do wear my printed pieces quite a bit, especially since all of my pants are solids (and all denim, black, or grey at this point).  I like to wear printed tops with my pants to “jazz” things up a bit.  Interestingly, when it comes to my warm weather wardrobe, I tend to wear prints on my bottom half quite a bit more often.  Eleven of my eighteen skirts and dresses are printed (61%) and I have far more solid tops (11 vs. 7) and toppers (11 vs. 5) than prints to wear with them.  In contrast, I have almost the same number of solid (29) versus printed (30) tops to wear with pants.  But when it comes to toppers for pants, my solids (10, or 22 if you include coats) far outweigh my prints (only 3 at this point).

Later in this post, I’ll share what all of the data presented means in terms of my shopping priority list.  I’ve definitely made a few shifts based upon what I’ve learned about the colors and prints in my wardrobe.

By the Numbers – Colors

After my garments had all been separated into sections for solids and prints, I took a few minutes to count my solid garments by colors.  Here are the color numbers for the 92 solid pieces in my closet:

  • White:  2
  • Red:   4
  • Orange/Coral/Light Pink:  5
  • Yellow:  1
  • Green/Teal:  11
  • Blue/Navy:  24
  • Purple/Burgundy/Wine:  12
  • Grey:  7
  • Black:  26

The biggest surprise here was how few white pieces I own, especially since I consider white to be one of my key neutrals (see this post for more on that topic).  I actually do have a lot of white in my wardrobe, but it’s mostly in the form of prints, as you will see below.  However, I didn’t realize how few solid white garments I have until I reorganized my closet to hang all of the colors together!

I was also surprised that red and grey are not as well-represented in my closet as I thought, as those are two of my favorite colors.  I have far more black (no surprise…), blue, green, and purple pieces at this point.  I’m okay with that, as those are all good tones for my coloring, but I wouldn’t mind adding another piece or two of red and grey to the mix.   As for the few orange/coral/pink and yellow pieces, most of them have been in my closet for quite some time.  I don’t intend to purchase new garments in those colors since I’m simplifying my color palette, but I’ll keep the pieces I have as long as I like and wear them.

By the Numbers – Pattern Colors

  • Black/White:  20
  • Black/Grey:  10
  • Black/Blue:  4
  • Black/Green:  3
  • Black/Red:  2
  • Blue/White:  3
  • Grey/White:  1
  • Other:  13

It’s no big surprise that black is so well represented among my prints, as black is the core neutral in my wardrobe.  The “other” category includes a few multi-color prints that include black, as well as purple, blue, and pink printed pieces.  Almost all of my printed pieces are in the core wardrobe colors that I recently identified.

By the Numbers – Types of Patterns

  • Stripes:  30
  • Polka Dots:  6
  • Leopard Print:  6
  • Florals:  4
  • Other:  10

Yes, it’s confirmed that I’m a bonafide “stripe-a-holic”!  You might think my stripes collection is overkill, but stripes are as much of a signature style for me as animal prints are for Jill Chivers.  I love to wear stripes of all different colors and never seem to get tired of them.

I also love polka dots and leopard print (but am veering more toward the grey-toned version than the standard tan/brown tone).  Florals are less of a favorite for me, as they can seem too ultra-feminine for my personal style aesthetic.  However, I like some of the less “girly” versions of florals, as well as black and white floral prints.  The “other” category includes mostly abstract prints in various color schemes.

By the Numbers – Shoes and Bags

In terms of shoes and bags, I have mostly solids and only a few prints.  Here are my shoe numbers:

  • Silver/Pewter/Grey:  11
  • Black:  16
  • Tan:  1
  • Red:  1
  • Leopard Print:  3
  • Polka Dot:  1

My handbag numbers aren’t much different:

  • Pewter:  5
  • Black:  5
  • Black/Leopard Print:  1
  • Black/Snake Print:  1

I would like to buy another printed pair of shoes (multi-color would be ideal) and a brightly colored bag (probably in cobalt blue).  I believe these additions would do a lot to round out my accessories collection in terms of print and color.

The Data and My Shopping Priorities

So what do I make of all of this data?  Well I shared some of my conclusions above, in terms of wanting more white pieces in my wardrobe and the shoe and handbag additions I’d like to make.  My shopping priorities have changed in other ways based upon what I learned from my closet reorganization.  I would like to add the following pieces to my wardrobe this year:

  • Grey skirt
  • Brightly-colored skirt
  • Colored pants (I’ve been trying to find these for a while, but no luck yet!)
  • Printed pants (there are lots of these out there, so fingers crossed regarding the length…)
  • White special top (by special, I mean some interesting details, not just a solid tee)
  • Cobalt special top
  • Grey special top
  • Red special top
  • Brightly-colored dress
  • Printed toppers for pants (2-3)
  • Multi-color shoes (as mentioned above)
  • Brightly-colored handbag (as mentioned above)

That’s all I can think of right now, but if you see any glaring omissions in my wardrobe, please share them with me. Of course, as I bring new pieces into my closet, I will purge some existing items, as I still want to meet my wardrobe goals for 2014.

Moving Forward…

I’m not sure how long I will keep my closet organized as it is now, but doing the reorganization certainly helped me to increase my awareness of what I own.  I may opt to keep my closet as is until the end of June, which is when I generally move things around in order to feature my warm weather garments more prominently (everything is in one closet now!), or I may decide to change it sooner.   

At some point, I will likely integrate the prints back in with the solids once again, but I think I’ll definitely keep my tops together in color groups instead of separating them first by sleeve length and then color like I used to.  I like being able to better see my color and pattern groupings under the new arrangement.   I hope I will wear more of what I have and make better shopping choices now that I more fully understand what I own in terms of colors and prints. 

Thanks to Jill Chivers!

A big thanks to Jill Chivers for making me think and for inspiring this post!  I will definitely keep you posted about how my recent closet reorganization affects what I wear and my satisfaction with my closet.

By the way, for those of you who are struggling with overshopping, Jill has two amazing programs that were specifically created to help women form healthier relationships with shopping, their wardrobes, and their wallets.  I have personally taken both of Jill’s programs and believe they were instrumental in getting me on the path toward overcoming my compulsive shopping problem.

Your Thoughts?

Now I’d love to hear from you… How do you organize your closet?  Do you separate your solid and printed garments?  Do you use a different organizational structure altogether?  I’d love to read about what works best for you.  If you make any changes as a result of this post or Jill’s article, please share about why you made the switch, what you learned, and how it’s working for you.

36 thoughts on “Lessons from Closet Reorganization

  1. Hello Debbie! I have to admit, my clothing is a little haphazardly organized. They’re sorted by type and that’s it. I’m going to try this out and see if I learn anything from it too 🙂 thank’s for the idea!

    I feel like I’ve finally figured out a target wardrobe size to focus on- small enough to be a challenge and large enough to give me a variety of opportunities. I like goals with reason behind them- arbitrary goals are harder to pick and stick with for me. I’m excited and am doing a new inventory soon to see where I’m at! I posted how I reached my numbers if you’re interested, but I’ve thought about it further and also applied a similar approach to accessories and other things.

    • I loved your post on target wardrobe size (and made a comment there). I’m glad I’m not the only one who “geeks out” about such things… 🙂 You are on the right track and I believe you will meet your goals – good for you!

  2. I consciously moved away from prints about 3 years ago when I realized the sheer number of florals and ditzy print dresses I’d amassed over the previous 15 or 20 years. I now have about 3 printed dresses out of 15, and maybe 5 printed shirts now out of 30+. Interestingly, even though I don’t have a lot of prints, I do have 2 pair of printed (and loud at that!) pants out of 15 or so, and 3 or 4 printed skirts out of about 12.
    This is a good number for me, and proportionately adds enough visual oomph to my wardrobe while still allowing a lot of remixing.
    I will also agree that adding white has added an extra dimension to my outfits. It offsets the other colors and adds punch. I’ve added white jeans and 2 white jackets most recently. So happy with them all!

    • Oh, and yes, I organize the same way, by garment type and then color, but I sometimes butt one color up against the next category for visual cohesion, like my long sleeves might start with white and end with black, but then the short sleeves start with black, so that those blacks are together. And since I have few prints, I tuck them between their shared solid colors instead of grouping together as a separate entity.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on prints and how you organize your wardrobe, Mo. I love how we all do things so differently and can learn from each other! It seems like printed bottoms are working better for you than the tops. That’s definitely been true for me with skirts, but finding printed pants hasn’t been easy for me with my height and fit issues. I would just like to have more of a mix. White pants would be helpful as well, if I can find those. I don’t need a lot in order to make things more versatile, but I’m glad to be more aware now of my solids and prints wardrobe distribution. I’m still surprised that I never figured this out before!

  3. Into Mind has a great post on Wardrobe Organization that suggests ways of organizing your wardrobe according to how you put outfits together. I don’t have a perfect system and consider it successful if all my clothes are off the floor! But if I were to use one of Anuschka’s systems, it would most likely be the statements / basics approach in which my statement pieces and basics are separated, because that is generally how I dress.

    • I always love Into Mind’s posts! That one gave me some more food for thought for future wardrobe organization methods I might want to try. I would have never thought of those ideas, but Anuschka’s posts are always creative and informative. Thanks for sharing – I’m sure others will benefit as well!

  4. I organize by color, then garment type (jacket, blouse, etc.), then sleeve length (tops) and pants length. All 5 of my B&W prints tops (polka dots, glen plaid, overall design, etc.) are hung together in between the white and the black garments. I have one navy print top and one cranberry print top — hung at the end of the navy and cranberry stuff respectively. One print dress. Everything hangs in my closet year round (with some protection from moth and dust). Everything I own is on view daily and helps me know exactly what I own and what I need, if anything. Shoes are in shoe cubbies and clearly visible. Purses are black or red — with one pewter one. The ones not being used are kept in dust bags but I only have 6 purses –5 waiting to be used and one in use. Seems like a lot to me. I often wonder why I have 2 red purses, so I think I could get by with total of 3 — one of each color — BUT I like both red purses and one of the black purses is a dressy bag. (My justification!) Because the wardrobe is so small I know that the cranberry floral top will work with navy pants, gray pants, or black pants, and so on. I only buy print tops if they can be worn with more than one color.

    • I’m happy to say that all of my clothes finally hang in my closet year-round, too. That wasn’t the case for SO long! However, your closet organization method sounds more workable than what mine was. Mine is still evolving (more on that in response to your other comment). It seems like organizing by color works very well for you. I think that having 6 purses is not at all excessive if you use all of them. I don’t use all of my purses, but I’m going to take them all out for a spin soon and may opt to pass some along. It’s all about using what we have and making it work for us. You are doing that well and I hope to be soon, too.

  5. When I look at your “after” photo, I still see a lot of visual “clutter.” (It doesn’t look that different than the “before” photo to me.) I see teal tops in one place then more teal tops in another place, stripe tops at one end and then some more in the middle and then a few more further down the rail. I need a lot more simplicity — all the teal in one color block, all the B&W in another, etc. Why not put the teal “pants” top at one end of a “teal” block and the “skirt” teal tops at the other end? Ditto other colors and all those striped tops.

    • I agree with Dottie on the “after” visual clutter. I don’t understand exactly what you did in your reorganization. I wear very few prints except in summer, and then mostly on the bottom. I arrange things on the rack by type of garment, then by color in each type category, using the “roygbv” method + black + white. All my clothing is visible all the time. Sweaters, jeans, and corduroy pants are folded on a shelf. My shoes live in open racks.

    • You both raise good points, Dottie and Deby. The photos made it hard to see what I did, so I cropped them just to show my tops for pants. Now you can hopefully see that the solids are on the left and the prints on the right. That said, there was still too much “visual clutter,” so I’ve further refined things. I will do an update with new photos soon, but here’s what I did in a nutshell (thanks for your honesty, as it prompted me to make additional changes): I have my garment types arranged by color with the prints integrated in by their primary color (I have white and black at the end of each section like Deby does). The various sleeve lengths are separated within the color groupings. I now have all of my dresses and skirts at the left of my closet and the tops and toppers I wear with them are in that section as well. The pants are on the right, as are the tops and toppers I wear with them. My closet looks SO much better now and I think I can keep it the same way year-round. It looks a lot less cluttered and I feel it will be easier to get dressed under the new arrangement.

  6. I read Jill Chivers article and take some issue about following how stores organize their clothing displays as a model for organizing a closet. Very few stores (maybe some smaller boutiques or specialty stores) have a complete line of clothing in any one department. Often the clothes are organized by “collections” or manufacturers/designers — and some people wander from one area of the store (or from store to store) to another to put together a complete outfit/wardrobe. Or someone wears petite pants but misses blouses (or vice versa) and has to shop in at least 2 different areas or even different stores. If you want a belt, you have to schlepp to the accessory area(s) to find one. Store displays are created to encourage shopping, not to manage clothing in your closet. So organizing first by type seems confusing — and seems like this method with engender duplicate purchases. Which makes retailers happy but can result in too much of the same stuff. (My sister once had 13 cream blouses hung in various closets! I got her to whittle this down to 6 and we nearly came to blows during the clear-out. She really responded to the displays of cream-colored blouses in various stores.)

    • You raised some good points, Dottie. Perhaps Jill was referring to boutiques in terms of what she wrote. I think she shops in a lot of boutiques (when she shops anymore), but I’m not sure… I agree with you that what works best for retailers is not necessarily what will work best for us in terms of organizing our closets! Interesting about your sister and the cream blouses. I can identify with her experience in that I have tended to buy too many of the same types of garments. I think that many of us shop too much by emotions and not enough by logic. That can get us into a lot of trouble!

      • Actually, my sister had 21 cream blouses, but 8 of them had issues (too small, stained, funny collar, etc.) and these were culled immediately. She still has a lot of multiples but now she has fewer but larger closets and thus can see all of her clothes at once.

  7. Maybe I need to re-read this post, but I don’t see much (any?) difference in the before and after photos. I still see a mind-boggling array of clothes. Maybe the “less is more” movement is having an affect on me, after all!

    • The differences were hard to see in the wide views, so I have changed the before and after photos to only show my tops. Hopefully, the change is visible now. That said, I have made more changes this morning as a result of Dottie’s and Deby’s comments below. See my responses to them for an overview. Yes, I still have too many clothes, but my newest arrangement is much more visually appealing. I will do an update post with new photos next week! Thanks for your honesty, Bette.

  8. I’ve almost completely eliminated prints from my wardrobe. They attract my attention when I shop, yes, but I don’t wear them all that much. They are just not ‘me’. I’m much more into solids in different textures. Eliminating prints has made my wardrobe much more versatile!

    I’ve also noticed that the clothes I actually wear are not in my wardrobe – they are folded up on a chair so that I can see them, about 10-20 items in total. I’m starting to think that the more closet space, shelves and drawers I have, the more unworn clothes they can hide…

    • Good to see you here commenting again, FrugalFashionista. It seems like you’ve really come to understand what works best for you. That’s what we all need to do if we have any hope of having a workable wardrobe. I’m still figuring it all out. I’ve made further refinements to my closet since I wrote this article yesterday (mostly in response to Dottie’s and Deby’s comments), so hopefully my self-awareness will continue to grow. I agree with you that the more places we have to put our clothes (even if it’s too many visible “sections” within a closet, like I had), the less we wear at least some of what we have. Sounds like you’re becoming a true wardrobe minimalist. How great that you refined your wardrobe down to what you truly love and are wearing those pieces often!

  9. Organising my closet is one of my hobbies, LOL.
    Yes, I get great pleasure from keeping my closet in order and color co-ordinating it. Since I recently got rid of numerous colors from my wardrobe, it is now much more streamlined. It has been easier and quicker to dress. I keep solids together and prints at the end of each solid section.

    • Apparently, it’s one of my hobbies, too, Carolyn (see today’s post…). I’m always trying to improve upon the organization of my closet! It sounds like yours is working well for you these days – good for you!

  10. I don’t have a lot of prints in my wardrobe, so this exercise seems less interesting for me. But I am paying more attention lately to the ‘basics & statement pieces’ ratio. For me, most printed items would be statement pieces (along with other items) and it does seem useful to me to have these items stand out in your wardrobe for easier outfit building…

    • I see prints as “statement pieces,” too, Liesbeth. I think part of the reason I have so many printed tops is because my pants are mostly dark and plain. I find the “basics and statement pieces” approach interesting. I hadn’t heard of it before Emma posted about it above. I love that there are so many approaches – something for everyone!

  11. My purse may be a mess, my car a fright, my desk a terror, but my closet is always perfectly organized. All pants are together, all skirts together, all tops. Everything steamed or ironed and hanging facing the same direction, coded by color and in range from sleeveless to long-sleeves. My shoes are sorted by color and type. Scarves are stacked in color categories. Purses displayed. Belts are hung. This, all in a small space. I simply cannot get dressed in a mess!! Jill Chivers is correct, if you can’t see it, you can’t use it.

    • Sounds fabulous! I sort of follow a similar plan except I do color first, then type, then sleeve or pant length. So in my “red” section, I have red jackets, red l/s blouses and tops, red 3/4 tops, red s/s tops, and red sleeveless tops. (No red pants! I’m still thinking about getting some before they disappear from the stores completely!) I sandwich the tops in between jackets on one end and pants on the other. I think this works for me because I have a very small wardrobe — just one pair of jeans (at the end of the “blue” section). I keep my scarves stored (or hung) by color too. I have a set of shoe cubbies on either side of my closet. One side holds sandals and casual shoes, the other loafers and dressier shoes. — all arranged by color and type. Now if I could only organize my home office….

    • Happy Forgiver, both you and Dottie seem to be great models for closet organization! I think I had SO much for so long that I was trying to manage it all. It’s getting easier as I pare things down, but I’ve learned a lot from the comments to this post! I even changed my closet organization as a result (see today’s new part two on the topic). Dottie – my home office needs some work, too! No photos of that!

  12. I don’t have a fabulous organization system. Tops are in one section, bottoms in another, jackets/ short coats in a third, and long pieces (dresses, robes, long coats) in a fourth. Well, those are the hanging sections. There’s also sweaters on shelves, and t-shirts in drawers, which are all migrating slowly to hanging sections as I create room for them. Shoes are haphazardly organized into casual and dressy shelves. Purses are on shelves too. Within each hanging section, I put clean items away on the left, with the idea that unworn items will gradually migrate to the right, to make it easier to purge the unworn items. Visually, it’s a big mess. But, I kind of like the mix of colors and it is working at the moment.

    Anyway, with your reorganization, I find it interesting that it left you wanting to fill perceived holes, instead of wanting to purge some of the black tops, or other colors that are over represented. It seems to me that balancing the closet should include both purging and filling in the holes.

    • Coming back to say that, now having finally read the original article you linked to, I think I might give organizing my tops and jackets by color a try. It’s probably a good exercise, like you found, even if I don’t stick to it forever.

    • I only recently learned about the organization method you mentioned, Sarah, but I find it quite intriguing. It’s an alternative to turning the hangers around to help one see what is and isn’t being worn. I can see how it could be quite helpful in making it easier to purge unworn pieces. I like that we can try various closet organization methods for a time and switch it up when we feel the need for a change. I switched things once again, as you’ll see in today’s post…

    • I just realized that I forgot to respond to your second paragraph about balancing the closet. Yes, I definitely plan to continue purging items from my wardrobe, especially as I add new things to it. I’m not necessarily doing one-in, one-out every time I buy something, but I periodically review to see what I’m not wearing and/or no longer really like. I let go of quite a few things last month and a few this month already as well. I will also re-evaluate at the end of each season. Many of the new pieces I want to buy this year (other than the ones mentioned in this article) are replacements for things I already have, so I will let go of the less fab piece once the replacement has been purchased. I never want to have the HUGE wardrobe I had at the beginning of 2013, so I know I need to have checks and balances in place to make sure that doesn’t happen!

  13. Interesting and insightful post. I have also tried organizing my closet in various ways, by items of the same type, same color, prearranged outfit combinations, etc. Currently I have items by type and rotate them (if I have 7 pairs of jeans, when I wear one, it goes to the back). I will pull items ‘out of order’ just to mix things up so I’m not wearing say, black jeans every Tuesday only, but this rotation works quite well for me so that I wear each item at about the same frequency. I haven’t tried by print before, interesting idea! Whenever I’ve organized by color, I have found that a great way to figure out where I was overbuying in a color and often if I have too much of one color, I get bored.

    • I don’t get hanging “outfits” together — most of my tops work with more more than one skirt or pants and my pants/skirts with 4-5 tops each at a minimum. Back in my early 20s I bought my clothes as a top and then coordinating bottom and ended up with a lot of mish-mash. Now I everything I buy has to work with a bunch of other stuff. Seems like hanging “outfits” together (unless a suit — which I hang on one suit hanger) lends itself to thinking about buying “outfits” rather than a cohesive wardrobe.

    • Your method (similar to Sarah’s above) sounds interesting, Lisa. I think it’s easier to do something like this when one has a reasonably small wardrobe (or a small “working wardrobe” like you have. I agree with Dottie about not “getting” hanging outfits together. I always like to mix and match pieces in different ways, too, but I know that some people always wear the same things together each time. Different strokes for different folks!

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