This Is How I Made My Living Room Into a Cheap, Secret Gym

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Category: Apartment Life, Home Improvement

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Like many people during the month of January, I’m vowing to clean up my diet and add more exercise to my weekly routine. But there are a few challenges I’m already running into when it comes to working out.

First of all, the gym is packed! All of my workout classes are filled to the brim and each cardio machine is taken. Second, the temps have been in the single digits here in Chicago, and the thought of freezing my buns off on my walk to the gym is enough to make me hit the snooze button instead of getting in that a.m. workout.

So, what’s a gal to do? Improvise!

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Instead, I’m getting my workouts in at home in my “secret gym”. And since we live in a small spot in the city, there’s no buying a huge “Total Gym” machine (sorry, Chuck Norris). How did I manage? I got creative with a few workout items that I can easily store and hide in our condo.

To open my gym, I push my table aside.

Take a look at my family room. Little did you know it doubles as an at-home gym space! I simply move the coffee table and chair … and boom! I’ve got plenty of room to spread out and get sweaty.

“Home gyms” actually take a very small amount of room. Take a look around your home and find a comfortable spot where you have space for an at-home workout. Just give yourself enough space so you don’t break anything or hurt yourself. If you’re looking for a new home right now, it goes without saying: make sure there is accumulative space to make one of these in your home.

I concealed all my workout equipment.

I designated a cabinet in the room for all of my workout equipment. This ensures that I have everything I need right on hand, plus it’s less of an eyesore because it’s hidden. No need for one of those big racks.

I’ve got all of this stuff in one cabinet:

  • Yoga mat
  • Foam roller
  • Weights
  • Resistance bands
  • Printed workout plans

They’re all easily accessible right in here. I used to just throw all of my resistance bands in a random drawer, which actually meant I rarely used them. Now, they’re all organized neatly in the box on the top shelf, so I can grab them and get to work!

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I suggest maybe also investing in a few baskets or a container to organize your workout gear. Sometimes it makes it easy to just grab the entire basket and have access to everything you need at once.

I printed and organized my favorite routines.

I’ve dabbled in various workout routines over the years. I love changing things up to keep myself motivated. You can find lots of awesome workouts online (they’re seriously everywhere) and can print them right at home. I printed off a few of my favorites and put them into this workout binder.

Now, I simply flip through my $2 binder and find my exercise routine for the day. It’s super easy and I no longer have to dig through drawers to find these crumpled sheets of paper in my desk.

Personally, I’ve also run into a few injuries over the years and have had success with physical therapy. Those trips to the therapist left me with lots of random sheets of paper outlining the exercises I needed to do to keep those injuries at bay. You can bet they’re all organized nicely in my at-home workout binder.

I just use a stepping stool, and it works great.

Some of the full-body workouts I do require a step, to get in some cardio. Since I have absolutely zero space for a workout bench to step up on, I improvise with a step stool. This little guy easily fits into a closet and I bring it out when it’s time for my sweat on. Consider buying one with two steps so you can always make things more challenging as you progress with your workouts.

If you don’t believe you can get a good workout with just a stool, you obviously have never tried it!

A Closer Look at the Supplies

Instead of running to the sporting goods store for tons of crazy equipment, I invested in the essentials.

Smart Dumbbells

Light weights and heavier weights should do the trick for most routines. My husband actually purchased these smart dumbbells that can start at five pounds and go all the way up to 52.5 pounds … all in the same dumbbell. Definitely a space saver!

Inexpensive Yoga Mat

A yoga mat is another must, even if you’re not a yogi. I love using mine to cushion my knees for push-ups and when I lay on the ground. It’s also great to dampen the sound made when you’re working out! I don’t want to disturb my neighbors downstairs when I’m doing jumping jacks or jump lunges, so I always try to do those exercises on my cushioned mat.

Resistance Bands

Resistance bands are incredibly effective, can be used for just about anything, and are super cheap! (Here’s some from Amazon.) What’s not to love about this gym supply? We have a variety of tensions and use them for full-body workouts.

Finally, I watch stuff on Youtube.

To round it off, a TV or computer that can connect to YouTube is a must for at-home workouts! There are so many free exercise videos online, it just takes some searching to find ones that are right for you. This blog post outlines some of our favorites workout programs that you can do from the comfort of your home.


I’m convinced that you don’t need a huge home or tons of supplies to get in a great at-home workout. Until the new gym members lose motivation, you’ll find me getting my exercise in right from my secret gym at home.

DIY Tricks to Make Sure You Have the Best Dorm Room

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Category: College Moves

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We recently shared a list of the essentials (and not so essential items) to bring with you to college. Today, we’re taking things up a notch with dorm room ideas that really personalize your room and make it one-of-a-kind.  When every dorm room looks almost identical, it may seem impossible to really put your personal touch on this space. But these DIY room decor ideas will make your dorm the best one in your hall!

Make a Bulletin Board Out of an Old Shutter

Dorm Room Ideas: DIY Room Decor - Shutter Bulletin Board

Why buy a generic magnet or bulletin board from a big box store when you can create a unique piece instead? We found an old shutter from Habitat for Humanity Restore and spray painted half of it white, then the other half teal. Then we bought some clothes pins to tack up cute photographs and notes.

Hang this on your dorm room wall or simply lean it on top of a dresser for a one-of-a-kind picture board that is bound to stand out to anyone who walks by your door.

Cover the Ugly Beige Walls With a Tapestry
Dorm Room Ideas: DIY Room Decor - Cover those Dorm Walls

So many dorm room walls are a yucky beigey-yellow color. Not the most flattering color in the world, and it’s certainly not something you can change (no painting allowed!). We suggest covering those lackluster walls with a giant wall tapestry. You can find some great ones online (we love this one!) and you can use command hooks to hang it from the ceiling. The best part is a large chunk of your wall will be covered and you won’t have to stare at anything boring all year-long.

Use Washi Tape to Jazz up Your Door

Washi Tape is the stuff of legend. The fact that it leaves minimal residue means it’s perfect for designs, lettering or anything else creative you can put your mind to. Geometric shapes like the one pictured are always attention grabbers, but sideways lettering or origami shapes look great too. For best results, grab a few different colors from the store.

You might have to ask your RA first before you start, or if you’re like us, ask for forgiveness instead – door designs are so cool and memorable once you see them that it’s hard to say no!

Marker Up a Personal Doormat for the HallwayDorm Room Ideas: DIY Room Decor - DIY Personalized Doormat

This is a project we love for homes, apartments and yes.. .even dorm rooms! Take a plain doormat and carefully add a personalized message using a sharpie marker. Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing: Write “Dorm Sweet Dorm”, write your room number or even write the initials for you and your roomie. Get creative with this simple DIY project and you’ll be proud to put this doormat in the hallway for all of your guests to marvel over!
Here’s the full tutorial for this one.

Play Scrabble on Your Mini FridgeDorm Room Ideas: DIY Room Decor - Scrabble on the Mini Fridge

This DIY room decor project is one of our favorite dorm room ideas because it’s so budget-friendly. Simply take some small ceramic tiles (you can find them at a Habitat for Humanity Restore or your local home improvement store) and turn them into Scrabble tiles. Use a ceramic paint pen to write the letters and numbers directly onto the tile, and then glue a magnet on the back. Create a bunch of these for your mini fridge and you’ll have fun all semester playing large games of Scrabble right in your dorm room. Here’s the full tutorial for this easy DIY project.

Fake It Til You Make It with a Succulent PlanterDorm Room Ideas: DIY Room Decor - Succulent Planter

We truly believe every room looks better with a little greenery in it. But we get it… there’s probably no way you can keep any real plants alive and thriving in your tiny dorm room. Instead, use the ultimate “plant-hack”: faux succulent planter! Pick up some fake succulents (which look pretty real these days), a clear vase and some pebbles so you can create this succulent planter in minutes! Check out the full, simple tutorial for this one.
Dorm Room Ideas: DIY Room Decor
It’s the personal touches that make a space extra special. Stand out at college this year with some of these DIY projects and crafty dorm room ideas!

How-To Guide for Getting the Best Rental Truck For You

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Category: Moving Trucks

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You’ve spent weeks packing up. You’ve spent days cleaning your bathroom and your floors. You’ve spent hours tying up loose ends and your last few spare minutes posting about how crazy your move is making you. Now all you have to do is rent a truck.

A truck! Crap, I forgot!

If you planned well ahead and reserved your truck, you’re part of an admirable, enviable minority. If you’re moving tomorrow and haven’t started comparing rental trucks for moving? May the gods of the move be with you. (But seriously, we”re here to help.) Deciding what size truck to get to searching for a decent deal, renting a truck blindly can be as bumpy as driving one, so here are some key areas to focus on for smoothing things out.

Properly Measure How Much You Need to Move by Trying This

For most people, it’s hard to believe how much stuff they really have. It’s even harder trying to figure out how big a truck they’ll need. If you’ve rented a truck before, your experience will be invaluable, but if this is your first time, don’t underestimate how bulky your world has become!

Not a blind endorsement for Penske, but it’s a valuable tool

General packing guidelines, based off a typical move

Penske’s online “Truck Wizard can help determine what size truck you’ll need. Inputting items like furniture and appliances is easy. But estimating how many boxes of varying sizes you’ll have is tough if you haven’t already packed up. As an experiment, I tried it out using my own place. At first, I couldn’t believe I’d need that big a truck. But the next size down ended up being too small. 

Finding out halfway through your move that your stuff won’t fit in your truck is a nightmare you don’t want to live through. So when estimating how much stuff you have, be over the top thorough. And don’t forget all that stuff in the closets and the garage!

Pick Your Move Day Wisely to Get a Good Deal

Do you have any flexibility at all in scheduling your move day? If so, take advantage. When trying to rent a truck, moving on a weekday in the middle of the month versus moving on the last or first day of the month is the difference between heaven or hell.

If your flexibility is limited and you find yourself running into roadblocks trying to nail down that rental, try a few of these tricks:

  • Rent round trip if possible. Dealers need to keep their inventory of trucks in places that are busiest. Otherwise, they have to move the trucks around themselves. Got a car? Leave it behind, make your move, then return your rental and drive your car to your new home. (Or have a friend follow you in your car.) They can help you unload and drive the rental back. (Check with your rental company’s policy on this.)
  • Try a dealer somewhere out of town. The smaller dealers out in the boonies might have trucks hanging around while their colleagues in the city are scrambling.
  • If your move is local, consider making two trips in a smaller truck.
  • If you’re moving long distance, try drop-off points that may not be in your new town. For example, if you’re moving to Eugene, OR, look for a deal that involves dropping your truck off in Portland. Again, inventory logistics can drive a rental company’s truck availability, not to mention the price. You might even ask where they need trucks and try to figure out a deal. Even with the extra day or the cost of getting back to Eugene, you may still come out ahead.
  • As implied in that previous point, it pays off to physically call all the rental companies. Speak to people. Ask about possibilities that don’t show up online. Be friendly. Be inquisitive. Be persistent.

Dealing with Price Differences

The quotes you get from the various truck rental companies out there can vary significantly. Put as simply as possible, there are three main reasons for this:

  • The quality of trucks available that day
  • The quality of customer service
  • Hidden charges

Ultimately, because prices depend so much on where you personally live and who else is moving that specific day, it’s impossible to flat-out say which company has the best deal every single time. However, you can find all sorts of information on truck rental companies online. 

Moving101 is an exhaustive resource with as much information about every moving truck company under the sun, including dimensions, tons of real, up-to-the-day reviews, and a ton more.

moving101.hireahelper.com/

In addition, here’s one fairly comprehensive forum thread that may be of interest that discusses a few tips and warnings that may also be useful. Keep all of these resources in mind, as your personal (and figurative) mileage is subject to local quirks.

Some (Not So Obvious) Protips

  • If you’re worried about insurance on your rental truck… good! It’s not likely that your credit card or your personal car insurance will cover you in the case of an accident. Thus, you’ll want to know exactly what you’d be facing in case of a mishap and what kind of insurance is available to avoid a financial disaster. Rental companies will offer various types of insurance, and sometimes at different levels. Here’s a good rundown by ValuePenguin on the wonderful world of rental truck insurance terms.
  • If you’re worried that the truck you reserved won’t be there waiting for you, you’re not crazy. It happens (maybe with some companies more than others). Trucks break down, people return them late and some trucks just seem to vanish. To increase your chances of getting the truck you reserved, one idea is to get to the rental place early. Another idea: if for whatever reason you are super-concerned you won’t get the best one, arrange to pick up your truck in the evening after people have already (presumably) begun dropping them all off.
  • If you are booking your rental online, HireAHelper does offer discounts on Penske and Budget
  • If you are in a real pinch and you don’t have all that much stuff, think about renting a trailer from Uhaul instead of a truck (from anyone). Even if you have to pay to have a trailer hitch installed on your vehicle, the money you save renting a trailer instead of a truck will in all likelihood more than cover the cost. Plus trailers don’t break down nearly as often as trucks. Just make sure there’s a spare tire!

Price, quality and customer service. Insurance, truck size and availability. It’s a difficult road to navigate – we know – but with knowledge, persistence and a few tricks up your sleeve, you’ll be well-equipped to handle this last, important piece of your moving puzzle.

The Fundamentals of Buying and Selling on Craigslist

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Category: Money Saving

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Craigslist. We used to hear that word and automatically think of seedy transactions and random items. But we’ve since come around and now use it on a regular basis to sell stuff we no longer want, as well as to find items that are one-of-a-kind for our homes!

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Showing Your Home? These Are the First Impressions That Matter

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Category: Buying & Selling a Home

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To us, staging your home to sell is similar to going on a first date.

You set up this date in hopes to meet your future spouse. You don’t know if that’ll be the case but there’s always the hope, right? If you’re hoping to land “the one”, chances are you’re going to put some effort into prepping for this first date. We feel the same is true when it comes to staging your home to sell.

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The Pros Pack Entire Homes With Just 5 Things

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Category: How To Pack, Moving Boxes & Supplies

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We are sorry to report – in case you didn’t already know – that packing your entire home into moving boxes is no small task. You’ll be happy to hear, however, that the list of packing supplies you need is short.

But while the list is short, there’s a catch; You’ll need a lot more of each thing than you think.

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How to Use a Moving Dolly Like the Pros

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Moving house without a hand truck – or a moving dolly – is like riding a bicycle without a seat. It’s technically possible, but honestly, who does that?

A sturdy, reliable hand truck is any mover’s best friend. Used properly, it saves you time, rescues your back and it can singlehandedly keep your stuff from getting damaged.

(Thinking of a square furniture dolly?)

But they’re not as easy to use as they look, provided you are using them in the proper way. With that in mind, here are tips compiled by moving pros as to how to optimize that hand truck you found in the back of your moving truck, or that one your friend let you borrow and you don’t want to return broken.

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Is Your Move Tax-Deductible? It Might Be for Almost 8 Million Americans

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Did you move for work last year? Did you pay for any of it yourself?

If you answered yes to both these questions, Uncle Sam wants to help!

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