I Scored Big at the World’s Greatest Cat Lady Estate Sale


I like to kid myself that I’m not a hoarder or a pack rat, but somehow my home is filled with small collections of stuff, including wooden nickels, vintage postcards, and Moomins — not to mention, of course, all the cat tchotchkes. It’s all treasure to me, although my husband would probably disagree.

My justification for all this crap coming into the house is that I never spend very much, which means I love a good rummage at a thrift store or estate sale. I’m a firm believer in the thrift gods, who must be appeased with a purchase or two and who will then guide you to even better treasures at the next sale.

Catster Editor-in-Chief Janine and I had some adventures in thrifting when we went looking for a bunch of cat statuettes and ornaments to send to the Teal Cat Project. I still keep an eye out whenever I’m at a thrift store or flea market, and have told my favorite estate sale specialists, Kevin and Vicky of the YES Co. in San Francisco, to let me know when there are cat trinkets to be had.

A few weekends ago I got an email about a three-day sale in the Sunset District that set my heart a-thumping. “Completely full home of old-time San Franciscan family” was enough to get me hopping, but Kevin’s photos and descriptions of “CAT CAVALCADE, NECESSITIES NATION. EVERY AREA IS PACKED” meant I had to get over there, stat.

I was afraid that the professional antique dealers would clean out the house before I got there, because we couldn’t make it until Sunday. The upside of a late visit meant everything would be half price — although I was fretting the sale would be too picked over.

How wrong I was.

We walked up the path to a cute little house with ocean views, and I was immediately confronted by rows and rows of ornamental cats of all eras and descriptions. There were tables crowded with maneki neko, salt and pepper sets, Christmas ornaments, keychains, and earrings, and every single item had kitty ears and a tail. Clearly, whoever had lived here was a major cat lover. I was among my people!

Before I could scoop up more than a handful of the ornaments, my husband, Wade, called me: “Get downstairs now — everything’s free in the garage!”

I stashed my stuff and ran down to a scene of chaos. People were hurling stuff in and out of cardboard boxes across the garage and garden, and struggling out of the house under piles and piles of … treasure? Trash? It was hard to tell in the melee.

Wade was huddled in a corner, guarding a pile of cat books. I quickly found a cardboard box and added everything I could find that was remotely cat-related — pillowcases, greeting cards, and this lovely quilt.

The garage was dusty and musty, but I was filled with a bargain hunter’s zeal. There’s no better price than free, after all — and might I be saving some real treasures from the dump?

I usually draw the line at cuddly toys or plushes, but this bedraggled, graying gonk-kitty was crying out to be rescued. Her straggly nylon fur felt icky to touch, but I knew I couldn’t let her get trashed. (I get a lump in my throat when I see threadbare teddies and toys at sales — it makes me sad that they were loved for so long and are now so discardable.)

Kevin stood by and laughed as I staggered out of the garage with four overbrimming boxes of cat stuff and headed back upstairs. I had sated the thrift gods, so I could now take my time in the rest of the house. And can you bet the house’s rooms were full of yet more cat stuff.

This plate features the railroad mascot Chessie the Cat (I have a bathroom rug featuring this same image!).

I didn’t count my hoard of cat ornaments at the time, but it was pushing 50 when I gathered them for the photos. I’d grabbed fairly indiscriminately, but most of them were worthy of a cat lady’s home. A few of the ornaments are verging on antique, while others look like silly gifts you’d get at the funfair or buy in a local gift store when you’re on vacation. In your time machine. In the 1970s.

I stashed a bunch of the cat tchotchkes in a box, but I put my favorites on the bookshelf so they can all peer out at me, coquettish, innocent, or even just like sourpusses. Some of these little beasts have funny expressions, so I tried to pull a few faces to match.

Wade isn’t too keen on the kitty clutter, so I’m still thinking of donating the bulk of my thrift score to the Teal Cats — but some of these little critters have such sweet faces that I might have to keep a few of them. I can’t imagine erasing those pink noses and gilt tiaras, even for charity.

As for the soft toys — neck pillows, doorstops, cuddlies, and all — I don’t know what I’ll do with those, but I may yet press them on houseguests.

I saw Kevin last weekend when I bought a set of cat-headed fire irons (hey, at least these are useful!) from his latest sale, and he showed me some pictures of next week’s sale featuring something like 500 cat ornaments. I’m not sure whether I’ll go — we have friends in town — but I’m already getting the thrill of the chase. After all, you never know what treasures you might find in someone else’s garage.

Do you like scoring cat tchotchkes at rummage sales? Have you ever stumbled on a bonanza like I did? Let us know in the comments!

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