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.
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.
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.
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.