German Language Blog

German Sayings + Expressions 24: Order and the Drawer Posted by on Aug 15, 2019 in Culture, Language

Germans are all about Ordnung (order). They love having everything put together and well-defined. No wonder then that there are Sprichwörter (sayings) about this! The Ausdruck (expression) is a reaction to it… Let’s go!

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Ordnung ist das halbe Leben

Image by Samuel Zeller at

Literally: Order is half of life

Cleanliness is next to godliness

Order is so important to Germans that it is no surprise that they make a big deal out of it. Order is half your life – that is a big statement. Where does this come from?

It is about time. If you keep things in order, you won’t lose as much time searching for things. If you have a routine, you don’t have to figure out each time what to do. You save a lot of time – half a life if you’re doing it right!

So, Ordnung ist das halbe Leben. If somebody tells you that, and you ignore it and keep living in your Dreck (filth)? Well, perhaps they will then tell you:

Das ist unterste Schublade!

Image by author based on image by Lena De Fanti at

Literally: That is the lowest drawer!

That is way below the belt!

What? Lowest drawer? Yes. It refers to a situation or certain Verhalten (behavior) that is really not okay, that is just below the belt. But where does it come from?

If you follow the credo Ordnung ist das halbe Leben, you might kn0w: the unterste Schublade is usually used for things you don’t have to access a lot. It is uncomfortable to bend over to reach it, it is not a desirable place, one that you want to access often. Though just because you don’t need something a lot, does not mean that it is a bad thing. So why the negative connotation?

I found an explanation for this. Back in the Mittelalter (Middle Ages), bending over or bowing was a sign of submission. Especially if you were higher up, you would not want to bend over to open a Schublade. You would want somebody to open the Schublade for you. It was a humiliating thing to bend over. And so, calling something unterste Schublade refers to such lowly Verhalten, unworthy of those that commissioned it.

Of course, if this origin story is true, this would be quite the haughty thing to say. But it has really become an everyday Ausdruck (expression), so don’t worry when using it. If you think something was handled really bad, don’t hesitate to call it unterste Schublade!


Räum doch bitte dein Zimmer auf! Ordnung ist das halbe Leben.

– Nein, ich habe keinen Bock. Räum du mein Zimmer doch auf, wenn du dich so daran störst.

Wie bitte? Das ist unterste Schublade! Los jetzt, räum sofort auf!

(Please tidy up your room! Order is half your life.

– No, I don’t feel like it. Why don’t you tidy up my room if you’re so bothered by it.

Excuse me? That is the lowest drawer! Come on, clean up now!)

Have you heard of these idioms before? Do you have similar ones in your language? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.