Ian McGreevy just wanted to create some nice paths. It was 2013, and Animal Crossing: New Leaf fans were devouring the latest entry in Nintendo’s cozy simulation series. McGreevy couldn’t put it down, but he had run headfirst into one of the most frustrating stopgaps in the game: a 10-slot limit on custom designs. Players mock up the designs, then apply them to themselves and their environment. He said it wasn’t nearly enough to create decent pathing, and swapping out designs erased anything already painted across the ground.
McGreevy went online in a desperate search for solutions from the community. He saw people recommended building second, third, and fourth houses just to take advantage of the ten extra design slots. “You can only get so far with having one person in your village,” he said. “So, you just make a couple other houses, and it gives you access to enough custom designs to put down some nice paths and make things look pretty.”
Fast forward to 2020’s New Horizons and players are discovering a similar restraint. The Able Sisters’ tailor shop allows individuals to share and download user designs, enabling a vibrant ecosystem of compositions for customizing clothes, decorating signs and, yes, laying out paths and flooring throughout island villages. But that digital repository cuts off at 50, and even the most basic path requires a dozen or more dedicated tiles. Considering edging, diagonals, transitions or other advanced pathing features? That number balloons quickly.
Peek inside the New Horizon communities on Twitter, Tumblr, or Reddit and you’ll witness a burgeoning class of islanders creating a second “player” as a way of artificially extending the limits on custom designs. But it also reveals a range of needs and annoyances solved, or at least addressed, by dropping another plot in your village. Some players enjoy the extra storage, more DIY recipes, and double dipping on special visitors like Flick, Gulliver and Redd. Still others were annoyed by the limits on storage, which only expands when you pay off the hefty loans attached to upgrades.
“I made my second house maybe a week after I got my tenth villager, mostly because I was running out of space outside,” Mimi told me over online chat. “It also gives me extra storage space where I keep the clothes I have that are out of season.”
Mimi soon warmed to her unconventional storage solution, styling the ground floor like a diner with an arcade in the basements. She said it’s become an attraction for friends and guests where they hang out and take photos. Mimi still stores excess belongings there, of course, but that initial practicality bloomed into a desire for further expression through interior design. She’s currently planning themes for the remaining four rooms of her home.
Reddit user /u/ARiverToMyMeeples understands: she erected an additional house on her island as “a little onsen area on my island” using bamboo furniture and the tatami set to evoke the feeling of a ryokan, a Japanese traditional-styled inn that’s popular with tourists. She and her fiance are planning to visit one for their honeymoon, so she admits it’s also a bit of a premature dedication.
With all of the enticing furniture options in New Horizons, /u/ARiverToMyMeeples wanted to enjoy as much of it as possible without disturbing the thoughtful layouts in her initial home. That’s not to say the process is an easy one, though. “It’s a bit of a money sink, since I’d need to pay off all the debt to get all the rooms,” she said. “But I think it’s so nice to use as much of the furniture I can, especially if it helps with the little environments I’m trying to create around my island.”
At the time of our chat, /u/ARiverToMyMeeples was hard at work upgrading her second home, which incurs the same debt as the first. But that hadn’t stopped her from planning on a third home she wants to transform into a haunted mansion. Players in the two most popular Animal Crossing subreddits encourage each other to share their layouts through screenshots, suggesting flourishes or that one perfect piece that will tie the room together. Taking advantage of the game’s massive collection of furniture might soon eclipse the need for storage as the prevailing motivation for expanding beyond your first set of walls.
A sense of community
Unlike Mcgreevy or the players I spoke with on Reddit, Charmlingcharli didn’t construct extra houses in her village to expand her inventory or pro design capabilities. She just wanted a space for her husband, Finley, to join in the relaxing fantasy Animal Crossing offers. It began with New Leaf, which her husband had purchased as a gift for her in 2016. They were dating long distance, and Charmingcharli battled the separation by creating her then-fiance in-game.
It was a rough representation, but one of her own creation, which helped compensate for a disappointing lack of beard options. She treated the avatar like a member of the community with his own desires and goals.
“Sometimes I would just tell him funny things like ‘Oh, this is what I did for you.’ Or, ‘This is what you did in the game. This is how I dress [you]. This is how I set up your house.’ Just stuff like that.” By the end of her time with New Leaf, Charmingcharli’s digital husband had established a café that he operated for the other villagers, and his home had been decorated to reflect his interests, hobbies and job at the time.
Her husband gave the series another chance with New Horizons. Playing together on one console was “cute,” when the couple found photo ops and collected seashells together, but they both chafed under the restrictions the game places on Player Two. Finley decided to purchase his own console and copy of the game, leaving Charmingcharli with an extra video game husband to control. His house sat in the mountainous top level of her island, separated from the rest of the community. It comforted her to see it as she played, so she kept up the fiction. A splinter personality, a “representation of my husband” that took the place of the real one. She admits the extra storage was a nice bonus.
Weeks later, Charmingcharli had created a third character as a way to manage her hybrid flower breeding projects. This one was a “mad botanist” loosely based on her mother, and she outfitted the character’s house accordingly. “It’s easiest for me if I have some sort of lore for what’s happening on my island, even if it’s just like an informal one for myself,” she said. “It’s like a very exaggerated, over-the-top version of her, but it does look kind of like her. I sent it to my siblings, and they thought it was hilarious.”
The process of developing a character, their backstory, and their place within the island’s social ecosystem brings Charmingcharli more joy than anything else. Through play, they develop a personality she described as “loosely based” on their real-world counterpart. It’s the people she loves as seen through her eyes, and she reflects her favorite qualities of those people through home furnishings and their fictional relationship to the island.
Charmingcharli recently celebrated the real Finley’s birthday in New Horizons and invited her version of him to join in the impromptu celebrations. She said her husband found it “very bizarre. And it was, but it was also kind of funny.”
Tips for that second home
If you’re looking to flex your creativity or disregard the limits of home storage, the players I spoke with all offered some hard-won words of advice.
Paying Loans is for chumps: At a certain point, building a second house offers a cheaper expansion to your storage capacity than paying off your loan and expanding. Consider leaving that interest-free extension to collect dust while you construct a brand new home. That said…
Mentally prepare for the tutorial: It’s been two months since New Horizons released, so you probably forgot just how much time it takes to work through the game’s tutorial phase. Any new resident must complete the same hand-holding gauntlet, so set aside an afternoon with a movie or show you can half-watch while grinding those 5,000 Nook Miles again.
Plan plots in advance: Moving building after the fact is expensive, and you will want to save those funds for upgrading your new home. Taking the time to clear the perfect plot beforehand saves you the headache of shelling even more bells to Nook later.
Familiarize yourself with 2-player controls: While sharing Joy-Cons with a friend and family member can be a bit of a pain, controlling two characters yourself isn’t so bad, according to Charmingcharli. You can trade items between them by performing a little drop and swap, and both inventories are accessible without the need to reopen the game under a different Switch profile.
Repurposing the recycling bin: Inside Resident Services is a recycling container, and any resources or items the non-main character collects magically transport into there. Take advantage of this to temporarily store anything you don’t immediately need to keep your inventory from filling up too soon.
Develop a filing system: Managing two separate inventories means you will eventually need a specific piece of furniture stored in some other character’s basement. As your catalog grows, so, too, will the frustration of finding exactly what you need. Note taking definitely helps, but you can minimize the frustration by theming your storage. Charmingcharli keeps all gardening and outdoor implements with her botanist character, while her husband is the keeper of turnips, expensive rugs and all other valuables.