is it normal to do a massive scrub-down of your office?

A reader writes:

I have a question about taking time to clean my office.

I started my job about 6 months ago and took time on my first couple of days to thoroughly clean my office (I brought my own Clorox wipes and everything). Now that I have been here for 6 months, my office has gotten slightly grubby again, and I would like to take a couple of hours to clean it.

Is that normal? I work rather independently, but would it be odd if you came in and saw someone cleaning in between the keys on their keyboard? We have custodians, but they basically take out the trash and vacuum.

I’d be pleasantly surprised if I saw someone cleaning their keyboard, but then I have one of the dirtiest keyboards known to man.

Different people have different ideas of what they require to be comfortable in their work space. I once worked with a guy who came in over the weekend to paint his office walls (with permission) because he couldn’t stand the sickly yellow color they’d been previously. I worked with another guy whose office was filled with old oatmeal containers that he never bothered to throw away. He eventually had to be ordered to clean his office.

In any case, I wouldn’t be alarmed to see someone doing a thorough cleaning of their work space, as long as it wasn’t keeping them from something more pressing. A couple of hours seems a little excessive to me, but I’m not going to judge as long as you’re getting the rest of your work done. (And obviously, timing matters. You don’t do this in the middle of a massive deadline push, of course — or even in the middle of your boss’s own massive deadline push.)

One exception to this: if you’re paid hourly. If that’s the case, I’d say to your manager ahead of time, “Hey, whenever I have time this week, is it cool for me to spend a little time cleaning my office? I get antsy when it starts getting grubby.”

But otherwise, get your Clorox wipes and enjoy.

{ 82 comments… read them below }

  1. clobbered

    This is what you need to clean your keyboard:

    1. Rubbing alcohol

    2. Q-tips

    3. A really long and annoying conference call. That sure gets you rubbing vigorously between the cracks.

    1. Blinx

      Also useful is canned air and a cute little brush I got for free for getting all the crumbs out.

    2. Kimberlee, Esq.

      Depending on how gross it is, Mr Clean Magic Erasers are wonderful for this. Less scraping and scrubbing, and they don’t hold a ton of moisture so they’re a bit safer for keyboards than, say, a Lysol wipe (though I go over the surface of the keys lighlty with one afterward).

      1. Jamie

        If you have a high gloss keyboard they can dull the shine.

        Rubbing alcohol is your best bet – cheap and germs fear it.

        I really hate how much I know about this.

    3. Henning Makholm

      Hmm… I swear by a bucket of warm water and soap, into which you drop the keytops after pulling them off one by one (be sure to snap and print a digital photo the entire keyboard first so you know what goes where afterwards). After that, the keyboard can be taken apart and the inside cleaned thoroughly. It tends to accumulate disgusting amounts of hair, crumbs, and other strange stuff that a q-tip between the keys won’t get up reliably. If there’s a membrane mechanism underneath the keytops (as in most not-very-expensive) keyboards, be sure to let all all sheets dry completely before putting it together.

      1. Stells

        Done this – my only issue was getting the spacebar back on – it had a spring mechanism that I couldn’t reattach, so it was forever getting stuck :o)

  2. KayDay

    I usually take about 1-2 hours to clean my office right before leaving for a vacation (so about twice per year). I normally am really busy in the few days leading up to a vacation, but once I get everything done, cleaning feels really relaxing. Also, returning from vacation is hard enough, and having a clean office makes it about 5% easier. Also, if anyone needs to get anything from there while I’m gone they won’t realize what a slob I am, haha!

    1. KayDay

      Addendum: on further thought, it probably takes me about one hour to go through the papers on my desk and organize my files, as well as clean my keyboard and monitor (I will use Jamie’s advice in the future) and possibly vacuum under my desk if necessary. Going through all the accumulated papers and reading material takes a while…

  3. Nikki

    What AAM said. I sometimes hear my coworker with her can of air..and then I’ll realize, I better clean up too!

    But hours? It *might* take one hour to move things and wipe down my desk, then phone, computer. . unless you have many surfaces.
    It is nice to have a clean and fresh office.

  4. Anonymous

    I clean my office also, but it has never taken me two hours. We have custodians who do most of it. I keep my desk, computer, keyboard, etc. clean. It usually only takes me about 15-20 minutes to get it done, and I usually wait until near the end of the day. Things are much slower then. I have OCD, so I really can’t stand to have a dirty desk, lol.

    1. jmkenrick

      I only have a desk, no office (so I can’t speak, to say, vaccuming or going through file cabinets) but I also get anxious in messy spaces, and anxious me is a more scattered me, so I spend 10 minutes wiping down my desk/cleaning my keyboard a week.

      As far as I can tell, no one thinks anything of it.

      1. jmkenrick

        Honestly, if I had a whole office, I could see taking an hour (depending on how much the janitorial staff covered).

        1. Jamie

          Yeah – it really depends what they cover. I have my own office and they take care of everything except the electronics and organizing stuff. I can see it taking a lot longer if I had to do the blinds, etc.

          Actually, for me the organizing is what takes so long. Once a quarter I come in for server maintenance (upgrades, rebuilding db tables, etc.) so while stuff runs in the background I re-categorize software, go through papers and purge. The paper is my biggest problem – I hang onto stuff too long. I need to get in the habit of purging once a week and scanning stuff which I need, but not in hard copy.

          Too much paper.

    2. Blinx

      I usually spray cleaned the surfaces of my cube a few times a year. They get grungy, especially if you eat at your desk.

      Usually around the end of the year when things slowed down, I’d do a thorough cleaning of cube, files, cubbies, and whatever had accumulated under my desk all year. Especially my “junk drawer.” I actually looked forward to it — some mindless work to my brain a rest.

      But nothing gives me heebie-jeebies like sitting down at someone else’s keyboard that is just totally grimy. Yechhh!

      1. Jamie

        The average keyboard has 5x as many germs as the average toilet seat, including staph and e coli.

        Seriously, there is a reason my hands are red from constant washing and over use of hand sanitizer.

        I think that little factoid was one of my very first posts here, years ago…weird how that just popped into my head.

        1. Anonymouse

          They say the dirtiest place is your desk, but it’s also the safest, since it’s your own germs.

          1. Long Time Admin

            Yeah, I was just going to say that you don’t have other people’s fannies on your keyboard. At least, I hope you don’t.

            1. Jamie

              Wow – that’s a visual that’s hard to get out of your head once it’s popped in!

              If it was just my keyboard I wouldn’t worry…because, yep, it’s just me. Kind of like when my kids were small I didn’t mind wiping their noses, because they were my kids…but I would certainly be horrified at the prospect of taking a tissue to anyone else. Yuck.

              The same with keyboard – shared keyboards are worse than a public toilet. Other people’s funkiness is always much grosser than our own.

  5. Jamie

    Is that normal? I work rather independently, but would it be odd if you came in and saw someone cleaning in between the keys on their keyboard?

    No it is not normal…it is exceptional.

    Your keyboard wants to be cleaned – it especially likes the swabs pre-moistened with alcohol. And your monitor and tower long to be lovingly wiped down with Endust Wipes for Electronics. And every few months your tower wants to feel the cooling breeze of compressed air on it’s fan blades (from the appropriate distance as to not cause condensation or damage. If in doubt please confer with your IT before proceeding.)

    Some end-users need to be instructed to wipe down the equipment. Some, even with wipes, I need latex gloves anyway because the sticky won’t wash off (what is that?)

    A clean system is a happy system. All goofing around aside, taking pride in your work space is a good thing and it is something people notice – but I don’t understand the need for a couple of hours unless you’re going through file cabinets and tossing old documents.

    I’ve had to wipe down some filthy systems and it’s 20 minutes, tops, and that’s with taking the tower outside to open up and blow out.

      1. Jamie

        Don’t feel bad – I shamed myself. I am endusting with one hand as I type this with the other.

    1. Catherine

      Campus computer labs are the worst. I feel like I need to bring a blow torch and burn off the keyboard before I touch it. And even with Deep Freeze and other things, I’m continually amazed at what students manage to download.

    2. Anonymous

      The last time I took my keyboard off my notebook I could have created a dust bunny the size of an elephant with the lint from under the mouse buttons.

  6. fposte

    Speaking as a slob–I’m always delighted to see somebody raise the overall cleanliness of the office; I feel it balances me out. And even I understand the hypnotic pleasure of keyboard-cleaning. Just today I was remembering the enjoyment of taking the old mouse apart and removing all the accumulated lint–what might be called cleaning the fur off the mouse balls.

    1. Jamie

      Weird confession – that’s why I hate optical mouses. They work better, eliminate the need for filthy mousepads…but I miss the scraping.

      There was something so cathartic about someone’s computer being “stupid” (i.e. mouse not tracking properly) and with a paperclip and some compressed air I’m Bill Freakin’ Gates. Degunking is very satisfying.

      Oh – and for those who yearn to be more organized I found this when looking for a process to keep things at home manageable when I’m working way too much…http://www.unfuckyourhabitat.com/

      If swearing bothers you I’d steer clear, but it’s cool how it breaks stuff down into managable tasks and I love before and after pics of messes…it’s totally motivating.

      1. fposte

        I think it was a mention here that led me to download the app. I absolutely love it, though I hope they make it even more flexible and customizable. Actually, I wish I could customize one copy for work and one for home.

        1. Jamie

          I haven’t seen it mentioned here – I saw it on another forum.

          I’ve been meaning to d/l the app – thanks for the recommendation, I’ll do that tonight.

    2. Malissa

      Ah, yes cleaning the mouse balls. The work place hasn’t been nearly as fun since all the mice are now female.

    3. AnotherAlison

      OMG, yes! I forgot the joy of mouse cleaning.

      I kind of like getting the hairballs out of my sink P trap, too.

        1. Anonymouse

          Removed all the contents and thoroughly wiped down the inside of my kitchen cabinets! Such satisfaction.

  7. Malissa

    I took over my current desk from a slob. A couple of hours of cleaning is not bad at all. I do that about twice a year as well. I usually clean before vacation or on a slow Friday. Times when I don’t want to jump into the next big project.

  8. Cara

    I clean all the time. I am always wiping down my desk, phone, and others desks when they aren’t using them. I like to do our dishes and am basically the mom of the office. I like it though and I work with a lot of guys so you know they can be a mess! Just fyi everyone’s desks but mine do not have drawers so it’s not like I am going through their things, just wiping down the surfaces. It’s a small office so we are like family. We also work in a very open environment and have lots of clients coming to visit so we must keep everything nice and neat.

    1. Jen

      I wish someone cleaned my desk and even my drawers! Today I threw away an unopened bag of waffles that expired in September last year…

        1. Jen

          I was about to say I would never leave something behind… until I read the hair comment. How *do* you get hair out of chairs? It’s all tangled up in the fabric now, but I don’t want to disgust people!

          1. Jamie

            Pledge fabric sweeper. I used it when I got a new chair at work,made the old one look like new. Hair, pet hair, sweater lint…it gets it all.

  9. Ivy

    I clean everytime I leave for a long weekend or vacation…. it’s nice to come back to a clean and organized desk :)

  10. Anon

    I actually think cleaning is very important if you have an office in a publicish place and you’re prone to hosting guests or interviewees.

    I think 2 hours is a bit much unless you have files to go through but an hour seems reasonable.

    I probably clean for about 10-15 minutes twice a week and always get compliments that my desk is so nice and clean (My desk is the reception desk so I have a very good excuse). My space was a disaster zone when I got here though – it probably took me at least 2 hours to get it clean the first time.

  11. Danni

    I think it’s probably abnormal, but really nice!

    I have two jobs right now (one research, one receptionist) and both involve sitting at a desk all day. I HATE my research job and never clean up my office at all. I LOVE my receptionist job and I have spent many, many hours cleaning the area over the time I’ve worked there. I’m talking wiping down the printer, dusting the walls, etc.

    I think that making an effort to clean up shows that you are taking pride in your office and that you are happy to be working there, or at least don’t hate it so much you don’t care if you are sitting in a janky old office with a crummy computer. Shrug…

  12. Kelly O

    Perhaps I am the circus freak here, but I am constantly cleaning my desk. Granted, I have a cube so it doesn’t take as long, but at least once a week I dust everything off, use a clorox wipe to hit all the surfaces, and take the time to wipe my keyboard.

    I also keep a personal stash of rubbing alcohol, q-tips, and a couple of orange sticks or toothpicks for getting things unstuck from crevices.

    I don’t consider myself the office mom, just the office neat freak who wipes down messes and straightens chairs because I can’t deal with them being messy. Drive me completely up the wall. (My husband swears I have undiagnosed OCD.)

    Yesterday I straightened up all the fixtures on our rack wall in the buyers’ conference room because a vendor had been in there and left them all over the place. They are nicely and neatly lined up by type and size now. (I also have this compulsion to keep conference room chairs at the same height.)

    1. Your Mileage May Vary

      Are you a really visual person? If so, it’s just likely that the being out of order bothers you while you’re seeing it. Now, if you got out of bed at 2am to go back to the office to make sure the chairs were straight, then you *might* be talking OCD.

      People don’t understand us visual people, though. Damn it, the salt and pepper shakers go just so!

      1. EM

        Ah, so it’s a visual thing? I do this kind of thing too, and I consider myself more visual than most.

      2. Laura L

        Well…. if you’re also having compulsive thoughts about bad things happening and you think the only way to prevent those things from happening is to obsessively organize the conference room, THEN you might have OCD.

        :-)

    2. Rana

      Interesting about the visual thing. I’m a straightener, too, but also a terrible clutterer. I think that both come from my desire to be able to see all of my stuff at once, which works fine when there’s only a bit of stuff, but when there’s a lot… look out!

      On a side note: I once saw a design for a desk that had about five levels of display space surrounding an oval workspace – shelves, desk surface, slanted display racks, even clips on overhead adjustable arms. You sat in the middle of it, and you could see everything, like you were in a bubble made up of projects. I still covet that damn desk.

    3. Ellie H.

      I’m like that too. I clean off my desk at work quite frequently but you should really see me at home. I clean my entire room very thoroughly (dusting, wiping off surfaces) once or twice a week and get out the mini vacuum to do the floor every two or three days. I honestly do think this might be a little abnormal (I’m kind of compulsive and a true neat freak, though I don’t really have OCD) but it makes me very happy, and I sit on the floor a lot, so I like to have a super clean floor.

  13. Juana

    This is off topic but not worth a separate e-mail- just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to AAM for your blog. I’ve been unhappy in my current job, and was starting to update my resume and look for openings when I found AAM. I just got a fantastic offer this afternoon and I don’t think it would have happened without your cover letter and interviewing advice. Now to read up on how to gracefully give a 2-week notice (pending the offer becoming final, of course)!

    1. Jamie

      Is it just me or has there been a lot of good news around here the last couple of days – lots of people getting new positions it seems!

      This is really exciting – seems like something is in the air around here.

      1. UpDownSide

        Yes! I started reading AAM around Christmas last year–obsessively–I’d start on the laptop and switch to my Android when I left home–read all the backlog, and just recently put the interview tips to work to transition into a job running a project that is amaz–wait for it–ingly close to my heart.

        It’s helped me identify bad traits in myself and work on them with a growth mentality, and also helped me recognize that sometimes, hey, it’s bad management from above and I need to manage up or manage around.

        And good grief, has AAM gotten me through a truckload of interminable conference calls.

        1. UpDownSide

          Also, on topic-ish, I am terrible at keeping my office tidy. We even had a rule about it at my old job. I just stacked all the randoms and detritus to the side of the desk not easily seen from the hall and called it a win. Luckily my boss shared the “if I have it spread around then I always know where it is!” philosophy of workspace management.

  14. Rana

    Perhaps the answer is to do a little bit of cleaning every day or week, so it doesn’t require a CLEAN ALL THE THINGS level of purging?

    (Lately I’ve been inspired by Unf**k Your Habitat, which, while aimed at household cleaning, not infrequently features desks. I’ve actually managed to keep my desk tidy for two weeks since I started following it! Note: language may not be safe for work, depending on workplace.)

  15. Hannah

    Hmmm, I wonder if I know the OP.

    I used to work at a company where this one guy was hired.

    On his first day, he came in with a large crate of cleaning supplies and proceeded to totally clean/disinfect his office for several hours.

    Yes, we all did think it was a bit weird.

    1. EM

      I did something similar with my desk at my current job, but nobody thought I was weird because the person whose desk I was inheriting was a huge slob. I was literally wiping black *something* off most surfaces. Maybe it was grease from our drill rig??? Who knows?

    2. M-C

      Then we had the one who came in, and made a big point of disinfecting his keyboard while making some really unsavory “jokes” about HIV transmission (dead wrong too, but who cares about sciences?). Sigh. Yes, of course that was one of the major things he was written up about when the crew went official with our dislike and desire to be rid of the creep.

  16. Anonymous

    my keyboard is disgusting. we don’t have a lunch room or anywhere to eat so I eat at my desk and it is full of food. sigh. thanks for the tips – I didn’t know you could use rubbing alcohol on a keyboard.

    1. AmyRenee

      We are required to at my job, and are audited to make sure our initial system is in place, then 10% of the cubes/offices are audited a quarter. It’s annoying though, since I tend toward the “chronological pile system” and it’s during audit times that I have the HARDEST time remembering where I put things.

      1. danr

        Same here… when I had to clean my piles of papers it took forever to find stuff again… until I had my piles going again. And I didn’t have to worry about cleaning the desktop, since no dirt could ever get to it. . Fortunately, all I had to worry about were roving VPs who were neatniks.

  17. Anonymous

    I throw away things I no longer need, wipe my monitor, get crumbs out of my keyboard, clean the gunk of my mouse buttons and Clorox my desk on Friday afternoons; not every week though. But, when I do it, I start around 4.45pm because I finish at 5.30pm.

    It feels so good.

    1. sam.i.am

      Back when I worked in an office, I’d clean up my desk every Friday afternoon. It was good mindless work when I was fried after the end of the week. I kept a microfiber dusting cloth and clorox wipes in my desk and it took 30-45 minutes to organize/sanitize everything in my cube area.

  18. Question Asker

    Thank you, Alison for such a quick and thorough response. I actually have a very large office with a large u-shaped desk with my computer, a computer work-station that was used by my temporary assistant-his last day was last Friday, a round table with chairs, a cabinet, a file-cabinet, and more! When I just had a cube, it wouldn’t take nearly as long. I frequently wipe the desks and table off with the wipes, but I really want to make the office more hygienic rather than just tidy. I think I’ll be bringing in some rubbing alcohol, q-tips, and compressed air next week :-)

  19. Rana

    Since I work at home, I mostly just have to deal with cat hair, but I had a co-worker once who was very fond of the Clorox wipes because she was paranoid about getting a cold. (Since this was on a college campus and we worked with students, this wasn’t an entirely unreasonable fear. Like petrie dishes, campuses are…) Anytime anybody had even the slightest cough or sniffle, she was wiping down every surface in sight.

  20. Another Emily

    These comments make me want to take apart my keyboard and clean all the crumbs out that I’m sure our in there.

    If I walked in and saw you cleaning I would think, “What a good idea. This person certainly cares about their work and their work space” and not anything bad or weird at all.

  21. Cassie

    I am probably one of the few employees in our office that cleans her/his workspace. I’m in a cubicle, so it doesn’t take too long. I wipe down my desk at least once a week (I do spot-wiping to clean up coffee and food stains right after I’m done eating). Once in a while, I’ll swiffer the floor in my cube.

    We have janitors who take out the garbage and clean the bathrooms, but they don’t do any clean up in the offices. Heck, even the cover on the toilet paper dispenser in one of the restrooms is covered with a layer of dust. So what are they cleaning, exactly?

    We’ve been having problems with ants recently, due to the warm weather (not food-related) – so it’s even more reason that I try to keep everything clean and sanitized. My neighbors, not so much – I desperately want to swiff and wipe their cubes down but they have way too much stuff laying around (plus, I wouldn’t do it unless they were okay with it and although they joke about me cleaning their cubes, I don’t think they’d feel comfortable if I did).

    I just Clorox-wiped my chair the other day – we have black fake leather chairs. The dust and grime was disgusting.

    1. Steve G

      Same problem in my past 3 offices. Even when the cleaning crew is supposed to CLEAN and you hear your boss telling their boss they need to dust, clean under desks, etc., it doesnt really happen. I am the only one who works late so the only one who sees them “clean.” It’s a little spritz here, a little wipe there, a little swash of a mop on the middle areas of the floor with questionable water……so I still clean.

      At one big company, the cleaners tried to do as much as they could during the day. So they would clean my laid off’ coworker’s empty cubicle 2X/week, and barely touch mine.

  22. Anonymous

    I must be really bad, because I clean my keyboard, mouse, monitor, desk once a week. And I use the air thingy too on my keyboard once in awhile. But use it a lot on my home desktop pc.

    Don’t forget to wipe down your phone too at work, especially if other people use it sometimes.

  23. M-C

    Allison, may I interject a little something that has nothing to do with how clean we like our workspace? I’ve worked in several places where cleaning your own space was very much frowned upon by the local union, which was a lot more powerful than us mere admin types. People had been written up for stuff like that. So because we had an office-full of allergic people, we had to be very sneaky about changing our a/c filters, swapping out flickering neon lights, disinfecting keyboards and such. We often did it on the sly during weekends, when we were pretty sure not to be interrupted or caught. Don’t assume because you think the company doesn’t pay for “enough” cleaning that you won’t get in trouble for supplementing, it’d be much better to first ask if it’d be OK, and then take steps to fly under the radar if there’s something you just can’t do without.
    I’m just talking about actual cleaning here, obviously you can file, organize and clear up to your heart’s content.

    1. Cassie

      I’m pretty sure our facilities/custodial workers belong to unions and I have heard that most things like painting, anchoring shelves, and that sort of thing has to be done by them. I get that, but as far as cleaning keyboards or wiping a desk? I can’t speak for any other offices, but I’m fairly certain our crews do not handle that. People frequently keep their computers on overnight and if someone is going to be touching the keyboard, files could be accidentally deleted. Or papers on a desk are accidentally trashed because it looks like scribbles on scratch paper.

      Once in a while, when we have a catered event, we will submit a request for facilities to clean up the conference room. Otherwise, they only dump the wastebaskets. (And once in a while, they don’t even do this).

  24. Miss Displaced

    I see nothing wrong with the cleaning, however as mentioned you should mention it to your boss. It also should not take more than 1 hour or so every week / every other week.

    When I managed a department, I would schedule time every few months (usually January and June) for a massive “department wide clean out” where we all did it together. Filing, archiving, cleaning, you name it. I would let them put on the radio, order pizza and wear casual clothes for the day.

    1. Jamie

      I would agree if it was about wiping. But a couple of hours is worth a question…that can raise productivity concerns depending on the boss, workplace, and position.

  25. mh_76

    I agree with the “see nothing wrong” folks. One tip: get to know the cleaning people in your office a little bit – esp. their first name – and always say hello. Worst case scenario, you’re on good terms with another person but it is likely that they will do a slightly better cleaning job and maybe even take the occasional quick request (they often have time quotas per unit space). In a job that I had years ago, I got to know the cleaning lady a bit and even saved her a few holiday cookies when I made them. I don’t know if it affected the quality of the cleaning* but she clearly appreciated having someone say hello.

    *I always had stuff out, lots going on, and had to clean the desk sometimes anyway when I’d spill something. [hoping that I find the inspiration to clean my home…]

  26. Anonymous

    I keep a tub of Clorox wipes and a packet of Windex wipes (can’t find the tubs anymore) in my drawer at work. I also keep a travel pack of Clorox wipes in my laptop backpack for the times I need to work mobile at another office. It’s honestly more to clean up my mess than the person before me. Sometimes people give me weird looks and think I’m a germaphobe but I just like a tidy work area. We have custodians but they won’t move your stuff (nor should they) so every couple of weeks I do a good wipe down at the end of the day or after lunch if I made a mess.

    1. Jamie

      I keep a tub of Clorox wipes and a packet of Windex wipes (can’t find the tubs anymore)

      Amazons still has them. Glass Plus works well too, and they are generally half the price.

  27. Long Time Admin

    There was a time when I would come in about every other month, on a Saturday, with my own vacuum cleaner. Our lazy cleaning people would only vacuum the carpets near Executive Row. Plus, we had fabric cubicle walls that were filthy. The first time I cleaned my cube, a few people who were working came over and laughed. Then they asked to borrow my vacuum cleaner.

    For being a newer building, that place was a real pig sty. Some of us cleaned our own areas, and some didn’t.

  28. ARS

    I worked in an office that once a year would take two to three hours and everyone would do a MASSIVE clean out of their spaces. Most of them were cubicles, but our manager would purchase cleaning supplies and we would all go to town. It also mean uncovering work things that weren’t urgent but needed to be dealt with or passed on to the right people. Old office supplies and equipment were moved to a communal area so others could take what they wanted/needed. It was really a great feeling to walk in to a space that was completely refreshed.

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