One day when you are busy not wallpapering your dining room or not painting your living room or not laying bricks for a patio, pick up a copy of Tom Sawyer and reread the part where Aunt Polly makes Tom whitewash the fence.

"Soon the free boys would come tripping along on all sorts of delicious expeditions, and they would make the world of fun of him for having to work . . . At this dark and hopeless moment an inspiration burst upon him. Nothing less than a great, magnificent inspiration . . ."

Inspiration indeed. Tom, as Twain wrote, "had discovered a great law of human action . . . namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain."

And so Tom convinced the other boys in the neighborhood that he wanted to whitewash the fence, that there was no more fun to be had on a pleasant afternoon than wielding a brush and a bucket of paint.

If Tom did it, so can you. But like Tom, you must be subtle; you cannot come right out and invite 12 friends over to paint the house. No, what you do is plan a magnificent feast, food and drink fit for the gods and a guest list of merry and social souls. Then, after offering the inducement of fine fare and witty company, you explain that in order to give the party shape, to give it a theme, you have decided to sacrifice your dining room. It will be a paint-the-dining-room party. A wear-old-clothes-and-make-a-mess party. And--here you pause--a pre-party for the serious one to follow, when all the helpers who came to paint will be feasted at the first formal dinner in the newly painted room.

You can get your patio laid in the same way or a picket fence put up and painted. You can ask friends who can sew to come to a party and help to create a friendship quilt. Each guest stitches a block in what will be the finished quilt with the host providing the fabric and thread so the finished product will have a unity of color and design.

In the bleak days of winter, with the holidays behind us and spring only dimly heralded by the arrival of seed catalogues, people are badly in need of fellowship. So much so that they can be lured into helping you to restack your woodpile in return for an early evening around the fire roasting hot dogs or baking potatoes in the coals.

Some people eschew subtle for sneaky. One friend invited the largest, strongest men of her acquaintance for a lavish tea, displayed in all its bounty but only served after they had obligingly rearranged her furniture.

In addition to the initial trade-off (guests get a good time and you get your project finished), there can be another payoff at a work party. If you need your basement or your attic or garage cleaned, first remove the things you want to keep and then tell everyone who is invited that they can keep anything they find. If there is nothing anyone in their right mind would want, make the clean-up a treasure hunt, burying a prize somewhere in the mess and letting whoever finds it keep it.

What you must never do is invite people to a work party when that very same work is waiting for them at home. Someone whose house needs painting is not likely to be thrilled at the thought of painting yours; a person whose fence is falling down, whose couch needs a slipcover, whose hedge needs pruning will, if he obliges you, expect you to trot home with him and return the favor.

The only exception to this is the gardening party. The true gardener is so dedicated to the art that he or she will weed a streetside planter full of petunias while waiting for a light to change. One friend assumed that her weekend guest--who sold produce from his own garden--would like a change of pace, so she planned a day of non-gardening activities. To no avail. The Gardening Guest wandered out the door at dawn, weeded his way through the vegetable plot, moved on to the herb garden and, when dusk came, was discovered among the roses, steadily weeding his way toward an overgrown bed of delphiniums.

If, come spring, you give a planting party, don't bother being subtle. Just serve lunch next to the weediest patch.