Ask Unclutterer: How can I disguise workout equipment?

Reader Cindi submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My question for the day is how do people incorporate the big exercise equipment into their homes? I am thinking of a treadmill. I have thought of getting some decorative screens and walling it off when not is use. It is currently in the family room, which has multiple personalities — home office, tv room, and gym. I’d love to know your thoughts and ideas, as well as other reader’s suggestions.

I must admit, I am truly stumped by what to do with exercise equipment in the absence of a dedicated workout room. Treadmills are so difficult to incorporate into a room that serves other purposes.

Screens scream, “THERE IS A TREADMILL BEHIND HERE!” In bedrooms, treadmills become dirty clothes hampers. And, in television rooms they’re always in the way.

If you didn’t already own a treadmill (and you had a lot of money), I’d suggest you check out the XFit. It’s a workout room in an armoire. A brilliant idea that I wish weren’t so expensive.

This is one of those times when I think it best to let our readers give you the advice. Someone has to have a solution. (Please, someone have a solution!) I have always been at a loss for what to suggest for disguising workout equipment. So readers, please give Cindi a hand and offer up your suggestions in the comments. I’ll also be reading to see what everyone has to say because I need the advice as much as Cindi.

Thank you, Cindi, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. And, sincerely, I hope someone has better advice for you than I do on this topic.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

52 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: How can I disguise workout equipment?”

  1. posted by emily on

    We have an exercise bike in the living room. Perhaps in a very small or otherwise cluttered room the equipment would look out of place, but the room is sizeable and kept very tidy, so in general a piece of equipment doesn’t detract.

    And when we have parties, we move it to another room. πŸ™‚

  2. posted by Greg on

    Simple advice is do not hide it. Recognize that your health is more important than style and find an arrangement that works. My wife and I are lucky to have a large family room and have our recumbent bike behind a sofa. The bike isn’t that obvious as a second tier seat but it isn’t hidden either. Treadmills hidden away don’t get used, but having your fitness area out and neat will lower your unconscious resistance to exercise – that way you can unclutter your body of those excess pounds, too!

  3. posted by paige on

    Instead of a treadmill I use a low impact dvd rotated with a pilates dvd. The only thing I have to store is the mat I use because we have wood floors. It is my understanding that actual walking is far better for you treadmill walking, so if you are really pressed for space you could ditch the treadmill altogether and still get a workout that is as good as or better than the one you are getting now.

  4. posted by tba on

    I agree with the others – don’t hide it. Ask yourself: Who do you want to hide it from?
    From yourself and your family? Well, seeing it all the time is a great incentive to use it. You might “forget” about it if its hidden. Plus taking off the cover or removing the walls everytime you wanna use it? Sounds like a lot of extra work.

    From guests? Why should you? Think of all the workout tips you might get if your guests see it. And its not something to be ashamed about!

    Just make sure the treadmill is in the right spot, so nobody has to walk around or might bump into it. And if you don’t like how it looks, consider to have it painted, put a beautiful picture up on the wall next to it, put a lovely rug under it – anything that makes it look attractive to you!

  5. posted by Jen on

    I’m not always a fan of the idea of hiding or covering items because they don’t fit with the room’s decor. At some point, you just have to accept that most homes most of the time will not look as picture perfect as all the homes you see in Martha Stewart and Real Simple and even on sites like Apartment Therapy.

    I suppose you could screen off the treadmill or get some sort of slip cover to hide it, but as Erin said, it’s still going to be obvious that there’s a treadmill there, and that can easily end up looking a bit tacky. Also, as Greg said above, the more readily available the treadmill is, the more likely you are to use it.

    To me, a treadmill is basically a piece of furniture, so I would just put it in a logical spot where it can be easily accessed and used but is also not interfering otherwise with activity and traffic in your living room. You can do some things to incorporate other elements of your living room with the treadmill. My mom’s treadmill has a nice, neutral rug under it, and she has a few deep colors in the room that work well with the black treadmill color. She also has some lush, green potted plants near it that look really nice.

  6. posted by Scott on

    Yep – what Emily & Greg said. It’s about priorities. If the equipment is something that is actually used for health, then why worry about how it looks?

    Most people that want to hide the equipment aren’t acutally using it. Rooms are to be used, not solely to look empty. I’m all for uncluttering, but you still have to live in the space after all.

    We used to have a huge armoire in our bedroom to “hide” our TV – it totally dominated the space, and we rarely ever actually “hid” the TV by closing the doors. When we finally just put the TV on a smallish table in the same spot, it was much less obvious than when we tried to “hide” it.

    Use the equipment as often as you can and I’ll bet you will worry less about hiding it.

  7. posted by lafou on

    If you hide it too well, you may not use it. I keep my Pro-Roller under a coffee table. Small free weights, mat, B.O.I.N.G. and yoga block in a basket. It’s all in reach of a space in front of the TV. It’s easy to move all of this out of the way. I don’t live in a museum – houses are to be lived in.

  8. posted by Bethany on

    In my house, you walk in through the basement level. We already have a living room upstairs, so we’ve been struggling to figure out how to configure the bottom level. We have exercise equipment down there and decided not to bother disguising it.

    My approach is to section it off into zones, so I have an exercise area, and a lounging area. I set it up so that the couch area is closest to the entrance of the house so that the exercise equipment isn’t the first thing you see when you walk in the door. I plan to add artwork and get the couch area nicely decorated as if there isn’t a huge honking power rack just a few feet away.

    And of course, I keep all of the equipment organized. I have 2 baskets to throw in gloves, shoes, ab wheel, etc, and a rack to organize the weight plates.

  9. posted by Victoria on

    In my lasst house, I had my treadmill in my bedroom. Having spent what I considered megabucks on our beautiful Ethan Allen furniture,a treadmill open to the room would have bugged me no end. My solution: between the master bath & bedroom I had a wide dressing area between two closets (Oh how I miss those closets!), wide enough to accomodate the width of the treadmill & traffic easily while not blocking closet sliders. To camoflage it, I screwed white cup hooks into the (white) ceiling, then clipped curtain rings to an embroidered silk curtain that I actually had to fold over at the top because the length was too long–then hung. It was open on the bath side, but I had double doors to the bath, one of which stayed closed & became dog bed in the bath, so that was the side the open end faced. I could pull the curtain back to view the television in the armoire if I wanted. Curtains & clips were given to me by my daughter, so the cup hooks were a tiny investment. I’ve since gone through a transfer Northward, so I have a basement where I’m creating a workout area.

  10. posted by Debbie M on

    Sorry, I’m with tba. I’m not into disguising things–are you disguising your TV or your computer/office supplies? It sounds like a useful, comfy no-nonsense sort of room.

    But you could decorate it. Paint? Decoupage? Silly handlebar fringe? A Hawaiian lei? If it has a stand for reading books, maybe you could put an open dictionary on there to make it very accessible.

    Or someone could sew a cover for it (like the kind used to cover cars). It could be of a beautiful damask fabric or in some silly design such as looking like a robot. Or you could just throw a pretty sheet or tablecloth over it. Or you could confuse people by hanging draping a helmet over it.

  11. posted by Justin on

    The first question in uncluttering should always be “do I have to have this?”

    Exercise equipment seems to be the ultimate in “unitaskers”. A treadmill clutters up WAY more space than a banana slicer.

    * Get rid of the treadmill and walk or run outside. Go for a hike. In the winter, snowshoe or cross country ski.
    * Get rid of the exercise bike and buy a real bicycle. If “winter” is a problem, you can buy a small indoor trainer to put it on for the cold months.
    * If you HAVE to have the STUFF to exercise, then join a gym or the local YMCA. Just like you can unclutter your bookshelves by going to the library instead of Amazon, you can declutter your home gym by using one that is shared and dedicated.

    Even though “get rid of it” seems like the clearest option, I acknowledge that it might not be ideal. Cindi says that the room is also the “home office”? I say, merge the desk and treadmill into one uber-multi-tasker. It’s the new thing… all the cool kids are doing it:
    Then, every time you go to read UnClutterer or pay the bills, you get some exercise as a bonus!

  12. posted by Pollinator on

    I want an XFit! I couldn’t find the price or availability in the US. Anyone know?

  13. posted by Melanie on

    I agree with the others who say to not hide it. It is just an appliance, like your stove, that doesn’t need to be hidden.

    We have a small house (800 square feet), and have our gazelle in the same room where we have our study table and dog kennel. It is positioned so we can view the television in the next room, if desired, but we generally listen to music or class lectures on our ipods. We also have small cloth baskets where we store the work-out shoes, wrist/ankle weights and other related items.

    For parties, it folds up and can easily be stored on the porch. I am sure if I had to set it up or uncover it every time I wanted to work out, then I probably wouldn’t use it as often.

  14. posted by melissa on

    @Justin – very cool link to the treadmill desk! what a great idea! πŸ˜€
    I agree with other comments that your equipment should not be hidden. So, you exercise–good for you! Now just make sure you use it so it doesn’t become clutter!

  15. posted by Cindi on

    Erin – thank you for posting my inquiry and fellow readers, thank you so much for your comments and suggestions.

    A common theme in your responses was to incorporate the equipment into both my life and my room, and that really aligns the priorities for me. Clarity out of perceived clutter – yay!

    I have realized it is a matter of placement more than disguise. I do love the idea of using plants and pictures and rugs to add to the aesthetics.

    I suspect that moving the home office function to another room will happen in the near future – the recent post on craft/home office/guest rooms was inspirational.

    Again, thanks Erin for bringing my question to the unclutterer world, and thanks to everyone for their ideas.


  16. posted by Ginger on

    I’ve seen folding treadmills. I don’t remember who made it, I’m sure googling would find it. While this wouldn’t hide the treadmill, it would give a little more floor space when not in use.

  17. posted by jodi on

    My solution will be unpopular, but it is very effective and looks great in our living room.

    We sold our couch. Yep. That couch is a unitasker…it was good for nothing but sittin on! πŸ™‚

    Now, if we want to watch a movie, we sit on the exercise bike or walk the treadmill…serves as both a place to park our hiney and the purpose it is intended to serve…workout! All our exercise equipment gets LOTS more use this way, and no one has complained about not having the bulky-in-the-way couch.

    Seems extreme, I know…but allow yourself to imagine what your space would look like as an exercise room with a television, instead of a living room.

  18. posted by Anita on

    I’m with others re: don’t bother hiding it; exercise proudly!

    If space is a concern, I’ve also seen folding treadmills that you can tuck away in a closet when they’re not in use.

    My biggest piece of advice, though? Don’t tuck your treadmill into a dark, unwelcoming corner. Make sure it’s a place you enjoy being, so that you look forward to working out (or at least don’t dread it), and that it’s well ventilated πŸ˜‰

  19. posted by Justin on

    Many rowing based exercise machines (like the Concept2 rower) stand up vertically when not in use to have a much smaller footprint. Perhaps that’s a solution as well.

  20. posted by emily on


    I live in a climate where I can go outside almost year-round, and I still have an exercise bike. It was a hard decision to make, but I have injuries such that I cannot ride an upright bike (I have a recumbent), nor can I run for the time being.

    When I travel for work, however, I am always struck by how lucky I am to live somewhere so mild & pleasant. Going outside to run in the humidity & poor air quality of summer on the eastern seaboard/Richmond-Boston megalopolis? Or in the slush of winter? Or on busy city streets where I’m breathing soot and getting hung up at lights and dodging the masses? No thanks.

    “Go for a hike” and “snowshoe” are not really practical solutions for those who don’t live anywhere without ready access to those resources. The likelihood of exercising drops precipitously if you have to drive to your destination — and sometimes that means the gym, too.

    Your suggestion is good — just offering a counterpoint.

  21. posted by lucy1965 on

    Like emily, I have physical limitations which severely restrict the types of exercise I can do; impact cardiovascular work — even walking on an uneven surface — will worsen two of them. I have exercise-induced asthma; the local air quality is consistently rated in the top ten for worst in the country.

    Some of us can’t just “go for a walk” — and we are glad that there are options that allow us to maintain our health as best we can within those limitations.

  22. posted by Zac on

    Another vote for the ‘don’t hide it crowd” – I still follow the rule that if you wouldn’t display it, don’t keep it.

    That said, I also support the idea of ditching it altogether and just walking outside. Obviously if there is a reason you can’t just go for a walk (climate/medical/house arrest :P) I understand, but if not, by all means, walk outside, run outside. Its a great opportunity to clear your head and experience the world. Also, any exercise you can do while watching TV isn’t really exercise. Treadmills don’t elicit the same response as a proper walk/run.

    Most exercise machines are just bulky clutter and not entirely beneficial.

    (Full disclosure: I am a credentialed TRX instructor, CF Level 1 CrossFit coach and a strength and conditioning coach)

  23. posted by Debbie M on

    @jodi, your solution made my day!

  24. posted by Julia on

    “Treadmills don’t elicit the same response as a proper walk/run” Would that be the “I don’t wanna f-in do this any more” response?

    Doing it right is not the biggest challenge to exercising. The challenge is just doing it. If you work out while you’re watching tv, it’s easier to keep going.

    If having a treadmill in your home is the least resistance path to exercising regularly, than put it where you will use it readily and easily. See other comments for decorating ideas. And good luck!

  25. posted by jbeany on

    I’m with the “don’t hide it” crowd – at least if there isn’t a good place to tuck it away where it will still get used. In my last place, I had the seating area that faced the tv in one half of the room, and the treadmill tucked just behind one of the chairs so it faced the tv as well.

    I don’t think getting rid of it and walking outside is all the outdoor enthusiasts make it out to be either. If you live somewhere with real winter weather, it’s just not practical. Walking, skiing or snowshoeing outside in the dark before or after work in a place that has windchill 20 below zero for large parts of the year is not a great idea. Not if you prefer the ends of your toes, fingers and nose.

  26. posted by Frances on

    Hmm…My husband and I disagreed on this when we first got married. I wanted a treadmill but he didn’t like the way they detracted from the comfort of a room. So we compromised and I got a gym membership. After a week of using the treadmill at the gym I started having shin splints and knee trouble like my body has never known. I had to alter my workout and use a stationary bike instead. Sure glad I didn’t buy a treadmill! We live in a smaller apartment now, too far from a gym. I use workout DVD’s like the ones on Netflix Watch it Now, or I take the dog for a walk.

  27. posted by Mara on

    I have a Pilates reformer rather than a treadmill, but it still takes up floor space. It used to be down the basement and I found that I hardly ever used it. Once I moved it into my living room, I started using it again a lot more often, and now I get all kinds of comments from guests who see it there, which gives me a chance to talk about how much I love Pilates. So having it out in the open has made all the difference… I say go ahead and let your treadmill be a focal point and conversation piece! There’s no shame in letting people know you work out at home. It’s a great thing to do, and you can be proud of it.

  28. posted by Hilde on

    A treadmill is just so ugly! I think it really ruins a room. Even the word is ugly: A treadmill used to be a big wheel, like a hamster wheel, where prisoners had to step for hours a day as an additional punishment. I shudder every time I hear this word.

  29. posted by Rick on

    As mentioned above, if it’s your family room, just find a decent place for it and leave it there. It will become part of the surroundings pretty quickly.

    One type of treadmill that may be easier to ‘hide’ is a folding type. These can be stored against a wall on the far side of a cabinet, or perhaps a screen can be placed in front of it.

  30. posted by tba on

    @jodi: where do guests sit that come to your house, then?

  31. posted by Heidi Poe on

    I don’t know if my advice would be helpful, but here’s how my boyfriend and I cope with our workout equipment. We have a small apartment and also own an exercise bike, two sets of dumbbells, and a workout bench. We just tuck the bike and bench into a corner next to the couch when they’re not in use and put the dumbbells down in another corner. They’re always there for anyone to see, but it DOES look like they have their place, so the living room doesn’t seem cluttered at all! πŸ™‚

  32. posted by Anna on

    I’m thinking a MASSIVE statue or painting on the other side of the room to the treadmill. Think along the lines of the huge head Mr Burns gave the Simpsons as a thank you gift once. People will be so busy staring at that they’ll never even notice the treadmill. (Yes, I am only kidding)

  33. posted by Sheryl on

    Yep…don’t hide it. We have our folding treadmill and kettle- and dumbells and yoga gear in our family room, where we use them. They do become a topic of conversation when you have company, especially the kettlebells. (“What are THOSE??”)

    @Zac – my gym has a row of TV’s around the top of the room, so does that mean that anyone that’s watching TV while they’re on the treadmill/bikes/arc trainers/elliptical isn’t really exercising??

    C’mon, Dude… :-/

  34. posted by Kit on

    That XFIT was like porn for exercise nuts/decor nuts. I’m putting it on my list of things to buy whenI have too much money.

  35. posted by Mary in TN on

    I have an exercise bike in my very large bedroom. It’s in a corner, so it’s not in the way. I followed the example of my designer friend and threw a lace curtain over it. It’s still visible through the curtain, but it no longer screams at you when you walk in the room. That’s enough for me.

  36. posted by Leslie Hope on

    Get a jump rope!

  37. posted by earthmother65 on

    I hated my husband’s treadmill when he first bought it over 10 years ago…then I realized how much I needed it! We’re on our second model, foldable, so it’s pushed up against the wall of our den, and conveniently enough, has blue plastic trim that pick up the curtains and carpet it rests on. The den is also home to a second tv and a gorgeous view out the window, both of which help keep me going during workouts. The boys’ Xbox is also up there, and there’s nothing sweeter than having them walk in and realize they can’t play because I’m exercising πŸ™‚ All to say, be proud of your treadmill, get one that folds and you won’t be so stressed about it.

  38. posted by Jennifer on

    If your treadmill folds you can put it inside an amoire with all the “guts” removed. I’m a design student and this came up in class and that was our instructor’s solution. You could even place a small flat screen TV on the back wall of the amoire. Just open the doors, lower the running surface and you’re good to go!

  39. posted by laurazz on

    It’s always a challenge, especially in small spaces.

  40. posted by Erica on

    I have my elliptical in the family room with a TV and stereo where it gets used every day. If I didn’t have that room, my next choice would be the laundry room which is pretty big. If I had to put it in the living room or bedroom, I would probably use a curtain or folding screen. If it took up too much space, I’d get rid of other furniture–health first. I’ve been to homes where people had exercise equipment in their living room and it looked cool. (Remember Seinfeld’s bike in his living room?) If you can’t make anything work at home, sit down and “think different”–Apple’s motto.

  41. posted by Sooz on

    I have a commercial-grade elliptical taking up a lot of space in my living room & I make no attempt to hide the beast! My health is more important than the “look” of my living room. I get my cardio exercise regularly now, no matter the weather. (And I don’t watch TV while exercising – the elliptical is placed so that the TV cannot possibly be watched while on it.)

    There’s need to “hide” or apologize for exercise equipment.

  42. posted by Julius on

    Hide it or not, make sure to place it in a place where it is not forgotten. For me my preference is on one of the corner of the living room, preferably one with windows. No one would want to be running facing a wall isn’t it? Rearranging your furnitures so as it gets “incorporated” in a way that it will not be distracting.

  43. posted by EngineerMom on

    Just a note from an outdoor exercise enthusiast who finally had to face reality:

    I walked outside a lot when we lived in St. Paul, MN. Air quality was good most of the year, and even when it was cold, I could just put on more layers, since the sidewalks were usually shoveled and reasonably clear. Then we moved to Cincinnati. I can’t tolerate heat very well (especially now that I’m pregnant with baby #2!), so if the “feels like” temp is over 80, I can’t walk outside. So far, we get just a few weeks a year when it’s not too humid/hot, not snowing (no one shovels their sidewalks around here), and not raining (walking in the rain isn’t an option when I have to push my 3-yr-old in a stroller with me).

    Not many people live in areas where it’s even safe to walk outside, and not just because of cold. Heat can be deadly, especially to someone who is just starting an exercise program. I applaud anyone who can manage to exercise regularly, however they do it!

  44. posted by balabushka on

    Sell it and do a brisk walk outside… problem solved.

  45. posted by Vikki on

    In South Carolina, we had 4 days last week over 100 degrees (not including humidity which makes it seem hotter.) It is only June. July and August will be worse but at least we’ll be used to it then. Most people run late in the evening or early in the morning if they run outdoors at all. Treadmills can be life savers down here (literally).

    That being said, I have a hula hoop. Actually, I have eight hula hoops. I tried putting them away, but since I use them all the time, that became annoying. Therefore, they stay out, leaning against the wall in my living room. They are part of my lifestyle so why hide them. (I don’t view them as clutter though I’m sure some of you would.)

  46. posted by gypsy packer on

    I hide a folding treadmill behind an armoire. The back of the armoire can be used for inspirational posters. Ankle weights and hand weights go in decorative boxes which peep out from beneath the bedspread. Truth is, the treadmill doesn’t hide often, because I have a treadmill desk.

  47. posted by D on

    treadmills aren’t the same as walking/running…you use your muscles in a completely different, unnatural way that actually can accentuate body alignment problems. I vote for ditching it and walking. As for outside, there are enough malls in urban areas to make for safe, climate controlled walking on smooth level surfaces. Or, yanno…GO OUTSIDE!

    If a treadmill is a must, I have seen bookcases moved off the wall enough to make a small alcove. It’s more useful and sturdy than a screen or curtain, and doesn’t require moving the treadmill to a less user friendly room.

  48. posted by Anne on

    An idea I had is to retrofit a deep closet for a treadmill. My thought was to have sliding doors that would allow access to the side of the treadmill. I would create a cut-out window in the “end” of the closet with some kind of cover – a swing-out picture, cute little shutter, a fabric curtain – so it would close things off when the treadmill is not in use, but could open for TV viewing or looking out a window or something. This would let your equipment be hidden normally and not be out in the room, but also not require an entire room for exercise stuff.

  49. posted by timgray on

    Look closer at the Xfit.

    It’s nothing more than a fold up treadmill that has a gutted cabinet set around it. you can easily do the exact same thing by going to Ikea.

    There is the answer. Buy treadmill that folds up, go to ikea after measuring and buy a cabinet that looks like it will fit, assemble it without the bottom part.

    All done.

  50. posted by Anne on

    Whoever is thinking of getting a treadmill – think carefully if you REALLY need it. Not just because of the issues Cindi has raised, but because of safety. More people are hurt on treadmills than on any other piece of cardio equipment. They’re especially dangerous for young children, a few of whom have had their skin burned off when they got a body part wedges next to the treadmill belt. Mostly, though, most people don’t realize that a treadmill needs at least 5 feet of clearance behind it in case of trips/falls. A number of people have been injured – some even killed – when they tripped on their treadmill and were catapulted backwards into the immediate wall/ledge/obtrusive object. Treadmills use a lot of energy and then take up a huge footprint when you add in that extra clearance space. Buy a treadmill only if you absolutely will use it – regularly.

  51. posted by Midge on

    I have a large treadmill and I love it! However, I tend to like living in small houses which I also love.

    In my last home, which was a studio cottage, my treadmill, which does fold up, was against a wall in my bedroom. I attached a rounded shower curtain rod above it and hung a beautiful curtain from the rod so the curtain draped beautifully around the treadmill. When it was time to exercise, I just opened the curtain and folded down the treadmill.

    In my new house, the treadmill is in a corner of the living room, facing a window. I have a rattan room screen which, when folded out normally, makes sort of a “Z”. I took the hinges off one of the panels and reattached them upside down so that when folded out, the screen makes an “L”. I fit the “L” over the front of the folded up treadmill and you can’t see it at all, and then there is one arm chair placed in front of the screen.

    The trick to making it easy to work out in the mornings is at night before I go to bed, I move the chair and the screen and fold down the treadmill. It’s the first thing I see when I’m on my way to the kitchen for my coffee so there’s no reason not to work out if I want to “reclaim” my living room for the day!

    Hope this helps!

  52. posted by raptorsdelight on

    Hide it! Treadmills and exercise equipment are great to have, but they don’t look good in the middle of an otherwise elegant room. If you have a folding treadmill, I would imagine that an armoire like the XFIT would be easy to make at much lower cost, either from scratch or from an existing piece of furniture. Otherwise, I don’t see why using a screen would be problematic if done well. I’ve seen a few episodes of HGTV shows in which the designer has made a large screen or room divider that looks much more attractive than the standard room screens you can get from a retailer.

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