We all need a decent space to sleep and hang-out. It's a basic need not only do we need to get a proper night's rest to function in the mornings, but we also need to feel safe, cared for, and happy. So what happens when someone's bedroom is cramped at best, and outright unlivable at worst? That means there's something bad going on, as they'd never choose to sleep in that setting willingly.
A character who is mistreated, struggling, or otherwise unfortunate will have a bedroom that reflects their situation. If they're kids, they'll usually be The Unfavorite or an outright victim of Cinderella Circumstances, in which they live in a nice home, have a relatively wealthy family, and yet are stuck in the attic, basement, closet, etc. Even kids who are treated well might have their bedrooms suggest otherwise, though, if the problem is more subtle or complicated than just having mean parents. Occasionally, the room will be made bad by the person living in it, as a reflection of their mental state.
Expect these rooms to be small and cramped, perhaps impossible to decorate; in the worst case scenarios, the poor person may not even have an actual bed, sometimes not even an actual bedroom either, which is almost always a sign of seriously Abusive Parents. Sometimes, however, it's just that the room is built into a place that isn't designed to be lived in. Whatever the circumstances though, a character's awful or nonexistent bedroom is used as a visual or narrative shorhand to show how crummy their overall life is.
One key aspect here is that the character's sleeping space is abnormal for the house they live in. Be it a small apartment or a huge mansion, their bedroom or bedroom-equivalent stands out as being a particularly poor place to sleep. In this way, this trope relies heavily on comparison, as if there's anyone else living with them, those characters will have a much better sleeping situation. It's also relative: a character who lives in a shack is expected to have a cramped, hard-to-live-in bedroom, but a character who lives in a palace isn't. If their bedroom is below what someone would expect of their home, or they were otherwise forced to sleep somewhere much worse than everyone else does, it counts.
Compare Non-Residential Residence, in which a desperate character lives somewhere that's not intended for living. Certain examples may overlap. Also compare Horrible Housing, when a character lives somewhere to show how impoverished and desperate they are for shelter. A sister trope is Empty Fridge, Empty Life, where a poorly-stocked fridge is used to show someone's life struggles in a similar way to this trope. Compare Mess of Woe, where a character's deteriorating mental state is represented by the amount of rubbish they have in their living area(s), and Poster-Gallery Bedroom, where decorations are used to indicate the character's personality.
- Fantasy Kaleidoscope: Flandre's bedroom is full of destroyed furniture and toys (some of which were stabbed with knives) to indicate how being ignored for 495 years has affected her.
- Cinderella: Cinderella, though living in a spacious mansion, has her bedroom in the attic, where it's dark, cramped, and undecorated compared to the much more fancy and colorful bedrooms of her Wicked Stepmother and stepsisters.
- Played With in Inside Out: Riley's bad feelings about moving are heightened because their furniture was accidentally sent to the wrong state, forcing her to sleep on the floor for her first few nights in their new house.
- Perfect Blue starts with Mima living in a tidy and well-decorated room. As her Sanity Slippage progresses, her bedroom gets dirtier and dirtier and darker and darker.
- A Cinderella Story has Sam move into the house's cramped, dusty attic almost as soon as her father dies, showing the immediate downgrade she suffered as a result of being stuck with her step family.
- In Rags, Charlie's bedroom is in the attic of their house/restaurant. It's small, cramped, and sparsely decorated, and helps to highlight his status among his family.
- Therese: Towards the end, after the family found out that Therese tried to poison her husband, Therese is confined to a bedroom for a while. She starts to become more unglued, losing weight and no longer bathing while littering the room with stubbed-out cigarettes and other waste. The maid finds three cigarette holes in Therese's bedsheet.
- This House Has People in It: Though Jackson's family loves him, the stress of the new family dynamic is causing him to be neglected; his bedroom shows this off well. Not only does he have to live with his step-grandmother, who keeps her clay sculptures all over their room, but his bed doesn't have any bedsheets.
- The Descendants prequel book The Isle Of The Lost gives some more backstory to the protagonists of the film, and Carlos's relationship with his mother Cruella DeVil is explored in more detail- it turns out she treats him horribly, and instead of a bed, he just sleeps on a mattress in the back of her closet.
- Lisbeth Salander's room in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was the apartment where she first grew, is shown as messy as her life. Her new apartment in following books, however, is more tidy and cleaner, showing how much progress she made.
- In Harry Potter, Harry's abuse by the Dursleys was highlighted by the fact that they made him sleep in the cupboard under the stairs. On the other hand, you can't really fault them if they didn't have an extra—wait, no, Harry's cousin Dudley actually has two bedrooms, one of which is just for the overflow of toys, while there's also a guestroom. Harry winds up moving into Dudley's spare bedroom early in the first book, but only because the Dursleys were freaked out by his Hogwarts letters being addressed to his closet.
- In Hidden Talents, Trash has a tendency to throw objects at random, which unnerves people and leaves him as a friendless social outcast. His room is described as looking like the inside of a rock tumbler due to all the damage he's done to it. It turns out that this isn't actually his fault. He's telekinetic and suffering from Power Incontinence, which causes things in his vicinity to pick themselves up and smash themselves against the walls.
- A Little Princess is about a girl who suffers a fall from grace after her wealthy father dies, forcing her to work as a servant. As part of this, she sleeps in a poorly heated attic, but despite her poor circumstances she dreams of better things there.
- Mansfield Park: Fanny Price gets adopted by her wealthy relatives, the Bertrams. Mrs Norris is Fanny's aunt who immediately puts the intimidated girl in her place and instructs Fanny that she is the "lowest and last" and must always be grateful for the charity. The other Bertrams aren't so cruel, but they largely ignore her except to treat her as an unofficial servant instead of another daughter of the family. Fanny sleeps in a very small attic without a fireplace.
- In A Series of Unfortunate Events:
- Count Olaf adopts the kids but is abusive so he provides them with a bedroom that has only one bed and no crib for the baby and only a pile of rocks for entertainment.
- In The Austere Academy, the Baudelaire children attend Prufrock Prep, a boarding school. While most students there sleep in dormitories, the Baudelaires are forced to live in a crab-infested shack, because they are orphans.
- Unseen Academicals has a lengthy scene discussing how you can tell a lot about someone from their bed, ending with the fact that Mr Nutt was an adult before he learned that, for some people, going to sleep involved a piece of furniture. We later learn that he spent his formative years chained to an anvil.
- Wicked: Elphaba's maybe-son Liir lives with her in Vinkus, where it's eventually noted that the boy doesn't have a bed; when asked about this, Elphaba just shrugs. This is just one example of the neglect goes through.
- The Yellow Wallpaper: The narrator's Sanity Slippage is because of the sickening yellow wallpaper in her bedroom, where she's forced to spend a majority of her time, isolated and without entertainment. In addition to the wallpaper, though, the room has scratches on the walls, bars on the window, and bite marks on the bed. The very fact that she's trapped in this room at all reflects badly on her husband, who put her in there, thinking her Postpartum Depression is Hysteria, much as was common for the time period.
- Eleanor & Park: Eleanor and her four younger siblings all share a tiny bedroom thats just big enough for a bunk bed and a dresser. The boys sleep on the floor with just some pillows and blankets. It gets worse for Ben in particular after his twelfth birthday, where Richie declares that hes too old to sleep alongside his brothers and sisters and tries to get him to sleep in the basement instead....and Ben is afraid of the dark.
- In Everything's Gonna Be Okay, Matilda's filthy bedroom in the otherwise-clean Moss house is a fairly apt metaphor for the fact that despite the fact that she's able to project the image of a "high-functioning" autistic, she has only the barest idea of how to actually take care of herself.
- In Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, in both the play and the film adaptations, Cinderella is implied to sleep in the chair she sings about in the song "In My Own Little Corner". Being that she considers it her one little spot in the house that's truly hers, despite it just being a chair in the corner of the house, it shows just how mistreated she is.
- In LISA, Lisa and Brad's bedrooms are littered with various stains, discarded clothes, and other cluttered objects.
- In Pokémon Black and White, the player is eventually able to explore Team Plasma's giant castle, where they eventually come across N's childhood room. It's not a bad room necessarily, but it's covered in immature toys, Pokemon claw marks, and the music sounds like a creepy music-box. This communicates to the audience how he not only has an innocent and childlike mind, but that Ghetsis was conditioning him and abusing him all his childhood, never letting him experience the real world in an effort to keep him pure and easily manipulated.
- Undertale: The Sad Clown Sans has a complete mess in his bedroom, including a self-sustaining trash tornado, a jury-rigged light fixture, and an unmade bed. It's only accessible after the PC reveals their Retconjuration powers to him, and Sans' laziness and apathy stem from knowing he's trapped in Eternal Recurrence.
- In Psycholonials, Z.'s bedroom consists of a mattress on the floor, and her studio apartment is almost entirely unfurnished save for a kitchen table and the aforementioned mattress. This is a reflection of her depression and general state of emotional depravity and distress.
- Clarence: In "Lil Buddy", Clarence goes into serious withdrawal after losing his favorite doll. To cope, he paints his bedroom walls black and sells all his possessions, leaving him with a nearly-empty, shoddy room.
- Averted in The Loud House: The fact that Lincoln sleeps in a closet isn't a sign that he's The Un-Favourite, it's just that he's the only boy out of eleven siblings. For the most part he's just happy that he has his own room, unlike any of his sisters.
- Wallace & Gromit: In A Matter of Loaf and Death, Piella's dog Fluffles, despite living in a luxurious home, is forced to sleep in an old cardboard box with a tattered blanket.