I was so excited to interview Lauren for this series because she leads such a unique and inspiring life. She is the proud mama of Mateo, and founder of Nicoella Events with her husband, Nick. The whole gang recently moved to Mexico in search of a simpler life. Enjoy!
Q. Tell us a little about your family.
We are an intrepid family of three. My husband and I own an event design company – Nicoella (named after our nicknames for each other). I am an event planner, designer and stylist and Nick is a sound designer and DJ. It is probably not surprising the Nick and I met on a dance floor in Oakland over a decade ago. He was DJing and I was dancing. Music has always played an important role in our lives. We have an animated almost 5 year old, Mateo. We did the unthinkable and bought Mateo a drum set when he was 2. He has been playing drums in his two imaginary bands – Punk Farm (rock music) and Morris Band (jazz much) ever since. As a family, we have almost nightly dance parties in our living room.
Q. How do you find work/life balance? Any helpful tips to share?
We recently made a major move to achieve just this. We had been living in Oakland working 9-5 jobs, commuting a lot – basically working really hard to afford our mortgage and pay to send Mateo to an amazing, but expensive preschool. We started our business in the midst of this and spent every free moment dealing with the logistics of our busy lives. We got burnt out. Around the same time we feared that we would never see the light at the end of the tunnel, we took a much-needed trip to Mexico. We had been vacationing in the same place – my husband’s family friends ‘eco-community’ near Sayulita for over a decade. While we were there, someone offered to sell us a unit in one of the simple oceanfront homes on the property. We didn’t have the money to do it, but had this “ah-ha” moment thinking that if we passed the offer up, we would be really upset with ourselves later in life. They offered us a 20 year interest-free loan. So, we went for it. It is the best risk we have taken.
Originally, we decided to buy the house as a long term investment, but the next time we went down, we took a long walk down the beach and talked about how happy we felt when we were down there. We went to tour the local international school the next day and loved it. We started making plans to move down to Mexico the next week. I worked up the courage to quit my stable job (I used to be the director of an educational nonprofit). Nick talked to his employer about doing half of his job remotely (he still works 20 hours a week as a grants director for a Bay Area nonprofit). We found long-term renters for our Oakland home. It was a lot of work, but in Fall 2014, we packed up all our stuff in a beat up Toyota RAV4 and Nick drove it down with a friend to Sayulita. We’ve been living on the beach ever since. Things have really slowed down for us. We still plan and design events, now in both Mexico and the US, but we also spend a lot more time as a family.
Q. How do you carve out time for yourself? What do you do when you find it?
When we are in Mexico, neither of us work more than 30 hours/week. We live very simply and have left behind a lot of the luxuries of our lives in the Bay Area. In exchange, we have gained time as a family and for ourselves as individuals. Mateo goes to an incredible bilingual international school – his classroom is in a thatched room palapa – in the mornings. Nick and I take that time to get work done and fit in a daily work out. Nick surfs every morning and I do a combination of ashtanga yoga, surfing and running down the beach we live on. In the afternoons, we hook up with friends, go to the beach as a family or just have quiet time. We cook and eat dinner together almost every night while watching the sunset from our front porch. That is probably my favorite aspect of this lifestyle change. We were lucky if we ate together two times a week when we lived in the Bay Area. With more found time, our lives are so much more balanced and we are all happier as a result.
Q. How/when do you make space for you and your husband/partner? What do you do together?
Nick and I make a point to not work on Fridays. We take the morning while Mateo is in school to have a weekly daytime date together. We try to go on outdoor adventures that it is hard to take Mateo on – we’ve gone paddleboarding, hiking, surfing at remote spots. But sometimes we just have lazy time together, sleeping in and eating a big brunch. It makes a huge difference in our relationship to have time together during the day and not just when we are exhausted after a long day. We also still try to go out together at night. There isn’t nearly as much nightlife here as we had access to living in a big city, but we still go salsa dancing once in awhile or enjoy a romantic dinner out.
Q. What do you like to do as a family?
Because we live on the beach, it makes it really easy to meander down on a lazy Saturday (or even Tuesday afternoon). Nick and I both surf and we are trying to get Mateo comfortable on a board. We also love to travel as a family. We gave up going on lavish international adventures outside of Mexico when we bought our place down here, but made a goal to explore everything Mexico and California has to offer. We take a lot of long weekend road trips and go camping. We also love getting together with our friends and doing family friendly activities together – picnics, going to the beach, camping, even going in on renting a house together for the weekend and cooking lots of yummy food from scratch while the kids play together.
Q. Please share any other ideas or tips that might help other moms.
Nick and I still travel quite a bit for work (we come back to California every other month to meet with clients, do site visits and work events). We used to travel back and forth as a family, but it got too expensive, so now often times we travel independently. We use the time apart to revive ourselves. We catch up with friends independently, indulge in things we like to do separately (for me it is going to the newest restaurant with some girlfriends or going to the spa), for Nick it is going to a concert or basketball game. We generally feel pretty refreshed when we come back together.
One very practical but helpful piece of advice that I pass onto others (which was presented to us before we got married by a wise couple that were happily married many years) – keep some personal money in separate bank accounts. We share most of our money and are very careful about our budgeting, but to this day, transfer small amounts of money into our individual accounts every month. We use money from those accounts to buy ourselves luxuries without the other person questioning the expenses. As a DJ, Nick spends a lot of money on electronic equipment and records. I spend a lot of money on shoes. As silly as these expenses might seem to the other person, our separate accounts allow such indulgences to remain hassle free.
Lauren, thank you so much for sharing. I know others will be inspired by your choice to make a major life change in order to create a more balanced life. Have any great work/life tips to share? Contact me at email@example.com to be a featured mom on the site.
One comment on “Tool Kit Series: Lauren Toker”
Lauren is such an inspiration! I chatted with Lauren before she started Nicoella and she was determined to work for herself, do what she loves, and have flexibility to be with her family more- although she wasn’t quite sure how she would make it happen.
Less than 2 years later, she was running Nicoella successfully and was moving to Mexico for the year. How awesome is that!? She really shows that with determination, hard work, and talent you can do anything.