As a homeowner, you have to make a decision: Are you going to let the dirt overcome you, so that you live your life encrusted by a permanent layer of greasy yellowish filth; so that you are no better than slugs writhing in their own putrid slime? Or are you going to make the commitment, in time, in effort, to fighting back - to really trying to keep your new home neat and tidy?

I have tried it both ways, and trust me, the writhing slug approach is better. You don't think important people, such as members of the U.S. Supreme Court, waste time cleaning, do you? Of course not! Their homes are filthy. They are filthy. That's why they wear those robes. Because they have learned, like so many other people, that if you really, seriously try to keep your house clean, you gradually turn into one of those TV commercial housewives who are always frowning with grave concern at their bathroom bowls.What you want to do, in your household, is adopt the cleaning system my wife and I use, which is based on the old philosophical question: "If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is there to hear it, does it make any sound?" (The answer, by the way, is yes; the tree goes: "Moo.") Our theory is, if there is nobody besides ourselves around to see the dirt, then the dirt isn't really there. So, Rule Number One of successful housecleaning is:

- Never let anybody into your house.

Not even your mother. Especially not your mother. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this rule. Even if you know some really nice people who have had you over to their house 37 times for dinner, you must not weaken and invite them to your house. You must give them plausible excuses, such as: "We sincerely intend to have you folks over one of these days, but right now we're all in a dither because our housekeeper has been killed by radon gas."

Rule Number Two of successful housecleaning, of course, is:

- Never have children of any kind.

Each of us, as a human being, has an important choice to make: We can either experience the trials, the joys, the tragedies and the triumphs of that most sacred of human institutions, parenthood; or we can have a house where we do not regularly find gerbil poop in our sofa. But we cannot have both of these things. Because small children have no concept whatsoever of cleanliness. A small child's concept of housekeeping is to lick spilled pudding off the living room carpet. And it does not get better as they get older.

For example, my son, now age 7, is in the phase where he likes to play with educational "construction" toys, designed by escaped Nazis, that consist of 363,000,000,000,000 tiny plastic pieces in a box. The way you play with these toys is, you strew the pieces all over the living room floor, and then you go outside to play. And when your mother yells: "Robert! Come in here and pick up your construction set!" you yell back: "I'm still using them!"

And then late that night, you lie awake in bed, waiting for the moment when your father, heading for the kitchen to get a glass of orange juice, wanders out into the darkened living room and steps, barefooted, on the plastic pieces, which is the cue for him to perform the comically entertaining Midnight Dance of the Bozo Father, a rapid series of hopping, skating movements across the floor accompanied by whimpering, followed by very bad words. This is a good time for you to look like you are sound asleep.

Also your children will gradually cause your brain to become damaged in such a way that you deliberately engage in acts of anti-housekeeping. For example, my wife went out and bought mice. Of course, the pet store people did not tell her they were mice. They are much too smart for that. They told her she was buying "gerbils," which, according to the instruction manual they also sold her, are a kind of "small desert animal found in Asia and Africa." But what they clearly are, when you look at them, is mice. I bet the folks over in Asia and Africa are tickled pink that we're willing to purchase their surplus vermin. They're probably wondering what kind of handsome price they might be able to get over here for their head lice.

I want to stress that my wife did not purchase merely the mice. No sir, because your mice also need food, and medical supplies, and of course exercise equipment, because heaven forbid that they should become out of shape! They might get sick! You probably do not appreciate the extreme irony dripping from my word processor here, because chances are you were not in bed with me the night my wife came racing in and announced that there was mouse poop among the cereal boxes, and consequently we had to make an urgent call to the Lethal Chemicals Man. We live in South Florida, and like everybody else down here, we pay a man to come around regularly and spray the interior of our house with massive quantities of chemicals of the type that, if they were accidentally sprayed on our house by a major corporation, we would sue it for $350 million.

So anyway, I find it highly ironic that we are paying the Lethal Chemicals Man to place deadly violent traps all around the Rice Krispies in hopes of sending one set of rodents to the Great Piece of Cheese in the Sky, while at the same time we are spending otherwise useful money on another set of rodents, so they can have toys and Ferris wheels and heaven knows what else. Technically we are doing this for Educational Purposes, because Robert is eager to learn the Secrets of the Animal Kingdom, but these rodents don't know any secrets of the animal kingdom. All they know how to do is gnaw cardboard toilet-paper tubes, which my son saves for them - heaven forbid I should throw one out - into 650,000 tiny pieces, which they then push out of their cage onto the floor. They do this very industriously, pretending they are engaging in the kind of serious life-or-death tasks that animals engage in on TV nature specials, but in fact they do it solely because they know it really frosts my shorts.

"Look," they say to each other, in Rodent. "He's cleaning it up again! Ha ha! This is a LOT more fun than Africa and Asia!"

They'll change that tune, when we get the Educational Cat.

Which reminds us of another important housekeeping rule . . .

- Never have a dog.

Let's not beat around the bush here: Dogs are morons. Don't get me wrong: I like dogs. We have always had dogs, and they have faithfully performed many valuable services for us, such as:

1. Peeing on everything.

2. When we're driving in our car, alerting us that we have passed another dog by barking real loud in our ears for the next 114 miles.

3. Trying to kill the Avon lady.

But despite their instinctive skills in these areas, dogs generally rank, on the Animal Kingdom IQ Scale, somewhere down in the paramecium range, and they above all do not grasp the concept of housekeeping. Show me a household with a dog in it, and I will show you a household with numerous low-altitude wall stains where the dog, rounding a corner at several hundred miles per hour in an effort to get to the front door and welcome the master home by knocking the master down, whammed into the wall and left a brownish smear of whatever repulsive substance it was rolling in earlier that day.

USEFUL HOME CLEANING HINTS

- If your child draws pictures of cows on your woodwork with a felt-tipped marker, you can scrub them with a mixture of one part baking soda, one part lemon juice and one part ammonia, but they won't come off.

- The best way to clean a frying pan that has burned food cemented to the bottom is to let it soak in soapy water for several days and then, when nobody is looking, throw it in the garbage.

- Many smart homemakers such as Cher and Queen Elizabeth have found that the best way to "stay ahead" of those pesky household "chores" is to have a "staff."

(NEXT: A Lawn Is a Terrible Thing to Waste)

* From the forthcoming book "Homes and Other Black Holes," by Dave Barry. Copyright 1988 by Dave Barry. Illustrations copyright 1988 by Jeff MacNelly. Reprinted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.