Is TikTok’s ‘life hack’ obsession actually changing our lives?

Last June, Aakaanksh Autade posted a TikTok he’ll never forget.

The 22-second video, which shows off an easy life hack for using voice controls to unlock an iPhone, was a hit — easily his most popular clip to date.

Looking back now, he sees that moment as a turning point. It was when he knew, for sure, that his page was taking off. The video ultimately drew over 56 million views. In the following days, Autade gained half a million new followers. He still remembers running around his house, explaining the news to each of his family members.

Today, Autade, who posts under the name @kaansanity, has close to 5 million followers. Most of his videos follow a simple format — one that anyone with even the smallest amount of TikTok knowledge can understand.

That’s because Autade’s bread and butter, life hack videos, are far and away one of the biggest, most abundant forms of content on the app. For example, videos using the hashtag #LifeHacks have drawn more than 46 billion views, while those featuring #Hack have combined for another 33 million. That’s not to mention the endless various subcategories of life hack content, including cleaning hacks, cooking hacks, parenting hacks, fast-food hacks and Autade’s specialty, technology hacks.

Spending any significant time on TikTok means coming face to face with dozens of these clips. Whether it’s how to clean dirty hats, how to “de-salt” a homecooked meal or how to hang AirPods from a computer screen, users are guaranteed to learn some new trick or life-altering tip every time they open the app.

Autade’s witnessed it firsthand. Now that his page is a hit, he hears about life hacks everywhere he goes.

“I get stopped a lot and people usually tell me which one of my hacks they’ve used. I was at a theme park in North Carolina a few weeks back and one of the vendors gave me free hot chocolate because he recognized me as the ‘headphone jack guy,'” Autade said, referring to his tendency to speak into his Apple headphones during videos. “I thought that was pretty funny.”

On a good week, Autade might post six or seven totally different videos, and all of them get hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of views. But there’s a difference between watching something and actually learning from it. After all, Autade isn’t getting stopped at theme parks over every life hack he shares. He’s getting stopped about the ones people try at home; the ones that stick with them long after they’ve left their For You page.

There are countless theories about what makes certain ideas — or in this, case hacks — rise above the rest. In his best-selling book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell argues that stickiness — the distinct quality of a message that allows it to take hold — is one of the biggest factors in determining if an idea spreads widely.

So what makes a video stick? This, in many ways, is the central question behind TikTok’s life hack explosion. Which hacks are just for entertainment, and which ones are actually taking hold?

JP Lambiase has a theory. The content creator is one of the founders of HellthyJunkFood, a media brand and YouTube channel that specializes in fast-food menu hacks.

In his experience, only a small portion of life hack videos actually have an effect on people’s lives. But in the end, that’s what makes them so viral.

“A lot of it is just kind of novelty or really cool to understand — not that you’re necessarily gonna do it — but I think that’s a part of why people want to watch more,” Lambiase said of his TikTok page, which has over 700,000 followers.

@hellthyjunkfood

NEVER Order Animal Style Fries @in.n.out! Instead do this #foodhack and get the same thing for half the price. #lifehack #foodhacks #fyp #innout

♬ original sound – HellthyJunkFood

When it comes to the question of what makes a life hack stick, every creator has their own answer. But, even across the vast, varied landscape of TikTok, there seem to be some common threads.

An obvious one: simplicity. For this story, In The Know spoke with four different creators, and almost all of them said their stickiest life hacks were the ones that viewers could try easily from home.

“Most of my hacks are pretty easy to replicate,” Autade said. “But I think people really enjoy trying out the quick phone tricks since you can do those pretty much wherever you are.”

Lambiase shared a similar sentiment. In his experience, an actionable life hack is one that viewers can try with little to no pushback. With fast-food tips, that means keeping things easy for the service staff.

“I think that’s what it comes down to, like, how annoying is your hack?” he said. “If you can have the least annoying hack, now you’re hitting gold.”

Presentation matters, too. Sidney Raz, a life hack creator with more than 1.7 million followers on TikTok, said his viewers seem to replicate the hacks most when he demonstrates them clearly. If his clip has a single visual — one shot that gets his whole point across — then the hack has a good chance to stick.

“Any tips I can make with action or visualization stick,” Raz told In The Know. “Wooden spoons on a pot of pasta, different kinds of plungers and travel pillows going in front. When I demonstrate the tip, it’s easy for people to adopt into their lives.”

Relatability also matters. Most life hack videos have some degree of approachability to them — like, tips for squeezing a lemon or tricks for deep cleaning dirty pans — but the stickiest ones go beyond that. Some of the most action-inspiring videos solve problems that everyone has to deal with.

Valentina Chang, a TikTok creator who specializes in cleaning hacks, told In The Know that her most copied ideas often focus on dirty laundry. Why? Because clean clothes aren’t just approachable, they’re essential.

“I think these stick more than the rest because a lot of people care about their clothes and want to make them last as long as possible,” Chang said.

The best creators seem to have a clear sense of what makes a life hack stick. But, that doesn’t mean they always act on it. In fact, when discussing the difference between novelty tips and actionable ones, Lambiase said the difference doesn’t matter that much. His TikTok presence has exploded over the past few months, and that’s thanks to shares, comments and video views — not because of how many people have tried his hacks in real life.

“You could binge through 20 [hack videos] and be like, ‘Eh, I’ll probably do like two of those,’” Lambiase explained. “But you’re still watching them.”

Raz, meanwhile, tries to avoid shaping his content around what his followers are replicating. In his mind, doing so would diminish his content.

“If I did [that], I wouldn’t be able to make videos as consistently as I do,” Raz said. “Some of my tips are more philosophical or conceptual, such as encouraging people to use high-yield savings accounts or to get more sleep. These are just as important to share, even if they don’t land quite the same way.”

Chang has a similar philosophy. Although she may have a sense of what works, her video ideas come together naturally.

“I clean a lot. I love cleaning, it’s a passion of mine,” she said. “So whenever I’m cleaning, I try to take a video of it to post — because you never know who it’ll be able to help.”

This is likely part of why life hack content is so omnipresent on TikTok. If creators were simply following what sticks, only making the kind of hacks people want to try themselves, then the content would suffer. There’d be fewer videos and, in the end, fewer life hacks. It’s a strange sort of feedback loop.

But to Raz, it makes perfect sense. He sees TikTok as a platform rooted in education— in learning new ideas, new perspectives and new concepts. Still, that doesn’t mean actually trying them out.

“It’s not surprising that life hacks are popular on TikTok,” Raz said. “TikTok is a place for a whole new audience to learn new ways of doing things. [My] series has taught me that I had a lot of blind spots when it came to life skills I did or didn’t learn, and it turns out that is true for a lot of other people too. And TikTok is a place where people are sharing those things.”

Raz believes the benefit to that knowledge goes way beyond stickiness. To him, life hacks are about community. They’re about learning together and being open to new things.

“One of the most important parts of my content is that it’s OK to not know things,” he said. “And, the good news is that there are a lot of other people that don’t know that thing too. Honestly, making this content has helped me feel less alone in my everyday blind spots.”

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