Two questions showed up recently that asked for DIY solutions to their problem.

On the other hand, there was this question: How to lessen / dampen the noise of creaking floor boards?

Which was closed for being on-topic at DIY.se

Close reason

Ignoring what seems like an ongoing gerrymandering of what topics are being closed. I'm curious about whether or not people are thinking that lifehacks are just a Do-It-Yourself solution, or if people are thinking that there's something different about lifehacks?

It seems to me like I can switch the word "hacks" or "lifehacks" with DIY and that wouldn't change any of the context to the questions (Keep in mind, DIY stands for "Do-It-Yourself" which isn't limited to home construction).

Some examples:

Cleaning bathroom exhaust/ventilator

Any hacks for peeling garlic?

How can I get damp clothes to hang-dry faster in the home?

De-pill the clothes?

Open a suitcase with a numeric lock when you forgot the key code

How do I seek justice against vending machines?

How to seal the plastic bags airtight after opening without using rubber band?

How can I keep pizza warm on the trip home?

How to get mice out of the ceiling

How can I soften hard soil enough to insert short plastic stakes?

So are lifehacks just DIY solutions, or is there a difference?

2 Answers 2


tl;dr all Life Hacks are DIY solutions, but not all DIY solutions (or questions) are Life Hacks.

So are lifehacks just DIY solutions, or is there a difference?

There damn well better be! This is the single most important discussion here - if we can't come to an understanding of what separates a question asking for a "hack" and a question asking for a HOWTO, then we're done - close it up & go home.

Many existing sites have some amount of overlap; Home Improvement, Gardening & Landscaping and Seasoned Advice all touch on a few of the same topics, albeit from somewhat different perspectives. This site is not like those sites however. As Robert wrote in regards to a related question,

If you're going to ask how to cover a nail hole effectively, you had better specify why spackle will not work for you. If you're simply asking how to lose weight, or change a tire; that's not a life hack. Boiling water is not a lifehack. Cooking food is not a lifehack — not unless there's something so novel or so unique about the circumstances, that the solution isn't really well-known or already commonly taught in that subject space.

We cannot define this site in terms of what it isn't about, so we desperately need to settle on a definition for what it is about. A reasonable model to follow here is the existing site Sustainable Living:

Sustainable Living Stack Exchange is for folks dedicated to a lifestyle that can be maintained indefinitely without depleting available resources.

Most of the topics asked about on that site would be perfectly appropriate on other sites, and most of the answers would be just fine elsewhere as well. However, the reverse is not true! Plenty of gardening questions, for instance, are not specifically concerned with sustainability - they're things that any gardener might need to know. Same for cooking questions, DIY, etc. The ones appropriate for Sustainable Living are those having a "direct relation with sustainability" - that is, they either implicitly or explicitly express a desire for a sustainable solution.

I see the same principles applying here. Regardless of whether a question's topic would be accepted elsewhere, a question asked here must fulfill two requirements:

  1. It must be a clear, specific question on a practical topic. The asker must communicate specifically what he's looking to accomplish, what the constraints are, what research he's already done, etc. - in other words, all the usual advice for asking a good question applies first - if it's not a good question, it doesn't matter if it's on-topic or not (and in fact it may be impossible to determine).

  2. It must implicitly demand an unconventional solution. What, specifically, "unconventional" means is up for debate, but it's pretty obvious when someone isn't looking for one. Fixing floors and household appliances are ordinary HOWTO tasks; indeed, there are professions dedicated to them. Whether or not there exists a Stack Exchange site for professionals in these fields, simply learning a new skill is not a Life Hack.

Now, here's the punchline: if a question fully satisfies #1, we can often just assume that it satisfies #2 as well! Unless something in the question prohibits unconventional answers, we can just go right ahead and provide them; if it turns out the asker forgot what site he was on and wanted a conventional solution, then he's free to go ask somewhere else.

But... We must guard against the temptation to provide conventional solutions to ambiguous questions. If the solution we provide for squeaking floors is "attach the boards firmly to the joists" then we're not really fulfilling the mission of the site - we're just duplicating common DIY knowledge for no good reason.

  • 1
    The trouble with 'If the solution we provide for squeaking floors is "attach the boards firmly to the joists" then we're not really fulfilling the mission of the site' is that of "What if there is no other solution?" This also begs the question of "What should be done with answers that provide the common DIY knowledge?" Dec 30, 2014 at 23:19
  • There are other solutions though, @Zach - though ironically, the question asked here got the standard HOWTO answer, while it's possible to find at least one hacky solution over on Home Improvement. That said, this is a great example of a question that probably didn't need to be asked; there are only so many viable solutions and they're pretty well covered already over on DIY (and a hundred other forums on the 'Net).
    – Shog9
    Dec 30, 2014 at 23:28
  • 1
    Are you saying that such a question should be closed then? If so, how can that be determined without answers being provided? Dec 30, 2014 at 23:32
  • Closed or not, the nice thing to do is to point the asker to a potential solution to his problem. Then, if we leave it open, we should be doing so in order to provide (and vet!) more unconventional solutions. As for how this could be determined... This site ain't gonna work if we're not fairly diligent in researching these questions. I know a thing or two about fixing floors, but I still did some searching before posting that comment and would have before closing it.
    – Shog9
    Dec 30, 2014 at 23:40
  • I wholly agree with that statement but it ignores the question of whether or not we should close the question and, if so, on what grounds to do so Dec 30, 2014 at 23:43
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    Don't get so hung up on closing, @Zach. The big problem with that question isn't that it was possibly off-topic, it's that the answerer didn't offer a hack. Closing didn't prevent that... although a suitably hacky answer might've prevented it from being closed. That tells me we're putting the cart before the horse here: folks don't even agree on what sorts of answers are appropriate, so figuring out question scope is all over the map. If we can agree on what a good "lifehacky" answer looks like, the rest will follow.
    – Shog9
    Dec 30, 2014 at 23:48
  • I feel like we do agree (on meta at least) that common sense DIY questions are not lifehacks. We just have to make it more clear to those answering questions Dec 31, 2014 at 0:01
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    @Shog9 Y'know, it's always talk about how once we agree on what a good "lifehacky" answer looks like, the rest will follow. Maybe we shouldn't have entered public beta until after we figured out exactly what a "lifehack" is. It's kinda like saying "once we finish the wings, this plane will be great!", but in the meantime we're launching them over cliffs.
    – Origin
    Dec 31, 2014 at 2:26
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    Lemme be blunt, @Origin: I think y'all know good and well what a hack is, and what a good, hack answer looks like. I think some of you are too afraid of what that means to admit it, and so we keep dancing around it with these weird-ass definitions that try to allow everything already posted that someone, somewhere liked. So I've got my little goad and I'm gonna keep prodding until you're ready to step up and own this thing.
    – Shog9
    Dec 31, 2014 at 2:41
  • I think most people know a hack answer when they see it. I think, however, we're having trouble actually putting it into words. I certainly don't know how to define it. And I'm not sure what you mean by "too afraid to admit what that means", unless what it means is "trying to make this site works since question topicality is answer-dependent is an effort in futility, and the whole thing should be shut down." But that doesn't seem to be the point you're getting at. What is the point you're getting at, @Shog9?
    – Sterno
    Dec 31, 2014 at 2:46
  • Shucks, I gave a two-step rule of thumb in this answer, with Step #2 being mostly optional; not sure how I can make this any clearer. But, let's try an analogy. Imagine... Imagine you woke up one day and started answering DDO questions on Arqade, @Sterno. Except, instead of giving answers about the online game you were pretending the askers were talking about the tabletop RPG. How would you expect the good folk on Gaming to react to this?
    – Shog9
    Dec 31, 2014 at 3:27
  • Knowing Arqade, there would be a lengthy meta discussion during which nothing would get settled about whether such answers should be simply down-voted or flagged as Not an Answer. Either way, the user would be discouraged from doing it again, one would hope. And yes, we should be doing that here. I was fixated on the "although a suitably hacky answer might've prevented it from being closed" part of your comment, which is an idea I strongly disagree with, and thought you were talking about that... not about everyone just manning up and letting the down-votes fly.
    – Sterno
    Dec 31, 2014 at 3:42
  • Ah, I see. You got hung up on the "don't get hung up" comment, eh @sterno? ;-p
    – Shog9
    Dec 31, 2014 at 4:11
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    People are interpreting your answer to say that all conventional solutions should be excluded (not an isolated case), presumably generalizing from your admonition against “… conventional solutions to ambiguous questions”). Do you mean that conventional solutions should be eschewed for all questions, or that ambiguous questions should be closed and questions should only be accepted if conventional solutions are expected to be bad answers anyway? Dec 31, 2014 at 19:56
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    I mean questions asking for conventional solutions are off-topic here, @Gilles. So if you're going to answer a question that doesn't explicitly ask for an unconventional solution, you should assume that's what they want anyway. Just as you would assume that someone asking a D&D question on Role-playing Games isn't asking about the MMORPG. If you can't make that assumption in good conscience, then you should close the question instead.
    – Shog9
    Dec 31, 2014 at 20:12

I think there are numerous other examples as well to the ones Matt included, especially many of the ones included under the tag of "Home".

Why is How to Cover Nails Inexpensively, Unclogging a Drain, and Hanging Pictures on Walls without Damaging the wall on topic with double digit up votes between question and answer and How to Stop Floors Creaking off-topic?

Also when writing the above How to Stop Floor Creaking question I had read the help and tour (which is not complete) and what is in-scope and knew of the conventional solutions of replacing floor boards or carpet pads and the reason I mentioned it but that was not the type of solution I was looking for. The one proposed answer was pull up the carpet and screw down the boards which A) I didn't know might help and B) still wasn't exactly the type of solution I was hoping for.

So I do not see how that is different than the also 'on-topic' solution of corn-cob holders and orange peelers and how to hold an apple (seriously???) mentioned here. It is a given for some (even to go far as common sense and reasoning) but not for others.

So if it is acceptable and in scope for someone to ask How to see justice from vending machines which is Non-Physical out of scope per community guidelines but stayed "on-topic" and received lots of up votes it makes absolutely no sense what the scope of this forum is and you are driving away potential users and contributors.

If it is truly for only a very narrow scope of life hacks and not non-conventional DIY Home (50/256) , Food(51/256), kitchen (27/256) knowledge, cleaning (26/256), and Gardening... and this not even counting all of the home improvement and cleaning ones under water, electricity, and other tags then almost all of the questions should be migrated to DIY.SE, Gardening.SE, or SeasonedAdvice.SE because this forum is essentially redundant and will never make it out of beta.

Related to what to call Lifehacks discussion, maybe it should be called "HomeMade" or "NonConventional" and the answer being:

"A life hack is a non-conventional solution that is home made and not rely on commercial off the shelf solutions and involves creativity and craftsmanship to perform. This include repairs and household activities. A DIY solution is one using off the self solution using standard established methods to perform the work."

Though this would eliminate "common sense" and cultural difference question / answers like the above mentioned How to Hold an Apple" but still allow for How to change a lightbulb without a ladder.

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