Growing up in the ‘90s and ‘00s, I’m part of the last generation that used floppy discs and counted change for payphones. Yes, at times I feel like an ancient Yoda-like creature, telling tall tales of when each house only had one phone line, and the whole family had to share it! And with these bygone days go countless useful life hacks that made kids' lives a little easier. Unfortunately, all the ingenious tips you might have learned from a cool older sibling or that cousin who was way too into Nirvana are now completely defunct, useless, sadly obsolete. But back in the day, knowing a cool shortcut was totally mind-blowing.
And if I ever have some sort of time-traveling Back to the Future moment and find myself back in middle school wearing an oversized T-shirt and leggings, I will be incredibly grateful for these life hacks. Wanna sneak out of your parent's house without getting caught? We got ya, boo. Wanna get free movies at Blockbuster? No prob, Bob. Trying to game the system is part of the fun of being a kid. So scroll down and see how many of these sneaky tips you were guilty of using back in the day.
Today, we live in a world where our cellphones record whatever number is calling. And sadly, the fine art of ignoring unknown numbers has cut down on the success of prank phone calls. But back in the '90s, if someone prank called your family's landline and you didn't have caller ID, there was still a way to find out who the trickster was! Simply dialing *69 would reveal the number of whomever called, as if by magic. And then it was up to you to return the favor: "Uh, is your refrigerator running?"
2. A VHS Case Makes The Perfect Hiding Place
Every family had one videotape in their collection that nobody watched. Perhaps it was a poorly chosen gift, or a movie you got for free, but there is always one — perhaps a National Geographic special or Highlander II: The Quickening. This VHS case provided the perfect hiding place (especially if it was the snap-front plastic kind) for a diary, secret notes, or any small contraband. No one would ever think to look there, especially a nosy little brother. You had to get creative, 'cause hiding things under the mattress was so overdone.
3. Clean Your Mouse Ball For Smooth Clicking
If your mouse is lagging and it's a struggle to get the cursor across the screen, it's probably just dusty! Take the trackball out of the mouse with a screwdriver or your fingernails. Clean the little ball and put the mouse back together. It'll work good as new!
4. Free Payphone
If you need to relay a quick message but are out of change, you can still make the call! Just find your nearest payphone and dial 1-800-COLLECT. When it asks for your name, just say the message very quickly. Of course this only works with a short sentence. Your friend will hear, "You have a collect call from [bob-meetmeatthepark], will you accept the charges?"
5. Record Over The Extra Tape On A VHS
There is a bit of extra tape at the end of most VHS movies. If you want to record something on TV, but don't have a blank tape, just record over the end credits and the blank end of an existing VHS. That way, you can watch your favorite commercial or MTV music video over and over.
6. Blockbuster Rental Hack
When you rent a movie from Blockbuster in the evening, be sure and get a two-day rental. That way, you don't have to return it 'til the morning of the third day. Extra time + no late fee = awesome!
7. Get In On That Sweet Blockbuster Rewards Program
If you were a film buff, you had to have a Blockbuster membership. Joining the rewards program would cost the price of two rentals a year, but you could game the system for many free movies! Rent five movies get one free, one free movie a month (not a new release, though). And if you were bored Monday through Wednesday, you could rent one movie and receive one non-new release for free! Of course, this deal is useless now, and we can just download whatever we want. But oh, the savings!
8. Cargo Pants As Extra Carry-On Space
Running out of room in your carry-on? Never fear! Just grab your largest cargo pants and stuff the bulbous pockets with whatever you cannot fit in your luggage. Flying in the '90s was so much easier. You could put a few bottles of Mr. Pibb in your pockets and never be thirsty again!
9. Phone Hack
If your family's landline had the the speaker on the receiver and you wanted to get a secret phone call without the rest of the household hearing a phone ring, you had to be pretty sneaky. To stop the phone from ringing, disconnect the receiver, tape down the handset tab (so that the phone is constantly giving a busy signal). When a red light flashes, showing you have a call, reattach the receiver after you answer the phone. It's a lot of work — but your family never suspects a thing.
10. Vending Machine Hack
Remember desperately wanting a snack, but you were down to your last emergency dollar? Just put clear packing tape over the dollar, making a handle. Feed it into the vending machine, and when the machine registers that it has received the money, simply pull it out! Sadly, it doesn't work with today's vending machines (*shakes fist at sky*).
11. Rip Your Own Jeans
To get the cool ripped effect without falling on your knees continuously, all it took was a pair of scissors and a little sandpaper. Want to make the holes in your jeans faster? Use your parent's belt sander.
12. AA Batteries
Always have extra AA batteries in your bag for your Walkman/Discman and Gameboy. You wouldn't want to run out of juice and have to like, just sit and wait patiently, right?
13. "Percussive Maintenance"
This is a fancy term for banging on TVs, remotes, or any piece of technology from the '80s and '90s. Somehow, we believed that it would magically fix them. Just like we believed blowing into VHS and CD players would stop them from skipping.
14. The Almighty Disposable Camera
Before dashcams and cellphones with built-in cameras, drivers were advised to keep a disposable camera in the glove compartment. No, not to take cool pictures of all their road trips, but in case there was ever an accident and they needed photos for insurance claims.
Now I'd like to invite you to travel back to 1995, when top-secret information that could destroy the world was kept on floppy discs, and hacking was just coming into its own: