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The tech you need to declutter your academic life

Marie Kondo would approve.
Cherlynn Low
Cherlynn Low|@cherlynnlow|July 26, 2019 12:00 PM

Japanese decluttering extraordinaire Marie Kondo has inspired many to get rid of unnecessary junk in their homes. As it turns out, clearing out stuff that doesn't "spark joy," per the MariKon program, can actually help you feel good about your life. Having less mess is not only good for general well-being but can also make you more productive at school. Just as Kondo showed the world the life-changing magic of tidying up on Netflix, I am about to show you how much more manageable your academic life can be when you declutter your backpack, locker and dorm. And no, I won't be asking you to consider if your possessions spark joy. Our goal is to give you all the tools you need to succeed at school without anything extraneous dragging you down.

Minimize your electronics

The biggest reason your backpack weighs so much is probably because your laptop is so heavy, and you're carrying around some extra gear that adds to the load -- things like a power cable, portable battery charger and maybe even a tablet. Shave off some pounds by getting a laptop that does it all so you don't have to lug everything else around. Look for a long-lasting yet lightweight option like the Dell XPS 13, MacBook Air or Surface Laptop 2.

If you want to have a tablet as well to sketch or take notes on, consider a 2-in-1 laptop like the XPS 13 2-in-1 or the Lenovo Yoga C930. These are powerful, lightweight notebooks that fold all the way over so you can write on the touchscreens with a stylus. Like the laptops mentioned earlier, these also have good battery life, so you don't have to bring a charger with you.

For the lucky ones who only need their devices to handle essay writing, Netflixing and some light gaming or minimal photo editing, a hybrid tablet may suffice. Two-in-one tablets like the Surface Pro 6 or 12.9-inch iPad Pro are built to be lightweight, plus they last all day and can handle almost any task you throw at them. Their keyboard covers usually aren't as comfortable as what you'll find on a laptop, though, so if you're particular this might be a dealbreaker.

Regardless of the system you've picked, you'll want to make sure you never run out of space. Having to carry around an external hard drive defeats the purpose of decluttering in the first place. You can either go for a device with larger storage (1TB would be plenty but 500GB is adequate) or invest in a cloud service like Google Drive, OneDrive or iCloud. If you're not already using Google Docs or Microsoft 365, which automatically save your work in the cloud, make sure you're uploading your work periodically and free up space on your machine.


Replace your books and papers

Once you've settled on your main gear, your next goal is to eliminate as much books and paper from your school life as possible. If you're someone who functions best with a low-tech pen-and-paper experience, this section isn't for you.

For the rest of you, do the math. If you could convert 10 textbooks into one laptop, how much weight would that reduce? You'd be relieving your shoulders and clearing out some shelf space in your dorm, plus going paperless cuts down on the loose sheets you'd have laying around. Your paper notes and notebooks ultimately become trash that contribute to the mess around your desk or living space and are harder to organize than digital notes.

Chinese Students Prepare For 2019 National College Entrance Exam

A student prepares for the National College Entrance Exam in China.

Most textbooks you'll need for school today are available as e-books, and you can find them on Amazon, Google Books or Scribd. If they're not, you might want to consider digitizing them with a service like 1DollarScan or Blue Leaf Book Scanning. These companies will create soft copies of your books, complete with searchable text so you can easily find the keyword you need.

Similarly, note-taking apps use handwriting recognition to help you keep track of your frenzied lecture scribbles. You can look for the notes from a specific date or search by specific topics, and you can also back everything up to the cloud for easier access (and safer storage). My colleague Nick Summers wrote a notetaker's guide that lays out the best apps for different use cases: Check it out here.


Go wireless

In most messy tech setups, wires are the culprit. You already have cables that are necessary for things like your lamps, appliances, laptop, phone and power strips, so why add to the pile? Swap your wired headphones for a wireless set -- there are plenty of good options from true wireless ear buds like the AirPods ($159+) to noise-cancelling headsets.

Sony wireless earbuds

Opt for a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard and invest in a wireless-charging station. Chances are, if you own an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy or Pixel, it can recharge wirelessly, so you can set your phone down at the end of the day to juice up without fumbling around for a cable. AirPods and other accessories also support this, so if you own compatible devices, the wireless-charging mat is a worthy investment.

Alternatively, you can consider a table lamp with a built-in wireless-charging base, which once again reduces the number of cables you'll need. For those of you who have an external monitor set up at your desk, get a hub that you can use to wirelessly link your accessories to the screen.

Images: Cao Zhengping/VCG via Getty Images (student surrounded by books); Sony (wireless earbuds)

The tech you need to declutter your academic life